Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Laser Eye Surgery Review (LASEK) - Moorfields Private

FML

[This follows on from
Specs]


Just before Christmas, my dad, the ophthalmologist, says to me,

"I think it's time you had laser surgery".

I do a double-take (actually, it feels like a blood vessel explodes in my head), but I get over my shock quickly and I bounce to a phone to book a consultation.

He's recommended a particular surgeon, and a fortnight later, I find myself waiting to speak to the man in question.

A cheerful girl takes me to a room and she does a full eye test to check if my vision is stable. I don't have much of a bridge on my nose, so the clunky trial frames keep sliding down, and I end up having to prop them up with a finger.

I hand her a list of all my prescriptions since time began, and she looks scared ("Oh god, a looney") till I explain that my dad compiled them out of professional interest.

She then scans me with a machine to measure the thickness of my corneas - the laser will be slicing into them, so the thicker the better. I'm expecting to have my eyes dilated - I've brought sunglasses for afterwards as advised - but she sends me to talk to the surgeon.

He smiles at me kindly and has a face I can trust, but to be honest, I'm so set on having this done that he could have looked like Norman Bates. He examines my eyes with a microscope of some sort, puts anaesthetic drops in them and prods them, and he says that they're healthy, but for various reasons I'm only suitable for LASEK.

He warns me it's a big decision - it will hurt much more and take much longer to recover than LASIK, the usual procedure. I hesitate for a second and then pooh-pooh this and ask where to sign, but he gives me a leaflet and asks me to think about it and see him again before I decide to go ahead.

I nod my head and then run off gung-ho to the receptionist, and I book myself in for the next available operation. My enthusiasm is dampened when I find that it won't be till January, but I guess this gives me time to reflect.

***

A month later, I'm back in the waiting room, ostensibly to see the surgeon again as requested but really for my pre-op.

A different cheerful lady takes me into a room to anaesthetise my eyes and then produces what looks like an electronic ear thermometer and nudges my eyeballs with it.

"This is to measure the actual thickness and strength of your corneas", she says. "Yours are nice and strong". I give myself a silent cheer.

She does another scan to measure the actual state of my eyesight. It turns out I'm minus 10 - the upper limit for surgery. I give myself another silent cheer.

Next she dilates my pupils and makes me stare wide at some bright spirals while she photos the topography of my eyes.

I'm sent to wait for the surgeon till the blurriness dissipates. Another patient is talking at the receptionist - "What if I blink? What if the surgeon wobbles? What if the laser messes up? What if there's a power cut?".

He voices all our fears, irrational and otherwise, and I really want him to shut up and die. Thankfully he's called away to see the surgeon.

I'm the next in, and the surgeon is kindly, as before. He asks if I'm still set, after reading the literature, and whether I have any questions. I mention the guy who saw him just before me, and he says,

"I'll tell you what I told him - the whole of London could practically fall to pieces, but the hospitals would still keep going. Think about intensive care units, think about life-saving operations.

And each machine has its own separate back up, and the hospitals themselves have emergency generators."

"What about blinking?"

"You can't."

"Is it like A Clockwork Orange?"

(laughing) "It used to be. Now we just place a rubber ring around each eye. Of course, if you really squeeze, you probably could close your lids. But you won't".

More or less comforted, I leave the room, and I pay at reception.

***

Saturday early morning, the husband and I turn up at the laser suite at the top of Moorfields Eye Hospital. My surgeon walks past the waiting room door, pops his head in and says a cheery hello. I think, "He seems very alert. This is good. This is very good".

A nurse comes in and takes me away to explain the after-care. He says he can't express enough how important it is to follow the instructions, that they do what they can, but then it's up to me to ensure that I get the best results.

I nod and try to concentrate as he shows me each bottle and minim, and explains what they're for and how I should use them, but I'm a skittish mix of numb and excited.

He also gives me some goggles with a roll of micropore, and he says I need to tape them to my face when I sleep in case I try to stab my eyes out.

Now I'm sitting outside the operating theatre - a different nurse comes out and puts a surgical cap on my head and what seems like the same over my shoes ("to keep the theatre as clean as possible"). She goes back through the door and I stick out my greenish clown feet and wiggle them and squint at them and feel silly.

Suddenly she's back and leads me into the theatre. Between two big machines that look like Johnny Five and behind a cushioned table sits my surgeon, gowned, capped, gloved and masked up.

"Shit just got real", I think, and then I have to suppress the urge to giggle.

The nurse asks me to remove my glasses and interrogates me gently (allergies, asthma?), and she ticks away on a clipboard.

She then writes something on a sticker and slaps it on my chest and I wonder if it says, "Do Not Resuscitate" and then quash another (hysterical) giggle.

"Lie back now", says the surgeon and I do, and I place my head in a cradle cushion. There's a red spotlight above me with a halo of green.

"This won't take long; just relax and I'll talk you through the whole process".

And he does and it's soothing.

He covers my left eye loosely, but asks me to try to keep both open. Then he tapes the lashes of my right eye out of the way with micropore, to my cheek and lid.

Next comes the rubber ring - a soft clamp of some sort. This pinches and I wince, but then he administers anaesthetic drops and I stop feeling anything.

He douses my eye repeatedly to keep it moist and then I see what looks like a giant cotton bud looming towards me. More dousing. And now time for the laser.

"This will take a minute - look straight at the red light and try to relax".

A buzzing begins. And then, something I'd been told to expect but I still wasn't prepared for - a fragrance, a smell, it's meat, it's beef.

Beef cooking, barbecuing, it's me. My stomach rumbles with hunger. Auto-sarcophagy. Not something I'd ever considered before.

More dousing, and then he fits a bandage contact lens to protect the raw surface and we're done. Now the left eye, same procedure as before.

This is easy. Everyone should do it. Everyone.

Wobbly, I get up from the table, and the surgeon says it went well and that the first nurse will do my first lot of eye-drops, and to come see him in five days' time to get the bandage lenses removed.

"Oh and please do not rub your eyes".

I pick up my now-useless glasses and go next door, where the nurse indeed does my first drops. Then I grab my aftercare kit, and go see my husband who's been waiting anxiously.

"How was it?"

"It was a breeze. Didn't hurt a bit. Let's go home".

I'm not allowed to take public transport (a blessing as I have to wear sunglasses and I'd feel like a tit), so my parents have come to pick us up. I walk to their car and realise I can see without visual aid for the first time in many years.

The novelty is short-lived though as the sun is blazing brightly despite a chill in the air, and I keep my eyes firmly closed all the way home.

***

There are six different types of eyedrop I have to use - an anti-inflammatory, an antibiotic, a tear supplement, a dilating drop, a painkiller and an anaesthetic. The painkiller is based on aspirin, which I can't take, so I'm told to take oral paracetamol instead. And I'm warned to use the anaesthetic sparingly, since its use will retard healing.

So there are four different types of eyedrop I end up using. The first day I need to administer them hourly - I make an attempt and nearly jab myself in the eye, so my husband kindly takes over. He's working at home all week, as he suspected I'd need looking after.

The first few hours are an absolute doddle. And then the anaesthetic from the surgery begins to wear off. My eyes begin to prickle and smart, and then they feel like they're on fire. I swallow some paracetamol and grit my teeth as my eyes start to stream with tears.

I can't rub or dab them away and I'm terrified the crying will wash away the lenses. The protective lenses, which now feel like slabs of grit scraping my inflamed eyes.

And despite the tears, my eyes are sealed tight - keeping them open is too tiring and painful.

Everything is too tiring and painful. And I'm scared.

My husband sets an alarm to go off every hour on the hour - "Come on, you know we have to do this". Each time, it takes longer for me to prise my eyes open and longer for him to administer as I whimper and flinch and weep between each type of drop. I can tell he hates having to torture me, but it needs to be done, and I'm grateful inside.

And all this crying is dehydrating me till my voice is a croaky whisper, so I keep downing glasses of water and then having to pee - and my husband has to guide me as I'm functionally blind.

Two steps down, one step up, to the left, to the right, the quirks of our landing of which I was so fond are suddenly a nightmare to navigate (in fact, it's like Knightmare but much less fun).

Soon, my husband is as tired as I am. Between trips to the loo, we sit on the end of the bed in exhaustion, my head on his shoulder, as the alarm goes off again, and again.

I go to bed at 9 that day, the earliest I have done for 20 years. I can't take any more and I need this day to end.

My husband places the goggles on me and tapes them carefully to my face. He also brings me mittens in case I mash my face in my sleep, and he lays out the spare mattress at the foot of the bed where he sleeps in case he knocks my goggles off himself.

I drift into a weary sleep, thinking I'd quite like to be dead. I've never felt like that before.

***

Day 2. The drops are two-hourly now. My eyes still burn with agony though, and my lids are still clamped shut.

I'm not allowed to shower or wash my face, and the constant tears and drops have gunked in my spidery lashes - I wish to God I'd trimmed them beforehand.

By mid-afternoon, I'm starting to panic that I still can't open my eyes. I make my husband ring the surgeon and leave a message - he rings back shortly afterwards to reassure me that it's perfectly normal and that I ought to use the anaesthetic much more often than I have been.

I yell at my husband to douse me up and, bliss, suddenly I can't feel my eyes. Suddenly I don't want to gouge them out.

Soothed, I listen to Lord of the Rings, and my irritation at Aragorn's voice ("it's not Viggo! He doesn't sound like a king!") keeps me diverted. And so another day passes till it's time for me to be taped into my goggles.

I manage to stay up till 10 this time.

***

Day 3, and the searing pain is gone. I experiment with opening my eyes and my lids stay apart this time.

The crying has stopped too, which is wonderful at first, but then my eyes begin to dry out and the lenses start to itch and ache. I'd like nothing better than to flick them out, but somehow manage to stay my hand.

And I still can't see.

***

Day 4. If this was a film, there'd be a montage of me keeping my eyes open for a little more each time, and seeing a little more each day, the music swelling with triumph.

But the fact is, my sight is still awful and doesn't seem to be improving. I'd been warned that it would be pretty bad till I had the bandages lenses removed, but I'm frustrated and beginning to go slightly mad.

I listen to Lord of the Rings some more, and drift into fractured hobbity dreams.

***

Day 5, and my dad comes to check over my eyes. He's been visiting every day and said encouraging things, but I've been unable to see his expression and tell if he really means it.

Today he's delighted to see how I'm doing - his relief is visible as he says he's been praying for me every night.

He says he's been praying for himself as well, because my mum said she'd kill him if anything went wrong. I laugh for the first time in ages.

***

Day 6, and my husband and I are on a train back into town. I'm wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes, but I still feel horribly vulnerable.

We get to the clinic and I'm called in to see another cheerful girl who gives me a quick eye-test - I can see three lines down the chart which seems hopeless to me.

Then she anaesthetises my eyes and pops out the lenses like she's shelling peas. Blessed release - my eyes start to water.

The surgeon then calls me in, and he examines my eyes with the microscope thing. He seems pleased at his handiwork and I feel a bit like a sculpture. He says my vision is better than expected and that there's no scarring at all.

I ask him if I still have to wear the goggles at night, and he laughs and says,

"No, that was just to stop you from dislodging the lenses - you can even rub your eyes now. You're just like any one else who doesn't need glasses. You're just like everyone else.

Come back and see me in a month's time so we can check your progress, but in the meantime, my door is always open".

So I thank him and leave and go out to my husband and I say, "Apparently I'm normal", and I pluck up the courage to go outside without wearing the sunglasses.

And I feel the wind against my bare eyes and it's strange. I haven't felt that for 20 years. But I decide that I like it, and I open my eyes wider.

And when I get home, I look in the mirror, and for the first time in a long time I see me.

Then I go and ruin the moment by trying to push up my phantom specs and poke myself in the nose.

I guess this will take some getting used to.


26 comments:

  1. Ooh MiMi, what a painful experience. (I know, I know, mine is not the same, I won't need the bandage lenses for a start). They told me about the treatment you're getting, of course, but my eye sight is -8 and my corneas are "nice and thick" so the regular LASEK was suitable for me. They did that weird test with the yellow spirals, and the ones to measure my cornea in microns (600 apparently, this is more than average, who knew?) and some yellow goo in the eyes, and the test anaesthetic, all that was part of the first appt. Tomorrow he'll do fresh topographical stuff and hopefully the op.
    The beef cooking smell is the one thing they didn't mention, but you'd told me, so I know to expect it.
    Am most worried about poking eyes out during day, have the protective things for night, but... I've never even been suitable for contacts, so worn specs for 35 years, and on the occasions I've tried contacts, for a day or few at a time, I've repeatedly poked both my nose and my eyes. That's the bit that's making me nervous.
    I bought myself some non-prescription sunnies this morning, so will wear those the whole time I'm awake, if need be!
    :)

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  2. I mean, of course, the regular LASIK was suitable for me.

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  3. Hopefully you'll heal up nice and quickly :)

    I made things worse for myself because I refused to use the anaesthetic drops the first day and a half.

    However, I do think as a result my eyes healed quicker and better than they would have done. So for me it was worth the pain :)

    Good luck! x

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  4. Yeah... I think the first time I spoke to you was Monday, and you said lots of pain. :( Glad your surgeon bloke could advise you to use them more after first few days... :)

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  5. Someone else I know online had her eyes done the other day and wrote about the burning flesh smell. She didn't specify beef though. I could live with beef!

    Congratulations! I'm sorry recovery was so painful for you. It must be amazing to be able to see without having something on or in your face. I've needed glasses since I was 9 or 10. I'd love to get my eyes lasered, but -even knowing that the procedure's a doddle - I think I'd have a massive meltdown halfway through, break free, and run away with my corneas flapping in the wind. Ahh, maybe one day. :)

    (All the best for yours, Kavey!)

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  6. The "what if I blink?" question was my big one too.

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  7. A really well-written post, MiMi. I have been wearing glasses since I was 8. I am happy alternating between glasses and contact lenses as the mood takes me, though. I am not convinced to get laser surgery yet!

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  8. Brilliant post. I still think it's something of a miracle that something so fundamental can be treated with such good results. Really pleased for you and wish you better quickly.

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  9. @Suz - Thanks Suz! One of the reasons the the surgeon chats to you beforehand is to ascertain if you're sure about it all and whether you're suitable.

    Mine told me that he actually discourages a lot of people from having it done because he thinks they will panic during the procedure ...

    @Foodycat - It's a fair question, especially when you're mega-blinky like I am!

    @Charlene - Thanks Charlene! I think having specs was doing a lot of bad things for my self-confidence generally - I never learnt to swim for example. If you don't feel the need, then it's best not to, I still think.

    @chumbles - Thank you so much :)

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  10. In many ways I'm the triplet to your and Kavey's previous glasses stories. Though I didn't start wearing glasses until I was around 11, I can't function at all without them. Have never managed contacts either though- optician chap literally had to hold me down while assistant person put them in the first time. I occasionally used daily disposables after that, but was so traumatised getting them in and out that I gave up. I also thought my face looked a bit odd without specs.
    Fab to have a properly honest account of the laser experience. I am going to have a think about whether I am ready for it!

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  11. Oh my goodness Mimi, it sounds awful! I would love to be able to see perfectly - glasses since age 12 - but just feel too scared by the whole idea. Can you see perfectly now? All the best to @kaveyf too!

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  12. MiMi, what a wonderful post! My sister had the same laser teatment as you about six months ago and her experience is very similar. I have terrible eyesight (-9.5 in one eye) but I think I would be one of the people who panics half way through. Also it's great that you had your husband and dad to keep an eye on you and help you through the first few days. What is your eyesight like now? I love to hear what it's like not to have to wear galsses and contact lenses!

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  13. OMG OMG, you are so brave and I am still terrified of doing this. I always thought orthodontics was worse than an emergency caesarian but this sounds way worse than dental surgery and 2 years of braces (in my mid thirties)

    I'm not sure I'll ever come around to doing it but I'm very grateful for the detailed (and very charming) description and will await with interest how Kavey gets on too!!

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  14. Wowzers... I am such an enormous wimp that I felt a bit squeamish just reading that!! Glad it's worked out so well!

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  15. I experienced a proper wave of fear as you described getting ready for surgery. Brilliant post about your experience. I am now half tempted and half terrified!

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  16. Ashley Malone3 March 2013 08:50

    hearing your story it makes me feel iffy and question everything.
    everyone says I should get laser surgery because my eyes are so bad
    I have had glasses since I was 6, I don't know anything else..
    they are so bad if I take off my glasses everything is blurry
    unless it is 6 inches or closer to my face. I'm terrified of the thought
    of everything about the surgery, the drops, the fact that you can see everything as they're doing it ( I would much rather not see the surgery taking place)
    the fact that you can't blink the whole time, that's hard for me.. and then of course the recovery... I am someone that is terrified of pain. So part of me wonders if maybe I should just not get it and deal with glasses and or contacts for the rest of my life. but then I fight with myself and think how nice it would be to never have to worry about classes or contacts again. Im so torn! (PS. Im 22) thank you for sharing your story. :)

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    1. Hi Ashley! The procedure is very fast and you physically cannot blink as your eyes are propped open by the soft rubber clamp. The pain was bad, but completely worth it - a few months later I was very ill in hospital (unrelated illness) and the fact that I could see 100% of the time even though feverish meant a whole lot to me.

      Then earlier this year I had a baby - and I love the fact that I never have to worry about breaking or losing my glasses and being unable to look after her in an emergency.

      Obviously I'm me and you're you, so it's your decision, but I do think it's one of the best decisions I ever made.

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  17. Thank you MIMI for the honest account of your experience! So needed to see this! I am booked in for an op in two week's time and want to be mentally ready for this. Reading the posts of those who are still considering it, I feel like I've turned the corner and I am finally ready to do this. Still a bit scared, but hoping for the best.
    Thank you for describing your experience in such detail. I wonder what its like for you over a year on. Can you share?Thank you,
    Jo

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    1. Hi Jo! How was it? I hope you're doing well!

      As for me, a year and a half later and I'm great - had an eye test last week and I can see perfectly - no glasses for me still :) Every so often I get dry eyes, but it's worth it and it's not so bad that I even need drops.

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  18. Just had lasek treatment three weeks ago was in pain for two still unable to drive the car but I am at work not seeing very well yet ,can't wait to be able to see would not recommend this treatment unless you don't have to leave the house

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    1. It's true that you're housebound for a week but they do tell you this before the treatment (or at least they ought to). I was lucky to be able to take time off work to heal. I hope you're okay now x

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  19. Hello Mimi,

    Thanks for your detailed and interesting account of your operation. I just wanted to ask you whether you have had any side effects/complications following the operation such as blurry vision, halos, poor night vision etc. I know you mentioned occasional dry eyes. I would be worried that I would have permanent dry eyes, as some post laser patients had this problem. Would it be too nosy of me to ask for the name of your surgeon? My friend has just had lasek at Moorfields and similarly to yours, her operation and post op were a success, however I am trying to gather lots (maybe too much) info before making the big decision.
    Thanks again for your time! By the way, I love your blog. I stumbled across it whilst googling lasek + Moorfields but I have been obsessed with Burma for some time and desperately want to visit your beautiful country before the hordes of tourists start flocking in. The food looks delicious and the landscape breathtaking.
    Liz

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    1. Hi Liz!

      It's now almost two years since I had the surgery and my eyes are actually better than they were. The dry eye has stopped and I have no blurriness or halos. I don't drive so I'm not sure how good my night vision is in that respect, but I have a baby now and I can see her in the dark pretty well :)

      My surgeon was Prof David Gartry - I actually chose him because he did India Knight's eyes and it was her account of the procedure which actually convinced me in the end.

      Good luck if you decide to go ahead - I have no regrets myself and still think it's one of the best decisions I ever made. And thank you - I hope you get to visit Burma one day! x

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  20. Hello! Thanks for your reply. I'll let you know someday if I pluck up the courage to embark on improving my eyes!
    ps. I am also a fan of fried crickets - I ate them for the first time in Mai Chau, Vietnam. Sort of reminded me of barbecue flavoured crisps. Really addictive, surprisingly. Hope to see your book on travels and food in Burma published soon! Out of interest, what would be your top ten things to do/eat in Burma be? Happy cooking+eating! Liz

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  21. Hi Mimi,

    Thank you for your comprehensive account of your eye surgery. It's one of the most insightful articles I've managed to find on the net.
    I'm considering laser eye surgery and want to find out as much as possible about how it feels like before committing.
    Just thought you might like to know that, more than 2 years on, your blog article continues to help people like me find out more about the op and recovery process :)
    Thanks once again!

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    Replies
    1. I'm so pleased I could help! Thank you :)

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Thanks for taking the time to comment!