A few years ago, the summer of 2010 to be precise, I had laser eye surgery. I’m not sure why I’m suddenly writing about this now, perhaps I’ve only just gotten over the trauma, but I do wish there’d been an honest review of someone’s experience before I had my procedure so maybe this will benefit someone else considering the surgery.
I had worn glasses for a few years as a child (unfortunate as I was also quite tall, thin and therefore geeky), then contact lenses from the age of 11 or 12. I finally thought enough was enough and took the plunge. I was excited, eagerly anticipating a future in which I would never have to worry about my eyes again, and in equal parts absolutely terrified. Also, for some reason, spending any large amount of money on improving some part of yourself is seen as horribly vain in this country. So many people questioned my decision. For every person who said “oh that’s great, good for you” there were at least two others asking “why bother?”. But I was so certain that I was making a good choice.
Turns out I was right. *smug face*
But why was I so concerned? Well to start with this is surgery ON YOUR EYEBALLS. You’re trusting someone to cut some of your EYEBALLS with a freaking LASER. Christ’s sake. I honestly can’t think of a more delicate area. You obviously have to be awake throughout the procedure and therefore are aware of every excruciating second. Unpleasant to say the least.
Secondly the cost. Those lovely hopeful adverts on TV imply that it’s fairly reasonably priced. I think the standard implication is ‘From £395’ per eye. Emphasis on the ‘from’. My total bill was nearer £3700. I could’ve cried but I battled through the mild financial issues, determined to have this done. They offer a number of finance options to help spread out the cost.
While we’re on the subject of those misleading adverts let me put some other fibs to rest. The cheery-but-lightly-faux-nervous girl in the commercial is letting you share her experience as she goes for her surgery. She confides in you, the viewer, before she goes in and lets you know how helpful everyone’s been and then she’s suddenly back, post-op, a mere couple of hours after being in The Chair and saying how it’s amazing and she can see and it’s the best thing she’s ever done. One could be forgiven for assuming it’s pretty much a lunch-break procedure. In and out, in the blink of an eye. Pardon the pun.
So, swap the sunny girl in the advert for me. I went to Optical Express in Newcastle. I had all my consultations at the store just off Northumberland Street and couldn’t fault their customer care. The space itself feels lovely, heaps swankier than Specsavers, and the staff are very attentive. They listen to your tale and ask a few questions to check you’re a stable candidate for the op (I was having LASIK Wavefront Intralase) then send you down to see one of their opticians to get a full check up. All of their eye testing equipment and machines are the top of the range models and everything feels nice. Then they give you the all clear and book you in.
Cue the first problem: They couldn’t fit me in at that branch for months and months. They had an opening at the Metro Centre branch in two months if I could get there and back. I’ll need a chaperone and I won’t be able to see or drive. So, rather than being literally four minutes wander from my house, I’ll be a 20 minute drive away. But my mother confirms that she will drive me and we book that in. Then the second problem is revealed: You can’t wear contact lenses for a week prior to your surgery. I didn’t have any glasses. And I was very short sighted. Without contact lenses I wouldn’t be able to see a thing. I explained my problem and the lady suggested that they sort me out with a new pair. How nice is that? They made me a pair of nice bronze, sexy secretary specs free of charge, just to wear for a week before the op. In the end I had to take a week off work to hide in the house anyway, which was the most boring week ever. but more to come on that later.
On the day of my appointment my mum and I made our way to the Metro which was quite odd. Walking past all these casual shoppers while I was about to have scary lasers directed at my eyes. I was trying to remain as cool as a cucumber on the outside while practically having a breakdown internally. We were seated in the waiting room and then taken through very quickly. I clambered up into an enormous dentist style chair and was then tipped backwards. The nurses were bustling around happily, telling me what was going to happen and prepping my eyes. They apply an anaesthetic drop to your eye several times through the op as it wears off very quickly. There is nothing given in the way of pain relief, you’re just supposed to take paracetamol when you get home. Then surgeon comes in and suddenly we’ve started…
Look away now if you’re squeamish.
They use a suction device that fits around your eye and gently sucks your eye a little bit out of your head so they can see it better. It feels like a great deal of pressure and a bit uncomfortable but nothing more. Then the laser begins to trace around your cornea to remove it, it is lifted up like a flap. If you were to move your eye at all the laser stops to avoid cutting anything it’s not supposed to but you’re asked to keep as still as you can. The part that was, in my opinion, the very worst, was the part that no one mentioned to be beforehand.
Once they’ve lifted up your cornea you’re blind.
Which seems like it should be obvious but it just wasn’t quite as I expected. It isn’t blurry or black or white, or like when your eyes are closed. It was flat, matte grey . There is no light or tone. No nothing. Just entire blindness. And rather than doing one eye and then putting it back before moving on to the other eye, they do one eye, leave it and then do the other eye. Horrific! I knew full well that I had both of my eyes wide open and yet couldn’t see a thing. I had a mini internal panic that my vision would never come back, that something would go wrong and I’d be blind forever. Of course that didn’t happen.
You can kind of smell the burning as the procedure goes on, but it’s not too terrible, and one thing I absolutely couldn’t fault was the attentiveness of the nurses. I remember one voice in particular, an Irish accent, constantly reassuring me, counting down from 10 to let me know how long I had left to go and telling me I was doing a great job. I’m fully aware this is quite patronising, I wasn’t doing anything, ‘great’ or otherwise, but when you’re that scared sometimes you just need to hear positive words. Even if it does make you feel a bit like a child.
The whole procedure takes about 10 minutes. Once my corneas are placed back down I can sort of see again. Things aren’t clear but in a very definitely different way than before. Edges of things aren’t out of focus and blurry, there’s just a thick white fog over everything. I’m told that this slowly recedes over the next few days and weeks. I’m taken to sit back in a dark waiting room. The anaesthetic drops are wearing off now and it feels like someone’s rubbed some glass in my eyes. I feel like I want to cry but every time I feel the hot tears gather at the corner of my eyes I panic that I’ll wash my corneas away if I do cry. I sit and breathe and try to collect myself. I’m taken through for a final examination to check it’s worked and that everything looks okay before I leave. I’m given a thumbs up and a bag containing my meds for the next few months. No painkillers, just a few different types of steroidal and antibiotic eye drops along with some hypromellose (fake tears). This little lot will be keeping me busy as they start off at 10 times a day, 3 times a day etc. I also have some deeply sexy goggles to wear for bed. These, I’m told, are crucial because in my sleep I might rub my corneas wonky and lose my sight completely. If it doesn’t heal in just the right place my sight would be compromised. Obviously they can’t stitch the flap back in place to they just put it back down and hope it heals properly. Not very reassuring! I thank the staff and, put my massive black Rayban Jackie Ohhhs on and leave.
By this point I can’t wait to get some paracetamol into my system and just go to sleep and pass a few hours unconscious. It’s really hurting and we’re still quite a way from my house. By the time we get in and get pills I’m a mess. I lie in bed, fully clothed, waiting for the drugs to take the edge off and it doesn’t seem to come. It hurts too much to sleep and I’m too scared to anyway.
I must doze off eventually because when I wake up Mr SarahBosson is home to check on me. When he goes back downstairs I chance a peek out from under my sunglasses/goggles combo. I can actually see a little clearer. I inch towards the mirror and take a look. My right eye looks fine, my left eye has gone bright red. All of the white of my eye is red and I can actually see it bleeding, the blood blooming out next to my pupil. Naturally I freak out a bit again and ring the helpline, assuming something has gone drastically wrong to my left eye. The person on the other end of the phone explains that sometimes this happens. Just a small amount of damage to the tiny veins and that it’s basically just a bruise in your eye. I’m informed that it should clear in 6-8 weeks. 6-8 WEEKS! I’m back at work on Monday! That’s in two days! So much for sneaking off for this procedure and then showing up back at work with no one knowing a thing about it. Stupid misleading girl in the adverts. It looked absolutely awful too. I had to wear sunglasses whenever I left the house for the foreseeable future because people, mainly small children, were staring and backing away from me. Great. Everywhere I went ‘helpful’ people were asking me what I’d done to my eye. Exactly what I wanted. Also, in a depressing bonus twist, you’re not able to wear makeup for the days leading up to and the weeks following the op. I’d forgotten what I looked like without eyeliner. It must’ve certainly come as a bit of a shock to my other half, to suddenly find that my eyes are not ringed with black kohl naturally.
So would I recommend it? You’d be forgiven for thinking that I wouldn’t. That I’d perhaps even advise people against having it done.
I’m glad I’ve done it. I’d just never ever do it again. I still think it’s impossibly clever surgery. I didn’t used to be able to see a thing without glasses or contact lenses and now I can. I couldn’t have even entertained the idea of snowball fights or swimming underwater and now, if I chose to, I could.It really works. My vision, at last check up, was better than 20:20. That’s another good point about Optical Express (I can’t vouch for other clinics); their follow up check ups were great. They start the day after your surgery and follow a sort of next day, next week, next month, six months pattern, although you can ring anytime for an extra appointment if you’re worried. That was very reassuring and makes you feel like you’ve not just been abandoned now they’ve got your money. So it follows that I’m also happy with my choice of Optical Express. I’ve not had any trouble with my eyes since, not even so much as an eye infection, but they continue to provide friendly and professional service to this day. I’d certainly recommend checking out their offers to see if there’s anything you might be interested in. I was amazed at how easy it all was.
Although, don’t be fooled, it’s definitely not a lunch break procedure…