Don’t get me wrong – I really loved my glasses, especially as it took me about 15 years to find the perfect pair. But it was the hassle factor I didn’t like e.g. going to the gym – do I waste a pair of contact lenses for only an hour’s use or sweat it out in my glasses? And during the unpredictable English summer, the amount of times per day I had to switch between prescription sunglasses and my glasses whilst out and about was ridiculous. Not to mention the eye tiredness and dryness I felt with contact lens use. So I took the plunge and went for laser eye surgery in May 2013, 3 months before my wedding.
Moorfields Eye Hospital is renowned for excellence in the optical field, so it made sense to research surgeons who regularly operate there.
I found a reputable surgeon who had been involved with the laser eye process from the very beginning, which I am surprised to say was over 20 years ago! I booked an assessment appointment in the private wing and went in. I had 3 different tests including a high-res wavefront scan which maps out irregularities of the eye’s surface to ensure the laser is accurate and completely customised to the individual, before seeing the Consultant who interpreted my results and discussed the operation in depth.
I sleep with my eyes slightly open and only blink 80% of a full blink, which causes very dry eyes so he referred me to an eyelid specialist to get advice on how to prevent worsening dry eyes after surgery. This meant my operation was delayed by a few months but I was reassured that my Consultant was thorough enough to postpone my procedure to ensure my eyes were in the best shape they could be in.
My surgeon performs 2 types of laser eye surgery; LASIK and LASEK. LASIK creates a thin flap in the front of the cornea (the clear curved window at the front of the eye that focuses light) then reshapes the surface under the protective flap using an excimer (ultraviolet) laser. This is also known as the ‘Flap and Zap’ method. Pros – painless, perfect vision immediately, quick recovery so convenient for busy lifestyles. LASEK uses an excimer laser to reshape the cornea through the surface. Pros – no corneal flap so you can do extreme/contact sports immediately. Cons – eyes can remain sore and gritty for up to a week afterwards.
I decided to have the LASIK treatment because there are fewer complications, faster recovery and vision is perfect almost immediately. My operation was conveniently scheduled for 5:30pm so I could pop along after work. I filled out the paperwork, paid up and was taken straight through to see my Consultant who repeated the wavefront scan to make sure the readings were still accurate several months later.
I put on blue elasticated shoe covers and a fetching hair net and went into the small operating suite. I lay down in what looked like a flat dentist’s chair that pivoted between the 2 different laser machines. I was given several numbing eye drops and my eyelids were held back with a metal spring device. My surgeon quickly made a mark on my eyeball (to ensure the flap was repositioned correctly later on) which made the world look like a spirograph.
The next bit was uncomfortable but again lasted seconds. A device was pressed against my left eyeball, which made my vision seem like I was looking through the bottom of a glass bottle. This held my eyeball in place whilst my chair was swung under the left laser machine that made the flap. There was the feeling of intense pressure on my eye but no pain as the flap was made and just as I thought I couldn’t take it anymore (a mere 10 seconds later) it had finished. I was swung out from underneath the left machine, the pressure device was quickly removed and my eyelid was taped shut whilst the flap was made for my right eye.
My chair was then swung under the right laser machine that did the reshaping; my left eye was propped open once more and under the microscope, my surgeon gently pulled back the corneal flap that made my vision scarily blurred. I was told to focus on the laser’s red light and it started reshaping my cornea. It made a tapping sound and I could faintly smell burning hair but again it was over in seconds. The flap was expertly repositioned by my surgeon using the earlier placed mark, and smoothed down several times with plenty of liquid. This was then repeated for my right eye. Protective non-prescription contact lenses were placed into each eye to act as a bandage over night. I was told my corneas would be healed in 3 hours so these were just a precaution and if they fell out during the evening it did not matter.
I sat up a mere 15 minutes later (feeling a little woozy through shock rather than any discomfort) and he asked me the time from the clock on the far opposite wall. I confidently said 6:25pm and he congratulated me on a perfect procedure. Next came the chat about the drops – oh so many! In the first evening I had to use 3 drops every hour (an antibiotic, a refreshing drop and an anti-inflammatory steroid) as well as a numbing drop whenever my eyes felt sore or gritty. This was a little monotonous but in those first few hours after the procedure, I definitely needed all these drops as my eyes felt pretty dry.
You are not supposed to use the tube after the operation as it is too dusty, plus your eyes are a bit sensitive so they suggest someone picks you up. My fiancé come to Moorfields after work and we got a taxi home.
That night (and for the next 2) I had to wear Biggles-inspired padded goggles to protect against rubbing my eyes. I looked silly but didn’t care. I woke up twice in the first night with slight discomfort in my left eye but the numbing drop gave immediate relief and I fell back to sleep easily.
The following morning at 9am sharp I was back to Moorfields for my check-up. An optometrist removed the contact lens bandages and repeated my vision tests which confirmed 20:20 vision. I saw the surgeon again for a review who told me my eyes had healed well and my vision was even better than it had been with my glasses on!
I had to use the same drops every 2 hours for the first week, then every 4 hours for the second week, and for the weeks 3 and 4 I used a weaker steroid and a lubricating drop every 4 hours.
My advice as a doctor would be to choose your surgeon carefully and pick a quiet period in your life to have the procedure as it involves constant care with all the eyedrops for a month. I’m pleased to say my vision is still perfect over a year since the procedure and it has been a life-changing experience for me. Would I recommend and even refer my patients for laser eye surgery? Absolutely!
Top tip: For the less squeamish of you, you can view real-time LASIK operations on many YouTube clips, but try and watch the most recent videos you find as many advances have been made over the last 20 years that weren’t included in some of the earlier videos.
Dr Nicola Harrison