Article: Four Your Eyes Only

Roger Green has laser eye surgury

four-eyes My eye sight started to deteriorate in my last year at primary school and got steadily worse until the point were my lens were so thick and heavy that they bulged out of the side of any frames I chose and left large marks on the bridge of my nose. For seventeen years I wore contact lens with no trouble until my eyes started to dry out and I was reluctantly forced to return to spectacles. In recent years I have paid mega bucks for lightweight, ultra thin, anti-glare, anti-smear lens in my spectacles, which I broke.

After a series of mishaps it took Boots the chemist (optician, chiropodist, dentist, Uncle Tom Copley and all) five weeks to repair them during which time I thought “bugger this for a game of tin soldiers” and took myself off to the Laser eye clinic.

They spend an hour or so poking and prodding my eyes before attaching me to this machine and then that machine. They measured how thick I was (my wife could have told them that if they’d of asked), put coloured dye in my eyes and explained at great length how they would empty my wallet or would sir like to take advantage of our interest free credit? I was suitable for treatment, (of course I was, anyone with enough money is) and no I didn’t qualify for the price advertised on the tele because my eyes were ‘special’ and the bargain price they advertise is only applicable for people born under the sign of Aquarius with blue eyes, perfect vision and a sister called Val, unlike me who was as blind as a bat without my specs.

Three days ago my wife dropped me off at the clinic while she went off to buy Birmingham, (we live in the sticks and large shops are something of a novelty). During the three hours it took her to empty what small amount Optical Express had left in my bank account I read the Daily Express, The Independent, The Sun (twice), three wall charts, the visitors book and a leaflet entitled “Live your best life with your personal best vision”. I drank more coffee than is good for you and was just looking round for a loo when I was called into a dark room for another round of tests.

“Sign here please Mr Green, and here, and here, and here…. Yes I know this procedure might impair my vision, Yes I know this procedure might cause irritation, Yes I know this procedure might be a complete cock up, Yes I know my tie doesn’t match my shirt.” Honestly they have more disclaimers than Nasa.

More waiting. Time passes. Another cup of coffee then suddenly action. I am called to follow the nurse up to the procedure rooms, (what does this word procedure mean?), and in the lift on the way up my heart, for the first time does a little flutter. What have I agreed to and did I take a good look at the kids this morning before I let a mad man loose at my eyes with a scalpel and a laser gun?

Perhaps I should explain what I have agreed to. The Lasik laser treatment consists of cutting through two layers of the cornea and making a flap, which is lifted back. The laser is then applied to the middle corneal layer (apparently we have five layers) and the flap replaced. The whole process takes around 30 seconds per eye. Watch out for the burning smell!

eye chartIt actually came as a bit of a relief to discover I was only being Eye Chart taken to another waiting room. Sitting by the door was a young lady wearing a huge pair of dark goggles. She had her head down and was constantly sniffing while dabbing a stream of tears that rolled down her cheek. Seated opposite me and chatting quietly were a man and a lady about my own age. I was soon called in to meet the consultant who briefly ran through all the gory details with me and checked my particulars. He wanted to clarify a minute detail about my focus and so reverted to an old fashioned eye chart. Which lens did I prefer A or B? There was almost no difference and it occurred to me that what he was, in effect, asking was how would I like my eyesight for the rest of my life A or B?

Back to the waiting room, the man had gone off for his op, the girl was still snivelling by the door and “can sirs bladder take anymore coffee?” Then the man re-appears, all smiles and points to a poster on the wall exclaiming like some demented four year old “I can read that… and that… and that”. He gets a big hug from his wife and the nurse comes to collect me.

The ‘operating theatre’ is more like a dentist’s surgery. I remove my glasses, for the last time, and sit in the chair. I am now unable to see much as without my specs anything beyond the end of my nose is a blur. The chair is reclined until it is horizontal and a pillow is blown up around my neck and head, supporting my head gently in place while the nurse puts some anaesthetic drops into my eye. The surgeon, a nice guy who wears specs! talks to me and the nursing staff continually, explaining what he is doing. The process, or procedure as they like to call it, is indeed remarkably quick, totally painless and only mildly uncomfortable for a few seconds. Having made and lifted the flap I am told to “look at the red light, look at the red light, keep looking at the red light.” This I concentrate on doing with every fibre in my body. I will look at the red light… I will look at the red light… I will… oh what’s that over there?.. Sorry look at the red light. Someone must be having a BBQ, I can smell… oh it’s my eyes… look at the red light…Can you smell burning?

eye1After the flap is replaced I am told to gently close my eyes, which I do with great care while the chair is swivelled back from the laser. “You can open your eyes if you like” he tells me. “BLOODY HELL… I CAN SEE.. Everything.. Clearly”.

And that is all there was to it. I returned the following day for a check up and they gave me a quick eye test. Better than 20/20 vision. I didn’t know you could get better than 20/20 but apparently you can. I will return twice more before I am signed off and at this point I can confirm no side effects. I was hoping at least for x-ray vision so I could see through ladies clothing but life is full of these little disappointments. For the next week I have to tape large oval Perspex shields over my eyes while I sleep. They make me look like a giant fly and I have this irresistible urge to run towards the light and bang my body against the nearest windowpane.

Guess what I did with my new eyes today? I brought a new pair of embarrassingly cool glasses, sunglasses of course!

Four days in and my sight appears to have deteriorated slightly. They said it would fluctuate but I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Things are a bit fuzzy around the edges, especially the left eye and I am struggling to see clearly in poor light.

kite7Sunday was windy so we took some kites to the top of Burton Dassett Hill. Victoria, my youngest, Kiteeagerly unfurled her kite, threw it up in the air and spent a happy hour doing cartwheels whilst her kite flew effortlessly higher and higher up into the clear blue sky. Hayley, number two daughter, and I opened our kite and read the instructions. “Indestructible kite, easy to assemble, guaranteed hours of fun”. Carefully we constructed the kite according to the plan, checked the tail was attached properly and the tension on the string was even. We launched the kite and watched it bumped along the ground before breaking in two. Victoria meanwhile was eating ice cream and watching a tiny speck in the sky that was her kite.

The beginning of a new week and there is still no improvement in the sight. If anything it has deteriorated further and the mid-distance is now getting out of focus. I can however still see well enough to drive and I can’t wait until my next appointment on Sunday when I can get the clinics opinion. It will take 2-3 months before my eyes settle down and at that point it may be possible to have an enhancement operation to tweak the focus a little bit. Perhaps my expectations were too high but I was so elated after the first day when my sight was fantastic that the thought of still having to wear glasses annoys me greatly. I am probably missing the big picture here, the point is of course that one week ago I couldn’t see a barn door unless it fell on me and for the past week I have been living quite happily without spectacles. It really is a miracle operation and I should be ecstatic.

Sunday and I took the train into Brum. A rare treat for me, going on a train but as I wasn’t sure just what they might do to my eyes I thought it best. The train whizzed into Moor Street station with startling speed and I was left with an hour to kill before my appointment. It’s the wife’s birthday in a couple of weeks and I’m sure she dropped some hints last time we were here. If only I could remember…

Meanwhile back at the eye clinic I was explained my concerns to the consultant and was given another eye test. My eyes are healing nicely, thank you for asking, although they are, apparently a little dry and this is the cause of my poor mid vision. When light hits a dry patch in the eye it scatters and causes a blurred image. It is also true that after laser surgery the far vision settles down quicker than the mid vision so all is not lost. I am assured that the mid vision will improve, “its early days yet Mr Green we did tell you it will take up to three months before your eyes settle down”. I am given a new potion to drop into my eyes and whether it’s the placebo effect or these new drops I can’t say but my mid focus does seem to be a bit better now (or I have got used to it), time will tell.

Today was my one month check up and I have to report that I am very pleased with the progress my eyes have made. I will give them an ‘A minus’ for effort. My long, mid and short vision has improved steady over the past few weeks although I am still struggling a bit with contrast in poor light and there is some ‘haloing’ around lights at night which makes driving an interesting experience. The consultant was please with the results and is still expecting my eyes to improve further. We repeated the eye chart test and I could read the charts a lot better than at my previous examination. I am now allowed to swim although scuba diving is still out for the next few months which is a bit of a bummer because I am off to Cyprus on Wednesday and was hoping to get a bit in. I will have to content myself with snorkelling and listening to the kids telling me what I am missing.

Cyprus is wonderful at this time of year; however the car we have hired doesn’t appear to have an engine and makes a great fuss about going up hill. Since my last visit some six or seven years ago Cyprus has joined the European Union, build a great number of roads and is making itself as ‘British’ as possible. This Cypriots are claiming that Cyprus is now an English speaking country and all the road signs are now in English. However there aren’t many signs and those that do exist are well hidden and those that I can find I seem to be having a great deal of trouble reading. As the days are passing my distance reading ability seems to be getting worse which I put down to too many glasses of Resina and the dry atmosphere. However on returning to the UK I still can’t read the road signs clearly and as the weeks pass I am aware of a very definite deterioration in vision.

I have returned to the Laser clinic for my three month check up and the consultant agrees that my vision is poorer now than at my previous check up. My left eye is the main culprit but there is also a small prescription in the right eye. In 1% of people (i.e. me), the lens is pulled out of shape slightly as it heals from the original operation. I will need what they call euphemistically call ‘an enhancement’. Wow that sounds simple. Basically it means they will repeat the operation once they are sure that my vision has settled down. So back for another appointment in one months time and if my eyes have not changed it will be back under the laser.

As a special treat I took the whole family with me for my next appointment. Christmas is looming on the horizon and this was a splendid opportunity to wander around Birmingham city centre and shout at the kids in the Bull Ring. As an extra special treat, and because I‘m that kind of guy, I said “lets all go on the train instead of spending an hour in the car. The journey will only take half as long and we can sit and play games on the way”. We checked the train timetables and sure enough the trains run through Leamington every half hour, Brilliant! We arrived at the station in perfect time to discover that only half the trains were running today and they would be going a different and longer route. We spent a jolly forty five minutes in a waiting room that smelt of ‘odour toilette’ and when the train did finally arrive it was full. When I say full not only were all the seats full but so were the isles and corridors. With a great heave we pushed our way on board and spent the next forty minutes standing crushed up against a complete stranger. Bad enough for me but purgatory for the kids who, being shorter, could only see legs. The return journey some five hours later was almost as bad but we did manage to find enough floor to sit on. If my memory serves me right we are being urged to ditch the car in favour of public transport. Indeed to this aim we are being pricing us off the roads, parking spaces are at a premium and the government is putting their beloved and exceedingly profitable ‘big brother’ cameras everywhere they can find a space to put us off the idea of travelling under our own steam.

Anyway, despite being herded like sheep and, I might add, the journey costing around half as much again to take the five of us on the train than it would for petrol and parking, I did make it to my next appointment on time. The deterioration of my eyes has slowed down so next month, all being well, we will start the whole process again. In the meanwhile they quickly knocked me up a pair of glasses to stop me bumping into things.

Things never go to plan. Christmas has come and gone and another New Year beckons. I thought my eyes had stabilised however I have notice myself sitting on the edge of the sofa while trying to watch the tele. Perhaps the TV these days is more gripping than it used to be? Another check up today and as I suspected my eyes have not yet settled down so yet another appointment was made for next month. I have to admit I’m getting a bit bored of all this now.

Time has passed; wavy lines etc and I have been very busy getting on with my life, as you do. It is now June, almost one year on from my original eye op. Six weeks ago I underwent a second treatment to my left eye. The right one is only slightly down on perfect (0.05 if you must know) however the surgeon believes that if we can get the left eye up to scratch my brain will make the necessary compensation. Woo, go brain! This time I have the Lasek treatment in which they scrape cells from the front of the eye before zapping it with the laser and covering the eye with a clear contact lens which is removed four days later. This clear lens is a sort of ‘sticking plaster’ for the eye and should protect the eye from infection for the first few days while it heals. The whole process takes but a few moments and is once again very quick and completely painless. I am told that this is a quite different operation from my first when, as you know if you were paying attention earlier, they cut a flap and treated the cornea lower down. The healing this time would be much greater and the results far longer to appreciate.

The first difference is that the contact lens can irritate like buggery so they give you handfuls of pain killers to get you over the first four days. Having worn contact lens for many years my eyes must be as tough as old boots so I did not in fact feel any great irritation or dryness during this period and so didn’t need any of the pain killers (see how tough I am, I even laugh in the face of Man Flu). However it was quite impossible to see anything more that a blur from that eye which was exasperated further by the build up of eye drops on the inside of the lens. I was assured that when the lens was removed on day four I would be able to see clearly.

Day four and the contact lens is removed. My sight is now clear but not in focus. “Don’t worry about that Mr Green”, they assure me “It will take about twelve weeks before your sight settles down again.” Now where have I heard that before? As the days and weeks pass I quickly realise that I am now long sighted in my left eye and short sighted in my right. Standing at the bottom of our garden and looking over the fields (yes we are posh and live in the country side, “get ‘owf my land!”) I can see someone’s washing hanging on a line a good half mile away. Wow, are those really big pants or what? In fact the surgeon has over compensated knowing that as the healing process progresses my sight will get shorter and hopefully stop just where I want it to.

By now both eyes work well independently, but together I sometimes get the benefit of double vision, which means I now have six children and two beautiful wives. Over the next couple of weeks, as my left eye continues to heal, my hypermetropia (long-sightedness) begins to reduce, as does the does the number of children and wives. Shame really because three in a bed was fun. It is still too early to tell what the final prognosis will be but I can see a day by day improvement, albeit slight, as the sight in both eyes gets closer and I am ever hopeful that all is well.  Yesterday I finally realised that my eyes are never going to return to their original naff state so I went through my draw and threw out nine old pairs of specs dating back to a pair of ‘Big boy’ glasses from 1972.

Two and a half years on from the original operation and I can report that I am delighted with the results. Although my left eye is still a bit long sighted and the right slightly short sighted this has benefits. I can read and do close up work by tilting my head slightly and favouring my right eye and see stuff far away with the left. For everyday events such as work, sport and driving I don’t need specs however I now have a monocle which I use sometimes for watching the TV and going to the theatre, it just sharpens up things a bit.

Time passes…

It is now eleven years since my eyes were lasered and my hair is going grey. I have enjoyed many years without needing glasses and would recommend the treatment without hesitation. In fact two of my three daughters have now had their eyes done and the third will no doubt follow shortly. I have enjoyed having one long and one short sighted eye. This means that now, in my mid-fifties, I can still read without reading glasses (unlike my friends) and also read road signs from a great distance. However in recent years my short distance eye has got slightly shorter and at night I feel I need a little assistance while driving. So I took myself off to Vision Express and had my eyes tested and came away with a new pair of specs. The glass in one lens is clear as that eye is still good to go but the right eye needed a little help to see old ladies crossing the road at night. My new glasses sit expectantly in my car and one of these days I will remember to put them on!