LASEK diary: day 1

This is the third in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Despite the goggles I had a great night’s sleep, for about 11 hours (probably down to the oral voltarol, although I chose not to take the eye drop painkillers as I wasn’t in pain before bed). When I woke up my eyes were a bit sticky, but the refresh drops sorted that out. I had a minor headache, like after having new glasses, but this is to be expected. I felt pretty ecstatic as I was expecting to be in serious pain and so far it was just mild discomfort, listening to 6 music on the sofa and drinking tea. They are having a Kraftwerk weekend so lots of bloopy bleep.

Here is a big close up of my crazy dilated eyes on day one. I am less drugged up than I look in this picture.

My vision is ghostly, blurry but I can read the kitchen clock from the doorway at about 2m (this is my new benchmark) – prior to the surgery I would have had to be about 3 inches away from the clock to read this without glasses. Using my iPhone is possible with the text at 40pt, but using the laptop is very difficult indeed, probably because the dilating drops make it impossible to focus at that distance – getting a lot of double vision.

As I’m feeling fine, I’m up for a visit by some friends Pino and Peter and their gorgeous springer spaniel Daisy, and naturally to celebrate there is some more gin and some home-made pastries. It began snowing outside but I couldn’t really see it until it started to settle. That evening at about 11pm, after half-hourly drops all day, my eyelids became a bit swollen and my eyes started to feel sore and large in my head. I had the painkiller eyedrops for the first time along with the rest, and went to bed.

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LASEK diary: day of the procedure

This is the second in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

On Friday February 3rd, before leaving home in the morning, I looked out of the front window to remind myself, for the last time, what my myopic self could see without glasses. Answer: not much. There are two road signs near my house, and I could see neither (just white blobs).  I went to work as normal, spent the morning tying up loose ends before leaving at about 3:30pm to head to my appointment at Moorfields. I work very close to City Road so was able to walk to the hospital.

Up to this point I hadn’t been particularly nervous – I’d read so many online stories from other laser correction patients, particularly those who had LASEK, the majority of which seemed to say ‘the procedure is quick, the recovery is very painful for a few days, and sight returns gradually over the course of a month’, so I was prepared.

Before the procedure

At Moorfields, which looks like that picture on the left, all the signs are reassuringly massive apart from the tiny, lengthy missive explaning why the lifts don’t stop on the 4th floor (where the refractive laser surgery clinic is). Having navigated the stairs I was shown into the ‘laser lounge’ which was actually just a waiting room with a coffee machine, some newspapers and a few other people each supporting a large pharmacy bag. No lasers. One chap was furiously thumbing on his blackberry – right up to the point of being called in for his procedure, asking ‘Can I just finish this email?’

A very chatty nurse took me to a very freezing room and, with a knowing smile, presented me with my own bag of ‘pain management’ drugs and eye drops – six different drops in total (anaesthetic for night time, dilating drop, anti-biotic, anti-inflammatory, painkiller, rehydration), not forgetting the sexy eye goggles that I have to wear for the first 6 nights to stop anyone punching me in the face whilst I sleep. There’s also a sinister-looking roll of masking tape which is not explained. My nurse tells me that I’m going to have a rubbish weekend but it’ll all be worth it in the end. Great.

Back in the waiting room, Blackberry man returns from his operation without his specs, picks up his briefcase and leaves – very matter of fact.

Then it’s my turn.

The procedure

Now, I was hoping not to have to bring Rihanna into this, but the nurse in the treatment room was humming We Found Love, so conversation turned to vomiting ribbons. This was an unexpected but welcome diversion from the impending corneal zappage. I put down my glasses for the last time, and had numbing drops in my eyes. There were four people in the room, a large cream machine and a chair which looks like a dentist’s, and after about 2 minutes of being in the chair I was swung under the machine.

If you have a strong stomach, there are lots of clips on YouTube of PRK / LASEK which pretty accurately mirror what happened to my eyes. I’m not going to link to them as I only watched it after my procedure. Go ahead and search if you wish. Here’s the non-graphical graphic description.

My eyelids were taped back loosely, and a small clamp put in to keep my eyes open. This sounds horrendous but was no fuss at all, and meant that I could do tiny blinks without getting in the way of the business. The amount of moisture and anaesthetic on the eye surface stopped them feeling dry. An alcohol solution was poured onto my eye to loosen the top layer of the corneal epithelium. A titanium marker was put on the eye (presumably to line up the laser?) then the epithelium was then pushed to one side with a tiny tiny scalpel, before the alcohol was washed away. Then the laser fired for approximately 45 seconds, clicking like a toy gun as it flashed. It’s a bit like looking at HAL 9000 from 2001 a Space Odyssey but it doesn’t sing nursery rhymes (I’m sure you can pay extra for that). As the laser does its work things become more hazy which is not surprising. There’s nothing stopping me moving my eye but I didn’t, much, even though I was told that the laser will track my pupil if I move during the procedure.

Immediately afterwards there was a wash poured onto the newly-lasered cornea to prevent scarring, which made things totally blurry for a few seconds (it’s a little like looking at onion peel through a microscope), then that’s washed away, the surface cells are pushed back into place with the teeny scalpel, then another wash, then a contact lens is put in place to protect the eye surface, and then it’s on to the other eye. The whole thing was entirely painless and rather curious to watch; rather like a prototype for a CG animation sequence of time travel. Once one eye was complete I was totally relaxed about having the second one done as I knew it would not be painful. There was a very small smell, like potatoes left to boil dry (weirdly), at the very end of each laser firing but I didn’t find it upsetting at all.

Once it was over I sat up straight away. I could read the time on the clock on the wall and see the smiling faces of the nurse and assistants. It was fuzzy and misty and blurry but a marked improvement on my previous -7 prescription already. I’m a bit emotional at this point so it’s all a bit of a blur but I thanked the surgeon and he told me to make sure I keep my eyes hydrated with drops.

After the procedure

The nurse helped with the first set of anaesthetising and dilating drops, and warned that the pain would begin in around an hour once the main operation anaesthetic wore off. My eyes look totally normal aside from having enormously dilated pupils, so after donning sunglasses (even though it’s February and dark at 6pm) I got a Hailo cab home, as it was totally freezing.

The evening was spent in sunglasses and low light at home, drinking gin and tonic. Edgerton’s pink gin is my favourite at the moment, if you’re interested. The taste is much better than the branding.

I could read newspaper headlines on the coffee table from the sofa, and I can read text messages when I set the font size to 40pt. This is poor vision by anyone’s standards, but a huge improvement over my previous unaided vision. I have ghosting, fog and light sensitivity but, crucially, no pain. Putting in eye drops every 15 minutes is a pain, comically annoying in fact, so much so I begin thinking about starting a niche business selling headbands with tiny optics on which drain directly into the eye. Overall I felt happy to have survived with only minimal discomfort though.

And so to bed, in sexy goggles. Here’s what they look like.

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LASEK diary: making the decision

Last Friday, 3rd February I had LASEK surgery on my eyes to correct my short-sightedness. I’ve been writing a little diary of my experience since, because I found others’ experiences online enormously helpful in deciding to go ahead with the procedure.

I’ve been a bespectacled fellow since the age of seven. Being able to see the blackboard in class was brilliant. No more squinting! But, of course, children are cruel, and especially in the early years, my extra pair of eyes caused much ridicule.

On the left is a pic of me in my second or third pair of glasses. I think I’m about 10, posing in the back garden with my mum before going to my aunt’s wedding. Mum chose not to wear her glasses (which we called her Deidre Barlows – now trendy again in Shoreditch) for this shot.

Thankfully this was some years before Harry Potter, otherwise I would most definitely have had a lightning bolt carved into my head by the other kids in school.

When I was fifteen I pleaded with my parents to let me wear monthly contact lenses, and as my sister had been wearing them for around four years they relented. At that point I think the prescription in both eyes was around -5. To start with it would take me a full half hour just to get the soft lenses in and out of my streaming eyes, but after a few months it became pretty natural.

Aged 28, and with a pretty stable -7 or thereabouts in both eyes, I found it increasingly difficult to wear contact lenses – I would regularly have bouts of sore eyes or blepharitis with monthly lenses, leaving me dependent on dailies (I have an astigmatism too, so they end up being at least £1.50 a pair). I run a fair bit, and go to the gym, and glasses always slide off my nose when I get sweaty, so it’s a bit of a pain.

I went for a free consultation at a local Optical Express store back in November 2011 to discuss having lasers fitted. The bad news, they told me, was that I wouldn’t be able to cut shapes in ice or levitate objects. The good news was that I was a suitable candidate for LASIK, having thick corneas. I came home unable to see properly after having a serious amount of dilating drops in my eyes. A week or so later I received a phone call offering me the procedure for around £350 less than the initial quote, and a further reduction of £700 was possible if I could be flexible about my dates. Like all providers they offer interest-free credit too.

I felt pretty excited at that point – but also a bit weirded out by the aggressive sales policy. In January 2012 I went for a private consultation at Moorfields Eye Hospital – not free this time (£100), and mostly involved the same set of tests, but the interpretation was different. The consultant explained I was not a suitable candidate for LASIK as my corneas are particularly elastic, and therefore LASEK (aka PRK) is the only option. I had already read quite a lot about the differences between the two techniques.

Later I learned that this conflicting story was the result of Optical Express practice of using non-surgeons to interpret scan results – in all likelihood, if I’d gone with Optical Express, the surgeon would have spotted this on the day of surgery and switched me from LASIK to LASEK. This happens to a small number of people, including my friend Hugh. Given that the recovery time for LASIK is generally 48-72 hours, vs around a week for LASEK, I’d be pretty annoyed to learn of the change of plan on the day.

After some thought and reading up on the difference between the procedures, I took the plunge and booked in at Moorfields on Friday 3rd Feb, and as LASEK takes some time to recover from, I also took the following week off work.

In the next post I’ll describe the day of the procedure. I’m writing this on Day 4 of the recovery and my eyes are hurting fron the strain of typing this in!

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On surviving the 2010 London Marathon

After a week of eating copious amounts of rice, pasta, potatoes and sweet things, it is done. I finished my first marathon in one piece.

Arriving in Greenwich Park at 8:30am in sideways rain is not the way I normally like to start my Sundays, but I did pray (despite my atheism) for rain on race day and down it came, soaking the many thousands of runners standing anxiously in the portaloo queues waiting for the all-important pre-race relief.

Once over the start line (between a womble, some fairies, a polystyrene wall and a dinasour), the first six miles passed in a flash, steaming past a variety of wonderful seldom-seen south-east London treats: a Woolwich pub turned into a pirate ship; a priest throwing holy water on passing runners; a mini brass-band squeezed into a front yard; a myriad of brave late-April street side barbecues; and morris-dancing ladies. Seeing friends at 6 and 11 miles was fantastic. And suddenly I was at Tower Bridge, and the crowds were immense and roary.

At mile 22
Me, sweaty and beaming, at mile 22, courtesy of Andy Patterson

Things got a lot tougher between about 14 and 20 miles – having run around the Isle of Dogs during training I was ready for it to be tricky, but the humidity and the sense of shared dread among the runners, combined with the dwindling crowds, made it really hard going. At about 17 miles I bumped into a friend J, and then the t’other J met me at 21 for a sip of tea which I think powered me on past mile 22 and a gaggle of amazing, cacophonous Uni friends onwards to the finish, where the hundreds of people shouting my name – My Name – and grinning madly when I made eye contact – spurred me on towards the finish.

Crossing the finish line was followed by wave after wave of relief, rather than immediate euphoria, which has slowly, quietly grown over the last day or so as the enormity of this achievement, the focus of last four months, has sunk in. I started training in November, and since then I’ve since skidded around Hyde Park in sub-zero temperatures with the amazing Howard, grappled with achilles tendonitis, suffered a pretty aggravating metacarpal fracture, dodged the coast road traffic at rush hour in Cape Town, and been locked in two of London’s parks after running around them too late. Despite all this, I managed to finish my first marathon in five hours and one minute. And my legs are feeling every second of it.

The main and best thing though is that with your help I smashed my Shelter fundraising target of £1600 to raise well over £2000 – and there’s still time to sponsor me if you haven’t already. Thanks so much for your support.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be down the pub…

  • Number of tears shed: a fair few
  • Litres of water drunk: 4
  • Number of jelly babies eaten: many
  • Days to go until the next one: we’ll see

Sweet sweet tapering

After a few weeks of doing 15/17/19 mile long runs in addition to shorter ones in the week, tapering feels good. With only one week to go until the race, it was a treat to head out for a leisurely 8-miler around Hyde Park, under perfect blue, plane-free skies with Howard. Seeing folk having picnics under trees in full blossom was a big change from the slip-slidey run we did back in January.

With only two more short training runs to go, this week is all about the pasta and giving my legs a relative rest before the big day. The nerves are starting to kick in, as I thought they would. Nothing I do now can improve my readiness for the gruelling task ahead, but it’s tempting to think that just adding a mile on here or there will help. It won’t, so from here in it’s all about summoning the mental strength to get through.

My legs will get a huge boost from knowing I’ve raised over £1200 towards my £1600 fundraising target for Shelter, with over £500 coming from deep-pocketed friends who piled round last Friday to be fed a world of carbohydrates (think Come Dine With Me, but with more pasta). If you’d like to help me get a little further towards my target, please donate over at my justgiving page.

I’ve started running with RunMeter, a neat little app which tracks route progress and plots it on a map. The neatest features about it is its ability to tweet location / pace updates and read out replies. If you’re a tweeter you can follow me at @simonruns to check how I’m progressing around the course, and you can send me messages of encouragement to be fed into my ear.

Will you be watching the race? Let me know if you are, and where, and I’ll try and look out for you. I reckon I’ll be finishing between 4h30m and 5h. And then having a very long sit down.

  • Days to go: 6
  • Calories per day: at least 3000
  • Money left to raise: £392
  • Volume of ash in lungs: increasing
  • Likelihood of winning marathon due to elite athletes being stranded by ash: also increasing

Pink Velcro

Pink stripy paw Now, I don’t recommend picking up a fracture of any description whilst training for a marathon – it’s a pain. Most of my long runs in the last 6 weeks or so have involved swelling and pain, so I was very relieved to hear today, on my latest hand therapist check-up, that I’m healing up very nicely indeed. I was even rewarded by having a length of neon-pink velcro to accessorise my new, less restrictive splint. I’m not allowed to do any weight training for another 6 weeks or so but I can live with that.

So how’s the running going? Truth is after a difficult few weeks post-injury in February, things have been going well. I was lucky enough to spend a week in South Africa this month and whilst there managed to complete a few pretty long runs on hills in the heat, which was tough but great training. I’ve also been gorge walking a couple of times which I think has strengthened my achilles.

Last night I completed my longest run to date at 17.1 miles. I took it pretty steady and did a couple of laps around Hyde Park (though I did accidentally get locked in Kensington Gardens and nearly speared my thigh climbing out*), before heading up and looping around Regent’s Park, to make it home in about 2h45m.

I’ve started employing a couple of little mental tricks to keep me going on longer runs. One of these is to tell myself that I’ve only run four miles so far (regardless of the truth) and that I only really have to think about the next four. Weirdly that thought alone seems to give my legs more renewed energy than any number of jelly babies.

I just need to do one more 18/19 miler and then it’s three weeks of sweet, sweet tapering and pasta-eating. As exhilarating and exciting as completing such long distances is, I’m very much looking forward to getting my legs and my life back.

  • Days to go: 27
  • Miles in the last week: 29
  • Thighs: disproportionately bulbous
  • Sponsorship: Up to £305 – but a long way to go! Please please sponsor me!

* Getting stuck in parks has been a general theme of my training. Last week I ran around the Greenpoint Stadium in Cape Town and accidentally got stuck in a not-yet-finished bit of landscape park in front of it…

Glutes loose about this hoose

In my first ever physio rehab session this week, with the unforgiving Kelly, I noticed that one of my knees doesn’t point forwards like the other one. It points inwards slightly.

“It’s because you have a weak bum”, piped Kelly, cheerily, “especially on your right side”. This is the major cause of my achilles woes, which is having to work harder to deal with my foot landing the wrong way.

So, to my daily routine of pasta-a-go-go and finger clenches for my sore paw, I must now add clam stretches, one-legged squats, transversus amdominus engagement (a bit like pelvis floor tensing, which I can sneakily do in meetings).

If I reach the £300 mark this week in donations I will share pictures of humiliating butt stretches. Clothed, obviously. I must retain some dignity.

  • Days to go: 57
  • Money raised so far: £190. Thanks all! Keep it coming! There’s a long way to go. Sponsor my puny ass!
  • Miles this week: 13
  • Word of the week: clench

A few unexpected hurdles

Stripy paw

No running this week as I waited to see how bad the grumpy achilles & fractured hand are bearing up. The good news is that the achilles has got a lot better with some rest. The less good news is the hand is still pretty sore.

I’m all strapped up like Dennis The Menace in my fancy splint which was custom-made for me by a lovely hand therapist at UCLH. I even had a choice of blue, red or neon-pink velcro.

I’m going to attempt my first run with it tomorrow, I’m super-conscious that my balance won’t be what it was, and the jarring probably won’t do it much good.

Running impairment aside, these are some more fundamental things I’ve also found difficult this week:

  1. Turning socks inside out
  2. Putting socks on once you have made them the right way round
  3. Doing up button-fly jeans (especially with my little mid-twenties paunch…)
  4. Taking the lid off marmalade
  5. Cracking open an egg in one piece
  6. Eating porridge without spilling all over myself
  7. Cutting up food (thanks to all who have helped in this matter this week!)

I’m still very much on for the marathon, and whilst it’s very unlikely I’ll be setting any speed records, it’ll be a huge achievement to get round.

As it’s been quite a mentally and physically tough week – more so than any other week so far, I’ve decided to try and boost my morale a bit by setting up my fundraising page.

ShelterPlease, please sponsor me – I’m raising money for Shelter, whose good work for the homeless has always filled me with admiration. Hearing the stories of people they help only serves to put my minor injury into perspective and strengthen my resolve to complete the marathon and hit my fundraising target.

The best laid training plans…

Gang aft agley. The last couple of weeks I’ve been hit with with a few setbacks.

It’s worth mentioning first off that Howard and I managed a decent 12-miler around Regent’s Park, Primrose Hill, down along the canal through Camden and King’s Cross to Angel, before heading down through the City to cross over the river and head back up over Waterloo bridge to finish. We didn’t set any speed records but it felt good to run a long way in the low sun, seeing so much of the city in one go.

A few days and shorter runs later though my achilles started to play up again. As it got no better this week I finally went to see a physio on Friday who taped up my leg, suggested switching to cycling for a week, perhaps some new trainers (which don’t correct my over-pronation quite so much) and some exercises for my glutes (I have a weak butt, allegedly). All of which not ideal but in no way showstopping.

Weaving through Covent Garden on my return to work from the physio however, I slipped and fell down a metal staircase, landing on my left hand and bum. After an excruciating 90-min work meeting I took myself to A&E where they informed me I have a fractured metacarpal.


I have a splint which I’m wearing for the next few weeks and i’m just hoping it heals quickly, though there is still a fair bit of swelling as the above shows. With tying shoelaces and putting t-shirts on a bit of a challenge, I’ve realised this is going to limit my training options still further.

  • Days to go: 71
  • Typing with: one hand
  • Feeling: undeterred
  • Eating: food which can be eaten with a spork

Training for the London Marathon: Week 4

On Tuesday, a chap next to me at the gym fell off his treadmill. He recovered himself pretty well and, after shooting off the back and into the cross trainer behind, got back on and carried on gingerly. Particularly impressive considering he was going at a fair lick of 12km/h at a hefty incline. It’s always been a big fear of mine – it only takes one wrong footfall to end up faceslamming the deck with significant force.

Obviously as the internet (and procrastionation) knows no bounds, someone has already created a playlist of You’ve Been Framed style treadmill capers. Watch and wince.

Things I learned this week:

  1. Eating cherries can reduce muscle pain
  2. 94% of runners are College/University educated, and 20% say their favourite restaurant chain is McDonalds. This and other statistics from the 2007 Running USA Conference in San Diego can be found over at Dean Karnazes’ blog
  3. Whilst running long distances, the body cannot, in fact, reabsorb waste water from the bladder, as my dubious running book told me. However, Frogs can reabsorb glucose from their bladders.

Next week: it’s all about the sponsorship…