LASEK diary: two months in

This is the eleventh 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.

It’s now eight weeks after my LASEK surgery and I can happily report things improved a lot since the last post. Around three weeks after surgery, my right eye became pretty clear, although my left eye was still experiencing some double vision. That is still ever so slightly true, but my overall vision is now probably about 90% of what it was with glasses before the procedure. That is to say: I am no longer struggling to see things at all, thankfully.  They may well continue to get a little better over the next few months.

I now regularly forget that I’ve had the procedure (apart from when I’m tired and think I need to take my contact lenses out, only to remember they aren’t in!). I’ve experienced absolutely no dry eye (but sometimes I put drops in late in the evening if I’ve had a long day). It’s great now that they have settled down enough for me to use my computer at full resolution again and I’ve started taking / editing pictures with my SLR again.

There’s one more check-up in late April at the three month point, but then I’m done.

All in all I’d recommend the procedure. Aside from a few weeks of frustration whilst I was healing, I think it’s been a total success. If I were to go through it again, I’d have it done in a break between jobs to have a proper four week break to recover.

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LASEK diary: two weeks in

This is the ninth 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.

Two full weeks in after surgery and things have improved a tiny bit this week, but I’m still getting headaches using a computer for long periods of time (which my job requires, unfortunately) and going back to my usual routine of cycling to work, doing a couple of runs per week and working full days doesn’t seem to have done me any favours.

I’m keeping going with the dexamethasone drops every other hour, and refresh at least once an hour. I suspect that the dexamethasone is making my skin more sensitive and scratchy than normal, which is odd, but these things happen.

Both eyes are still a bit blurry, and though eye drops bring some comfort and clarity it’s pretty short lived. If my eyes stay at this level I’ll be disappointed in the outcome.

I know I need to be patient and that this might take up to three months to be back to similar pre-op vision.

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LASEK diary: day 10

This is the eighth 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.

Monday 13th February: went back to work for the first time today, which I was nervous about. Yesterday I went along to rehearse with a choir I’m hoping to join and sight reading music was a challenge – my eyes got very tired very quickly and went from blurry to blurrier.

Unfortunately something similar happened at work. I need to use a screen for most of the day, so I battled through with my text size bumped up significantly (much to the amusement of my colleagues who could see every email I was writing from a distance of approximately five miles) but still my close up vision was quite doubled, although distance vision was OK. Determined to get back to my normal routine, I struggled on, cycling to and from work and going for a run (which my legs were pretty happy about after 10 days off) but by late evening I could barely see the television and my eyes were strained and I had a headache. This was the first time since the surgery that I’ve had any real pain. My vision at the end of the day was noticeably worse than at the start of the day so I tried to spend the evening resting as much as possible.

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LASEK diary: day 7

This is the seventh 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.

Today I went for my post-op checkup back at Moorfields. I was able to get myself there fine, although the eyesight was a bit variable. I had struggled to find chickpeas in the supermarket the previous day so was feeling a bit flat. It was encouraging to be told that my eyes were healing normally by the optician, and that I was ready to have the contact lens bandage removed from my eyes – this was done with a pair of special tweezers and didn’t hurt at all. Following this I had some small plugs fitted to my tear ducts to help keep my eyes moist during the healing process.

I then saw the man who did the procedure itself, along with two trainees who all had a good look at my eyes, and told me to be patient as the recovery can take a long time with LASEK, especially for patients who previously had a high prescription. They offered to fit me with a temporary contact lens to help me get back to work but I decided  to go without.

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LASEK diary: day 6

This is the sixth 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.

Six days in – Wednesday 8th February. Today my sight has deteriorated a bit. After some delight yesterday at being able to use my iPhone close up without having to bump the text size up, that has become difficult again, and distance vision has deteriorated.

Apparently vision is quite variable (and mostly quite poor) to begin with as the epithelium, the surface layer of cells on the cornea, begins to heal. The damaged cells need to be replaced, which can take a month or more. I’m still a long way from having vision good enough to work and I certainly wouldn’t go driving.

Today’s medication routine is still…

  • anti-inflammatory every other hour
  • refresh every other hour (alternately)
  • anti-biotic four times a day
  • vitamin c (500g twice a day)

No painkillers, though.

Getting a bit bored of listening to French podcasts now.

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LASEK diary: day 3

This is the fifth 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.

I got up at about 8:30am after another fine night’s sleep, and am rejoicing as I am now down to one set of drops per hour (instead of one set every half hour or fifteen minutes as it has been). Washed my hair this morning using comedy goggles, which snapped mid-way through causing a sort of awful shampoo-in-eye-post-op-first-world-problem crisis.

Eyes were much more comfortable today – no noticable scratchiness at all – but sight is still blurry. When squinting it’s possible to read the small digital clock on the oven from a distance of about 2m. Before the procedure I would have needed to be about 5-10cm from the clock to tell the time, so this is still quite exciting. Using my phone or computer is very difficult though.

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LASEK diary: day 2

This is the fourth 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.

Day 2 (Sunday 5th February) of the recovery was definitely the least comfortable so far, but by no means painful. Again I had a great night of sleep, waking up at 10:30am. Vision was still very blurry, and my eyes were quite watery and still felt a bit large in my head. Feels a bit like the soreness you get after crying a lot, which makes sense given the amount of liquids going into my eyes.

The dilating eyedrops meant I looked a bit like this picture (on the left). I ventured out for the first time, walking down to Soho and back, wearing the super shades which is a great look in early February. It snowed overnight which meant that the world was a little higher contrast than usual, in my defence.

I couldn’t read road signs until I was about 20ft away and everything is very ghosty and foggy still. Actually found the walk a bit exhausting so collapsed back on the sofa on return.

Happily, I had a shower with some goggles which felt good, but didn’t wash my hair, so the greasefest continued atop my head.

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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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