It has now been almost a month since I had my eyes lasered. People stopped asking me how my recovery was going about two weeks ago, because there was nothing to say. My eyes feel completely normal, and my vision is, the optometrist says, “better than 20/20” (whatever that means. It’s good!) My Dad scrutinised my eyes when he saw me, in case they looked different. (They don’t).
Much like my blog about getting a tattoo, I’m going to tell my whole laser-eye-surgery story, primarily in case you would also like to get your eyes lasered and you’re curious what it’s like.
Content note: I am going to write about people getting up close and personal with my eyeballs.
Why did you get laser eye surgery?
Primarily because I am vain and I hated the way I looked in glasses. I was bullied in primary school because I was the only person who wore them, and the way I looked in them contributed to my low self-esteem during my teens.
Secondarily, I am the kind of person who does an expensive and painful thing to solve a problem permanently, rather than spending a little bit to mitigate the issue over a long time. I already had contact lenses that I could put in on the first day of the month and take out on the last, and as my brothers were keen to analyse, I will also save money on eye tests and glasses and contact lenses and lens solution over the rest of my life. I’ve got it out the way, I told myself.
What kind of laser eye surgery did you get, and where?
I got LASIK surgery (the less painful and quicker-to-heal variety; the alternative being LASEK), and I went to Optegra, in central London.
What were the preliminary tests like?
They test your eyes in perhaps half a dozen ways. They use a machine that gives you your precise prescription, and work out your prescription by having you read out letters. They blast jets of air into your eyes to check for glaucoma. And they scan the surface of your eye to create a 3D graph of the thickness of your cornea (the front layer).
I was keen to get A Good Deal, so I had full preliminary tests done twice in two places: Optegra and Vision Express. (Vision Express said I needed the more-painful LASIK procedure, and wanted me to pay £1200 more than Optegra. I had to delicately extricate myself from paying the deposit by promising to ‘think about it’).
Vision Express also made me watch a marketing video, which killed my enthusiasm for them stone dead.
It was profoundly boring to spend an hour or so having your eyes scrutinised from every angle, but when I was given a surgery date and paid the 10% deposit and knew it was really happening, I was so excited. For about a week before the surgery I had to wear glasses (apparently contact lenses ‘squish down’ your eyes like a plaster), and whenever I thought about it I got breathless.
What is the LASIK procedure like?
I got so excited about the prospect of being glasses and lenses free that on the day itself I pretty much forgot to be nervous. I had lunch with my mum, who was going to drive me home afterwards, and my boyfriend took me to the centre and sat with me in my ‘recovery room’.
He became too nervous and had to go home, giving me a hug for luck; I had to wait for about an hour to actually be seen, and after feeling such excitement I actually had a little nap. But all of a sudden a surgical assistant came and fetched me, and took me down in the lift to the basement.
*The procedure itself; don’t read if you’re squeamish*
I was lain on a gurney and had some towels put under my calves so I was really comfortable. At either end of me, there were big, white machines; the whole room was white and immaculate like a dentist office, but even more so. The surgeon firstly had to create a flap on the front of my eye; then they would rotate me 180 degrees and do the actual correction using the other machine.
I was nervous now. I lay down and had anaesthetic drops put in, which started working quite quickly. What followed was perhaps the most uncomfortable bit of the operation: the preparation. I was acutely conscious of the surgeon pinning my eyelashes open, putting a speculum in my eye to hold my lids, and sweeping brushes across the surface of my eye to clean it. I felt absolutely nothing, but I knew I should feel agonising pain: it was that conflict that really disturbed me, not the actual sensation. I turned off my mind as much as I could.
After painting my eyeball, they took a suction cup, attached it to the machine via a tube, and put the cup on my eye. (On. My. Eye). To make the flaps, I had to look up at a light in the machine, and it took about twenty seconds per eye. My head wasn’t tied down, and the surgeon gripped my head so that I didn’t move. When I adjusted my hands, I noticed they were slick with sweat.
Next up was the laser itself. The speculae had been removed so they put them back on. My eyes felt hot and raw and strange, and I wished I could keep them closed. There a different pattern in the laser this time; a sort of red and green coloured mesh. The godforsaken suction cup also came back.
They kept saying “You’re doing very well; just look straight”, and I remember thinking I had no idea what straight was.
Most horrifying about the whole procedure was the smell of burning eye. (It smelled like meat).
Once I was done, I was taken back upstairs in a wheelchair. The surgical assistant kept saying “You can read that sign already, can’t you?”, and I could, and made happy noises, but my eyes felt apart from me. (It reminded me of a book called Bandit by Moll Brodak, where she gets ill and while she recovers, says that her head is no longer her; her is in her chest).
What was the recovery like?
The surgical assistant told me that the end of the surgery was the worst I would feel. He lied; the worst came about an hour later when the anaesthetic wore off.
By the time I got to my mum’s car I was really uncomfortable. My eyes felt like they were red-hot, or like my eyelids were made of sandpaper. It was horrible to keep them open, although I was able to send selfies and text people to let them know I was okay.
I had these lovely goggles on, which helped block out light, but it was still very painful. Mum ended up doing a small shop for me on the way back, and I almost got hit by a cyclist on my way into my house. That evening I lay with my bedroom door ajar and the light on outside, which was all I could bear, listening to Alan Partridge’s audiobook, eating Twiglets and bananas, and feeling very far from myself.
The following day, however, I had already turned a corner. I opened the curtains, and I could see the plants in my nature reserve in HD. The pain and discomfort was perhaps 80% gone, and it went up to 90% by the end of the day. Matt was going to come and take care of me, but I ended up going to him; the Tube and buses and so on were no problem.
I was completely fine a week afterwards. The only symptom that lasted a while was the sensation of having something stuck under my eyelid. Even now, I have “starburst” around lights, but I am hopeful that that will disappear in a couple of months. (It’s due to tiny imperfections between the eyes’ lenses and the cornea ‘flap’).
I had expected the surgery to be a lot less invasive and the recovery to be much more gradual. I was wrong on both counts. I still get a little thrill when I think about contact lenses or glasses and remember I don’t need them. And I thought that perhaps I would have something interesting to say about my recovery, as I did with my tattoo, but no. I’m already free!