Thursday, August 16, 2007

I Can See Clearly Now The Laser's Done

So, quite a few people have asked me what the laser eye surgery was like. Some in person, and one - bless his sibling heart - by e-mail, urging me to post the full story online. And as I am little more than a whorish blogging jukebox, and am at a little bit of a pause between writing things (five bits of 'flash fiction' and a 30min stage monologue done this week, and a screenplay to kick off in the next day or so, I'm being startlingly productive at the mo), who am I to say no?

All right then, the background; before the treatment (look - foreshadowing! You can tell I take this writing lark seriously), my eyes were slightly short-sighted (a -1.25 prescription, I think) and with astigmatism in the left eye (which is less painful than it sounds). As a result, it was recommended that I have LASIK treatment on them, with Infralase. What does this mean? Well, I'm glad you asked. LASIK treatment is where they cut the surface of the eye itself, flip it up like the top of a boiled egg, and then use lasers to burn at the inside of the eye to make it the right shape (as you may remember from school, people are short- or long-sighted because their eyes are wrongly shaped, meaning that the focal point falls in front of, or behind, the correct point in the eye). There's another treatment, called LASEK, which is the slightly older version of the surgery, I think, which seems to involve using a contact lens-type arrangement instead of the flap process, but I'm not certain. Check elsewhere on the interweb if you want to know. Oh, and the Infralase thing is advisable for astigmatism, as it means that an eye-recognition system is involved, tracking the eye if you move it during the procedure, and making sure the laser continues to reshape things correctly.

Right, that's the science part, let me tell you about what happened on Friday afternoon. I went down to Ultralase (that's who I had it with, as they offer a Lifetime Guarantee, as opposed to some of the other firms, whose impressively low prices could be offset by it, I dunno, being performed by a wild-eyed man with a potato peeler and a souped-up laser pointer), and sat and waited. And waited. And… you get the idea. They were running late. Hmph, a bit.

Anyway, later than it should have been, they took me for another eye check, just to ensure that the procedure I was about to undergo was still suitable for me. And it was, so they put anaesthetic drops into my eyes, and painted around my eyes with some kind of sterilising thing, apparently a bit like the iodine they paint onto the abdomen before performing a caesarean (usually a female abdomen, though I have gained weight in recent years, so perhaps I look a bit pregnant? Anyway, my shirt remained buttoned up). As I was the canvas for this daubing, I couldn't see what this looked like, but the woman doing it assured me I looked a bit like I'd been in a fight, and probably lost. Oh good, glad I didn't miss an opportunity to look ridiculous.

I sat for about ten minutes or so looking like Soo the Panda, and noticed I was able to blink and move my eyes without any hassle, but they did feel a bit heavy, as if I'd been wearing contact lenses and had stayed up all night or similar (hey, it's not a hollow comparison, I used to be a bit of a wildman, but that's a tale for another time). They reapplied the drops a few more times, then put some of those elasticated anti-germ plastic 'shoes' over my shoes, and an anti-germ shower cap on my head. Oddly enough, I don't recall them putting a gown over the rest of my clothes, but maybe that's Crap Memory Syndrome on my part.

They led me into a room with scary signs on the door, saying 'BEWARE - LASER' and with pictures of pacemakers with red diagonal lines through them, and being one of the finest minds of my generation, I guessed this must be the room where it all took place, and narrowed my eyes and nodded like Holmes when my suspicions were confirmed. They asked me to lie down on an elevated bed thing. If you've ever seen someone on a TV programme like House having a PET scan (I think that's the name), then you'll know the kind of bed-table thing I mean. And looming over it was the laser, which looked more like the business end of a Moulinex than something out of Star Wars.

I hopped up onto the table and they pivoted me into the appropriate position, then put in some more drops and did some fiddling with the machine to make sure it was pointing at the right place (so it would burn my eyes, and not, say, burn out my septum, as much as that would be useful in the future should I decide to develop a cocaine habit), and then they put a bandage over one eye (the left, as the right was the first burn-ee) and the doctor came in and started clamping my eyes into place so I wouldn't go blinking and ending up with a laser-ventilated eyelid or anything like that.

This was probably the strangest part of the whole process; it didn't hurt because the eye had been anaesthetised, but … well, if you've ever accidentally poked yourself in the corner of the eye and made it move so that it dealigns from the other eye, leaving you with a weird stereo-image effect, or if you remember the image that the 3-D ViewMaster toy offered when you'd half-pressed down the little black lever… well, then you're getting an idea of what it looked like. One eye, covered by the bandage, was open and looking at the inside of the bandage, whilst the other was being moved around by someone else, and seeing all sorts of things around me as he got the eyeball ready to have a flap made.

Probably fortunately, because he was so very close, I couldn't focus on what he was doing, so didn't see him slice across the surface of my eye with a Swiss army knife (or possibly some other implement), but then things went very blurry all of a sudden in that eye (because he'd flipped up the top surface of it - mmm, lovely), and then after a bit more fiddling about I was under the laser, and they were telling me how many bursts of light there'd be (three for the right eye, four for the left - I guess the astigmatic eyeball needed more work done), and once that was done, they flipped the flap back closed, like putting down the toilet seat, and then repeated the process for the other eye.

It wasn't - let me state this for the record - painful at all. But it was a little odd picking up a strange smell and realising it was the smell of my own eyes burning. Let me say that again: I could smell my eyes burning.

It was probably over in about five minutes, if not less, and when I sat up afterwards, I could see… fuzzily. It was like I'd been swimming underwater too much in a chlorinated pool, as things were a bit grey and indistinct. But I'd been warned to expect this - frankly, things were a lot more clear than I thought they'd be, I was expecting it to look all streaky and strange.

They took me out to the stylish waiting room, where my stylish fiancée was waiting, and then I was led to a darkened room to let my eyes rest a bit. They rested, and then they gave me another quick eye test - no major change from before the process, really, but no damage done, which is reassuring, gave me a bag full of after-care goodies, and told me to come back the next day for a check-up.

Getting home was okay-ish - sunglasses helped, but my eyes kept wanting to close; I'm guessing they were objecting to their treatment and refusing to stay open if they were likely to be sliced and fried again. Fortunately, my lovely companion saw me to the door, and fed me food, and was very tolerant when I suggested an early night (not like that, you perv - they advised against 'contact sports' for a week or two. Or was it a month? Anyway, get out of the gutter, you filthmonger).

You'll be pleased to know that one aspect of the aftercare is that, when sleeping, you have to tape little plastic covers over your eyes - being who I am, they put me in mind of the eyes of the Spider-Man costume as worn by Nicholas Hammond in the old TV show; that is, they're like sunglass lenses, though made of clear plastic, and with holes in to allow air to circulate. So I did that on Friday night, and as I'm sure you can imagine, the sight was ridiculous enough to ensure any amorous feelings m'lady might have had were well and truly cold-showered.

And so to bed. Despite it being a Saturday, I woke the next morning at work-time ("so," any colleagues reading this will think, "around 10, was that, John?"), and … well, to continue the Spider-Man comparisons (and I will), it was like that bit in the first Raimi Spider-Man film where Peter Parker realises that he doesn't need his glasses any more. I could see across the room, and the details were sharp. Unlike Mr Parker, I didn't find that my midsection had suddenly become a clearly-defined six-pack, though (my midriff probably looks more like the contents of a six-pack. Of chocolate cakes. Fried. In chocolate batter), but that wasn't a predicted side-effect of the LASEK anyway, so let’s not feign surprise or dismay, folks.

I went off for my day-after check-up, and the lady there seemed faintly surprised by the speed with which my eyes were recovering, but I wasn't complaining, especially when she gave me an eye test again, and this time I was able to read to the bottom line of the chart (and no, that's not because I'd done it so often I'd learned the letters). Which makes my vision pretty much 20/20, apparently. And the slightly bloodshot nature of the eyeballs is clearing up as the days go by.

Obviously, I'm very pleased, and whilst I'm delighting in being able to see stuff without glasses or contact lenses, it's often in the little moments that it hits home; when it started raining the other day and I instinctively reached up to take off the glasses which weren't there (to stop them getting wet), or when I pat my pockets as I leave home and remember no, I don't need to take the specs along any more. That kind of thing.

So, if you have the money lying around - or you'll pass the credit test for the Interest Free Credit payment scheme - and your eyes are suitable for laser treatment, I'd recommend it, but of course some people like the style aspect of glasses - different frames, etc. That was never the case for me, and what with the whole running / diving / mountain-climbing thing, they were becoming more of a nuisance hence the decision to get them fried. Er, I mean, 'professionally laser-treated'.

Any questions about any of it, feel free to e-mail me at - so many people know someone who knows someone who's had their eyes done, but rather than relegate it to the status of an urban myth or other 'foaf' tale, why not get genuine first-generation info from me?

(Bro, I'm looking at you… and my eyes see you now!)


Me said...

I love the wit in this! Popped over having seeing your post on Stevyn Blog - I will be back!

John Soanes said...

Very kind!
Please do feel free to visit often - get a cup of tea, make yourself at home, you're very welcome!