LASIK: A Castaway’s Luxury Of Perfect Sight

Last Summer, BBC Radio 4 ran a “listener’s choice” version of their classic, programme Desert Island Discs. The audience was invited to share personal memories and the significant music that sparked them. No doubt a terrific compilation CD emerged featuring the eclectic mix; but, being a curious kind of person, I would also like to know what luxury most of us non-celebrities would chose to take with us to this imaginary island.

Abandoned on a desert island with only your carefully selected book choice for company just imagine how frustrating it would be if you couldn’t see to read.

As a long term fan of the programme, I find this almost throwaway add on as insightful as the castaway’s musical selection – from Cath Kidston’s hot water bottle (well she feels the cold and it could get chilly at night alone on a tropical island), to Simon Cowell’s choice of a mirror (I rest my case!)

Since 2003 the most popular category of luxury has been music – either instruments or iPods – while carefully selected food items (from mayonnaise to caviar) come in second. The need to record thoughts and feelings (in the form of pencils and paper) also ranked highly as did aids to a good night’s sleep – like a comfortable bed or soft pillow.

No doubt all worthy “luxuries”, however, I find it quite shocking that glasses and/or contact lenses are not at the top of the list for everyone who hasn’t yet had Laser Eye Surgery.

Abandoned on a desert island with only your carefully selected book choice (and the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare which are conveniently already there), for company just imagine how frustrating it would be if you couldn’t see to read.

While, unable to make out a dangerous wild animal on the horizon, or a tasty coconut atop a tree, those who are short sighted would also be at distinct disadvantage when it comes to basic survival.

Presenter Kirsty Young’s desert island might be a fantasy, but the daily issues faced by thousands of people in the real world are an unfortunate reality.

Environmental consultant, Julia Hailes MBE, underwent a blended vision procedure at the London Vision Clinic in December. However, as someone who had been reliant on wearing contact lenses for 35 years, she well understands what life is like – even in extreme situations – for the short sighted.

“It is literally like coping with a disability – it might be manageable – but it is a physical handicap none the less”, she told me.

“In evolutionary terms, in the stone age – with my poor eye sight – I would not have survived very long.  I would probably have been eaten by some wild animal far sooner than somebody who could see well.”

Julia’s passion for caring for the planet has taken her to several remote areas such as the lower reaches of the Amazon rain forests, and isolated parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

“Once, when I was back packing around Central America for 18-months, in a jungle-like environment, I discovered some sort of fungus growing on my contact lenses. It was hard and I couldn’t even pick it off, it was as if it was actually in my lens. As I was in such an isolated spot, there was nothing I could do about it – obviously I didn’t have any sterilising solution with me – so I just had to wear them as usual.

“On another occasion I lost a lens and completed a long trip wearing only one. Although my eyes seemed to compensate, I really couldn’t see properly or judge distances correctly. I was probably something of a liability to my companions especially when we were climbing.”

Julia acknowledges now that she was extremely lucky that her risky use of hard contact lenses in her youth did not result in long term eye damage: (link to amoeba post) while, having travelled to many remote parts of the planet she also understands the many hypothetical concerns carried by back packers, sailors and others bitten by an insatiable travel bug.

“You have to wonder what would happen if you were kidnapped by pirates or held hostage. Without glasses or lenses and unable to see, it would be even more of a nightmare”, she said.

Although Julia’s travelling experiences might be somewhat extreme, my friend Amanda (who also needs glasses and/or contact lenses to function properly), told me that she understands the feeling of vulnerability in day to day life.

“I always try and make sure that I have a spare pair of glasses with me, just in case I have to remove my lenses. If I forget them, I do feel concerned.

“It’s also difficult to be spontaneous – to stay over at a friend’s house on the spur of the moment, for instance. If invited, the first thing I think about is whether I’ve brought my glasses for when I take my lenses out. It is something that is always with you … a worrying stone in your shoe.”

Of course, the way to shake out that particular pebble is to have Laser Eye Surgery.

When I spoke to Julia she had recently returned from a walking holiday over the mountains between Italia and Slovenia.

“It was absolutely beautiful”, she told me. “One of the hotels had huge plate glass windows and I cannot begin to tell you the joy of waking up and seeing clearly the mountains and magnificent view – before, when I woke up, everything was a blur until I had put in my lenses.”

Another London Vision Clinic patient, Randa, summed up the liberating feeling of travelling light:

“I have just returned from a two week trip across Europe which is my first holiday since my eye surgery, (blended vision) in November.  My eyes have settled now and at their best and I can honestly say what a joy it was to travel without two pairs of glasses and a pair of prescription sunglasses! Almost each day I still smile to myself thinking how glad that I am to have had the surgery as everyday life without glasses is so much easier now.  I am so happy!”