‘Laser Focus’ – Women’s Health Featured Article On London Vision Clinic
Lasers Have Become The Modern Miracle Of The 21st Century. As A Revolutionary Laser Eye Surgery Promises New Eyesight Within Minutes, Farrah Storr Finds Out If It’s Too Good To Be True…
My husband has a trio of moles: a tiny, brown constellation of little stars that shoot across the arch of his upper back. I’ve never seen this before, despite having shared the same bed with him for the past 12 years. There are, I realise now sat in bed, many things I’ve not noticed – the pictures on the wall opposite, skewed and dusty; the small chip on the edge of our wooden bed; the pleading look in my dog’s eyes as she waits … and waits… for her morning walk.
You see, for the past 20 years, I’ve been blind. Not literally, but the sort of blind where you wake up at 7am and the world is like a giant smudge on a camera lens. There is no definition. Everything is a half guess. I’ve been wearing glasses on and off (though mostly off – vanity will do that to you) since I was 13 years old. My first pair were blue-rimmed NHS numbers that are as ironically cool now as they were desperately unfashionable back then. On my 16th birthday, my mother marched me to the opticians where I was presented with a small plastic tumbler, a bundle of disinfectant tablets and a pair of contact lenses. My life was transformed.
However, like most things we mistreat in our teens and marauding twenties – phone calls home, overdraft limits, young men’s hearts – I abused them dreadfully. I wore them for 14 hours a day, swam in them; danced through dark, smoky clubs in them and generally did all the things someone who is hell-bent on damaging their eyesight would do. But the lenses hit back. My eyeballs took on the mustardy-hue of the terminal scotch drinker. And they hurt. A lot.
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I’d been thinking about eye surgery on and off for the past 15 years. But I’d always been put off by those awful tabloid stories (‘Laser surgery made me blind!’); that and the one person I knew who’d actually had it done had told me she could smell her cornea being burnt off mid-surgery.
But things have changed. A new Laser Surgery called ReLEx Smile is making its mark. Experts refer to it as Star Trek eye surgery. It takes about the same time it does to make a round of toast, and there’s none of that cindery burning smell, either. The downtime is minimal, too – just half a day with sunglasses on and within 48 hours, you’ve pretty much got 20/20 vision. But what makes it seem really space age is this: it’s suitable for those who ordinarily wouldn’t be deemed suitable for standard Lasik eye surgery – so those with dry eyes, fluctuating eyesight or, like me, a pretty rotten prescription (I’m almost -6 in both eyes).
Here’s a very basic version of how it works. In traditional Lasik, surgeons cut a flap in your cornea. They do this so they can take out any excess corneal tissue and essentially change the shape of your lens, in the process regifting you with the power of sight. In ReLEx, there’s no barbaric-sounding cutting. Instead, a small tunnel is created on the cornea with a narrow laser, and the surgeon then works through this. It’s complicated, but the bottom line is because there’s no nerve damage to the eye, the eye heals much quicker.
One of the first people in the world to carry out what I’ve now taken to calling ‘eye voodoo’ is Professor Dan Reinstein, a hip, fast-talking American who sleeps five hours a night, plays the sax with a jazz band in his downtime, and who, if you squint, looks a bit like Richard Gere in his Nights in Rodanthe phase. And those horrible tabloid laser stories? He’s the guy who fixes them. He’s a partner at the London Vision Clinic, one of the few places in the UK you can have ReLEx done. I’ll save you the embarrassing phone call – it’s about £5,000 for both eyes. Expensive, its true. But this is the Cartier of the eye surgery world. You get what you pay for. I’ve seen cheaper Lasik eye surgery deals on Groupon. Discount clothing I can deal with; discount eye surgery is a whole other ball game.
Before surgery, I was plied with endorphin-boosting biscuit snacks (“loading you with sugar has deep psychological effects,” Reinstein later tells me. “It undermines your anxiety”). And there’s a lovely pre-surgery head massage, which makes you all woozy and happy, plus – and this is the real kicker – more than six hours of pre- and aftercare appointments. (Anyone who does less than a few hours of post-operative care is cutting corners.)
I had my surgery at the end of summer and it went pretty much like this. I lay on a bed in silence. My eyes were gently held open with some sort of machine. I stared straight ahead at a small, red light, then everything went white for the shortest space of time. And that’s it – honestly. That. Is. It. The few seconds when everything goes white? That’s the laser giving you a ‘new’ pair of eyes. I was in there a total of seven minutes and 10 seconds.
Afterwards, I was ushered into a waiting area where my husband was ready to take me home. I was given a bag with eye drops, which were to be applied every 15 minutes until bedtime. (Those who have Lasik surgery need to apply drops for up to a month; I only needed them for a week.) When I stepped out of the clinic and into the sunshine, everything was fuzzy-clear It was an odd sensation, like I’d had one too many tequilas.
And here’s the voodoo bit: I woke the next day… and I could see. For a moment, I thought I’d slept in my contact lenses. Things up close – newspapers, magazines – were a little blurry around the edges, but as the day progressed, the fog lifted. I couldn’t drive for a month because of halos around lights at night, but apart from that I could see. I read road signs for my husband. I played ‘I spy’ with my nine-year-old nephew and chose faraway objects – just to compare.
It’s been six months now (and numerous check-ups later). I didn’t want to write this story until I’d checked there were no ramifications after a significant time period. But there haven’t been. Well, apart from noticing how dirty my skirting boards are.
Before my surgery I googled ‘complications with Laser Eye Surgery’: 349,510 results. I then did the same for contact lenses. It was almost double. You can walk into any opticians and be handed a pair of contact lenses without any warnings about the damage they can do – and seriously, they can do damage if you don’t look after them meticulously. The chances of complications with laser surgery are around one in 1,000. And even those can now be fixed.
Reinstein says he sees a future where no one will be wearing glasses anymore. And we’re not talking hundreds of years away either – we’re talking in 10, 15 years. Now that really is Star Trek.
Laser Surgery – How To Choose
- Social media – Can’t decide which clinic to use? Twitter is where you go for virtual high-fives and complaints.
- Price point – If it’s cheap, ask them what they’re cutting back on. If it’s aftercare, beware!
- Double vision – If you see prices per eye. be wary: no one gets just one eye lasered. Not a good sign.
This is the ‘Cartier’ of Laser Surgery
April 2015 WOMEN’S HEALTH 45 – womenshealthmag.co.uk. PHOTOGRAPHY FLORIAN SOM MET/FOLI 0-ID COM