Part 2: Eye Surgery Then And Now

MEL 80 Excimer Laser.

In 1990 Susan Singleton had radial keratotomy, in what was then a new eye surgery technique, to correct her myopia. Twenty years later she underwent the latest laser procedure to correct presbyopia or aging eyes.

Twenty years ago eye surgery was newsworthy – nowadays, carried out with the help of highly accurate laser machines, it only attracts the attention of journalists if a celebrity suddenly appears minus glasses or speaks out about ditching his or her contact lenses.

Back then RK was only used to correct short sightedness (myopia) and astigmatism – it was not suitable for long-sighted patients. This was thirteen years before Dr Dan invented the blended vision technique of ridding patients of their reading glasses. The MEL 80 Excimer laser (that Dr Dan helped to develop alongside Carl Zeiss) would not arrive at the London Vision Clinic until 2003.

The radial keratotomy procedure was abandoned a few years after Susan’s operation as it was found to be unstable resulting, long term, in many patients became hyperopic (far sighted) with astigmatism.

Back in 1990, after reading and researching about RK, Susan made up her mind. She had worn glasses since her sight began to deteriorate at the age of twenty.

“I had never got on with contact lenses”, she told me. “At the time I had three children under five – you know what babies are like, they kept grabbing at my glasses and pulling them off!”

Twenty years ago when Susan Singleton decided to undergo RK at another eye clinic she found herself in a very small minority of the population.

At the time she wrote in her Vogue article that many people dismissed the procedure as “cosmetic surgery”. But, she argued with the skill born of her legal training, the fact that she suffered from poor eye sight was: “comparable with a hip problem requiring a hip replacement operation”.

Unfortunately the attitude of medical insurance companies and the NHS remains unconvinced and unchanged over the years.

The articles Susan wrote about her eye surgery twenty years ago paid for half the cost of the procedure (as well as Vogue magazine another by her was published in the FT Magazine).

As a struggling freelance writer in 2010, I can report with certainty another change over the years – publications are not nearly as generous these days.