More Than Meets The Eye…

Steve McDowell eye-balls a machine that is in essence a sophisticated heat beam which we call a “laser”.

It’s a very weird thing to do. Lie still in a bed while a man in a bad-taste bandanna fires a laser into each of your eyes. Hence the butterflies as I prepare to do just this while nervously gorging on the finest chocolate biscuits (Duchy of Lancaster, no less) in the expensively appointed waiting room just off Harley Street.

The man in the bandana is, in fairness known as one of the finest laser eye surgeons in town and something of a pioneer in his business and so I eat because he has told me to. To get my blood sugar, you understand.

Shortly thereafter professor Dan Reinstein of the London Vision Clinic welcomes me into his operating theatres and invites me to lie down and put my face beneath his big, grey laser machine. I am comforted by the smile. I think he’s done this before.

Laser Eye Surgery isn’t something one routinely considers doing and it is only when I am invited as one of the few four-eyes in the office to undergo the procedure in the guise of journalistic enquiry that I agree.

Wearing glasses or occasionally, in my dwindling sporting timetable, contact lenses, isn’t that bad. Surely eye surgery is a bit drastic, isn’t it? On arrival at the clinic for my three-hour assessment I am still in two minds. Like most fellas I have to be hanging grimly onto death’s door-knocker before I’ll go anywhere near a doctor.

And as a bit less than -2 dioptres (short sightedness) in each eye I’m not that bad. Bad enough to not be able to read street signs or the destination of an approaching bus, rather than being blind enough to actually be hit by it. But nonetheless not that bad.

I undergo every conceivable test. Scan after scan and then some more tests – how many tears I can produce, for example. I could have told them that any supporter of Ipswich Town can cry like a burst water main. I talk to people whose names carry more letters than the postman.

The point is to eliminate conditions which would render me unsuitable – corneal disease for example. But Reinstein is happy to treat many of those who have been turned away by other surgeons (more of that later).

I am suitable for LASIK surgery. The most straightforward and the one that’s easiest to recover from. This means I will be fully functional again within 24 hours.

And so I lie there, nervous and twitching as he talks me on gentle automatic through every second of the ten-minute procedure. He is certainly well practiced. I am not.

More eye drops – aesthetic this time. I look at the bright light. I realise that I am actually undergoing surgery. To be honest, it’s not very nice. Not painful as such – I’ve had much more unpleasant visits to a dental hygienist; at worst uncomfortable. The slight whiff of corneas being vaporised by the laser is disarming though.

“Dentists have ruined it for us”, says Reinstein, a medical doctor, surgeon, registered inventor and eye technician: “When they tell you it won’t hurt, they are lying.”

It all takes about ten minutes. Then I am sitting up and reading the card at the end of the room.

“There you go. You’d pass a driving test straight of the table.” I still feel a little weird and teary, like I’ve watched back to back episodes of Lassie.

I am told to sit back, relax and keep my eyes closed as much as I can, but I don’t want to – I want to look around and do all the things I haven’t done for ages, like reading notices. A week later as I write this I can look out of my office window and read the street signs across the road.

The clinic claims 97% of its short sighted patients see 20/20 or better, and long sighted people don’t get left either. Indeed people with awful vision have walked from the clinic as if ready to tackle a high-wire.

Astigmatism (mine is gone) and various conditions are all also created. New Yorker Reinstein takes on patients who have already been rejected by other surgeons, notably high street opticians who have diversified into laser surgery for low fees. “Now, would you buy a discount parachute?” he says, not expecting an answer. Many are referred to him by Moorfields, the world famous eye hospital.

Age is no barrier, not are many conditions you would expect to be rejected, like diabetes.

“You use your medical training to manage these conditions while you use your technical expertise to correct the vision,” he says bluntly. He is engagingly rude about low-budget eye surgery, as you might expect as the head of a clinic which charges ¬£4.200 for the procedure.

“What do you call the guy who graduates bottom of his medical school class?” he looks at me earnestly and expects an answer. Hmmm. I suspect a joke. “Dunno”, I volunteer. “Doctor,” he says, “Scary isn’t it?”

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