Eye Anxiety by Karen Phelps
Admittedly undergoing a voluntary operation involving having a section of your cornea sliced and flipped back may not appeal to everyone. Hell, it didn’t even particularly appeal to me but the fact that several people I knew had had refractive laser eye surgery and raved about it provided enough incentive for me to take the plunge.
Entering the Eye Institute in Remuera was not unlike going to the supermarket. There were four ‘checkouts’ in a row complete with receptionists. Noticing one of the staff wore glasses made me slightly suspicious.
“Oh she can’t get it done she’s really annoyed. She’s not a very good advertisement is she?” explained Jennifer the technician.
An initial assessment determined my suitability for the procedure - nice thick corneas (that could presumably handle having a slice taken off them) and a stable prescription.
Wavefront-guided Zyoptix CustomLASIK surgery was recommended. The key to this treatment is an instrument which projects a fine grid of light beams onto the retina and captures its image using a high resolution CCV camera. This image is then compared with one from a perfect eye and the difference between the two provides a Wavefront Map, which is used to program the excimer laser. A few weeks later some more comprehensive measurements were taken that would be transferred to the excimer laser. All going according to plan the machine would recognize my iris and make the correct adjustments.
Admittedly I was slightly nervous at the prospect not helped by a colleague who made vague murmurings about hearing a story (from a friend of a friend…) who reckoned the surgery was slightly dodgy.
“Well if anything goes wrong there’s a prosthetic eye clinic right across the road,” he offered with a grin.
My flatmate Ellex who had already had the surgery done consoled me:
“There’s nothing to worry about. It’s not a big deal at all. Oh, but I should warn you about the burning flesh smell….”
That was it. What I needed right now was some good old-fashioned PR. I watched the video the clinic had provided me with of happy, smiley people throwing away their glasses for good.
There was also an unexpected upside. I soon discovered the gorier details of what I would have to undergo freaked my squeamish flatmate Dave out to the point where the mere words “and then they slice…” would send him scampering off to the bedroom with his hands over his ears.
Despite my taunting Dave agreed to drive me to the operation and take me home again. We followed the nurse down the hallway to the waiting room near the theatre.
“Dave wants to watch,” I joked.
“Well actually if you like there is a monitor you could watch that and…”
“No, no, really, it’s ok,” he quickly replied glaring at me.
“I’ll try not to scream too loudly,” I smiled leaving Dave buried in a book and purposely ignoring me in the waiting room.
Medication is optional but usually involves mild sedatives, some mild painkillers and sleeping pills. The nurse carefully explained each step of the procedure and placed several lots of drops in my eyes – anaesthetic, antiseptic and antibiotic. A short time later the skin around the outside of my eyes was cleaned and I was taken through to the theatre and told to lie on the table. My eyelids were taped back. Unexpectedly there was another nurse there strictly to hold my hand during the surgery.
“Just tell me if it gets annoying.”
Annoying having someone to cling onto for dear life as my eyes were sliced and burned? I think not.
“Iris recognition?” questioned surgeon Bruce Hadden as a machine was placed over my eye. The technician replied in the affirmative. There was a slight pressure on my eye and a whirring noise as the corneal flap was made then flipped back. I was then instructed to look at the red laser light. A series of short sharp bursts followed as the laser did its thing (and yes there was an unpleasant acrid burning smell). Less than 30 seconds later it was all over. The flap was smoothed back and it was onto the next eye. Another minute later it was all over. As I left the theatre I couldn’t help but notice that the nurse who had held my hand had a slightly pained expression on her face.
Some alien-looking plastic goggles were taped over my eyes to prevent me from accidentally rubbing them during the night. Deciding the trauma of the operation was enough I didn’t take any sleeping pills when I got home. There was no pain so I didn’t take any painkillers either. The next morning I removed the goggles and returned for a checkup. It can take up to several weeks, sometimes longer, for the shape of the cornea to stabilise following surgery (around 1 in 20 patients end up needing further adjustments). The surgeon tested my eyes and discovered one was slightly over corrected but hoped it would settle down within the next couple of months.
As far as I can see (excuse the pun) there was only one downside to the surgery for me – now that I no longer had to wear glasses all the burgeoning wrinkles and bags were clearly visible. Botox article anyone?
Is refractive surgery right for you?
According to Eye Institute surgeon Bruce Hadden for most patients, refractive surgery offers about a 95% or greater chance of gaining normal or near-normal vision. However, it is impossible to guarantee 20/20 vision with every vision correction procedure, and it may be necessary to wear a thin pair of glasses at certain times, such as when driving at night. Refractive surgery does not prevent the age-related loss of vision. Serious complications are rare.
To be eligible for vision correction surgery, you must meet the following criteria:
For more information on refractive eye surgery log onto www.eyeinstitute.co.nz