Written on 26th May '17

I never thought I'd be saying this, but last week I had laser eye surgery!  Let me take you back...

When I was at senior school, probably aged 11, I hadn't thought anything about my eyesight and thought it was perfectly normal.  I was given an eye test at school and it wasn't!  I was really shocked that I couldn't see properly, and actually got quite upset...they had to keep on making the letters bigger; it had really surprised me.  From there, naturally, I went to get glasses (huge tortoiseshell rims with blue flashes in, that matched my school uniform!) - I was meant to be wearing the glasses at school for seeing the blackboard (remember those days?!), watching television / cinema, and later on, for driving but, being young, I don't think I often wore them (except when I was driving).  It was only when I went to university that I went to the opticians and asked about contact lenses.  The first time I had them put in for me, and was told to walk up the road and back to best them, and I walked out and could not believe it - I could see all the leaves on the trees, I could see so much, it was amazing!  Up until then, I'd not really thought much of it, but this was a whole new world, to see everything, and finally realise what I'd been missing out on.  So then I became an avid contact lens wearer - I wore them every day and for much longer periods than I should have been.  

In 2014 (I'd been wearing contact lenses for around 12 years by then), I developed a corneal ulcer.  Now I'd never heard of this before - didn't know what it was, how it had happened, or anything.  I went to bed and felt like I had something in my eye.  The next morning, it still felt like that - I had a look and could see something but couldn't get it out.  I booked in to see the doctor that afternoon, and he referred me to an ophthalmologist, saying that I had to go straight there (being 4pm on a Friday).  The ophthalmologist told me that it was very serious, and put me on drops, every 15 minutes for the first 2 hours, and then every half hour for the next 2 hours, and then every hour on from there.  I had to do this through the night and I remember camping out in the lounge as I didn't want to keep my husband awake, and I did the drops, reset the alarm for the next period of time, and then try and get some sleep before the alarm went off again.  It wasn't fun!  This was a real wake-up call.  The ophthalmologist had said that this was probably due to poor hygiene when putting the contacts in and taking them out, and I'd be first to admit that I'd become pretty lazy about this.  Time for a change, and I started thoroughly washing my hands before touching my eyes. 

However, 2 years later, I'd developed another corneal ulcer in the same eye.  Luckily I'd recognised the feeling and got myself seen to straight away.  I saw a different ophthalmologist at this point, and one of the first things he asked was if I wore my contacts in the shower and when I go swimming.  I said yes, wondering what he was getting at, and he said that I shouldn't have been doing that!  Now I'm pretty sure that I've never been told that, although how would I remember going back 15 years?!  This wasn't raised when I had my first corneal ulcer, but as well as that, it hadn't been mentioned at any of my annual contact lens checks at the opticians.  This was the first thing they'd said to me, and I was absolutely astonished.  Even if I had been told 15 years ago, when I first had them fitted, how am I expected to remember that?  

And one major concern is that every year I had to have the regular contact lens checks, checking the health of your eyes, vision and fit of the contact lens, and at no point had I been advised about safety, in so much as you shouldn't be wearing them in the bath, shower or when swimming.  Yes, I was advised to cut down the length of periods that I was wearing the lenses, but I wasn't told why.  I've recently learnt that this starves the eye of oxygen, and this can damage the cornea.  On the back of all this, I was also advised by an assistant at my opticians that there were in fact much better types of contact lenses on the market, that are more permeable and let more oxygen into the eye.  On asking why I hadn't been advised of this, I was told that there was nothing wrong with the type I was using, it's just they're being superseded by the more up-to-date version.  This had disappointed me, that I hadn't been advised of this before, as I would have undoubtedly upgraded, especially given that I had already had one corneal ulcer.  

Portrait by Matthew Owen Photography

Portrait by Matthew Owen Photography

Due to my two corneal ulcers, my ophthalmologist had advised me never to wear contact lenses again.  Although I could wear them and not develop another ulcer, I could also wear them once and it happen straight away.  Basically, it would be playing Russian Roulette with my eyesight, as next time the ulcer could develop in a different place and cause loss of sight.  So, back to glasses wearing for me.  

I rolled with it, got used to it again, and that was fine.  However, there were a few niggly issues that I didn't feel comfortable with, and so I had an assessment at The Centre for Sight  in East Grinstead.  I'd heard good things about them, and also done my own research.  The assessment itself was so thorough that it really put my mind to rest about the whole procedure.  They were so thorough, so knowledgable, so attentive and keen to make sure I understood everything.  At the consultation with the surgeon, Mr Daya, at the end of the assessment, I was advised that I was suitable for laser eye surgery!  How exciting!  I felt so confident and knowledgable in their abilities after the consultation, that I booked in for my surgery.  

On the day of surgery, my lovely Dad drove me to the Centre for Sight, and waited there for me.  I had been told I would be around 3 hours, and went in for 8.30am.  I was nervous, but the staff were lovely and kept me well-informed and put me at ease.  Nothing was a surprise (except perhaps how well rested and relaxed I was!).  The lasering itself only took about 5 seconds on each eye, and I was probably only in surgery for about 15 minutes.  I had been given lots of eye drops for anaesthetic and also a relaxant prior to surgery, so I wasn't worried going in, and it certainly wasn't painful.  I had improvements in my sight straight away, and was told that this would improve over time too.  I was given some amazing goggles (pictured), and was told to go home and sleep for 4 hours - with two young children, I didn't look a gift-horse in the mouth!

The following day I went back for an assessment and was told that my eyesight had vastly improved and I was legally able to drive without glasses for the first time ever!  I think my dad was relived at not having to drive my car again on the way home, and I was just as keen to get back behind the wheel again, and it felt fantastic!

It had never occurred to me to have laser eye surgery, and I hadn't even thought about it, until I was told I should never wear contact lenses again, and even then it took me a good year to think about it, look into it and get it done.  I was quite excited in the lead up to it and, being a week on already, I love it.  And it's not so much any big changes, as I could see already with my glasses.  But it's the little changes - not having the glasses rim, beyond which held fuzzy vision; it's the not having to take 'my vision' out / off before going to bed; not getting steamed up every time I open the oven!  I'm still having to apply regular drops to help in the healing process, and I have to wear the goggles at night for another week to prevent me from rubbing my eyes.  I've been told I can't get water in my eyes for 2 weeks, so I've still got another week of wearing my swimming goggles in the bath and shower, or when the boys are having their baths (that makes them giggle!), and I can't wear make-up yet.  But as of next week, I can get back to normal.  

Being a photographer, obviously my passion and livelihood are heavily reliant on my eyes, and my sight is of the utmost importance to me.  Prior to having my second corneal ulcer, I'd always worn my contact lenses for shoots, and had actually never used my camera whilst wearing glasses before.  It was a good (if obvious) lesson learnt - yes, I can use my camera with my glasses on (!), but I know this will be really freeing.  It is amazing not having to wear glasses every day, and to not miss out on anything visually.

Based on my own experience, I would highly recommend Centre for Sight.  They are very attentive, very informative, very knowledgable, very thorough, and I couldn't fault them.  I'm certainly very happy that I've gone through this procedure with them.  

However, I do feel very passionately that at every annual contact lens check, wearers should be reminded of the basics of eye and lens care; wash your hands before fitting them, don't get water in your eyes, don't wear them for very long periods of time, give your eyes a break from wearing them, but also the opticians should be saying WHY you should be doing this.  Tell people about the risks involved, of oxygen starvation, of corneal ulcers, and so on.  If you are a contact lens wearer, please do remember these things, and put them in place.  And also at your annual check, ask if there are any better lenses on the market - if it's only a couple of pounds a month extra, it's worth it to protect your eyes and, in turn, your sight!