On Saturday 17th May 2014, I got laser eye surgery. This was something I wanted to do for as long as I can remember but, wanted to wait until my prescription had settled before taking the leap. At the time of surgery, my prescription was -2.75 in my right eye and -2.25 in my left.
After posting about it on Twitter, a lot of people asked for a post on my experiences so, I began jotting notes down to form a kind of diary in the hopes that it will give you an idea of what you can expect, at least by my standards. I'll include as much as I can remember about the surgery, where I got it done, how much it cost etc so, hopefully this helps some of you make, what seems to be, the most life changing decision I've ever made. Apologies in advance for the length of this post!
After seeing many people post positively about Optilase, I decided to pop up for a consultation after work one day. As soon as I walked into the clinic on Ely Place in a Dublin 2, I felt quite at ease. The staff were all open, friendly and couldn't do enough to ensure I was comfortable.
The consult takes around an hour with an optometrist. They will do all the usual eye tests and then ones that are specific to the laser procedure. Nothing was uncomfortable or squeamish, it was all very doable. The only point of note is that they do administer dilating drops to see the back of your eye better so, you may need a lift home and/or sunglasses as your eyes will be more light sensitive than usual.
I was offered two main types of surgery by Optilase; CustomVue Wavefront LASEK and CustomVue Wavefront LASIK with Intralase. Let's call them EK and IK for short.
But first, the jargon (as I understand it!) - Wavefront is a technique which basically maps the eye and, because all of our eyes are different, this results in a much more accurate, tailored result. Intralase is a blade-free method of creating the flap on the cornea resulting in a faster healing time and more precise results. Intralase is only available with the IK procedure. For EK, the surgeon manually forms the flap.
As two lasers are involved in the IK (Intralase and corrective laser) it is the more expensive option. I was quoted €3490 for IK on both eyes while EK was significantly cheaper at €2890 for both eyes. I will go into price breakdown and how you can reduce those prices somewhat at the end of this post.
While price and accuracy are surely a consideration, what swayed it for me was the recovery time. With IK, your prescription should be at the legal driving limit within 24 hours and you can return to work almost immediately. EK, however, has a much rougher, slower recovery period requiring at least 5 days rest. I opted for the IK because, despite the price, I couldn't justify that much time off work and felt more comfortable with the precise methods it uses.
I wanted to get my IK treatment done on a Saturday so I would have the whole weekend to recover and be back in work Monday morning. It would be even more ideal if you could get your appointment on the Saturday of a bank holiday as you would have the extra day recovery, even though you can use computers again after 24hours post-op.
Surgery Day: Pre-Op
I wasn't at all nervous in the lead-up to the surgery which surprised me as I am a natural born worrier. On the day of, I had some mild butterflies but, nothing compared to the state I was in when I took my driving test!
You must have someone to drive you home post-op so, I arrived at Optilase with my mam in tow just before my 10.30am appointment. At this point, I would just like to highlight again how lovely the staff are; they were so accommodating in scheduling my first two follow-up appointments so that I could attend on my lunch break and the after care I received from Amy and Sorcha who were on the front desk that day really made me question anyone who says a clinic isn't as good as a hospital. But, more on that later.
I was seen by an optometrist again and had my eyes scanned once more by the Wavefront machine to get an updated map of the imperfections in both eyes. Then I met my surgeon, Wayne Crewe-Brown, who talked me through the surgery step-by-step, checked the health of my eyes one last time and answered any questions I had. A surgery nurse offered me a Valium (take it - trust me!) and went through the aftercare package with me. Then it was time to go into the theatre.
Surgery Day: The Operation
You lie in what is like a rather plush dentist chair with two large machines either side of your head; one for the Intralase (creating the flap) and one for the laser. The lasers are aligned with your eyes and you are told where to look; in the centre of a ring of LED lights for the Intralase and at a blinking red light for the laser and then it is time to go. The eye area is disinfected and numbing drops are applied before, during and after surgery so you can't feel any pain.
The worst bit of the surgery for me was the Intralase as I just wasn't prepared for exactly how it would work. So, at the time, it freaked me out a bit but, looking back, had I understood, it would have been a lot less uncomfortable.
They create the flap on both eyes first by, if I understood the surgeon correctly, forcing gas bubbles under the surface of the eye. This results in blurred vision but, you still have to focus where you are told. One eye is covered but you must keep it open to avoid the other from over compensating. The reason the Intralase is so uncomfortable is because, once the laser is locked on, the surgeon inserts a plastic speculum (like the ring of a bottle cap) around around the eyeball and the Intralase machine suctions on to this so you do feel quite a bit of pressure. It lasts around 10 seconds per eye and can be a bit disorienting.
Then it is time for the laser. The surgeon covers one eye again, places a small metal speculum to keep the eye open and uses a tool to push the flap back which isn't as gross as it sounds and doesn't hurt thanks to the numbing drops. You focus on the blinking red light, the laser locks on and goes to work based off the blueprints the Wavefront machine has of your eye. The surgeon, replaces the flap and you're all done. To correct my prescription, the laser was on each eye for 15-20 seconds.
Surgery Day: Post-Op
I was initially fine post-op however, my eyes suddenly began streaming and didn't stop for over 3 hours. My eyes were so sensitive to the light during that time that I couldn't open them but, obviously had to to release the liquid build-up. My nose was constantly full of the same liquid and I went through a full roll of toilet paper - it was not fun at all!
I'll be honest and say it was very distressing. You are supposed to sleep post-op but, I had such a bad headache and build-up of pressure in my face that I was in a lot of discomfort and the streaming from my eyes and nose was so bad that I felt like I was drowning. My mam rang the clinic and, again, they couldn't have been more helpful. They had one of the senior optometrists call back who assured my mam it was normal, my body's reaction to surgery, and it would pass.
I eventually drifted in and out of sleep and when I woke up 5 hours post-op, the streaming had stopped, I was hardly sensitive to light and, most importantly, I could see!
Again, as a testament to the aftercare Optilase offer, Sorcha who had dealt with my check-in to the clinic, called my mam at 8.30pm (despite the clinic closing at 6pm) to make sure I had come through that rough patch and was okay.
1 Day Post-Op
It's early Sunday morning and I just woke up. You have to sleep with goggles on for the first few weeks and I can't decide if I look more like a minion or Johnny Depp's Willy Wonka! These are a bit uncomfortable but, I got 9 straight hours last night and feel great. There is nothing like the feeling of waking up and actually seeing what's around you. Amazing.
My eyes are a bit sore and bloodshot. Sorry if you are squeamish but, here's what to expect:
Not too bad right? I'm on a course of eye drops; lubricating, anti-inflammatory and antibiotic, all of which are included in the price of your treatment.
My right eye, which was my weaker one, seems less sharp than my left but, they did say that they wouldn't necessarily be 20/20 over night. I have my first post-op tomorrow and will update you then.
2 Days Post-Op
I had a rough night's sleep last night. I'm not sure if it was jitters about going back to work post-op and not sure if I could handle the computer work or if the goggles were just pissing me off (they were) but, I'm absolutely wrecked now. I have my first post-op appointment at lunchtime today so will update after that.
2pm...My post-op went really well. Usually they do it the day after but, for a Saturday surgery, it takes place on the next Monday. The optometrist said my eyes are healing perfectly with no signs of infection and my sight is now better than 20:20 and twice the legal driving requirement!
9pm...Parts of today were tougher than I had expected. My eyes took awhile to adjust to the extensive staring at the computer screen and felt tired and a bit gritty come 6pm. I feel fine now though and am looking forward to an early night and the hope of a better sleep!
3 Days Post-Op
I had a great sleep last night and felt so much better today. No issues to report with the computer and the bruising around my eyeballs has gone down quite a bit. I'm still amazing myself at what I can see and read from a distance.
5 Days Post-Op
I went to the cinema tonight (Godzilla 3D - meh) and had no issues with my eyes getting tired or whatever. I have a follow-up appointment tomorrow so fingers crossed everything is good. The bruising in my eyes is much improved even on a just a few days ago.
1 Week Post-Op
Today marked one week since I had my eyes done and, save for the initial discomfort, it has been pretty plain sailing. I no longer need to wear the goggles at night and am finished my course of eye drops. I can go back to the gym and wear eye makeup again.
Without a doubt, it has been the best money I have ever spent. It's hugely improved my quality of life and I genuinely feel so amazed and grateful when I catch myself reading something a good 20-30 feet away.
There is no denying that laser eye surgery is expensive. When I started working in 2011, I began squirrelling away a little bit of money each month for some big purchase. I decided my eyesight would be that purchase.
If you are a member of a health insurer, Optilase will absorb 15% of the cost of surgery off the top. You can also claim 20% tax back off the surgery at the start of the next financial year which is a huge chunk of change. Finally, if you have a past patient to refer you in, you will get €100 off and they will receive a cheque for €100 (if anyone would like a referral, I'm happy to do it haha).
So, my total cost ended up being €3390 and I get roughly €700 back at the end of the tax year. Not by any means cheap but, by far the best thing I could have dipped into my savings for. If you are considering it, I would highly recommend both the worthiness of the procedure and Optilase themselves. You won't know yourself afterwards and, no pun intended, you'll never look back!
- You can't wear eye make-up for a week post-op. Since I have blonde lashes and brows, I got mine tinted the week before surgery so that I wouldn't look so strange without them!
- You have to wear sunglasses outside - even when it's not sunny - to prevent dirt getting into the eye. You will look like an utter dick when it's grey and raining but, don't remove the sunglasses.
- The drops are important - don't be lazy with them.
- Risks are minimal but, some common side effects include a glow/halo around bright lights which will disappear over time and difficulty with near sighted activities as your eyes readjust. I haven't noticed any of the above.
- Optilase offer a lifetime guarantee so, should your eyes weaken over time, they will perform the surgery again, for free.