As with so many aspects of this trip, I was going back and forth for a long time over what to do about my vision! We’re not talking strategy or inspiration here, just plain ol’ sight!
I’ve worn glasses or contact lenses for over 20 years to correct short-sightedness. It makes me feel pretty old, putting it like this, but that is two thirds of my life. At around about -4 in both eyes, it was fairly bad too – I couldn’t see much clearly beyond about a foot and a half.
Obviously, for a long bike tour, this creates something of a dilemma. I seemingly had two options – carry a sizeable amount of contact lenses (and stock up where possible in major cities) or use prescription glasses and sunglasses. The former comes with a certain level of risk of eye infections, given that I’m going to be camping a lot and won’t always have perfect cleanliness, and would also add considerable bulk and weight to my already burgeoning panniers! The latter was perhaps a more attractive option but would have required several pairs of costly glasses and, frankly, it seemed like something of a regression to have to go back to relying on glasses. I also don’t like the scenario where you roll into a village or meet someone on the road and you can’t easily raise your sunglasses to look them in the eye without switching to your ‘normal’ glasses! Eye contact is pretty important when you meet someone for the first time.
The months of pondering finally led me to investigate a third option which, whilst somewhat unnerving, is a far more satisfactory solution – laser eye surgery!
It’s something that I had started considering about 9 months ago following a chat with my optician who said that, while my eyes were healthy now, it was difficult to say what the long-term effects of contact lens use would be, given the regular physical contact with the eye and the decreased oxygen permeability inherent with their use. A further chat with a friend who is an Ophthalmologist, and who was considering getting it done herself, gave me the confidence to investigate laser eye surgery a little further. It took a while before I finally bit the bullet – I’ve procrastinated over the decision for months – but, just under two weeks ago, I went for a consultation and six days ago underwent the procedure at Moorfields Eye Hospital. I had chosen to go with LASEK over the slightly more common LASIK treatment. The way I understand it, the difference is essentially that LASEK removes a patch of the epithelium from the surface of the eye completely, prior to reshaping the cornea, whilst LASIK cuts a flap instead, which is folded back over after treatment. With LASEK, the epithelial tissue has to regrow completely so the recovery time is a little longer but end result is hopefully a little neater! The specific version of LASEK that I was recommended and underwent is called TransPRK, which uses the laser itself to remove the epithelium, rather than any manual procedures. To me, as a layman, that seems to be a less risky approach.
For the benefit of anybody who comes across this blog and is undergoing a similar procedure, here’s the diary of how it worked out for me:
Day 0 – The procedure is quite quick with this method as the laser does almost all the work. It takes about 30s per eye and is a little alarming but not overly scary. The hardest part is arguably when they turn the lights on on the machine to clean up and apply drops – it’s really bright! Straight away, my distance vision is vastly improved, although everything is a little hazy. Eyes somewhat puffy and light-sensitive but no real pain as such.
Day 1 & 2 – Relatively good distance vision but rather fuzzy short vision. Still somewhat light-sensitive so dark rooms are the order of the day. Spent much of the days listening to podcasts or snoozing.
Days 3 & 4 – Pretty much overnight, things had switched round so that I had OK near vision but pretty rubbish longer vision (akin to what things were like before the procedure)! I’m assuming this is as a result of the epithelial cells regrowing on the front of the eye. Much more diminished light sensitivity though. The audio options are becoming somewhat less distracting, I’d caught up on all my sleep and was starting to go a little stir-crazy. This is most definitely a time for mental discipline… and chocolate.
Day 5 – Small improvement – some things as distance are clearer but still out of focus/double-vision.
Day 6 – Marked improvement- still a little haziness/double-vision but things becoming a lot clearer. Can’t wait to have the bandage contact lenses out tomorrow, which should hopefully herald a new era!
I’ve been surprised at how pain-free the experience has been. I’m not sure whether this is down to my excellent surgeon, good equipment for the procedure, strenuously following the aftercare instructions or just good old-fashioned luck! Given some of the reports that I read online of people in agony for days, I’m very grateful either way. The greatest challenge has been the mental one – dealing with the frustration of not being able to see and there being nothing you can do about it. The best way I’ve been able to describe my mood in the last few days is to equate it to that feeling as a kid waiting for Christmas morning to arrive, only you don’t know whether it’s actually Christmas morning at all until you wake up! It really is the definition, if you’ll excuse the pun, of blind faith!
I’ll update this once I’ve got a bit further down the recovery path.
I had the procedure done at Moorfields Eye Hospital under the expert care of Romesh Angunawela. The clear advantage of having it done there, besides the skilled staff and high-tech equipment, is that you are in a world-leading eye hospital should anything go wrong!
This is an interesting blog if you’re wondering about timelines and also has some stats on recovery and potential for dry eyes: