Laser Eye Surgery: I Have Questions

Last summer I had laser eye surgery to correct my vision and essentially free me from my daily routine of having to switch between three different pairs of glasses. I know that it has taken me an absolute age to write about it, but I wanted to get a few little queries cleared up before I gave you my final verdict. Because it feels like quite the responsibility, telling you about my lasering – when I mentioned it online I had hundreds, perhaps even thousands of messages about it. I’ve taken a considerable amount of time to think my laser surgery over and appraise the results, so that when I’m asked questions about it I can answer truthfully and with a little bit more experience.

So yes, I’ve had my eyes lasered. Which I like to think makes me sound a bit exotic, as though I’m now a sort of bionic being with visual superpowers. And, in a way, I am now a bionic being with visual superpowers, because my short distance vision is so good, so unbelievably good, that I can not only see the ants as they traverse the patio slabs in the garden, I can see their facial expressions.

Now I don’t really know where to start with this laser eye surgery story, because I have so much to say and no real place to begin. I also have a terrible habit of trying to pre-empt questions and debunk nonsensical myths and/or perfectly understandable fears before they crop up in the comments or in messages and so I tend to go around the houses a bit with a lot of waffle when I write about anything that’s more personal or that concerns health.

And so, while I think about all of the different posts I want to write and wonder about the questions people might have and then tie myself up in proverbial knots over it all, I’m just going to go ahead and plunge in with a bit of a summary.

To recap: I was sick of my glasses, mostly because my eyesight had dropped off a cliff and I needed to wear them all the time. But I didn’t want to wear them for filming, couldn’t wear them for exercise and needed different types for different activities and it was all becoming a bit of a faff. So I tried contact lenses and did not get on with them at all. (You can read about that here and here.) And whilst discussing contact lenses online, I had hundreds of DMs from people very enthusiastically and vocally advocating laser eye surgery as an option. Recommending it to the high heavens, in fact. Messages to which I mostly replied, Ohthank you for your concern but that’s not a route I’d ever go down.

Mainly because: WERE THESE PEOPLE MAD? Why would anyone have laser eye surgery, I wondered? Laser. Eye. Surgery. Who would ever voluntarily have surgery on their eyes unless it was an absolute sight-saving necessity? Like, for example, you’d sneezed with your eyes open and your eyeballs had popped out (which is actually a myth).

Surely you’d have to be in really dire straights to ever let someone near your eyes with needle or knife. There’s something so…Clockwork Orange about it. And the words “laser” and “eye” absolutely do not belong together in a sentence, in my opinion. They shouldn’t even be seen in the same vicinity. In terms of successful marketing for a medical procedure, it’s a terrible word combo. In the same way you wouldn’t likely go in for Axe Testicle Surgery or Chainsaw Brain Surgery, Laser Eye brings up all kinds of horrific mental images.

It was one of those things that I’d heard about over the years and instantly dismissed – erased – from my mind. It just wasn’t relevant to me, there was no point thinking about it because laser eye surgery was something I would simply never, ever do.

I didn’t even consider why it wasn’t something I’d ever do; it was just one of those things that I’d never need to think about because it was blatantly for that large demographic group I like to call other people. The Great Unhinged.

However: we all know that I love a bit of research. It is, after all, vaguely what I do for a living – I research and review things, anything from frying pans to hotel rooms and from lipsticks to wallpapers – and I couldn’t very well ignore the messages and recommendations from hundreds of well-meaning readers and followers. Surely it was worth a bit of a poke around, information-wise, even if I was never, ever going to willingly do anything that involved the extreme prodding of my eyeballs?

And so I went off looking for an expert in the field, a person of vast experience and superior knowledge, and was pointed in the direction of Mr Allon Barsam, surgeon and founding partner of world-class eye clinic, OCL Vision. You can see Mr Barsam’s extensive list of credentials here – it’s safe to say he knows absolutely, one hundred per cent what he is talking about.

Rather than just turning up to ask some questions, I agreed to go to the clinic in London for a consultation and do the whole shebang, as though I was – laughable! – seriously thinking about having surgery myself. There were scans and tests, explorations and interviews and while all of this busy “keep looking at the flashing light” distraction was going on, I managed to mentally whittle down what it was about laser eye surgery that I was really afraid of. I realised that my main fears were probably the same as everyone else’s, that a) the surgery would go wrong and I’d go blind or that b) the effects of the surgery wouldn’t last.

I piled into Allon’s office feeling very overstimulated by the many flashing light tests I’d had and by the eye drops that had turned everything a bit psychedelic and launched into my questions.

‘Is laser eye surgery dangerous?’ I asked. ‘I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?’

Allon answered patiently and with no hint that he’d been asked this question approximately five thousand times before. ‘Laser eye surgery is actually safer than contact lens wear, in the right hands,’ he said.

To which I guffawed. How could that possibly be true?

‘With laser surgery there is a risk of around 1/10,000 of a really significant problem that would either require contact lenses or further surgery to correct, ‘ he said. He encouraged me to look up incidences of serious infections of the cornea related to contact lens use, which I did. The stats I found? Four cases of very serious infection per 10,000 wearers, per year.

This comparison was not intended to scaremonger when it came to contact lense use, but to highlight how very, very rare complications were in both instances. And to show that contact lense use, which would commonly be regarded as entirely risk-free, still had more risk attached to it than laser surgery. Which many people (myself included up until this point) imagined to be as risky as letting a blindfolded toddler clip your toenails with garden secateurs.

What about less serious complications?

‘Milder problems which can be more easily fixed occur more commonly,’ Allon said. ‘The chance of needing an enhancement (fine tuning ) procedure after laser surgery is around 2% but varies with prescriptions  – it can be 1% for mild prescriptions and more for more significant prescriptions.’

I have to say, it sounded pretty good. We discussed some scenarios that would be more likely than me losing my sight via a fluke Lasik catastrophe. There were several, mostly mooted by me, and one that included an aeroplane accidentally diverting its landing trajectory to Harley Street, causing it to crash through the office wall and hit me in the face.

I felt reassured by the fact that Mr Barsam had done laser surgery on over 10,000 pairs of eyes without drama. The risk of something “going wrong”, it seemed, was very small and not the sort of “going wrong” that I had in my imagination, which was that a huge James Bond baddy-style laser would go rogue and bore into my eyeballs, rendering me blind, or that it would “slip” and laser my head into two identical halves.

Not the case. Wrong type of laser and a completely idiotic made-up scenario that is typical of the ones I produce from my overactive imagination. When complications do arise with laser surgery, it’s apparently not things like eyeballs plopping out and rolling away, or people suddenly being rendered totally blind, which was my fear. If an eye clinic is good, then the surgeon will have looked over test results and scans and met the patient at a consultation way prior to the surgery itself and will have determined suitability for laser surgery in advance as well as discussing likely outcomes in terms of what you might expect from your new vision and how long the effects might last.

Now you might be thinking, if you’re an incurable cynic like me, of course this guy says you’ll have great vision and the risks are low! He’s literally a partner in an eye clinic that offers laser! However, as Mr Barsam very delicately and very elegantly suggested to me, he doesn’t need any clients. He doesn’t need to ‘sell’ laser eye surgery. His day in surgery could be filled with complicated eye surgeries of other kinds, lens replacements and cataract surgeries and other things that I didn’t want to Google. He rejects a fair proportion of people who come to him to see if they’re suitable and he works with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists to safeguard national standards in laser and lens-based refractive surgery.

But here’s the rub with it all: he doesn’t need to cold call for clients or “sell” laser surgery to people, his clinic doesn’t need to fill its books with an endless carousel of patients, in and out through a revolving door, but plenty of places do. That’s their business model: volume.

As I chatted away to Allon, testing him with my farcical “what if” scenarios and generally testing his apparently unlimited patience, I got the idea that there were massively differing levels of care and service when it came to laser eye surgery. And that at the lower end of the spectrum, where often people didn’t even meet the surgeon until just before their surgery and it was far more likely that unsuitable candidates would be accepted for treatment (because it’s lucrative, and the more patients the merrier!) any problems with the surgery or the results would be highlighted all the more by bad aftercare and/or an indifference when results were disappointing or unexpected.

Which brought me onto my other fear, or worry, which was one that a few people had messaged with and had been, admittedly, a bit of an enthusiasm dampener: how long would the effects of the laser surgery actually last? Was there any guarantee that you’d get a certain number of years of glorious, spec-free supersight?

Well this was a “how long is a piece of string?” question if ever I’d asked one. For my own eyes, (moderately high hyperopic prescription with astigmatism), Mr Barsam said that I’d ‘permanently not need glasses for distance vision and social reading – a menu in a restaurant, your phone, dashboard of the car, seeing to put on makeup’ but that when I got into my late 40s and early 50s ‘I may need to start wearing low addition readers for tiny print only.’

It sounded bloody marvellous to me.

And so, with the promise of bionic sight (not words Mr Barsam used, to be clear) and in the knowledge that the laser wouldn’t be like the one in James Bond and that the procedure would be painless, I signed up to the first available slot for surgery. I’d gone in “just to research” but very quickly realised that laser eye surgery was the long-term, faff-free answer that I’d been looking for. And because any fears I’d had were now non-existent I felt totally relaxed about the surgery – excited by the thought of it, if anything, which was very out of character for me.

I’ll be back (eye’ll be back!) with my next instalment of this ocular adventure next week. Working title: Laser Quest.  I’ll tell you about how things happened, what it felt like and things I wasn’t expecting as well as practical bits such as recovery procedures and eye drops and – importantly – costs.

But before then, something that will excite anyone after a little bit more info: I’m going to be doing an Instagram Live with Allon on Monday 3rd June at 6pm. Please do join us on my channel (@ruthcrilly) and send through any questions you might have in the comments section below. I’ll write them down and include them in our chat when we’re live on air.

If you want to take a look at the clinic I went to, or find out more about Mr Allon Barsam and his laser (prepare to meet your maker, Bond!) then their website is here: OCL Vision.

Disclaimer: I paid full price for my surgery. Consultations are free.

Photo credits:

Top eye photo by Petri Heiskanen on Unsplash

Ant photo photo by Maksim Shutov on Unsplash

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