On the 13th of October 2016, I had my eyes filleted. I lay in a room at Umhlanga Hospital with bright lights and a machine that looked and sounded very daunting.
I tweeted about the two year anniversary of this and was met with so many questions about the procedure, so I thought I’d address these, and tell you more about my journey to perfect eyesight!
I started wearing glasses when I was 12-years old. I was shortsighted. Back then, glasses weren’t as trendy and fashionable as they are today, so I had a shitty-looking pair and was teased, because kids can be mean. But aside from that, having bad eyesight holds you back in more ways than people with perfect vision can ever comprehend. I sucked at netball because I couldn’t see clearly. I couldn’t swim properly. I felt embarrassed when I went out with my glasses, because they weren’t ‘cool’. I felt embarrassed when I went out without my glasses, because people would, for example, wave at me from across a room, but I couldn’t recognise them.
I got used to wearing glasses every day, but they did become a bit of a nuisance. When I was 16, I wanted to see if I could use contact lenses. I was a patient at Avon Mitri and she assisted me with figuring out my prescription and how to insert them. Turns out, I was damn useless with anything coming near my eye. I recall spending about 45 minutes attempting to put one of the lenses in. It was pretty disheartening, but just took a bit of practise.
Wearing contact lenses was a welcome relief as I could participate in sports that I loved. And wear sunglasses. However, they also came with their frustrations. They can get uncomfortable, and my eyes became very sensitive to things like dust and my cat.
Seeing The Light
I was over it. I wanted to have this surgery done and never have to worry about glasses or contact lenses again. When I was about 21, I visited an ophthalmologist in Johannesburg to enquire about the surgery. They performed a number of tests and gave me some bad news. My eyes hadn’t been stable for long enough and it was recommended that I wait for them to stabilise. When this would be, I had no idea, and I was pretty disappointed.
A couple of years later, I decided to try my luck again. By this time, my prescription was sitting at -6.75 and -7.25. Yup, blind AF! My eyes had been stable for just over a year, so I visited Dr Nortje at Westville Hospital. No matter how badly you want it, they have to do a number of tests to establish if you qualify for the surgery. Your eyes have to be stable for a minimum of 12 months, your eyes have to be the right shape, and your corneas have to be thick enough. You’ll have to be driven to one of the consults because they dilate your pupils so much, so make sure you have someone who can assist you or can make alternate transport plans.
These tests aren’t comfortable. Even after wearing contact lenses for 12 years, I still squirmed a little. But Bill and his team were so informative and caring.
Your Eyes Are Good Enough
My eyes met their standards! It felt like I’d won an award or something. I was absolutely thrilled and, without sounding dramatic, knew it would change my life. We set the date for 13 October 2016. I was shitting myself.
For about 10-14 days prior to the surgery, you have to do an ‘eye cleanse’. This means no contact lenses, no makeup, no creams. Nothing must come near your eyes during this time. This also meant that I had to push away my precious cat, Zorro, every time he wanted a cuddle. Harrowing. You’ll also have to rinse your eyes thoroughly twice a day. This is all done to ensure that there is absolutely nothing in your eyes that can compromise the surgery.
I was an absolute wreck the night before. I was positively terrified. No pitch or presentation or surgery had ever filled me with so much dread. I was ready to pick up the phone and cancel the whole thing. ALL of the ‘what ifs’ filled my head and I couldn’t think rationally, which just doesn’t happen to me. It proved the importance of this surgery to me.
The Day Has Arrived
I woke up on the morning of the surgery not feeling any more at ease. My stomach was churning and my heart was in my throat. This all changed. How? Well, you have to be awake during the surgery, so all you can take is half a Dormicum about half an hour before you leave home. Dammit, that stuff is wonderful. I ended up slouching in the hospital chair in my gown with my husband on one side and my dad on the other with the cheesiest grin on my face. We were all laughing (at my expense) and I started to feel excited.
I was called to walk into the operating room. It was cold and intimidating. That fancy machine that does the thing is huge and you wonder why such a huge piece of machinery is required for such a tiny procedure. Dr Nortje lay me down and urged me to relax. I felt high AF at this point, so that wasn’t a problem.
You don’t have to worry about blinking during the surgery. I found this impossible as they use a device to keep your eyes open, so this was the first thing that they did. They put drops in to numb the eyes and off they go.
The surgery is basically a two-step process:
Step 1: The cutting of a thin flap of tissue to prepare the laser site. A suction ring is applied to the white of the eye. This stabilizes the eye. A keratome, which is a sophisticated machine, then makes a very thin flap across the surface of the cornea. This takes approximately 20 seconds to do.
Step 2: The excimer laser is then applied under computer control to the corneal bed to vaporize a pre-determined amount of tissue, which re-shapes the surface of the eye. This takes approximately 10-30 seconds. The thin flap of cornea is then replaced and heals down.
How It Feels
There was absolutely no pain and you never feel like flinching or risking anything going in the wrong place. To try and explain the feeling, grab your forearm and pull the skin towards your wrist. That pulling sensation is what your eyeball feels like.
Look, it’s not pleasant or comfortable. The lights are bright and it smells like something is burning. I was somewhat relaxed, but my body was still tense and I was very aware of what was going on. You need to get out of your own head and just remember that you’re in great hands. I remember making small talk with Dr Nortje while my eyes were being filleted. Thanks again, Dormicum.
It lasted just 20 minutes. 20 minutes fixed 16 years of shitty eyesight.
I was so damn relieved when it was over. They put those goggles over my eyes and I sat up and swung my legs back to the side of the table. I opened my eyes and could barely see anything through the goggles, so I wasn’t sure how to feel. I walked out of the theatre to be greeted by my family and they drove me home.
My surgery was early on a Thursday morning and I had to take that day and the Friday off work. I was given a sleeping tablet when I left the hospital, so that I could just sleep the day away as they discourage screen time and spending time outside or in bright environments. So that’s just what I did. I napped on the couch and was lucky enough to have my Dad there to help me out with anything.
I woke up gently the following morning and removed the goggles. It was a really pretty day. I slowly opened my eyes and felt extremely overwhelmed. I could see! I could see as I woke up! I could see without having to fumble around for my specs! I couldn’t help it, and I started crying. I had wanted this so badly for so long and it worked perfectly. Science, I adore you.
I went back to the rooms two days later for a checkup and everything was 100% fine. It was done. I had perfect vision. I was in awe. In a bid to not spend money on those heinous wraparound sunglasses, I wore my snowboarding goggles to the appointment.
For about two months, I experienced the ‘halo effect’ when driving at night. It looks like circles were surrounding the lights on cars. This is very normal and I no longer experience this. Otherwise, everything’s perfect. Shit.
The surgery cost me R18,000 and medical aid covers next to nothing, saying that it’s aesthetic. Thanks, guys… It’s just my ability to see. Dicks.
Two Years Later
This was, undoubtedly, the best money I have ever spent. I haven’t had any discomfort and my vision is absolutely perfect. I may need to do a ‘top-up’ in a few years, but that all depends on the person. This is, honestly, one of the best decisions I have ever made and I believe that those who have had it done will agree with me.
So if you’re considering it, go for the consult. That feeling of being able to see the following day is a feeling that I would love anyone with compromised sight to feel.
I hope this covers everything, but if you have any more questions, please shout and I’d be happy to answer them.