rfbooth.com :: thoughts :: clearer than mud

I got my first pair of glasses when I was perhaps 4. My mother tells me that she first realised I was even more badly short-sighted than my parents when we were at the swimming pool; realising she couldn't quite make out the time on the giant clock, she asked me to read it for her. I couldn't see the clock.

In the first half of July 2005, my eyes had been pretty stable for some years. My relatively good, left, eye was -9.75+2.25, my right eye -11+2.25. To put this in perspective, without my glasses or contacts I couldn't tell that the blur on the far wall was an eye chart. I could only just tell it was there at all. I couldn't safely cross a road without either corrective lenses or assistance, and in fact in these first thirty years of my life I never had.

Several of my friends, not least Ross (who wrote about it) have had laser corrective surgery in the last few years, and I finally decided it was time to check it out. I wasn't too hopeful; my prescription is right on the upper limit of what the technique can usually fix, and in fact my right eye is a bit beyond that. Still, Ultralase do the consultation free, and what else are summer holidays for? The girl I talk to, at the central booking office, tells me that I may not be treatable, but that the surgeon at Manchester is particularly experienced and good.

This diary's being written in early August, and I didn't take notes at the time, so there may be errors. Technical errors are certainly born of my memory rather than their explanation.

Friday July 15th

I have to leave my contact lenses out for a week before the consultation, so I have booked it for a week to the day after we finish up at school. There is coffee. The adviser, Barry, is incredibly reassuring and very interesting. He explains that the limiting factor in the prescription they can correct is the thickness of the cornea - the clear covering at the front of the eye. The treatment works by reshaping the cornea, effectively forming a built-in corrective lens. The thicker it is, the more powerful the lens they can carve. The initial tests suggest that my cornea is particularly thick, which is pretty good news; they'll confirm this later.

I stare into a complicated machine at a picture of a mountain. It comes in and out of focus. Apparently a computer is building a detailed model of my eye, and will decide what, if it had its way, it would do to fix it. If its plans are reasonably close to what they would have done anyway based on my old-fashioned prescription, it will be allowed to have its way: this is the “wavefront” treatment, relatively new and apparently even more successful in various ways than the conventional lasik. I am told that the computer's plans seem very sensible, and I am very probably an ideal candidate for “ultralasik plus”. This is more money, but if it'll produce the best results that's just fine with me.

After a conventional eye test, I have eye-drops; anaesthetics, and pupil dilators. Then the corneal thickness is confirmed, basically as far as I can tell by pushing on my eyes with a (sophisticated) little stick. This is profoundly weird; my field of vision distorts, like a view through a plastic sheet would if you pushed on it with a stick, but I feel not a thing. I can be treated. Yes, yes I want it.

We have the “expectations” conversation. I had decided that if they told me I had a 60% shot of getting to unassisted driving standard I would go for it; the friend who would be my designated driver on the day of surgery wears glasses just for driving, and I could handle that just fine. I am told, to my astonishment, that they put my odds of getting to “perfect normal” 6/6 (or 20/20, for those of you still in feet rather than metres) at rather better than that, and that driving standard is something like a 95% shot. (Later I realise that these figures are just their standard numbers for people over -6, and that since I'm quite a bit worse I should maybe expect less; but I'm also told, unofficially and explicitly without promises, that the Wavefront treatment tends to do better, so maybe it cancels out.)

I lurch out into the street, waiting for the light-sensitivity to kick in. When it does I reflexively duck into a bookshop and spend a small fortune. Nothing unusual there, though. I have a week to wait until I come back for surgery.