I had laser eye surgery in 2004, and unlike most of the success stories you hear about, my experience resulted in both scarring on my right eye and glaucoma in both eyes. Let me tell you my story, so that you can be inspired to research your situation in more depth before you go ahead with eye surgery.
I wore hard gas permeable contact lenses for 35 years because I never wanted to wear glasses – that’s just me – I’m not a ‘glasses’ type of person. These contact lenses can be worn for years before having to replace them. However, in the later years of my contact lens usage they started to become irritating, as I could actually feel them in my eyes. I had to pop them out 6 or 7 times a day.
I enquired about laser eye surgery, but was told I wasn’t the best candidate because of my long-term contact lens use. I would need to go at least 6 months without wearing contact lenses to see if the corneas would reform into the necessary shape. After having to wear driving glasses for an entire year because of my severe nearsightedness (myopia), I thought I’d received great news when I was told the eye shape had reverted to its original state. In actuality, this was the beginning to a tragic turn of events.
I had the Lasik surgery and 6 months later was told I’d have to have the right eye Lasiked a second time. This is not unusual, as you have to visit the eye surgeon monthly to see if the corrected vision deteriorates or not. When it does get worse, the process is repeated. The surgery worked again, but 6 months later I was stopped in my car at a traffic light when I shut my left eye and realised I couldn’t see the light at all with my right eye. This totally freaked me out.
So I had to visit an eye care center and later I was having emergency surgery on the right eye for a macular hole. If a relatively young person gets a macular hole it almost always correlates to an eye injury or laser eye surgery. No one had orally told me that with Lasik surgery one runs the risk of getting a detached retina, let alone a macular hole. It may have been listed on the surgery consent form of possible complications, but I really wanted to have this eye surgery, and the form said complications were very rare. I was told that I might see halos around lights at night, but that was about it.
Before I had the Lasik surgery I had lower than average eye pressure, but after the surgery I now have higher than average eye pressure, and thus have glaucoma in both eyes. I simply wasn’t told what the risks were, for example, that the chance for complications increases if you’re female, if you’re over 40 years old, and when you’re seriously myopic. I could have been told that given these 3 risk factors my chances of having a problem increased from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in a 100 (these figures are not exact, but any indication of increased risk could have been indicated). If it had been put to me in this context I wouldn’t have gone through with the surgery.
These days I have to have a visual field test every 6 months to ascertain my eye pressure, and I use ocular steroids to keep the pressure down (and stop the glaucoma from getting worse) every night … for the rest of my life. My right eye has scarring on the macula/retina that cannot be corrected. I can only just get a driver’s license solely using my left eye, as the right eye’s sight isn’t very good anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, my left eye sees much better now than it did before, and I don’t have to wear glasses for it. However, going through the experience of a macular hole was one of the worst times in my life. After the operation I had to hold my face downwards towards the ground for 23 out of 24 hours for 5 days, as the eye was full of gas. This was terrible. Then on the fifth day my husband read in a South African research study that there is no difference in results between those that hold their face downwards for 1 day or 5 days! Originally people were told to have their eyes facing the ground for 3 weeks.
The gas takes 3 months to dissipate. I live in Canberra, and as the operation was in Sydney, and I wasn’t allowed to fly afterwards, we had to drive home. The usual 3-hour trip took 6 and a-half hours, as it was excruciating painful whenever the car went up a hill and the pressure built up in my eye. We’d have to constantly pull to the side of the road. As the surgeon needed to check progress, I had to make this same return trip one week and one month later. Each hill caused a severe headache.
I wouldn’t recommend laser eye surgery to a female over 40 with severe nearsightedness, as there is real risk of retinal damage. No matter who you are, take a serious look at possible complications in relation to your unique situation. Lasik surgery is elective – you don’t have to have it. Find out the variables that could increase your level of risk. I was afraid beforehand, but I was determined never to wear glasses in my life. I was courageous, but now I know it just wasn’t worth it.
By Professor Patricia Easteal AM
Thanks to Space Pirate Queen for the image above!