laser eye surgery

This is what really happens when you have laser eye surgery – and how much pain to expect

It didn't hurt a bit

Alexandra Wilby

Does laser eye surgery hurt? I can happily say the answer is no. I had the procedure done, all in the name of research (well, that and the quest for perfect vision..!), by the amazing Professor Reinstein at the London Vision Clinic, who has fixed the vision of celebrities including the Rolling Stones, Lorraine Kelly, Carol Vorderman and Phillip Schofield.

I've worn contact lenses since I was 14 and although, by and large, they've never hugely bothered me, I can admit they have been a faff. Particularly on beach holidays where sand, sun cream and sea water would play havoc with my eyes. If I didn't wear my lenses then I couldn't enjoy a swim or a lazy cocktail on the beach without losing out on the view. A predicament I've faced every summer for as long as I can remember.

I would also curse them on those mornings when one lens just wouldn't go in, my mascara would be streaming, my morning routine totally disrupted. So when I was offered the opportunity to have LASIK surgery, in exchange for an honest review on HELLO! Online, I booked my initial consultation immediately - excited at the prospect of leaving this all behind.

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First, the clinic has to carry out a whole morning or afternoon of assessments to check your eye health and your eligibility for the procedure. I was astounded by the range of tests that were performed – it really is miles above what your optician might check, with various examinations using different pieces of high-tech equipment. The comprehensive testing includes – but is not limited to – scans such as Tomography, Topography, Pachymetry, Optical Coherence Tomography including epithelial mapping, and Pupillometry. This initial consultation lasts around 3.5 hours and is a complete eye MOT, and, the clinic believes, is one of the most thorough assessments in the UK. In addition to the extensive clinical work-up and visit with a specialist Optometrist, during this time you will also meet your Patient Care Coordinator who helps guide you through the process and answer any additional questions. My research has shown that no clinic in the UK does this amount of preoperative testing before surgery.

At the end of it all, I was informed that I was indeed eligible for laser eye surgery, and I was most suited to the keyhole treatment, called ReLEx SMILE. I was given a comprehensive pack of information and instructions and told to go away for a 'cooling off' period to think about whether or not I would like to proceed.

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After considering the risks and the benefits, it seemed a no-brainer to me. According to the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), vision loss due to corneal infection from contact lenses affects around six in 100,000 wearers annually – so it's not like there are no risks there, either. And I had total faith in the clinic and the fantastic staff who were so supportive and caring from the word go.

It was a definite yes from me, so the next step was to arrange the consultation with Professor Reinstein, a world-renowned surgeon who has pioneered the techniques of laser eye surgery treatments such as Laser Blended Vision, and who has dedicated his career to performing LASIK and other vision-enhancing procedures. He also founded the London Vision Clinic, back in 2002.

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"I enjoy the ability to repeat perfection over and over again," he explained, simply. It is no coincidence that he is also an incredibly accomplished saxophonist, and invites his former patients to see him perform at the 606 Club in Chelsea for an evening of jazz. "The platinum package!" he laughed, when inviting me along to a gig the night after I was due in for surgery.

I had every faith in Professor Reinstein who completely put my mind at ease and answered all my questions – including 'Would you perform this surgery on your own family?' (Spoiler; he already has, on his mum, dad and wife!) But despite that, as the date of my surgery drew nearer I began to feel nervous. "Performing the surgery perfectly every single time is fifty percent of my job, and the other half is managing my patients' anxiety," he told me. As such, there is a huge emphasis on making the patient feel as relaxed as possible when arriving at the clinic ahead of the procedure. When checking in I was offered a head, neck and shoulder massage and sat in a darkened room listening to the sound of gentle waves crashing against the shore. It started to feel as though I was at a spa rather than in a Harley Street clinic.

My eyes were then completely numbed with anaesthetic drops and I was taken into theatre and given a cuddly toy to hold (a nice touch!). Professor Reinstein then calmly talked me through exactly what was about to happen and how it would feel. I was instructed to look at a bright light and before I knew it – after about 40 seconds per eye – I was done.

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Everything was blurry at first – like I was standing in a sauna. I was led into a relaxation room and after five minutes my boyfriend and daughter came to pick me up and take me home in a cab. (FYI you're not allowed to get on public transport after surgery because of dirt and pollution, not to mention the fact you're instructed to keep your eyes closed for the first few hours).

There was no pain whatsoever. I'd been warned my eyes might feel dry and scratchy, but they didn't. I spent the next five hours in bed, eyes closed, and every half hour my boyfriend came to administer eye drops. By 3pm that day I was up and about. "The vision of a fighter jet pilot," Professor Reinstein told me when I returned the following morning for my first post op check-up. I couldn't believe it. He cleared me to drive and resume all activities and showed me incredible photos of my eyes and how they were already healing.

"I can't believe I was ever worried about getting this done!" I told him, amazed. Apparently, that's what everyone says. It is now four months since my surgery and I can honestly say it has changed my life. I don't think I will ever get over how it feels to open my eyes when I wake up in the morning and be able to see without fumbling around for glasses. It is liberating to be free of contact lenses. "It feels like a miracle," I have told everyone who's asked me about having it done. I mean it. For more information visit londonvisionclinic.com.

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