'A consultation for laser eye treatment picked up that I was in the early stages of glaucoma' - Philip Hedderman
A consultation for laser eye treatment picked up that Philip Hedderman was in the early stages of glaucoma, but, with treatment, he was subsequently able to undergo life-changing Lasik surgery and ditch his glasses for good
'It looks like you are in the very early stages of glaucoma." As these words swirled around my head, fear and dread welled up inside me as I tried to absorb the news.
Anybody who visits the optician regularly will be familiar with, or at least will have heard of, glaucoma at some stage. Known as the silent thief, this cruel disease has no signs or symptoms, and, left untreated, it causes irreversible blindness.
You wake up one morning in total darkness. There is no treatment unless the disease is detected in the early stages.
Thankfully, the state-of-the-art equipment and expertise at the Wellington Eye Clinic in Dublin - which has been operating in Ireland since 1980 - picked up the condition during my initial consultation for laser eye treatment to correct my short-sightedness.
At that initial consultation, a series of comprehensive tests were carried out, including 3D scanning of the eyeball over a two-and-a-half-hour period.
The morning started off with routine eye checks to confirm my prescription, and then progressed to an examination of my peripheral vision, which entailed me concentrating on a red dot and pressing a clicker every time I saw a white flash.
This, combined with the colour images, highlighted that I had an IOP (intraocular pressure) of 25mmHg (millimetres of mercury) and 26mmHg respectively, which could progress to sight loss within 15 years. A reading of 25-30mmHg would lead to sight loss within seven years, and in just three years for 30mmHg and above.
My consultant, Mr Arthur Cummings, calmly reassured me that the condition, although very serious, is easily managed with a single eye drop (of Latanoprost) each night.
The generic version of the drug can be bought for as little as €5 per month. A course of Omega 3 fish oil and blinking exercises - to improve the natural oil in my tears - were also prescribed.
Four weeks later, I returned to the Beacon Hospital in Sandyford, where I resat the tests and passed with flying colours - the IOP had returned to normal (around 17mmHg).
Then came the joyous news - Mr Cummings informs me that I am indeed a perfect candidate for Lasik due to the thickness of my corneas, which have to measure at least 300 microns.
Prices for Lasik range from €2,250 per eye, and a new bladeless procedure costs €2,500 per eye (you can subsequently apply for a tax rebate at the lower 20pc rate).
In my case, it was recommended that I opt for a treatment called Monovision Lasik where the dominant eye is corrected 100pc for distance, and the other eye is corrected about 95pc - which would allow me to also read small print without glasses.
On the day of the procedure, a sudden bout of nerves hit hard and I questioned whether I was doing the right thing.
A couple of deep breaths and the reassurance that Mr Cummings's professional reputation is held in such high regard internationally, that he is the surgeon that other ophthalmic professionals go to for vision correction, worked wonders.
A few final checks and a couple of Valium later, I said farewell to a blurry wife, and headed off to the theatre dressed in a green gown and matching hairnet.
Before entering the darkened room, I met Mr Cummings for any final questions and a big dollop of encouragement. He explained the procedure in great detail, so there were no surprises in store.
Having climbed on to the bed, the laser machine hovered over my right eye, whereupon a clamp was inserted which widened my eyelids to prevent any blinking.
A plastic lens was then placed on my eyeball as I stared at the red and green lights positioned in the middle of four white spotlights.
Pressure was then exerted on the eye, which was, at worst, slightly uncomfortable, as the laser got to work.
A burning smell similar to hair being singed was quite evident, but there was no pain whatsoever.
Within 15 seconds, the correction was done. Sterile water was then flushed in, and the moment the excess fluid was wiped away, I began to experience 20/20 vision. The excitement of this was so great that I hardly took notice of the work being done on the second eye.
Standing upright and looking around, it was initially akin to walking through a dense fog, but, then, to my amazement, I could clearly see the time on the clock 10 feet away, which I couldn't make out when I walked in - it read 11.10am.
From theatre, a nurse took me to a darkened room to relax and allow time for my eyes to acclimatise - and where, if needed, more anaesthetic is administered.
A quick run-through my after-care routine - what three eye drops to take, (steroid, antibiotic and false tears for lubrication) and at what intervals they are to be taken in the following seven days plus the fitting of protective eye patches - and I was ready for home.
Light sensitivity is probably the biggest issue for patients, and a really good pair of sunglasses is highly recommended for the journey home.
Extra anaesthetic drops and painkillers are also provided, as are sleeping pills for the first night of recovery.
A couple of hours sleep that afternoon brought great comfort, and the drops kept my eyes lubricated and itch-free.
By 7pm that night, I sat in my living room watching the television in utter amazement - the clarity of the picture was almost overwhelming.
The following morning, I headed back to the clinic, and after another set of tests for distance and reading, I was given the all-clear to drive home.
This was be the first time I'd ever taken charge of a car without glasses or contact lenses - certainly a momentous day for this motoring correspondent.
But thrashing a supercar around a race track would have to wait, as a bigger assignment beckoned.
Just 10 days later and I was absolutely ecstatic, standing on the roof of a small vessel watching in total wonderment as two grey whales breach the clear blue waters in the heart of the Salish Sea off Seattle in Washington State.
The seaplane journey on our return was even more spectacular and, at a cruising altitude of just 800 feet, the views were simply breathtaking.
Never in my lifetime did I dream of witnessing such wild natural beauty, especially the sight of a pod of Minke whales, a gam of porpoises, a school of seals and on the shoreline, a majestic bald eagle swooping for prey.
Nor did I think that it would happen in my late 40s, after such a simple and painless procedure.
My only regret is that I didn't do it in my 30s, but then fate may not have brought me in contact with Mr Alan Cummings, who has undoubtedly saved me from a life of blindness. For that, I am eternally grateful to him and his wonderful team.
As for my new lease of life? It's an exceptional added bonus.
For more information, see wellingtoneyeclinic.ie
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