This morning I went for my free consultation appointment with ultralase. I went to their Southampton branch and I thought I'd write about my experience. As I noted previously, ultralase were pretty on the ball, they phoned me back just 5 minutes after my web query, and that was on a Sunday. Between then and today I had an e-mail confirm all details, giving me a map to the Southampton branch, and a pdf of a booklet about them etc. This information was also sent hardcopy and arrived mid-week. Then I got a phone call to check I'd had information, that I had no questions, and that I knew not to drive to appointment etc. Then yesterday afterwork I received a text message reminder as well. They're nothing if not attentive...
At 7.30 this morning I was wishing I'd made the appointment later than 9.30 but none the less I set off and arrived early (9am) and figured I'd just have 30 mins of sitting around.
The receptionist pulled together some forms for me to fill in, and took some photocopies of the prescriptions I'd brought with me. She lead me to a waiting room where I could fill in the forms and offered me a tea or coffee. I opted for Tea and began to fill out the forms. A minute later the receptionist returned with my tea, in a proper mug and everything.
Before I'd finished filling in the forms I was called in by 'Vicky' who conducted the first part of my consultation. (I took my tea with me)
The first bit was basically just a normal eye test. She setup the machine based on my prescription, we went over various details. She invited me to ask questions whenever and appologised that there would be a barrage of questions for me to answer. Generally the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. She broke the ice by suggesting the question 'why do you wear glasses' since it is fairly incongruous for someone working at a laser eye treatment clinic to not have had it done. "Go on then, since you've mentioned it, why?" I obliged... she went on to explain that unfortunately her eye sight is SO bad that she can't have it done (-11 and -10!!).
Most of the questions were regular health, are you fit?, allergic to anything?, history of eye problems etc etc. Some where around how long I'd considered getting my eyes lasered, why so long, what was important and so on. Generally I would say I was at ease, comfortable drinking my tea and just chatting through the information they needed to collect.
Interestingly she said that whilst we went through the eye test of me giving my impression of what wa better/worse etc working to my prescription, the later tests would scan my eye to derive my prescription independently. I found it relatively comforting that I'd be double checked by a computer. I hate eye tests, and often get to the point where I'm not sure what is better or worse, more blurry or less, more pronounced, smaller vs clearer. All the different lenses causing all sorts of subtle differences in your perception. So to know that the computer would calculate it properly, then compare to my own result was good.
Ultralase went to great lengths to make sure I understood I'd get given some eye drops that would make my vision blurry for several hours, and that I must not be driving myself anywhere after the appointment.
What they didn't say was that there would be 2 other sets of eye drops. Not a problem, I guess it's reasonable to just highlight the important ones.
The first set were a dye, much like you get if you get fitted up for contact lenses. This, among other things, allowed her to determine that I do NOT appear to suffer from dry eyes. If you suffer a little from eye dryness before treatment, you definitely will after. Lucky for me the chances of that are less.
All this was sufficiently quick that when it was time to return to the waiting room to await the next part, my tea was still hot enough to finish.
Another couple of minutes in the waiting room (scarcely enough to get bored in) and I was called in by 'Frankie'.
This next room basically had an array of 3 machines and a computer. With a wheelie chair for me so I could scoot down the line of machines for each test. First was the oh so horrible, blowing in the eye test. Hate that test, and it took a few goes to get enough readings. Convincing your eyes to stay open wide, knowing you're going to get a startling puff of air in them is not that easy.
Then on to the clever machines. The first requires you to keep your eyes wide open and staring ahead, whilst the computer adjusts an image into focus for you. It does this a couple of times for each eye. Again you have to stay still and staring ahead, which is not so easy when your eyes want to help with the refocusing of the image.
Then the last test. this is the one for which I had to have the 'main' eye drops. It's at this point Frankie told me that they would sting a little...hmm kept that quiet till the last second... They did sting, but really only a little. enough to make my eyes water for 20-30 seconds or so before calming down. My notes show that the drops were Cyclopentolate Hydrochloride 0.5%
After this assault upon my eyes I had to stair into a machine which had a concave section with black and white circles on it, and various lights set around it. I had to stare at a marker in the centre and again keep my eyes still and wide eyed. Whilst there was a general strobing effect going on in the machine for 5 seconds or so. This is not easy. It took at 2 go's on my right eye for me to not involuntarily twitch when the light show started up.
Frankie explained that she would be my 'personal advisor' that my test results would go back to Vicky and I'd go talk to her again to discuss what would be the best option for my eyes and so on. Then I'd return to Frankie for any final questions.
Back to the waiting room for me. Again not for terribly long. I think the way they split the process between 2 people is a fairly clever way to make sure you never feel like you're waiting that long, whilst not actually having a single continuous appointment, allowing them to process more people.
Whilst in the waiting room I though ' I don't see any difference due to those drops' looking around seemed pretty normal. Then I looked at my watch to check the time...Oh. I can't read the time. It turns out these drops completely mess with your ability to focus up close. This was a pretty weird sensation for me. Being short sighted I'm used to that being the place I default to seeing ok. I need glasses to fix the long distance view. I discovered my short sight was better without my glasses on. Just enough to manage twitter, but I couldn't read things very well.
Anyway, back in with Vicky for another set of eye drops. This time anesthetic, so that she could use some clever ultrasound gizmo on my eye. Not sure what this told her, but it was obviously fine.
Finally, it's time to talk about the treatments that I could chose from, and discuss them. Lucky for me, I could have any of the treatments done. There are reasons why you might not be able to have one or other, but apparently my choices were wide open. Apparently I have nice 'thick' cornea's, this is good in the world of laser eye treatment.
This is were we cut to the chase. there are lots of options. My main fear was that there was a trade off to be made, results vs recovery time or some such. But it boils down to this.
ULTRALASIKplus 'wavefront guided' is the best treatment money can buy for your eyes.
That's it. For me there was never any question, I'm not going to cut back on quality when it comes to treating my only pair of eyes. The only slight 'drawback' of lasik vs the cheaper lasek is that I will apparently have a tineytiny scar that will show where the flap is created. which basically means an optician using special equipment will be able to tell I've had them lasered. Where as in lasek there would be no sign. But recovery time, risk, discomfort etc are all reduced with lasik. There is apparently a national average 1 in 3000 chance of 'complications' by which they mean the surgeon might decide they're not happy with the way the flap has been cut and decide to stop and let you heal before trying again. The surgeon I will be seeing has had this happen to him twice, in the 18,000 cases he's treated.
I asked about recovery time and long term impact to night vision and it was explained that night vision might take a few weeks to settle down. It was also explained that whilst my vision would be good the next day, possibly even within hours. I may experience some differences in eyesight over time, as my eyes heal at a different rate and compensate for each other. This wasn't particularly surprising. My left eye is worse than my right, and during the tests it really showed how much having one good eye compensates for a weaker bad eye. So no shock that there would be a period of slight fluctuations. But nothing to get concerned about.
There is a slight chance, though Vicky claimed it had not happened whilst she had worked there, that the actual result you get would mean you can't read the bottom line on the chart. She referred to it as 'losing a line' Even though I can (just) with my prescription through their machine. But she pointed out that the 3rd line from the bottom is 20:20 the benchmark of good sight. The fact I can read 2 lines beneath this, makes the very small risk only being able to read one line beneath it pretty irrelevant.
Another interesting point, that was not made clear anywhere else. On the day itself the surgeon may overrule basically anything that has been agreed. He may chose not to do surgery at all if he thinks it's not a good idea. He may also decide that there is a good reason to o a different type of procedure, to achieve better results.
Vicky also explained, they aim to minimise how much material they burn away, partly to leave you room to maneuver in the future. If in 15 years my eyes shift enough to warrant another treatment, they want to be sure there is enough room to do so. Also this is all covered under their lifetime guarantee. It seems you pay for good sight for life, and so long as it is something that can be corrected by laser they will do so under the same payment. I guess that means it's phenomenally unlikely to ever be an issue.
Overall I feel they were very helpful, exactly as advertised. I felt comfortable and at ease. I got information I needed and answers to any questions. They had clear diagrams and descriptions.In short, I feel well informed.
On the note of 'not being pressured' they make a play about there being no pressure to go ahead etc. Which I guess in a sense is true. But at no point did I need to be asked if I would be going ahead with it. It pretty much flowed seamlessly from these are the options. that's the one you pick, this is how much it costs, done. Basically it's not pressured, but perhaps assumed. To be fair I think I was always going to go ahead from the moment I got as far as booking the appointment. I didn't find out anything important that I didn't already know. So short of them saying I was ineligible for some reason, I think they were right to assume.
Due to a discount program via my employer I was eligible for 10% off the treatment cost, which is not a small amount. I suspect that they give this 10% off at the drop of a hat to most people. I say this because I was not required to prove who I worked for, or provide any kind of reference for the deal. But then maybe simply knowing the deal existed was proof enough.
Finally we get down to finance options. I didn't even proceed this far before having enoug cash in hand. However given they offered 24 months interest free, I saw no reason not to take it. I may not earn much interest on the money in my savings right now, but better to retain the flexibility of me having it rather than them.
There was a form of disclaimers to acknowledge and sign, all fairly standard I understand what I've been told type stuff. I noted that it s unfortunate to present me with paperwork after giving my eye drops that make it very hard to read. But of course they can't give it to you before because it wouldn't make sense.
The last thing I did was pay my 10% deposit, and put my sunglasses on to head off. Until I was in the lobby I didn't think that the light sensitivity part of the eye drops effect was really a problem. But even on a not terribly sunny day, the sky was bright enough that I was glad I'd been told to bring sunglasses.
So that was my experience with ultralase. In the time since this morning my vision has gotten slowly better. But I was unable to see much close up for a few hours. at this point, about 6 hours after the drops were administered. I can read fairly comfortably again. But I'm glad I had my computer hooked up to my TV so I could write this on a big screen, whilst sitting on the sofa. Definitely don't plan on being able to do much that requires reading, or computer work for several hours after the appointment.
Ok so this has been a massive post, but I wanted to make sure I covered the whole experience, for my own memory, and also if it is useful to anyone else looking for information. I will of course, write part 3 after the big day itself. possibly not for a while after, depending on how long I need to rest my eyes.
4 weeks today, I get my eyes treated...with frickin' lasers!! read on for part 3