After years of having my contact lenses involuntarily removed with someone’s elbow during sparring or having to run on and off the mat to fetch my glasses, because I couldn’t see the technique, I finally decided to put an end to this bullshit. I got laser eye correction and I wanted to share what the process looks like in case any of my fellow blind people are considering it.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with wearing glasses or contacts, but I absolutely hated it, especially when it came to training.
I’ve had to wear something to correct my vision since I was 13. At first, I wore glasses in class when I couldn’t see the board, but over time I couldn’t function without them.
Towards the end of my blind years my eyes were at -1.75 and 0.5 cylinder (astigmatism) and -3.25 in the other eye. Such defect means that you can see the face of someone standing 1 metre away from you clearly, but if they stand any further it becomes blurry.
Since I turned 16, I was allowed to wear contact lenses. This was not only a big relief for the teenage me, but when I started training BJJ a few years later it allowed me to do so without too much trouble.
However, about 2 years ago developing astigmatic changes altered the shape of my eyeball and it became increasingly painful to wear contacts. At the time, a Boots optician told me it was due the cornea (the transparent outer layer) of my eye being worn down by the lenses. When I told a proper doctor about this later he was in absolute stitches, but at the time it really freaked me out.
This was when I decided that I’d get laser eye surgery. I swapped lenses for glasses to heal my supposedly destroyed cornea (lol) and started saving for laser eye surgery.
If you’re wondering why I couldn’t just stick to glasses, the following have helped me make up my mind:
- Training BJJ when having to wear glasses is a nightmare. I had to keep running on and off the mat multiple times during class, because I couldn’t see the technique, warmup drills or anything else properly, but of course I had to take them off during actually performing the movements. You feel like an idiot and when you train a lot it becomes incredibly annoying.
- On top of that, they’d always get foggy in class, so I wouldn’t be able to see anything anyway. Everybody always makes the same joke about it, which is cool, but stops being funny after the first 10 times :D
- You can’t do yoga with glasses on, but you also can’t see the teacher/tutorial without them. Really, any kind of movement from running for the bus, to running down the stairs, swimming etc causes your glasses to fall off . I didn’t fancy getting corrective goggles, so surgery seemed like the best way to deal with this.
Laser Eye Surgery
As soon as I’ve had money saved for the procedure, I started looking for a clinic. My criteria were that they should offer the most advanced method of correction (femto LASIK, although the choice of the best type of procedure that can be performed is ultimately the doctor’s decision) and of course great reviews. I’ve narrowed down the search to two clinics, which had glowing reviews. One of them had been around for ten years and the other for only about a year, so the choice was easily made.
Before going any further, there are a few things to bear in mind when thinking about eye surgery:
- You can only do it if your eyesight defect has been the same for at least two years.
- If it doesn’t work out perfectly, it won’t make you blind (this is extremely rare). The worst case scenario is that you’ll still have to wear glasses, so you might lose some money, but according to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists 95% of patients are happy with the results (99% in the clinic where I had it done), so it’s likely worth a try.
- The initial recovery period is 2 weeks, but that’s only the time required for the cornea to heal enough for you to go about your life as usual. The time it takes for everything to heal completely is much longer. In terms of training BJJ, I was told to do absolutely nothing sports-like for the first 2 weeks, only light yoga for the rest of the first month and only drills for 2-3 months following this. I’ll expand on this below.
Before the laser cuts into your eye, the doctor needs to make sure that you are physically eligible for the operation in the first place. The first appointment is a thorough eye examination, which takes place a week or two before the surgery. If you are approved, the doctor will talk you through the procedure step by step and explain everything in great detail.
This is also the best time to ask any questions you have, even if they seem stupid. Such as, how soon is it safe to get lash extensions again? It sounds dumb, but I do wear them on a regular basis, because they make my life easier. Anything that you do on a regular basis is worth bringing up in the discussion.
If you’re approved, then it’s time for the actual surgery.
The first step on the day is another chat with the doctor. They’ll go over every single step of the surgery ahead of you, including common sensations and experiences.
This is followed by putting on an apron, having your face sterilised with something that really stinks and laying down under the laser number 1. Anaesthetic eye drops are dripped into your eyes and after about 5 min you can’t feel anything in that area anymore.
When the doctors are sure that the anaesthetic is working, a small device is attached to your eyeball in the middle of it. This prevents you from blinking and is then attached to the laser number 1 itself. The laser cuts out a flap on your eye, which once opened will allow the second laser to perform the correction. After the cuts are made on both corneas, you’ll see everything as if you were looking through a thick milk glass – just rough colours and big shapes.
The device on your eye is detached from the laser and removed from your eye. You are then guided to laser number 2. None of this hurts, in fact you don’t feel anything at all. But the second stage is when it gets a little scary.
An eye speculum is inserted into your eye to make sure that you won’t blink at a crucial moment.
The doctor lifts the newly cutout flap from your eye. You can only see red and green lights above you. Everything else is grey. You have to stare into the lights and lay perfectly still for the next few seconds as the laser performs the correction. Then your eye gets thoroughly rinsed with water, the flap is closed and the rinsing performed again. The whole process is repeated on the other eye.
It sounds like a complicated procedure (and it is), but it only lasts 10-15 mins.
You spend the first hour after the operation in a dim room to allow your eyes to rest before the doctor can assess the results. This is when the pain sets in and it becomes very difficult to open your eyes.
After the final examination, you’re released home. It’s recommended that you just sleep it off for the rest of the day. I’ve had the procedure done at 9.30 in the morning and was in pain until about 7 pm. I could almost fully open my eyes at this stage and I could already see well except at a very short distance.
You’re not allowed to watch anything (as screens emit UV light) or to read for too long for the next two weeks after the operation. It was probably the most boring period in my life so far :D
Why can’t you train for 3-4 months?
Depending on the type of laser eye surgery that you get, you won’t be able to train for varying periods of time. As mentioned above, I was told not to do anything for the first 2 weeks, only do light yoga until the end of the first month, and then do anything as long as it wasn’t sparring or headstands for the next 2-3 months.
This is because:
- During the first 2 weeks post-op the flap on your eye is healing, which means you’re walking around with an open wound. This is the period when it’s crucial to be careful in order to avoid an infection or any complications.
- No intense exercise can be performed within the next month (or longer) due to the risk of the freshly healed flap bursting open due to high blood pressure. This is also why headstands are out of the question too.
- It takes 3-4 months for the eye to fully heal after the surgery. Even though lifting weights, swimming or even basketball are supposedly safe activities after the first month, martial arts are banned for the longest period. This is due to a risk of mechanical injury, which is pretty likely while sparring in BJJ. Being accidentally kneed in the face, scratched across the eyes with the sleeve of someone trying to choke you or getting a piece of fluff stuck in your eye – all these could potentially have serious consequences.
These guidelines are, of course, general and given to every single patient. The healing process seems to be going really fast for me, but I’m trying to stick to the them.
Glow and other side effects
It’s been a month now, since I’ve had the surgery. The only side effect I’ve experienced so far was the halo effect at night. This means that a ring of light around a light source is visible when it’s dark. This is not uncommon and hardly noticeable after a while. It doesn’t affect being able to drive after dark either.
Are you thinking of getting eye surgery? Or if you’ve had it what was your experience like?