I remember it clearly; I was ten years old... or was I eleven? I had been finding it hard to see the blackboard so mum took me for an eye test. I remember hoping they'd say I needed glasses. Why I would wish for that, I still don't really know. Something new, perhaps. Well, be careful for what you wish for. They told my mum I needed glasses.
At first, I was given the classic horn-rimmed NHS specials. I think I even had a plaster wrapped around the arm of them at one point.
Over the years I've gone through my fair share of specs as the eighties and nineties came and went. With every passing year my love of my specs faded as did my focus until my prescription deteriorated to, a reasonably blind, -5.75.
So what was it about glasses I didn't like? So many things really.
1. Waking in the morning and not being able to see the time until I'd found my specs.
2. Losing my friends/sunbed/beach/dignity every time I went for swim.
3. Going to hamams and not being sure who was massaging me.
4. Walking into pubs in winter and not being able to see for 5 minutes while the condensation cleared.
5. Not being able to see what I'm washing in the shower.
6. Not being able to see what I'm shaving after the shower.
7. Only seeing what the barber's done to me after it's too late.
8. Needing windscreen wipers in the rain.
9. Paying opticians hundreds of pounds for a couple of bits of glass just for the privilege of sight.
10. Having no peripheral vision.
13. Having to buy sunglasses that make me look like a sex offender.
14. Not being able to comfortably do extreme sports (what?).
I'm sure hundreds of other things will come to me after I publish this story.
I'd considered laser eye surgery for a while and I'd heard that people were coming from Europe to Turkey for the op. The thought of surgery on the eye seemed pretty extreme and I battled with the idea for years.
If you ask your friends their opinion, you'll get mixed responses. "I didn't think you were so vain", "you've got more money than sense", "go for it!", "best thing I've ever done", "I can't drive at night anymore", "you get used to the dry eyes", "is going blind worth the small inconvenience of having to clean your glasses?"...
I think you have to search for the facts and stats and make your own judgment call. I'd looked at the sites created by people who'd encountered side effects and nothing had really scared me. Finally I thought that we take so many risks everyday but the benefits would be huge. I was ready to take the chance.
I'd been to one of the British companies and they had refused to treat me as my prescription was still on the move. But that was some time ago. I felt it was time to try again.
I researched the best surgeon in Izmir and one name stood out from the pack; Dr Mahmut Kaşkaloğlu. He has his own hospital here in Izmir and seems to be the man when it comes to lasik.
I'd done my research. I knew the treatment I was looking for: Intralasik. This uses a laser to cut flaps in my mince pies rather than a knife. Nice.
So this is what happened...
Day 1 (Friday) - I went for a meeting with the good doctor. The meeting was brief with a swift eye test. Other tests were done, like the glaucoma puff of air and a scan of the topography of my cornea. I'm sure the meeting was fine, I just don't think that appointment can ever be long enough for a person about to have lasers carve their eyes.
Day 2 (Monday) - Appointment at 3pm. I turned up and signed a waiver that I wouldn't sue anyone should I become blind. Believe me, it's a hard thing to read, let alone sign.
"Look on the bright side," my brother said "if you go blind, at least you'll be able to play the harmonica".
I was then given a tranquiliser. "Do you drink alcohol?" the nurse asked.
"Sometimes. I haven't today though" I replied confused but jokingly. Hearing that, she gave me another tranquiliser. Was it something I said? Though it tickled me when a guy from the waiting room then stood up, came over and asked if he could also have another one.
It seemed strange that about 15 minutes after the tranquilisers were given, I was invited downstairs to pay. It did make it easier to be honest.
I love tranquilisers!
After another sight test and lots more questions for the doctor, it was time to go. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye and told her that this may be the last time I see her.
They took me upstairs and laid me on a slab. Drops were put in my eyes and I heard the voice of the doctor. "How are you Billy? How's your uncle?" (I've yet to find a place on Earth where someone doesn't know my uncle).
Then the weirdness began. A patch was placed over one eye and a clamp in the other (it was somewhere between Pirates of the Caribbean and A Clockwork Orange). Then my vision closed in and I was blinded. Believe me, that's not a nice feeling. A strange suction pressed down onto my eyeball and there was a dentist drill type whirring and a very light sharp pain. The procedure was repeated on the other eye and I was ask to stand up.
I couldn't help but try and look. There was a weird starburst effect as I looked at the lights. Some nurses (I'm not sure how many) lead me into a waiting room and sat me on, what looked like, a dentist chair.
I could hear voices and someone was holding my hand. "Keep your eyes closed" they said in Turkish. "You're OK sir, aren't you? Tell me if you don't feel well".
"Sure, I'm fine, fine." I replied.
"OK good. Just tell me if you feel unwell".
"No, I'm fine". Is it me or is it getting hot in here?
I remember having a skin flap removed by a Turkish barber once and coming over a little queer. Please don't let history repeat itself.
"You're OK aren't you sir?"
"Yep, super. You?". They just cut a flap in your eye. Ewwwww. Think of that. I don't want to think of that. Go on, think of that a bit. You're going to faint aren't you? No, I'm not. I've never fainted. I think you might this time though.
"Yeah, I don't feel very well".
"Right, nurse!" The next thing I felt was my feet being lifted up and a heart rate monitor being attached to my hand. "Your blood pressure has dropped a little".
"Yeah, I know" and I proceeded to tell them the skin flap story. Should I tell them that I puked and needed a lie down when my mum got her ears pierced? Nah, let's try and maintain a thread of dignity... with my feet being held above my head, wearing an eye patch and a hair net.
"Are you alright there Billy?" I recognised that voice. It was the doc. Oh god, I must look a right charlie.
"Fine thanks, Doctor. Just the excitement".
"So are we done?" I asked as the sweating slowed.
"Just a little bit more" came a voice. "OK can you stand?". With a little help, I was walked back into the operating theatre and under a different machine.
The clamp was back in my eye but I didn't feel any suction. I also didn't lose my vision until... what the fuck is that being brushed over my eyeball? And then, oh Jesus, I just saw him lift the flap up. That's the point it goes blurred. When the doctor flaps open your fucking cornea.
So when the nurse said there was a little bit left to do, what she meant was - all we've done is cut you, we haven't actually lasered shit yet. Brace yourself sonny, the best is yet to come.
The next part was kinda cool, though. A series of red lights scanning over my eye and clicking. What wasn't cool was the smell of burning skin and my corneal stroma was re-modeled (see how I can use these terms so casually in my day-to-day speech these days?). That procedure was fairly uncomfortable. It was probably fine but not knowing what's coming allows your brain to predict far greater pain.
The doctor tried to take my mind of it with questions about my CELTA, living in Izmir and other shit that I really wasn't interested in answering while my sight was on the line. But, good on him for trying.
Within minutes, it was over and I was helped to my feet. They handed me a pair of lab goggles and told me to wait downstairs.
Can I open my eyes yet?
My eyes were firmly closed as the discomfort started to build. This was probably the worst part of the procedure. My girl was waiting for me and slipped me a painkiller.
I came here to lose the glasses and you give me an even bigger pair?
The nurse arrived with a list of drops I needed to get and the news that I should be back in the morning for a check up.
Having to keep your eyes closed whilst walking through the busy streets of Alsancak is fun for the first 30 seconds.
Day 3 - Tuesday. Back to hospital for a check up. I met the extremely upbeat Mrs Kaşkaloğlu. She was fantastic. She took a look in my eyes and said "The operation was a great success. Your vision is 0 and -0.25. That's pretty much perfect. Your life is going to change forever. Now get out of here, go on!". All that was missing was a slap on my arse as I skipped out of there.
The damage was caused by that suction thingy. But it was necessary or the laser would have just cleaned my ears out.
So what happens now? I have another check up next week. Then another in a month. I have to keep my eyes clean and pour artificial tears in them every hour. I should avoid sunlight and try to keep them closed as much as possible (I'm wearing my sunglasses as I write this).
But that's about it. For the first time since I was ten (or eleven) I woke up this morning and didn't need to reach for my glasses (I did though. That habit might take some time to lose).