My NHS Eye Lift/Blepharoplasty
As a child I suffered from a severe squint. After unsuccessfully trying to correct the problem with eye exercises and various spectacles, it was decided that my eyes were bad enough to warrant a surgical correction. I was promised I would no longer have to suffer the shame of going to school with a sticking plaster covering one side of my NHS specs.
This procedure was carried out when I was 7 years old. Whilst it straightened the affected eye it did nothing for my vision on that side, and my eye all but went into a state of sleep. I could see through it if I closed my good eye, but opening both eyes resulted in huge difficulties with focus. I think, therefore, that over the years I simply allowed my bad eye to droop until it was virtually closed.
As I started into middle age and the rest of my body began to move south, my eye just looked worse and worse. Friends would remark that I looked tired and enquire after my health, which in itself was tiresome! The final straw was overhearing a shop assistant refer to me as 'the elderly lady'. I was only 55 years old and her words continued to ring in my ears ten years later!
Big social occasions became a nightmare. I disliked getting dressed up, putting on make up became a joke and I would always hide at the back for the obligatory family photos.
I did think about a cosmetic eyelift, but my husband became ill and there were a million other things that needed attending to first. In the UK the price of a blepharoplasty (eyelift) is £2,500 plus.
A couple of months after my husband passed away I had a near miss driving to pick my grandchildren up from school. There was a mini roundabout, and whilst I swear I double checked, I did not see a car coming up on my 'blind' side. We missed each other by inches. When I got home I put my car keys away and resolved not to drive again until I sorted myself out. Next day I walked into town for an appointment at Specsavers Opticians.
The initial exam took much longer than I had previously experienced and I did start to worry that there was something wrong, especially after I was asked to go back to the waiting area as the optician wanted me to undergo a field of vision test. This is a simple test which involves looking into a machine and pressing a button every time you spot a tiny white light. Afterwards, she told me that she was concerned about the extent of vision loss in my right eye and would write to my G.P. requesting him to arrange for me to see a consultant.
At the hospital I had a longer field of vision test - part of the time with my eyelid taped open so that the doctors could determine whether or not an eyelift would benefit my vision, which the test did indeed confirm.
My consultant then explained that as a blepharoplasty is usually regarded as a cosmetic procedure, the hospital trust would have to apply to a funding panel for permission to carry out the operation on the NHS.
I received a letter from the funding panel six weeks later confirming that the procedure had been approved and I finally received an appointment to have the operation three months later. Plenty of time for me to panic about it then, especially since the leaflet that came with the appointment advised that the procedure be carried out under local rather than general anaesthetic! I went straight on to You Tube and watched a surgeon carry out the procedure. I really wished I hadn't and in fact spent the next three months full of dread!
On holiday 6 months before the operation
The best thing about having a local, rather than general anaesthetic is that you can go home straight afterwards. I was asked to arrive at the medical centre at 10.00 am but was advised, after I had booked in, that I was last on the list because they wanted to clear the small procedures first. I can't say I minded, because by this point I'd have grabbed at the smallest of straws to delay the arrival of the evil moment.
As things turned out I needn't have been quite so worried. Two hours, and several cups of coffee later, I followed a nurse into the procedure room where I met the surgeon for the first time. He went through the whole procedure with me, patiently answering my questions and allaying my fears before I signed the consent form. I told him that I had been practising meditation in preparation for the day and he put some jolly Caribbean music on for me. Ten minutes later, my eyes closed against the warm, bright light and I was off, imagining myself on the soft white sand of St. Lucia.
I won't lie. The anaesthetic injection was horrible - a bit like a bee sting that goes on for a full minute or so. I was afraid to move a muscle! Once the anaesthetic had numbed the area the surgery began. I could feel a slight tugging now and again but other than that nothing to disturb my St. Lucian revelry.
I think the first eye took about 30 minutes. The second eye took longer because I had to have a small fatty lump removed first and the surgeon had advised that I also needed an additional procedure to correct my droopy eyebrow. Several more bee stings, more reggae and an hour later he was finished. I had one eye (the worst one) covered with a compression dressing to help stop the bruising and I was just about able to open the other to see where I was going. I felt really, really, shaky and was glad to see my daughter waiting to take me home. Whilst being more than a little frightening, the operation itself wasn't that bad. I might also add, I needed a big hug, but didn't get one. I guess my family just aren't like that!
Prior to leaving hospital, I was given a week's course of antibiotics to take and two little tubes of antibiotic cream which was to be applied 4 times a day. I was instructed to remove the compression bandage the next day and apply an ice pack once every two hours for 15 minutes. I had already armed myself with a selection of pain killers!
By the time I got home, I have to say I was even more wobbly and feeling like I gone five rounds with Mike Tyson, I just wanted to lie down and sleep. I woke up about 8.00pm that evening, feeling very sorry for myself. The anaesthetic had worn off completely and both eyes really ached. I didn't use the antibiotic cream as I was too afraid to touch them. A couple of paracetamol helped with the pain but my eyes were very uncomfortable and I hated the way the compression bandage pulled on my face. By this stage, I was beginning to wish I had asked for a general anaesthetic which would have involved an overnight stay in hospital. I couldn't eat anything but did manage several cups of tea before going off to bed. I woke up early next day for more painkillers and was still afraid to use the antibiotic cream. My daughter helped me with the stairs. The hospital had advised that I would need someone to look after me for a couple of days and they were right. I could not have managed on my own.
Later, I began the dreaded task of peeling off the compression dressing, which took me over an hour, tackling the sticky plaster a tiny bit at a time. I needed four hourly painkillers and alternated between paracetamol and ibuprofen as I was concerned about exceeding the daily dose of either. By mid morning, I was recovered enough to make myself a cup of tea and some breakfast. I had a very long look in the mirror. Both eyes were very swollen, my eyebrow on one side was swollen, huge dark purple bruises extended right down to my cheekbones and my eyelids themselves were black. I wasn't surprised at all as I am getting older and bruise easily. I began with the cold compresses right away. (The smaller packs of frozen peas wrapped in a clean flannel work brilliantly!)
Recovery from this point on was quite quick and by the following weekend I was able to enjoy a day out with the family. I could still see the bruises myself but no-one was looking at me strangely so I guess they weren't that noticeable.
My stitches were removed a week later. A procedure that didn't hurt at all and my eyes felt better immediately. The consultant was pleased with my progress and explained that it would probably be a further couple of months before my eyes were completely recovered.
It has now been five weeks since the operation and I am able to apply a bit of make up again - a blessing as my eyelids are still slightly discoloured. I can see miles better, have stopped bumping into things and am confidently driving again. Best of all, my family are telling me I look 10 years younger.
Was it worth the pain? Definitely!