A Patient’s Journey: Lens Replacement Abroad in Prague, Surgery & Beyond

In the second part of this two-part feature article, Scott O’Regan McGowan shares his personal journey to undergo lens replacement surgery. This will give you a highly detailed first-hand account of experiencing surgery in the Czech Republic. Scott will also share how the surgery has improved his overall quality of life.

This article was originally published in the Optician.net in August 2018, the main industry journal in the UK for opticians.

Prague, October 2

I was a little unsure how to spend my time at Prague, I was not entirely confident how fit I would be to walk around after the eye operations, and also it felt like such a momentous life changing event, so we decided to make it a family holiday. Murdo and Clodagh, ages 5 and 6 at the time, were told Daddy was getting robot eyes, much to their delight. We booked a cheap apartment near the clinic for the week. The itinerary was to arrive in Prague on the Monday (we went to the excellent Prague zoo). 1st eye operation on the Tuesday, eye check up on the Wednesday, 2nd operation on the Thursday, check up on the Friday and we were to fly back on the Saturday.

The operation

On the day of the operation I said good bye to my family and headed to the clinic, with my little bag of a change of clothes as advised. I was so excited. On arrival at the clinic, I was surprised. It had not occurred to me that the operation was going to be at a different venue, and I hadn’t thought to ask. Dominic met me and took me to the hospital which turned out to be just around the corner, next to a hotel. Inside the hospital it was much like a UK hospital, perhaps older than some, except the various departments were off various doors from a long corridor. There was no obvious reception. Dominic led me through a door and I was immediately in a small hallway where I had to remove my shoes, told where to get changed into my operation clothes and given crocs to wear.

When I walked into the next room, I was met with various “Dobry Den!” And sat down. A plastic shower cap for the operation was placed on my head, and as everyone else in the room, another 5 people, also had caps on, I realised that what they fixed to my head was a bit of masking tape with my name and I think, ‘left eye’ in English. I sat down and my blood pressure was taken. A nurse put local anaesthetic eye drops in my eye. I was asked to keep my eyes closed. I was given a small pill that I was told would make me feel ‘relaxed’.

There was something quite meditative being in a room wearing crocs with a plastic shower cap on my head with my eyes closed, listening to conversations around me, largely in Czech language. I started thinking about my eyes, and whether I my sight would be really different. Would I see the world with more colour? Would I be aware of the lenses? What would I look like without glasses…?

“Mr. McGowan open your eyes.”

I opened my eyes to see the nurses face quite close to mine, peering into my eyes. It’s an odd feeling to have someone look so closely, but to be aware they are not really looking at you, instead looking at a bit of you. Drops go in. The lady opposite with the blue Crocs smiled at me and I smiled back.

“Good. Please close your eyes.”

I listened to the background conversation in Czech again. With eyes closed, background chat feels quite intimate. A bit like listening to the radio with headphones on in the dark. Voices sound warmer. I started to wonder if the relaxing pill was having an effect. I felt quite relaxed, maybe a little tired. I was aware of a conversation and someone from the room heading into the next space to prepare for their surgery. (“Dobry Den!”). I think I am next! I felt just a little proud, at how confident and relaxed I was. I wondered if everybody else had their eyes closed. I heard Dominic ushering another patient in, I peeked through my eyelids and saw red Crocs this time. Dominic was speaking in German this time. Wow, I must ask him how many languages he speaks and how it feels to jump between languages.

“Mr. McGowan open your eyes please.”

“Good.”

“Close your eyes.”

Very quick this time. My eyes seemed slow to adjust to the light, the nurses face close up. She looked like she was looking in a mirror or looking at a camera. Eyes closed. My family would be wandering around Prague by this time, I wondered how Valerie was managing walking around Prague with the kids. Probably having a ball.

“Mr. McGowan.”

I was led through to a kind of pre-op room where the nurse checked I could not feel additional drops into my eye, and that the local anaesthetic was working. I felt good. I was led into the operation room and introduced to the surgeon. This was just like any other operating theatre, except in some ways it reminded me more of a dentist chair.

“This is for you to hold.”

I was given a red fluffy soft toy to hold. I thought this was unnecessary, but I held onto it as I did not know where else to put it. Once the operation started I was told exactly what was happening at each stage. My right eye was covered and my left eye was gently held open with some kind of clamp. I had read up about the procedure in advance and was delighted to actually see my lens breaking up. It was like looking through a microscope. Everything was quite clear. Incredibly, I then saw the pieces of my lens being removed, at this point my vision became quite blurred and not as bright. The surgeon then announced he was inserting an artificial lens. I saw it float in from the surgeon’s tool, again it was like watching some documentary about sub visible micro particles, except it was my eye, and then immediately, I had super clear focused vision.

It was incredible.

I was scared to move, so I said through my teeth – “I CAN SEE!!” An eye patch was immediately placed over my eye and the operation was over. I had my picture taken with my surgeon and thanked him, handed back the soft toy – I noticed I had squeezed its neck a bit – and went out to be met by Dominic, got changed and left to meet my family in the local café for a large coffee. They were a little late, they had found some nice shops. I had no pain, no discomfort other than wearing an eye patch, and more excited than ever about seeing after that brief second of vision in the theatre. When we left the café, we went to one of Prague’s many public parks with the kids, and I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I enjoyed a beer in the sun in the park.

After Prague

The second eye went just as smoothly as the first eye. My vision was so much better than before. I must have appeared a bit odd to others as I kept being distracted by shiny bright objects. Everything looked fresh and new. Colours were vivid. I had fun reading car number plates as they zipped by. My night vision especially was so much better than with glasses. The night lights of Prague seemed absolutely beautiful. It was like really seeing. It’s hard to describe the difference enough.

Once I got home, I was walking back from dropping the kids off at school, and suddenly became aware of another fantastic difference. I noticed the treeline next to the path appeared to move and I realised I was definitely seeing much more ‘in the round’, I had peripheral vision, which had been largely missing most of my life due to the strength of my lenses. As I walked forward I could simultaneously appreciate peripheral objects, trees, the road, moving back. This was an unforeseen outcome, that I would not have been able to express to my optician as not having, as I had never had it!? I wonder how different from one another our vision really is. I got to wear sunglasses. Swimming with the kids, wearing goggles and seeing underwater was hilarious. My hats fit better. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t need to move my head at all to get glasses, I just open my eyes to the morning light, it’s a lovely feeling if you haven’t previously been able to do it. Having to wear reading glasses was necessary as I was not suitable for multifocal lenses, I admit it has been a little frustrating to adapt to being a little short sighted, but even now 8 months later, I am continuing to get a real kick out of… just seeing!

Guest blogger: Scott O’Regan McGowan

Edited by: Lorna Straka

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