Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Piece for the Huff Post on Laser Eye Surgery

Here's something I wrote for the Huffington Post about my laser eye surgery.  It's not on the Huff yet, I'm going to post it there tonight so it'll probably be visible tomorrow.  I have to find a picture to go with it and the kids are home now so I'll leave it until later.  But anyway, here's the piece - it summarises my experiences since I had the surgery, which I think was about five months ago.

Huff Post

I Had Laser Eye Surgery to Correct My Vision – Should You? 

I have been short-sighted for as long as I can remember.  I was thirteen before I or anybody else realised it - a teacher noticed me squinting at the blackboard, my mother took me off to the optician and I found out what I had been missing all those years (just about everything).  Still, with unfathomable vanity, I refused to wear the National Health glasses I was given, so I only had the benefit of corrected vision when I got contact lenses several years later. I wore them pretty much every waking hour for the next thirty years. 

I became gradually more short-sighted over the years and as middle age encroached I became long-sighted too - I struggled to see things close to me as well as further away.  When the optician suggested either bifocals, or reading glasses to be worn on top of my contact lenses, I realised I had to take action. 

I had considered laser eye surgery in the past but not gone ahead with it because of a combination of cowardice and prohibitive cost.  But about five months ago, I had Lasik Wavefront surgery to correct my vision.  The procedure took less than one minute per eye.  I went home to rest and the next morning I could already see well enough to drive.  My vision improved further over the following weeks.

The operation was a bargain - it cost just under £2000, although I did haggle a bit to get this price.  I paid a small deposit on the day and I will pay the rest on interest-free credit – just one hundred pounds a month for eighteen months.  My husband has calculated that after four years, based on the cost of contact lenses and glasses, the operation will have paid for itself.  Everyone should do this, surely?  It’s a no-brainer, yes?

Not exactly.  I am a bargain hunter, but even I wouldn’t have laser eye surgery because it was cheap.  In this case, the surgeon who carried out my procedure had been personally recommended by a girl who worked at my optician and that was why I put my trust in him. 

I am grateful to be able to see so clearly and I don’t regret undergoing the procedure but I am not sure that I could, or would, undergo it again.  I was so scared in the operating theatre that I had a panic attack which was terrifying as well as embarrassing.  You are not supposed to have laser eye surgery if you suffer from anxiety (I fibbed on the pre-op form).  I would advise anyone else who decides to push through the procedure despite their nerves that they should at the very least visit their doctor and ask for a tranquiliser to take on the morning of the operation.  Generally, I am anti-medication, but in this case I wish I had made an exception.

I had to take a lot of eye drops (anti-inflammatories, artificial tears and antibiotic drops) in the days and weeks after the operation, and for the first week I had to sleep wearing eye shields.  This didn’t bother me much and nor did not being able to wear make-up for a fortnight but I know some people might find this hard to cope with.   The operation itself was unnerving but not actually painful, but there were vivid, unsightly red marks on the whites of my eyes for several weeks afterwards.  My eyes were quite sensitive to light at first but that has also stopped now.  And I did still need eye drops to lubricate my eyes for a while after the operation but I don’t use these any more.  What did take me by surprise was that I felt sick and dizzy on occasions for a week or two after the operation.  I came to the conclusion that this was to do with the change to my vision, and like the other symptoms it soon subsided but it was unsettling and unpleasant while it lasted.

Surprisingly, just a few months on, I don’t often think about my vision.  Occasionally it dawns on me that it really is something of a miracle.  The first time that I went swimming was rather wonderful.  Another benefit is that I had a much greater risk of problems or infections in my eye from wearing contact lenses than I do now, having had the surgery.  In fact, the potential risks and side effects from the surgery were minimal statistically compared to the danger of wearing lenses (I only ever had a few minor eye infections due to my contacts but some people do suffer serious complications). 

I was told that I would need reading glasses after the operation, but actually I don’t yet.  I do have a small book light to help me read in the evenings but in the daytime, in good light, I can see to read very well.  In any case, I won’t mind wearing glasses just for reading.  That’s normal, after all.

So, the operation really has been a revelation. Sometimes I feel like the bionic woman.  But would I go through it again?  I honestly don’t know.  Should you?  Sorry, can’t help.  I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s eyesight-related decisions.  Which is why I don’t like the fact that the clinic (which will remain unnamed) has given me money off vouchers to hand out to those who are considering the option.  If you want to go ahead, haggle over the price because it is flexible.  (I was originally quoted £3400).

Good luck, whatever you decide!

Applied for a Masters in Healthcare Law - get me!

I have been a bit frantic recently (probably explains the panic attacks I was referring to on the last post).  There are a variety of reasons why I feel I need to move on with my life - my youngest child is starting at the Junior School soon, my oldest is almost grown up (more grown up than me in some ways).  Some of my friends are thinking about going back to work, a lot of them are already working and have worked throughout the process of raising their children.  Partly it's economic necessity - the reason why most people go to work.  The writing is not paying - admittedly I have not been writing a great deal because I have been too busy mulling over my future.  There's also a rather narcissistic element in the mix of wanting the respect that comes with having a professional job - narcissistic but normal, or so I tell myself. 

I don't see the sixteen years that I have spent bringing up the kids as time lost - apart from anything else I need to remember that I really wasn't capable of doing more than being a stay at home Mum for a lot of that time.  The fact that I was at home did me, and them, a lot of good too (or so, again, I tell myself.  I enjoyed it, anyway).

But now it's time to move on.  I know it, and yet part of me is still reluctant to get out there and find myself a place in the world.  So I take a step forward, enquire about job or study opportunities, mull over the possibilities for a day or two and then convince myself I am not capable of this or that.  I have to battle my unconscious which is telling me that change is uncomfortable and dangerous (I have been reading Dorothea Brande's book Wake Up and Live! - a beautifully written self-help tome, dating back almost a century.  That's how I know what my unconscious is thinking...  I like self-help, it's one of my guilty secrets though because it feels a bit self-indulgent.  Sometimes, though, people need lifelines, and I seem to need them quite regularly).

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, having worked out what is going on (that part of me is trying to avoid change) I am determined to find a course and stick to it.  Literally.  I have applied for an LLM (a Masters in Law) and am really hopeful and excited.  I have been reading around my chosen subject in preparation.  Yesterday I attended a lecture (or rather a panel and round table discussion) at Southampton University -  I had resolved to make the most of any opportunity that presented itself and so when I was invited to this event I realised I had to attend, to start as I mean to go on. 

It was really interesting.  One of the panel member is, I think, a lawyer who began his professional life as a doctor and specialised in liver disease.  He got so angry about the fact that the drinks industry encourage irresponsible drinking or don't do enough to prevent it - that his patients were dying unnecessarily - that he decided to switch careers, and now spends a lot of his time and effort lobbying Parliament to raise the minimum price per unit of alcohol.  (This particularly grabbed my attention because I could see parallels with the behaviour of Big Pharma.  And it occurred to me that as a lawyer (once I become a lawyer) my opinions on that subject will command a lot more respect than they do as someone who has been through the mental health system.  Anyone agree with that?)

The room was full of people like that - people who are passionate about their subject (the discussion was multi-disciplinary) - people who are trying to further understanding or battle injustice or generally improve the world.  I want to be a part of all that.  So I made a big effort afterwards, while everyone was 'mingling' (weird word) to join in and meet people and make connections.  I am not the most socially adept person, but I guess that everything improves with practice - at least I hope so, because I often walk away from these things feeling that I have made a complete idiot of myself.  But hey ho.

What does matter is that if I get on the course (please, please!) I focus on my studies and do as well as I can, learn as much as possible.  I may never be as clear and articulate as these other academics - I really wish I could speak in a less muddly fashion.  But most academic work is done on the page and that is my forte - I can communicate that way with relative ease (sounds boastful, but it's true).   I actually think I could fit in to a University role quite well  - once I have learned to cultivate a more professional manner - i.e. to talk about the subject in hand rather than myself.  And to relax a bit.

This is hopefully just the start.  The plan is to enrol on a PhD after the Masters, and then to work as an academic - a researcher or lecturer or a bit of both.  I am hoping to specialise in mental health law.  But it's all flexible - I may find a job in a related field, I might become more interested in other aspects of healthcare law.  Who knows?  I am just pleased that I have found a path and I am looking forward to following it and seeing where it leads.  I will keep you all posted. 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Panic Attack Advice

A friend was telling me today about another friend of hers, somebody who I once met but don't really know.  This woman has a mental health diagnosis (I think schizophrenia) and, without going into details, she is one of those people who have become a victim of the system. She is unlikely to recover, probably because she has lost the will to recover or the belief that there is any hope of recovery (this is what I gather from my friend's recounting of her tale). 

I was really surprised to hear that the council are in charge of this woman's financial affairs - she had to sell her flat many years ago (I forget why, something to do with benefits perhaps?) and they have not given her the money from the sale because she is deemed incapable of acting sensibly with it. 

My friend said that it is for this woman's own protection - that she might spend it on a new car or a holiday.  But to me this just illustrated the injustice in the mental health system - a gambler or an alcoholic can do what he wishes with his own money, sell his home and destroy his family...  But somebody with a diagnosis of mental ill health can not have charge of their own financial affairs.  I had no idea this situation existed before today and it made me really cross. 

As I say, I don't know the woman concerned well - I don't really know her at all, in fact.  But when I think about her - which I do quite often, because my friend is fond of her - I think in terms of, 'There, but for the Grace of God, go I'.  (I like the poetry in that saying).  Her final breakdown, which she never recovered from, was after she had a miscarriage and separated from her then partner.  And I think - I might never have recovered from such a loss either.  My family have been my lifeline and I am not sure that without them - without Paul's belief in me, without Anna to hold the two of us in place after that rocky start - I could have pulled myself back into the real world.

I would like to help this woman, have suggested to my friend that we should meet.  But she doesn't want to meet me, which is fair enough, and anyway I am not sure if anything I could say would actually help.  She will get better, maybe, one day when she is ready.  I hope. 

In the meantime, why on earth shouldn't she have her own money?  Why shouldn't she splash out on a new car?  Or a holiday?  Maybe those things might be the trigger that would make her start to feel like a real person again.  Why would it be a waste, any more than it would be if anybody else treated themselves to the things they wanted?  Aren't most people's decisions about how to spend their money reckless, unnecessary, in literal terms? 

Anyway, I probably shouldn't write any more about somebody else's business.  The woman concerned is not complaining, or not officially so.  She is too used to being 'looked after', treated like a child, or more accurately, like a mad person. She has given up on any hope or expectation of leading a normal life.  Which is ridiculous - she was unwell and there really is no reason why she shouldn't get better.  It is just a shame that so few people realise that. 

The story made me cross and more determined to keep on fighting the injustice that is meted out to the mentally ill - or, the emotionally distressed. 

All this is a complete digression.  So, to get to my final point, which is the thing that made me want to write this post.  The panic attacks.  My friend told me that her friend - this same woman - has panic attacks and so I passed on the advice the GP recently gave me on this matter.  I went to see the GP after suffering episodes of chest pain that I knew were caused by panic but which still made me feel as though I was going to die however much I tried to reason myself out of it.  I think I wrote about it all on here, but I can't remember if I wrote in detail about my visit to the GP and what he said.  And I realised that if I haven't, I should, because after listening to his words of advice I have not had a panic attack since.

I told the GP that I thought the attacks might be some sort of reaction to food, because it often (not always) happened after I had eaten.  I said I had cut out various foods, notably nuts, because they seemed to be a trigger and he said that I could just end up with a really restricted diet that way and that I really needed to re-introduce those foods, so that I knew if they had actually caused the problem.  Also, he said that pain was not usually associated with panic attacks, which I knew, but I still thought panic was the problem.  He suggested medication, but he was almost smiling when he said it - I think he must know I am rather anti-medication, although he is not the GP I usually see at that surgery. 

Anyway, he then said that I should pay attention to my breathing.  He said that breathing is key - usually when we have panic attacks we have been over-breathing - breathing in too much - and the action we need to take is to breathe out.  So that is what I do now, if I have any inkling that a panic attack might be starting.  I breathe out.  And it has worked!  Simple advice but very effective.  It deserves to be shared.

I don't feel at risk of these episodes any more and I suppose that is part of the reason why they are not happening - I am not anticipating them, I am not fearful.  I think also the breathing out thing might work for me partly because the GP told me it would and I believed him - I am quite suggestible!  But whatever the reason, it works, so I passed the info on to my friend today and I hope she passes it on to her friend, and I thought I would share it here too if I haven't already.

Please pass it on to anyone you know who suffers in this way.  I hope it helps.