If you’re unlucky enough to be short-sighted you’ll know what an extra hassle wearing glasses or contact lenses can be when you’re travelling. If, however, you are blessed with the gift of perfect vision then allow me to paint the picture for you.
When you are short-sighted…
- You have to pack bottles of expensive solution and saline to take with you and it is surprisingly heavy.
- There is nowhere to keep your glasses on the plane when you try to sleep.
- At the end of a long day of wearing contact lenses your eyes feel dried out, gritty and usually resemble the bloodshot orbs of a drug addict or vampire.
- You have to decide between fashion sunglasses with contacts while sunbathing, or the not-so-glam prescription sunglasses you bought because you have an irrational fear that your contact lenses may melt onto your eyeballs if out in the sun too long. Or is that just me?
- Water sports with contact lenses? Not a great idea. Do you know what it’s like to lose a contact lens round the back of your eyeball after rubbing water out of your eye? I do, and it’s not nice.
You get the idea? Being short-sighted adds a plethora of problems for a backpacker. And so because of these problems, and the fact that I am excessively vain, I opted for Laser Eye surgery when I was in Vietnam.
I had considered laser-eye surgery in the UK but it was very expensive and I was already in too much debt. Years later in Vietnam it became a more plausible option. A few friends of mine did it before me and I watched their progress with interest. They returned from their operations with no visible burn marks and as they hadn’t gone blind it seemed safe enough so I booked a consultation at the Cao Thang International Eye Clinic in Saigon.
The consultation was straightforward enough. The doctor poured eye-drops in my eyes, poked around my eyeball with an electronic pen and talked me through the procedure. Although she spoke reasonably good English some of our conversation got lost in translation which concerned me but as my friend’s operations had been successful I pushed these thoughts aside. The consultation revealed that my pupils dilate to larger than the normal area for a successful operation which means that I am more at risk from the halo or starburst effect when looking at lights at night. Because of this my operation would be more complicated than my friend’s and a new more specialised laser would be required. I was on my own. The laser, I was told, would need to be ordered specifically from Bangkok but the clinic kindly offered the more specialised operation at the same price of the usual one. I paid 11million Vietnamese Dong for both eyes, at the time this was about £350.
A week later I was back at the clinic and shaking with nerves. I tried to pacify my anxiety by asking the doctor how many operations she had performed that day and was relieved when she replied ‘eight’. I asked how many of them she had performed with the new laser that I was to have and she replied ‘I have never used this laser’. Hmmm, not so comforting. I was given a sedative in the waiting room and then escorted through to the operating theatre where nurses wandered around fully attired in protective clothing. It was like a scene from that biological disease movie ‘Outbreak’. I lay down on what looked like a dentist’s chair and was immediately clamped down by four small, but surprisingly strong, Vietnamese women: one on each arm, one on each leg and one holding down my head. I felt like I was about to be administered the lethal injection. The doctor told me to look at the green light throughout the operation but I kept blinking. Each time I blinked she demanded that I open my eyes and my command of Vietnamese was too limited to explain that I was blinking, not being deliberately awkward. Eventually they taped my eyes open with masking tape.
The next problem I faced was trying to look at a green light when the lens of your eye has been removed; leaving you peering into blackness wondering if you’ll ever be able to see again. Add this to the putrid smell of your retina burning and it makes for an unpleasant experience. Sorry if you are squeamish! I won’t elaborate more on the details of the operation which thankfully didn’t last long. In less than ten minutes it was all over and I was given a cup of warm Milo, eyedrops, and being sent on my way.
Unless you have had bad eyesight you can’t begin to fathom how incredible it is to have clear vision. The next few days were amazing. I could wake up in the night and see that the shadow in the corner was a pile of clothes draped over the chair and not an escaped man-eating tiger, or be able to read the clock on the bedside table. I could shave my legs in the shower without missing parts around the ankle (this is a surprisingly difficult feat when you can’t see your ankle) or put my head under water in the pool.
Many people are surprised when I say I had Lasik surgery in Vietnam but if you choose a reputable clinic then I don’t see any difference than having the same procedure in your home country and I have never had cause to regret my decision. Cao Thang Clinic were professional in both the pre and post-care procedures and the operation was performed flawlessly.
You should probably only consider laser-eye surgery overseas if you are going to be around for at least 6 months. I did this whilst I was living as an expat in Vietnam, not as a short-term traveller. Take time to ask around about which clinics have a good reputation or better still, get advice from people who have used the clinic themselves. After the surgery you will be required to attend a few post-op check-ups for up to 6 months so you will need to be in the area.
You can find Cao Thang on the web at http://www.cthospital.vn/about-2/about/.
Would you consider having surgery abroad? Why/why not? Have you had any cosmetic surgery overseas? What was your experience? Do you think it is better to do these things in your own country? Or not at all? Please leave a comment!