I got my first pair of glasses when I was about 13. At age 16, I started wearing contact lenses, and glasses became a last resort. For the next 20 years I used contact lenses pretty much everyday.
I’ve journeyed around the world with a wash kit containing vials of lens cleaner, saline, spare lenses and backup glasses. In the grand scheme of things, having to wear contact lenses is a mild inconvenience rather than a burden, but I really wished I could simply fix my eyes.
Laser eye surgery, LASIK, has been around since the 90s, but the cure seemed to come with too many possible side effects. Cases of patients no longer being able to drive at night due to haloing and glare sounded a little too common to be worth risking my own vision. For me to undergo LASIK it would have to give great results with minimal risk. I’d want the latest generation of equipment, used by a team that does enough procedures for it to be routine.
Over the past few years, several of my Japanese based friends have had LASIK. Some went overseas to the States, the UK or Thailand, a few had it done locally in Okinawa, while others travelled to mainland Japan. I decided to look into the various possibilities and one procedure, and one clinic, seemed the best option for me.
The latest version of LASIK is called iDesign iLASIK and the blurb sounded impressive. “iLASIK® is IntraLASIK + CustomVue Treatment, was based on the approval of Laser Vision Correction treatment by the United States Department of Defense and NASA-National Aeronautics and Space Administration and approved for use by their Air Force, Navy Pilots and Astronauts.” The procedure is customized to an individual’s eyes so the results in terms of clarity and recovery are better. It is more expensive than standard LASIK but I’d already made the decision that for me as a photographer the quality of the result was more important than the cost.
The Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic has seven clinics in Japan, but only the Shinjuku and Kobe branches are able to perform the latest iDesign surgery. The Shinjuku clinic turned out to be just around the corner from the Pentax Forum in Tokyo where I’ve had several group and solo photo exhibitions so I knew the area well.
I contacted Richard Masuda who is in charge of international relations at the clinic. Richard’s a bilingual Canadian so was able to answer my questions and arrange an appointment for me. I requested to do the eye consultation and then surgery on the same day, and was booked in for December 27th. I had to stop wearing contact lenses at least 4 days before the operation, so I was back in glasses when I flew up to Tokyo on the 26th.
The Shinjuku branch of the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic is on the 35F of the i-Land (no pun intended) Tower. The building’s impressive, Fuji stood clear on the horizon, and the clinic was modern, bright and spotlessly clean. At 11.30AM I arrived and was given my appointment card. I then filled out the forms (provided in English) for medical history, types of sporting activity, desired procedure etc.
Kitsunai-san the examiner then took me through a comprehensive series of eye tests. Along with the usual optometry tests to determine visual acuity, degree of myopia and astigmatism, they also tested radius and curvature of the cornea, intraocular pressure, thickness of the cornea, the radius of the pupil, and using WaveScan technology the tiny aberrations in the eye.
Next the staff put some drops in my eye to dilate the pupils. This took a few minutes to kick in, and when it did my distance vision went blurry and my eyes became more sensitive to light. Dr. Kubo checked my eyes, and said I was good to go.
A staff member and Richard then ran through the iLASIK procedure with me, and the various eye drops I would need to used over the following days. I also paid for the treatment. Premium iDesign LASIK is 380,000 yen for both eyes, but I got a 10,000 yen discount as I travelled from outside of the local area, and a 30,000 yen discount for giving a friend’s referral number. Total cost 340,000 yen. It was now around 1pm and I was booked in for surgery at 3pm. I went and had some lunch while my eyes returned to normal after the dilation procedure. Just before 3pm I returned, had a final check, anesthetic drops were put in my eyes, I took a pain tablet that would kick in later, and I was ready to go.
I put a gown over my t-shirt, a hat over my hair, changed into slippers then went into the surgery part of the clinic. I took off my prescription glasses (for the final time) posed for a photo with Richard and then went into the operating room. Richard also came into the room to help translate.
The whole surgery took less than 5 minutes. The room was dimly lit, there was a recliner, various machines, and the surgical team led by Dr. Shiba. I lay down, they put a strap on my forehead to stop movement and a nurse rested her hand on mine. The surgeon put a speculum on one eye to hold back the eyelids then swung the iFS Femtosecond laser machine over my head. I stared at the dot and in a few seconds the laser cut a flap in my cornea. The first machine was swung away and the Excimer laser swung in. I stared straight ahead, and the surgeon lifted the flap in my eye. Things went a little dark for a second, then I was looking at a rather blurry red dot. The laser started, and for about 10 seconds the surgeon said something along the lines of that’s great, just look ahead, nearly done, perfect. The flap was replaced, the speculum switched to the other eye, and the procedure repeated. A couple of minutes later I’m done and walking out of the surgery. It was a little hazy, but I could already look around and see. I change out of the gown and hat, put on my shoes and walk back into the waiting room. I’m given a pair of glasses with clear lenses to protect my eyes from dust and fingers etc for the first week. Richard runs through the procedures with the eye drops and pain medication another time, gives me his personal phone number just in case, and I’m done!
It’s a 15 minute walk from the clinic back to my hotel. On the way back my eyelids start to get really droopy and tears start to flow. There’s no pain, but I do feel like I’ve been hit by a tranquilizer dart. It’s clear why you shouldn’t drive on the same day as the procedure. I get back to the room, put in the three different eye drops and fall asleep still wearing my new protective glasses. I awake a couple of hours later, it’s now 7pm. I look out of the window and see the neon lights of Shinjuku. I burst out laughing. Everything is really sharp. I feel like the Six Million Dollar Man.
Later that evening, an hour before going to sleep, I put in the eye drops again. I have some weird dreams. I keep waking up and staring at two tiny green lights on the smoke detector above the bed. I’d never noticed them before. I’d never been able to see them before.
At 11.40AM I am back at the clinic for my 1-day check. The day before without glasses I couldn’t see the chart, I got a score of 0.06. Now I could read the second to bottom row with each eye, and with both eyes open I could just about read the bottom row of comically small symbols. I now had 1.5 or slightly better in each eye. (20/20 vision is 1.0) I chat with Richard again, I have no pain and I can see great. The only worrying thing was that when I walked passed a mirror the new glasses made me look like the elderly guy from UP.
Now back in Okinawa, and still grinning at how well I can see. I have the one week check up in Osaka in a few days time, and I’ll put up more updates in the future. If you’re already looking for more information you can check out the website or contact Richard.
Kobe Kanagawa Website – http://www.kobe-kanagawa.jp/english/
Richard Masuda Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, if you decide to get surgery, tell them my referral code Chris Willson 483-960 and you’ll get up to 30,000 yen off.