Imagine a life free of spectacle smudges or the daily hassle of putting on & removing contact lenses. I’ve missed the feeling of having perfect eyesight, so just yesterday (28th Sept 2017), I took the plunge and went for a life-changing surgery. In today’s post, I’ll be covering the benefits of ReLEx SMILE, the costs involved, as well as my experience at Eagle Eye Centre (Mount Alvernia branch) under Dr Julian Theng.
Life with Four Eyes
I’ve been stuck wearing spectacles since I was 9, with my degree having stabilised at 250 (for both eyes) for the past few years. My degree is/was pretty low by Singapore’s standards, where virtually everyone has myopia to some extent, so my lightweight glasses should theoretically have caused me fewer problems than other ‘four-eyed’ people, but…the truth is, they’ve always been a source of pain & discomfort for me.
Why I hated glasses:
- I would get near-daily headaches from my spectacles, due to its pressure on my ears and the constant squinting, and it really affected my ability to enjoy life.
- Singapore is way too humid and hot. Combined with my oily complexion and tendency to sweat more profusely than other people, I spent many PE lessons trying to stop my glasses from falling off my face entirely.
- …and as much as I loved rainy days, it was always a pain to wipe (and end up smudging) my spectacles. My epiphany came when I was on vacation in Phuket; I had worn contact lenses that day, and it was pouring torrentially. My friends were clamouring for shelter, but I was enjoying being able to see perfectly in the rain for the first time in forever
which led to me getting soaked.
- No matter how many different frames I tried over the years, I would still get nasty pressure sores and small scabs (from the sores) because of my nose bridge.
- Glasses made me look bookish, which was an acceptable image before college, but I want to look more professional and mature now, so adios nerd glasses.
I tried switching to contacts, but after using them for a while (and failing miserably at putting them on), I decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle…or a potential eye infection, so I ended up going back to spectacles, which was the lesser of the two evils. I still felt the need to permanently get rid of the clunky mass of plastic+glass, so I began to research my options.
I knew I didn’t want to do LASIK surgery, as it’s more invasive and involved cutting (and lifting up) a large flap on the eyeball, which means an increased risk of complications and post-surgery side effects. I’ve also read enough horror stories of people’s vision being permanently foggy or them seeing halos months after having LASIK done, and I wasn’t about to take such a risk. I acknowledge that the risk of side effects is pretty low for LASIK, but I was determined to find a less invasive alternative.
After some googling, I came across ReLEx SMILE laser eye surgery, a relatively new method (pioneered in 2014) that had been receiving praise for its faster recovery time and lower risk of side effects. I was hesitant at first, given how LASIK has been around for decades, while this procedure was only a few years old. Nevertheless, I decided to take the plunge; I arranged for an appointment at Eagle Eye Centre (one of the many specialist clinics located in Mount Alvernia Hospital) with Dr Julian Theng, to determine if I was suitable for the surgery.
Click on this link to find out more about how the procedure works to correct your vision, or just leave a comment here if you have any queries. 🙂
I’m writing this segment before my 2.50pm surgery, and I’m really scared (hello, getting your eyes lasered while you’re conscious is terrifying) but excited at the prospect of never having to wear glasses ever again.
One major factor that led me to choose Eagle Eye Centre as the place to do my surgery is that it offers same-day consult & surgery, which is extremely convenient if you’re a working adult and have to take leave (my mum took the day off to accompany me). I had my eye checkup this morning at 8.45am, and the centre was already fairly crowded by that time. I was led through a series of eye checkups, from simple test like those in a spectacle shop, to lasers that were imaging my cornea to determine its thickness, strength, and suitability for surgery.
We then met with a counsellor/advisor who talked to us about the options available, based on the results of the various checkups. He gave me the green light – I’m going to be staring at a literal green light/laser during the surgery – for ReLEx SMILE surgery, and then asked me to wait for my consult with my surgeon.
After (even more) waiting – by waiting, I mean snacking on the complimentary muffins and sipping tea in the waiting area – it was time for my consult. Dr Theng was really friendly and efficient as he looked through the results of my scans, and he did a slit lamp exam to confirm that my cornea was sufficiently thick & tough to withstand the surgery. He said my left cornea was on the soft side, so he advised an additional corneal strengthening procedure (Collagen Cross-Linking) that would be done in the same sitting as my ReLEx SMILE surgery. It was optional, but he said it was a ‘kiasu’ measure to ensure the results would be perfect, so I thought why not?
Since he was giving me a discount already, the additional cost of corneal strengthening would add up to the same price as ReLEx SMILE before discount. The price breakdown is at the bottom of this post, so make sure you read till the end!
Although my surgery wasn’t until 2.50pm, I arrived at 2pm for pre-surgery prep. The receptionist collected payment for the surgery, and gave me the eyedrops (a few medicated & non-medicated bottles), sunglasses and medication I would need post-surgery, all in a nifty little pouch.
She also gave me painkillers, a sleeping pill (to make me calmer) and antacids (so the painkillers wouldn’t hurt my stomach) to take before surgery. I happily downed the drugs with a warm drink and waited to be brought into the operating theatre.
A nurse fetched me from the waiting area shortly after, and brought me to the prep room, which was just adjacent to the OT. She put a white gown over my clothes, had me change into orange crocs, and helped me put on a hair net/shower cap. She then proceeded to clean my eyelashes and eyelids with iodine, while making conversation to ensure I wouldn’t get too nervous. After that, she put numbing eyedrops every few minutes while waiting for the previous patient to finish the surgery.
Soon enough, I was ushered into the cold and jarringly white OT, which was crowded with many medical personnel, who were all going to be taking care of me throughout the course of the op. I nervously said hello to my doc and the staff, and they told me to lie down on the operating bed (table?), which was attached to the laser machine. The bed moved me under the machine, and Dr Theng talked me through what was going to happen.
A nurse put a face shield on me (to cover one eye while the other was being operated on), then taped my eyelids open and put a device that held my eye open; it sounds scary, but trust me, I was so numb from the eyedrops that I knew what they were doing but could barely feel it. And the doc was talking to me in a really calming voice throughout, telling me what to expect every step of the way, so I knew I was in good hands. Once I was positioned under the machine, all I had to do was stare at a green light for 20 seconds and not make any sudden eye movements (the machine applies gentle suction to your eyeball to hold it in place) while the laser made the necessary cuts on my eyeball. Dr Theng then used a microforceps to pull the lenticule out of the 3mm incision which the laser had made on my eyeball. I’m sorry if this paragraph made you squirm; when I read other people’s blogs on the experience, I was freaked out myself, but I assure you that it’s a really cool and trippy experience (seeing your vision turn into a white fog for a while) and I experienced almost no discomfort.
After around 15 minutes, both eyes had been completed, and I was being led out of the OT, but not before taking a commemorative photo with Dr Theng, which was given to me in this frame when I went back for a follow-up (the day after the surgery). I look like a drugged out mess in the photo, but I was so relieved and happy that the surgery had been completed to perfection!
I was supposed to rest my eyes for the few hours after the surgery, but I couldn’t resist taking a few selfies in the sunglasses they had instructed me to wear, as well as catching up on some shows.
My vision was still slightly hazy and I couldn’t focus on fine print (not that I was even supposed to be using my eyes LOL), but I could already see the difference within an hour post-surgery. It felt so surreal to know that my ordeal with spectacles and poor vision was finally over (okay, 250 degrees is hardly terrible but I hated it nonetheless).
I was still super sleepy and high from the sleeping pill they had given me, so I spent the rest of the day lazing about and putting the antibiotic eyedrops at 3-hour intervals, until my 10pm bedtime. They had instructed me to sleep with a protective plastic eye mask to ensure I wouldn’t accidentally rub my eyes or squish them against my pillow, and it was surprisingly comfortable, so I was in la la land soon enough.
I’m writing this post one day post-op, and my vision is almost perfect, apart from a fair bit of haziness, due to the additional corneal cross-linking procedure that he recommended for me. I have 0 pain or discomfort, and it’s been nothing short of rainbows, halos (a common side effect) & butterflies with my ‘new’ eyes.
If you’re a doctor/medical student, just let him know and he’ll give you a discount (doctor’s rate, as he called it), which is really generous and kind of him, and a great way of paying it forward for future generations of doctors. It saved me $1200!
If you’re not a medic, just try mentioning that you were referred by a previous customer (give my name, Faith Choo), though I’m not sure if such a significant discount will be given.
All the prices below are inclusive of GST.
- Pre-surgery eye checkup: $275, but the fee, excluding GST (cos they can’t refund that), will be absorbed into the cost of your surgery, which means your surgery will cost $255 less
- ReLEx SMILE for both eyes: $5000, but he charged me just $4200, his rate for doctors/med students
- Corneal strengthening for both eyes: $1100, but I was only charged $900
- Follow-up consultations: $85.60, but with my discount, I paid $53.50 for each consultation. There were 3 in total – 1 day, 1 week, and 1 month post-op. You’ll be seen by a different doctor, since Dr Theng isn’t in charge of post-op care.
Overall, I would highly recommend this surgery (especially under Dr Julian Theng!) for anyone who wants to lead a spectacles-free life; this is easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
Edit: Went back for my 1 week post-op appointment, and my eyesight is 6/6 and is expected to get even better (super vision maybe?) over the next month as my eyes heal. The corneal haze is still there, and the doctor said it’ll take around a month to heal completely. My vision is perfect, but when I try to read or watch shows, I can see halos around the letters on screen, and it’s almost as if I’m looking at things through an excessively bright Instagram filter; it doesn’t get in the way of my life (thankfully).
Update: It’s been 1.5 years since the op, and my eyesight is still more than perfect (literally better than 6/6)!
If you have any questions or want more details about the procedure, feel free to drop me a message on my Facebook page or leave a comment below!
P.S. I don’t make any money from running this blog, so if you’d like to support my writing and help me bring even better content to you, you can buy me a coffee/donate on Ko-fi!
If you’re interested in exploring my blog, click here for an index of all the posts I’ve ever written (travel, musings, doctoring), or check out my most read series below:
- the Chasing Dreams series: a multi-part series chronicling my thoughts, dreams & changing ideals over the years (since 2018), including burnout, quitting the rat race, migration and trying to find my path in life
- the (not-so-definitive) guide to doctoring: Getting into Med School & FAQs | Surviving your Clinical Years | MBBS Tips | Life as a M1 // M2 // M3 // M4 // M5 during COVID // Life as a Doctor (monthly series) | Chasing Careers series