Those who have known me a while will know that I just about kept my body shape in control (mainly in Okinawa through sweating generally due to the heat and humidity) or because of walking so much with my car dying. It definitely wasn’t due to exercise though! But after a couple of months of being back in England […]
Getting LASIK in Japan
Since the age of about 6 or 7 I’d say, I’ve had glasses almost permanently attached to my face. The first thing I do in the morning is reach over and put them on, and the last thing I do at night before falling asleep is take them off. The only time I don’t wear them when I’m awake is when I’m diving (when I take the advantage of the water magnifying things naturally for me). Have had pretty bad farsightedness since I was a child, and coupled with an astigmatism in one eye, even contacts didn’t make things perfectly clear. The only solution was to keep reaching over to the bedside cabinet each morning for the glasses. Or so I thought…
At the start of February it was time for me to look for a new pair of glasses. I was looking around a few places, comparing prices and everything, and then for whatever reason the idea of LASIK laser eye surgery came into my head. I did a bit of reading and saw lots of acronyms. LASIK, iLASIK, LASEK, PRK… the list of procedures seemed a bit bewildering, but one thing was certain: I would only find out what procedures would be right for me after a consultation at a clinic. I also talked to a few friends who’d had it done, and almost everyone said things like, “Life changing experience… best thing I’ve ever done… money well worth spending…” Definitely worth looking into. I inquired about getting a check at a clinic in Okinawa, but was given quotes of Y15,000 to see if I would be eligible for LASIK, which may or may not be refunded if they did the procedure for me. They would tell me that after the check. Not really something to make you want to use the company. So then I did a bit more reading into laser eye surgery clinics in Japan online, and one company kept coming up time and time again: the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic. They offered a free consultation and have a branch in Tokyo, so when I went up to the capital at the end of February to see UFC Japan 2013, I paid them a visit.
The clinic is in Shinjuku, and so as soon as I landed in Tokyo I headed over there. They do a bunch of tests on your eyes to determine the strength of your vision, the types of surgery that would be best for you etc. Should note that some of these tests involve dilating your pupils, so you probably won’t be in any fit state to drive after the tests for a couple of hours. At the clinic I met Richard Masuda, the company’s international relations guy but who helped with translations of a few things when my Japanese struggled. Have to say from entering the door, and especially talking to this guy, the service and professionalism they were offering was spot on, and gave me a lot of confidence that if I was going to get LASIK, it should be with this clinic.
After the tests from the nurse, I went in to see the consultant to talk about what they’d found out from my eyes. They said that usually laser surgery is for myopia (nearsightedness), and they can cope with much worse eyesight than I have, but because I have hyperopia (farsightedness) at a strength of 0.4 and 0.5 on the Japanese scale, I am right at the borderline of whether they can do the procedure, especially with the astigmatism in my right eye. They said it could be done, but that I may need 2 bouts of laser eye surgery to get my eyes just right, and that it might take a little longer than normal to get good vision and everything to heal as it should. They recommended the iLASIK procedure, which is a bespoke version of LASIK made for your specific eye condition and structure. It is also approved by the US Department of Defence, NASA, and the Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare here in Japan. If it was good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me! This procedure is more expensive than the “one size fits all” normal LASIK, but with my eyes it was going to be more beneficial going for this advanced treatment. Plus, I do skimp on things from time to time, but my vision is not something I take lightly. I also opted for the TotalCare system, which offers a lifetime of checkups, treatments and further LASIK procedures as I get older. There is a cheaper 5-year care system, but I opted for the lifetime one, not least because this clinic has a partner company in the UK, and my lifetime care package would carry over to them. Nice to know if I’m ever back in England I can get check-ups and everything for free.
So I booked treatment at the clinic’s Osaka branch for this past weekend. Around 10 days before the treatment I received a call from the clinic asking if I could go into their Osaka branch a little early for a couple more tests, which would determine finally whether I was eligible for the laser surgery. This was a surprise for me, as the consultant had said to me face-to-face that I would be an appropriate candidate, and now that I had booked 2 flights and hotels in Osaka (for my procedure, and my one-week checkup 7 days later) I was told this might not be the case and that I could be told after the checks on the first day that they couldn’t do the procedure and my trips would be wasted. I was more than a little disappointed at this, which I did stress to the company. After a few days, I received another call from the clinic, and things explained a little more to me. Apparently the data-collecting machines in Shinjuku were having trouble getting all the information needed from my eyes, and that was why they needed these further tests, but that I should be eligible for the procedure. A slight lack of communication within the company, but they got back to me promptly about it and put my mind at ease somewhat.
So the days went by and 3 days before I was due to fly to Osaka I started taking antibacterial eyedrops to make sure my eyes were clean before the surgery. Got a lunchtime flight up to Kansai Airport and once again, headed straight from the airport to the clinic. This time the machines got the information they needed from my eyes first time so the procedure was given the green light, and my wallet was made considerably lighter. Because I was coming from Okinawa, paying by cash, and I was using the referral program, I got some discounts. It’s still an expensive treatment, but nice that it’s made a little cheaper.
I was taken into a waiting room for the procedure, given some anaesthetic eyedrops, and the chatted to a nurse for 5 minutes while they took effect. Soon they told me it was time, so feeling excited but a little anxious, I went into the surgery room. The consultant dealing with me was the company’s leading guy, a Dr. Yoshihiro Kitazawa. He explained the procedure and told me that the final aim of the surgery would be to give me 2.0 vision in both eyes (2.0 in Japanese terms or 20/10 in American terms; basically perfect eyesight). I then hopped onto the bed and lay down. At that point a nurse held my hand and kept hold through the entire procedure. It’s a very Japanese thing I thought, but is quite reassuring and a nice touch to have in what can be a very stressful procedure.
A speculum was put onto my eye to keep it open and a machine put over my eye with a red dot visible. “Look at the red dot and we’re going to laser open a flap in your eye” said the consultant. “Don’t blink and don’t look away from the red dot” he added. Thanks for that; I had no intention of looking away until you said that, and now it’s all I can think about doing! I was told that my vision may go blurry or go completely for a few seconds, but not to worry if it did. While my right eye went blurry, I did lose vision in my left eye for a few scary seconds. Everything went grey with some strange patterns, and then went black. But soon enough it came back and I could see, although nothing clearly. (see EDIT 1 at the bottom of the article) Within a couple of minutes I had flaps opened in both eyes and the bed spun around to the main machine. This time a bit more pressure was applied to my eye. It wasn’t painful at all, but a little uncomfortable. Some more eyedrops were put into my eye at this time, and this let to probably the strangest experience of the whole surgery. As each eyedrop fell, because it was going into my eye I guess, I could hear these eyedrops! Each one made a crackling/white noise type of sound. A little disconcerting at first to actually hear these noises coming from inside your eyes, but after a few seconds again the crackling faded away. (see EDIT 2 at the bottom of the article) Once again I had a red dot to follow and keep staring at while the laser did its job. This machine is a bit louder than the other and I could feel something happening, although really had no idea what.
“OK, we’re finished” said the consultant, about 2 minutes later. The little flaps that had been opened on the surface of my eyes were brushed closed, and the lights in the room slowly came up. I was helped up to my feet and I looked around. The first thing I did notice was that things were a little blurry, but then I was told to look at something relatively close, and that I should see a difference. So I glanced down at my watch, and realised I could see the small makers’ names on the watch face; something I’d never been able to do without glasses. I could actually see! And with that, the LASIK was finished. I waited in the waiting room for 5-10 minutes after that taking everything in, and getting used to the slight blurriness that I was experiencing at the time. But I got my phone out, and was able to send messages and use it with no problems. I donned my protective eyeglasses as I stepped outside into a new, and slightly magnified but blurry, world! One thing I should note is that mid-evening I received a call from Mr Masuda up in Tokyo to ask how I was doing after the surgery, and how everything had gone for me. That’s the kind of customer service I really like; the contact that isn’t necessary, but that is made as a courtesy to you.
I was given a painkiller and special painkilling eyedrops if it got really bad, and about 30 minutes after on the walk to the hotel, I did start to feel my eyes aching. It was painful, but not to the point where I needed a painkiller, and about an hour later it had subsided. Got back to the hotel and did a little reading (I was amusing and amazing myself by putting paper in front of my eyes and actually being able to read it!) before having an early night. The next day I got up and put the first of my 4-times a day, 3 sets of eyedrops in (antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and dry-eye prevention), and at lunchtime I headed over to the clinic for my 1-day checkup. The clinic recommends checks 1 day, 1 week, 1 month and 3 months following iLASIK to check how your eyes and eyesight are recovering. In the morning my eyes started off very good but after a couple of hours I could feel my midrange and long distance blurring somewhat. Everything was magnified where it should be, but things just weren’t clear. That really frustrated me at the checkup as I could probably only get as far as I could pre-LASIK on the eyechart, yet I knew a few hours earlier I could have done. The doctor reassured me though and told me that 24 hours had not even passed, and for the first week or 2 my eyesight will be very unstable as my eyes and brain adjust to their new window to the world. I was told that the LASIK had been an easier procedure on me than they thought, and that they were hoping this would correspond to better vision and maybe would mean I don’t need a second bout of surgery in 3-6 months’ time. In addition, an examination of the eye revealed no scarring from the surgery. Very encouraging stuff.
As I type this I’m about 100 hours since the eye surgery, and I’ve had a smile on my face almost constantly since then. Throughout the day, my vision does change, and it even has as I typed this article (the screen is getting ever so slightly more blurry than it was before), but just the fact that I can walk around and I don’t have to fumble around for my glasses every morning when I wake up is an amazing feeling. It’s still very early days, and I know I will have bad days and good days, and that my eyes could take 3-4 months to heal completely. But I will keep you informed about how everything goes. If I stop writing completely, then I’ve gone blind!
But right now I would say the LASIK for me has been a huge life-changer, and hopefully things will just keep getting better as my eyes heal and adjust. And I would heartily recommend the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic for their customer service from initial contact until now, which I fully expect to continue. If you’re in Japan and tired of wearing glasses or contacts, then get in touch with them. They’ve got clinics throughout mainland Japan, and will give you great service I’m sure. Make sure you mention David Webb, and this website too!
Read about my one-week check and how my eyes are doing by clicking here!
EDIT 1: A bit more info about your eyes going dark momentarily during the LASIK procedure. I’m told it’s because when there is pressure on your eye you can momentarily lose vision. Because they push the speculum down on your eye with a bit of pressure (blinking right now would be a bad thing), it can sometimes cause everything to go black. But once the pressure is released then your vision returns. Not sure of the exact biology behind that, but it definitely explains why things went dark a couple of times.
EDIT 2: And I now know what was causing that strange sound I said I experienced after they had opened the flap at the front of my eye. The second speculum to keep my eyes open actually had a small vacuum hose in it, kind of like a dentist would stick into your mouth. So the noise I was hearing was the sound of the eyedrops/wash getting sucked away so they wouldn’t interfere with the laser. When it was mentioned to me (the clinic actually called me to tell me about these things after reading the article) it makes perfect sense, and I don’t know why I didn’t realise it initially. I must have been concentrating too much on that dot in front of me!
EDIT 3: Just a side thought, but if any of you contact the Kobe Kanagawa Eye Clinic after having read this article then the person for you to get in touch with is Richard Masuda (fire him an email by clicking here). Mention you saw David Webb’s article about the clinic online and my membership number (612-857) and it should make you eligible for a referral discount on your LASIK surgery. Hope it helps you out a little 🙂
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