Spring 2010: two of my work colleagues, in their thirties, underwent laser eye surgery without problems encouraging me to investigate.
I was 60 years old with an astigmatism and high prescription.
May 2010: I attended the initial assessment with Optical Express optometrist Laura Davies who barely spoke a dozen words. She then passed me to Steve Mansell, a 'Counsellor'.
Steve told me the 'good news' that I was a suitable candidate for LASEK and if I signed up that day I could get interest free credit,which I did.
After committing to the finance, which could not be cancelled, he showed me the appointment availability at Trafford Centre Manchester location, slots every fifteen minutes! I expressed surprise at the crammed system but he told me that it was a simple, routine procedure not needing much time.
Some days later the Consent Form arrived. with the first mention of 'risks'.
I read the form and felt uneasy. This looked like a company covering its back against anything and everything.
I returned to the branch and questioned the possibility of the surgery failing. Laura told me not to worry, the problems usually occurred during standard treatment but as I had elected for Wavefront everything would be fine.
Early June, on the day of surgery I arrived at Manchester. The first thing I was asked for was the signed Consent Form. I told them I had not signed it as I felt uneasy with all the things that could go wrong.
"Don't worry" they told me you, will have time to talk to the surgeon later. They refused to book me in without the form being signed so I reluctantly signed it.
A young member staff member tried to take measurements of my eyes but after numerous attempts she gave up and told me they may not be able to proceed.
I was sent back to the waiting room and breathed a sigh of relief. Things did not feel right. The place was teaming with people, it was noisy and frantic and generally unprofessional.
A second staff member appeared and told me they would try again to get "pictures". After a couple of attempts she told me "that will do, we only need three or four".
I then saw optometrist, Tom Crichley, who checked my prescription - allegedly. Many months later I discovered he had recorded that I had a poor tear film. He did not tell me this at the time.
I was immediately passed to the surgeon, Dr Waseem Aziz, who appeared pressured. Looking in my eyes he asked, "Has someone put drops in your eyes?"
I replied, "Yes".
He asked, "Who?"
I told him his optometrist and he asked, "Any questions?"
I asked, "Will I be able to see as well after surgery as well as I can see now with my specs?"
He replied, "We'll, that's what we're aiming for. Now let's go in..."
No further explanation from the surgeon. No thorough examination. No further opportunity to ask questions. No explanation of the procedure.
The previous patient had suffered a panic attack and all attention was centred on convincing her to go ahead with surgery.
I later found out from the clinical notes on that day said that the "Surgeon specifies LASIK " yet LASEK was performed.
Was this an error? Did I get someone else's notes? Or are they just so casual with their procedures this sort of error can occur?
I was terrified. Never has my heart beat so fast.
Following surgery the recovery room was still occupied by the previous patient so I was handed a paper bag and a young girl told me that it was eyes drops and instructions for use, that I could leave.
The following day I was in pain and returned to my local OE branch to be told they had run out of anaesthetic drops. By Sunday I was in agony but when I called the emergency helpline they told me this was normal. I was not told pre surgery!
I had to travel to a different branch fifty miles away to get the bandage lenses removed.
Another young woman, Carly Smith, simply did not know what she was doing. The contacts were stuck so she asked another member of staff for help. They eventually removed them. I was in pain and my vision was blurred. They told me it was normal.
The next day I returned to my local branch and saw Laura who told me that Carly had only been with Optical Express for four weeks, didn't know what she was doing and should not have removed the lenses. She told me my eyes had not healed and that was why I had - quote, "RUBBISH VISION".
I could not believe my ears and this sums up the level of professionalism and competence of OE staff.
Laura replaced the lenses for three more days but when they were finally removed my vision was blurred. I was told this was normal and that my eyes were still "healing".
Over the following three months I saw ELEVEN different Optical Express optometrists. All disinterested, inconsistent and some downright rude. Some told me my eyes had over healed. Some told me they had under healed.
I asked what this meant. No one could explain.
Eventually I insisted that I returned to see Waseem Aziz the surgeon.
Back to Manchester where he told me to ignore what I had been told at branch, the real situation was that one eye was under corrected and the other over corrected and offered me two pairs of glasses, one for close up and one for distance.
The surgery had failed. He suggested enhancement surgery. I said "No thanks".
I told him about the discomfort I was experiencing and the pain during the night. He offered me Celluvisc and Lacrilube.
Worried that my eyes had been damaged I went to my GP who referred me to the hospital where I paid privately to see an ophthalmic surgeon.
He told me that I had a pre existing condition called 'Blepharitis' which is contra indicative to surgery and I asked him why OE had not spotted this.
He told me that OE have a reputation for employing staff with minimal experience and they probably just did not know what to look for.
A poor tear film is a symptom of blepharitis so why didn't Tom Crichley or the surgeon pick up on this? At the very least I should have been advised that a good tear film is essential for proper healing and I would NOT have proceeded if I had been informed of this.
I have now seen this independent surgeon three times; prescribed medication which helped a little at first but is no longer effective. My tear film break up time is 1-2 seconds. I am suffering from recurrent epithelial corneal erosions.
On the strength of this I approached a solicitor in March 2011.
It took until May 2012 for a letter of claim to be issued to Optical Express' solicitors, Harper Macleod, but my solicitor was unable to obtain any response from them.
Finally, in November 2012 my solicitor received a communication stating that the branch where I had surgery was part of Optical Express Southern Ltd which changed its name to 123 Leeds Ltd and now in administration, that the Administrators have to authorise the issue of the solicitors reply.
My solicitor now tells me this is all perfectly legal and even if I was to win the case I would be merely another creditor of the defunct Company.
Yet Optical Express Trafford Centre clinic continues to trade and presumably still operating on people's eyes and offering guarantees.
ALL CORRESPONDENCE FROM OE CARRIES THEIR TRADING NAME.
NONE OF US ARE ADVISED AT THE TIME WHICH OF DCM HOLDINGS LTD SUBSIDIARIES WE ARE DOING BUSINESS WITH.
I do not consider myself to be stupid. I believed that I was being treated by Optical Express so why would I have questioned this?
I continue to wear varifocals and have bought five pairs since surgery as my vision continues to deteriorate. My vision is as if my glasses are steamed up and I now insert eye drops every half hour or so with little relief.
I have not had one nights unbroken sleep since the day of surgery as every night I have to get up to insert drops or ointment.
I no longer drive at night and even daytime driving is becoming more difficult. The condition is debilitating.
A mere mention of 'dry eyes' on a Patient Consent Form does NOT explain fully the real implications of this condition which is, according to my private ophthalmic surgeon, "inevitable following laser eye surgery".
I did NOT consent to this. The risks are minimised and not fully explained. It is all well and good to suggest that a patient asks questions but how does one know what to ask? I did not consider searching for disasters online, trusting the word of Optical express staff which I now know to be worth nothing.
I would pay a million pounds if I could restore my eyes to how they were before surgery.
This industry MUST be stopped!