Monday, 23 March 2015

Contact lens woes

Where to start?!  Well, especially as I'm getting married, I'd decided I wanted to go back to wearing contact lenses.  Mainly so I don't have to wear my specs on my wedding day, that's what prompted me into wanting them again, but I also prefer wearing them to glasses.  I wore them before for about 10 years, almost problem free.  The ONLY reason I reverted back to wearing glasses was a financial reason, I simply couldn't afford what was 10 years ago £30 a month.  Ok, not a huge amount, but add that up over the course of a year, and it's way more than double what one of the top brands of glasses costs.  Money was tight, so the lenses had to give!  I have astigmatism, so the ads you see in the opticians windows for contacts for 'only' £5 a month (€7 here) are a joke.  In fact I don't even know with anyone with straightforward short/long sight to be able to use those!  Double the advertised price and you get an idea of what you're really looking at - and that's without things like astigmatism or needing bifocals (I don't need those) into account.  With those, you can at least double that cost again!  Then add comfort, allergies to the equation, and you also need to go up a stage in terms of price.

Well, I started off wearing Bausch & Lomb Soflens Toric.  I wore those for many years without a single problem.  I could always feel them, but they were never uncomfortable, I was just constantly aware that they were in my eyes.  Then one day, out of the blue, I got chicken pox - not nice at all as an adult.  That is an understatement.  I was covered in the pesky blisters......my scalp, down below, inside my mouth, around my eyes - you name it, there wasn't a part of my body unaffected.  At the worst stage of it, I ended up with Conjunctivitis in my eyes.  I wasn't wearing my lenses, I was ill to even bother with them, so it was completely unrelated to being a lens wearer.  Of course that happened on a Sunday.  I woke up in the morning, and  couldn't even open my eyes properly.  I knew what it was, but as a precaution I phoned NHS Direct, explaining that I'm a lens wearer, and haven't been wearing them, and not planning on to until I feel better (I'd even discarded the pair I had been wearing), but as I'm aware lens wearers are higher risk for eye problems, so I just wanted to get telephone advice for what I could do at home to treat it.  They insisted I went down to the local hospital, the out of hours GP service was held there at weekends at the time, and it was imperative I got my peepers checked out as an emergency - they even notified the hospital for me - (I wasn't allowed to sit in the waiting room as I was contagious, a receptionist came outside to meet me when I arrived, and I was escorted straight through).  The doctor I saw only confirmed what I already thought.  It was just a viral eye infection, probably caused by having chicken pox, but he gave me antibiotic eye drops nonetheless.  Was told I did the right thing in getting checked out though, but I had nothing to worry about.  However, I was also told NOT to wear my lenses again until I'd both recovered and got my eyes checked by my optician, just to be sure.  I did just that a few weeks later, and they were fine.  For some strange reason though, I could no longer tolerate my lenses like I had before.  I hadn't developed an allergy to them, nothing like that, but after only a couple of hours in my eyes, they'd get dry and itchy.  I'd gone from being able to wear them for 12-16hrs a day, to only a couple of hours.  So I went back to the optician again.  He said it happens sometimes, and for no explained reason.  He checked my tear ducts, they weren't abnormally dry or anything, so it was just a mild intolerance.  No problem, he just changed my contact lens brand to Acuvue Advance, saying that people with allergies/eye sensitivity often find those the most comfortable, and it was about time I had a change anyway......That man was the best optician I ever had!  He really knew his stuff!  Problem was solved instantly I got the new lenses.  I was able to wear them 16+ hours a day, barely even felt them in my eyes, and very rarely needed to use comfort drops.  They were far better than my old ones were, and yet I'd never until that moment had a problem with them either, just that I knew no different with comfort as they were the only brand I'd worn!  When I first started wearing them, I did have a couple of months before he got my prescription right though.  That was due to the astigmatism.  Mine is only low, and in some cases wearing contact lenses doesn't need to be corrected.  Some peoples eyes will compensate for it - but mine didn't, so it did take a few attempts to get the prescription right.  After that, no problem at all with them!

So, now wishing to go back to wearing them, I think it's understandable that I want to go back to that very same brand I knew and loved.  It appears Acuvue don't make the 'Advance' lenses anymore, they're being phased out as we speak, but there is a very similar replacement to those.  I went into Specsavers in Hilversum for an initial contact lens 'fitting' and trial.  The first thing I said was that I 'WANT Acuvue lenses'.  I didn't mince my words, I was very specific.  I explained my history, that I'd worn Bausch and Lomb for years, and then they started getting dry so I was switched to Acuvue.  Even whilst I was still speaking, he butted in saying that he 'doesn't rate Acuvue' - I was a little surprised, but told myself that was a few years ago that I had them, and maybe he's right, that there are equally as good companies nowadays.  He dissed Baush & Lomb too, by the way!  Just two of the longest running and most well known brands, but hey, we'll forgive him (for now).  He ranted on about these two other huge companies that are much bigger, better and all singing and dancing now.  For a minute there, I was beginning to think they pay his wages, but I pushed that thought to the back of my head, remembering my old optician and that he really was brilliant.  So this guy will probably also be good, I told myself, I just need to trust him that's all - I now eat those words, and have NO shame in doing so!  He is the most incompetent twat I've ever come across, and that's putting it politely!

So, trial pair of lenses number one:  after the QUICKEST contact lens exam I've had in my entire life (I've had a few, you can't wear them for 10 years without at least a yearly check-up!) he said we'll ignore the astigmatism for now as my eyes might compensate for it (yes, I know that, and no, mine don't, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, as perhaps newer technology works better, and he must know his stuff - and every patient is different).  On that note, I didn't feel 'different' at all, I felt fobbed off.  Ok, he doesn't have my notes in front of him, but I do have a voice, and I did use it.  I TOLD him the minor problems I'd had, and that I DID need toric lenses to correct the astigmatism.  Nonetheless I agreed to try whatever he threw at me (almost literally).  He left the exam room, and came back with two lenses.  Very briefly said that I just need to soak them overnight in the case - that was about it, but to be fair he knew I know how to care for them.  So we'll forgive his lack of instructions there because they weren't needed.  However, I did feel VERY surprised at having NO eye health check.  He did shine a light briefly in my eyes, but that was it.  He didn't put the dye in to examine my tear ducts or any of the other things I'm used to for contact lens checks.  He didn't look under my eye lids for signs of infection/scarring or whatever.  I'm no expert, but I was shocked at that!  Maybe I'm too used to the UK and big brother state.  I even used to sign a declaration each time I had a new prescription because I wouldn't let them flip my upper eyelid inside out to have a look - that really freaks me out!  So I used to sign that I accepted the lenses as my own risk because they couldn't do the full eye health check!  Really!  (my optician was great, most people don't escape that! lol).  Nor did he even measure my eyes - I really don't know what exactly they measure, or how accurate it is as they don't put the ruler right on your eye, they just hold it a certain distance away.  However, he didn't do any of that.  Nor did I have to put the lenses in, and he check them for a good fit.  No, that was it, I just shoved them in my bag and was free to go.  He'd given me a pair of Cooper Vision lenses - I even had to ask him to write left/right on them so I knew which eye was which, he'd forgotten to even do that!  Just before leaving, he did say to come back in about two weeks time to allow my eyes chance to adjust to them (he did explain the wear time schedule for getting used to them slowly - it's been a while since I did that so that was the ONLY useful help he offered me).  He then booked me in on his own computer for a new appointment in two weeks time - note that he did it, not the receptionist, as this too caused problems when I came back for that appointment!  So, I came back home and put them in.  They were ridiculously thin, much thinner than the ones I remember wearing, but told myself maybe that too is new technology.  I must admit once in, I couldn't feel them as such, but they were rather fiddly to handle!  Although I couldn't feel them initially, my eyes felt constantly cold.  Like I was sat in a draft, or wind was blowing into my eyes, just not quite right.  It felt like my eyes were cold, not a foreign body in my eyes.  So maybe that was just an initial reaction after not wearing lenses for so long, I thought.  Nope, that sensation didn't subside.  After about 3 days the comfort level with them was higher, but that cold sensation was still there on and off.  No itchiness, nothing like that, my eyes weren't red - but I also couldn't see a damn thing!  Well, slight exaggeration, but it really was blurry due to the astigmatism not being corrected.  I just had to live with that to give the lenses a fair trial.  I also had to live with the headaches due to poor vision too - not great......I chomped through quite a few paracetamol, not happy!  Once I got the wear time up to about 12 hours, things were a different story then though.  I'm sure all lens wearers will relate to this.  Towards the end of the day, the lenses will get dry, but I was struggling to keep them in for 12 hours!  Using comfort drops too, but even that wasn't helping much.  I'd already decided they were nothing compared to the lenses I had before, they're a no go.  I want to REPLACE my glasses, not just have the hassle and expense of contact lenses for a couple of hours a day!  (Of course I'll still keep glasses to give my eyes a break, but I want to wear the lenses 12-16 hrs a day).

So, on Friday I went back to the opticians for my fortnightly check-up.  Firstly, the receptionist couldn't find me on their system.  My name wasn't on their computer at all.  Somebody elses name was on there for my address (whoever lived here before we did lol), but no record of me at all.  Theo told her we'd booked a contact lens check after an initial two week trial.  So, of she went to get the contact lens guy.  He came out, didn't recognise/remember me - I know they probably see a lot of people, but probably not many non Dutch speakers, so a Brit would surely stand out, but no!  He sat me down at the two pre-testing machines.  The one that checks your focus and the other that blows air into your eye (glaucoma test, I think it is).  Well, like a good girl, I'd made sure I'd had my lenses in for 2 hrs +, so when he wanted to do the air test even though I have lenses in my eyes, I was a little surprised so told him I have them in, is it Ok?  He looked more surprised than me when he said that, as he thought I was there for a glasses eye test! After quite a long discussion between Theo and him, they discovered he'd spelt my surname wrong.  To be fair, that is an easy mistake, as Dutchies think it's spelt with a K, unless I spell it to them - which I always do, and I did when he booked the appointment!  He eventually found my notes, with my name spelt wrongly on it.  I whispered to Theo 'feeling confident here already!' lol - he laughed!  Anyway, this all took a good quarter of an hour, so in we went, eventually.  (Theo came with me both times, in case of language problems, not that I need my hand held, but to spell my name to them and stuff like that so these mistakes don't happen!  Can you see a pattern emerging here already?!)  I told him that the trial lenses weren't bad, but the wear time on them for me was very poor.  They just felt dry after a very short time.  No redness, nothing like that, just not quite right.  No problem, he said, he'd put me on another brand.  Off he went, and came back in with a pair of CIBA Air Optix lenses.  Much better, he said.  Same price, but better lenses.  I'm starting to feel a TINY bit of confidence in him at this point.  He's finally going to give me what I'm paying for.....well, I'm on a 'free' trial, so I haven't paid a cent yet, but I will be paying for it, so they have to be right for me, or I don't cough up!  You can bet these free trials are not free at all, but in fact funded by the regular contact lens subscribers, so I'm going to be paying for all the mistakes in the long run!  I must admit, due to the mix up with him getting my name wrong despite it being spelt to him, I was a tiny bit concerned that he might even have somebody elses prescription, so I did check that the instant he handed me the lenses - all the numbers looked the same as the previous ones, so he seemed to get that bit right!  It's a start!!!  I did for a minute think that I may be coming out with somebody elses reading lenses, or bifocals or something, but no, things were looking up (excuse the pun!).

It was already a bit late in the day by the time we got home to be bothered with switching lenses.  So I put them in on Saturday morning instead.  Instantly they felt SO MUCH better.  No cold feeling, they were really comfy, quite a bit thicker so easier to handle too.  I was sold!  These were going to be the ones!  I had no problems with them all day long!  I only went to take them out 12 hours later, not due to discomfort, but purely because I'd struggled to get up to 12 hrs wear time with the others, so to be kind to my eyes, and break them in slowly.  I got all my bits and pieces together, new lens case, solution, and washed my hands - usual routine.  Went to stand in front of the mirror and was HORRIFIED at what I saw.  I looked like the devil himself.  My eyes were red raw.  I couldn't believe my own stupidity for not even having checked in the mirror.  They felt absolutely fine, so it really hadn't occurred to me to check.  They weren't sore at all, nor dry.  It didn't hurt to take them out either - which I did very carefully.  Once out, it looked like they'd burnt my eyeballs. I literally had a big red round area in each eye.  Some kind of reaction the the lenses.  Any lens wearer will know about the risk of getting infections, and that in extreme cases it can even lead to blindness.  So I'm sure you can imagine my horror at seeing that.  I could have kicked myself for not checking them too, but they really felt fine, and as somebody who's worn lenses for about 10 years, I simply hadn't given them a second thought as they were so comfy.  I even wondered if it was something I'd done wrong.  I did thoroughly wash my hands (as I always do).  They were brand new lenses, straight out of the pack, so no risk of contamination except possibly from my own hands.  In all the years I wore lenses before, I never ever had a single infection as a result of wearing them.  The ONE time I did, it was when I had chicken pox, totally unrelated to contact lens wear!  But there's always a first time.  It really was two big red circles though, not general all-over redness that you'd expect from an infection.  They were definite circles.  A little while after taking them out, they started to feel gritty and very very itchy.  No, I didn't rub at them.  Being Saturday evening, my choices were limited.  No doctors surgeries open, no opticians - not that I'd trust that muppet anywhere near my precious peepers EVER AGAIN anyway, but my options were either pop to the hospital to get them checked out or wait and see.  So I decided as they looked in my inexperience to be allergy/sensitivity issues, rather than infection, to wait until the morning and then go if they still look as bad.  So, come Sunday morning, the redness had gone down a LITTLE, and I mean little.  They were still angry looking, and felt gritty, but it was an improvement on the night before.  They weren't sticky or anything like that, so definitely not infected, just badly irritated.  So I decided to wait a little longer and see how they were during the course of the day - ready to take a trip to the hospital if needed, but they did improve slowly.  By that evening they were still red, but a LOT better.  For anyone reading who thinks I'm being a bit over dramatic here, the risks of wearing contact lenses can be quite high.  It is rare, but if you overlook infections, or allergies even, it really can lead to permanent corneal scaring, and even blindness.  Any infections, or problems need to be treated as early as possible to avoid bad complications.  You only get one pair of peepers, if you lose your vision, that's it, there's no going back, so in my opinion it's always better to be safe than sorry.  Anyway, this morning, my eyes look perfectly normal at first glance in the mirror.  Only when I push my upper eyelid up can I still see SOME redness.....only a small amount, so to say I'm relieved is a huge understatement, and to say the 'optician' (I think the word 'cowboy' is more appropriate) in Specsavers, Hilversum is an 'INCOMPETENT TWAT' is an even bigger understatement!  Yes, people can make mistakes.  Of course they can.  He is forgetting one crucial thing though - I am the paying customer, I KNOW what problems I've had in the past (albeit minor ones), and I also KNOW what suits me, and what I WANT.  So, he can ridicule, diss or call Acuvue (or any other brand) all he wants, but they work for ME!!!  I was relectant to try the ones he offered, but as I had a good optician before, I foolishly thought this buffoon might also know what he's doing, so left my trust in him despite my better judgement.  I'm quite sure that both Cooper Vision and CIBA are very good lenses, but neither were right for me.  The first I could have tolerated, but at the ridiculous price I'll be paying, I want more than just tolerating!  I've been there before, and I expect the same again!  Once my eyes are fully recovered, I'll be off to Pearle - where I got my current glasses from, and had very good care, I might add!  It might cost me a little more, but to keep my sight, it's a price I'm willing to pay!

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