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A clear view from the top – James McHaffie’s Journey

By Optical Express

I was pretty nervous about the laser eye surgery booked in for the 20th November. I’d managed to drain my adrenal gland somewhat the previous day trying a tricky climb called Parthion Shot, which my friend Ben Bransby succeeded on via a valiant effort.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who has had it done said it was the best thing they’d ever done, and just before going into the ‘laser room’ I read peoples’ accounts on the wall of how great the experience had been to give myself some last minute positive affirmations. Ray Wood had come along as a friend, filmer and driver, so I knew if I did a runner out the door I’d never live it down.

I went in and after a surreal five or 10 minutes I was thanking Antonio, Margaret and team for their speed and efficiency, and I was on a high knowing the crux of it was done. Ray got some suitably cheesy footage of me walking out the shop with shades on and we went for a nice lunch a few doors down chatting about how it had went and felt.

On the drive back from Liverpool to North Wales the anaesthetic wore off, which after a few minutes meant I had to strip my t-shirt off and use it as a handkerchief as my sinuses started to wake up. The two days post-surgery I was told could be discomforting, and I was impressed with how accurately the instructions ‘what to expect post laser eye surgery’ were in predicting how I’d feel. I never felt what I’d regard as pain, and the eye infections I had in the past from using contacts in dry dusty areas had been a hundred times worse. The recovery mainly involved being sedentary for a few days, which was actually quite nice and was perfect timing to get through some Michael Thomas CDs on Spanish in preparation for the trip to Patagonia in December.

As the days progressed post surgery I found out what 20/20 or better meant, although my eyes were still settling I was able to see details in the lichens and mosses in the garden I couldn’t define before. It felt a bit like being ten again, which would have been around the time I still had good sight before it took its rather large deterioration from early to late teens. At day six I found my glasses in the bottom of my OE bag thinking I’d left them there and a bit gutted not to have the memorabilia. Putting them on it’s how I’d envisage an ‘acid trip’, this was why people I passed them to over the years to try on would always say “OMG, your eyes...”.

One week later I went out climbing for the first time post treatment with Emma Twyford and Ray Wood. We put up a new climb on Holyhead in the late afternoon, having been there quite a bit over the years I’d noticed a few unclimbed lines. This route follows a short, steep arête, quite exciting for its size. Setting off up it involved a big move to good but odd guppies allowing some tricky gear to be placed before cheval style moves to finish, probably about E5 6aish. It is yet to be named but we’re going to do something slightly special for it in conjunction with Optical Express. At the top of the climb Ray asked me: “So what is it like compared with before?”

Well, for a start it’s a hell of a lot clearer, which is hard to describe how much so to people who have always had great vision. I don’t have to wear contacts, thereby reducing the risk of the eye infections which had become more frequent the last two years. It means that I don’t need to wear glasses when out on the hill, so I’ll be less likely to be unable to see where I’m putting my feet when it’s raining or unable to use a map on ML night navigation exercises.

It has felt more liberating than I was expecting and I think my semi-blind friend Ben Bransby, the most squeamish person concerning eyes, is contemplating it seeing as how both myself and Adam Long have mentioned its merits. I’ll be one of the people now singing the praises of laser eye surgery and hope to put it to good use on the rock in 2014.

Massive thanks go to the Liverpool Optical Express crew for the new eyes, Ray Wood for loads of help and of course the team at Optical Express head office for supporting it and organising everything.

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