My experience of eye surgery

Eye surgery is a scary prospect and although we know it can be life changing, it’s also normal to worry about the potential risks.

Zoe White, our Patient Support Officer at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital (MREH) has Retinitis Pigmentosa and Usher Syndrome, which affects her sight and hearing. She also has Cataracts and last month underwent an operation to remove them.

We asked Zoe if we could share what happened with our readers, many of whom have had or may have this operation, or other surgery, in the future. Here’s her experience in her own words:

“At the beginning of July, I had my cataract operation. This is something that I had put off for years due to the lack of sight I have in my right eye. I finally plucked up the courage and decided to get it removed. In my role for Henshaws as a Patient Support Officer at MREH, I am very often heard saying, “It will be ok”, so it was time I took my own advice and got on with it!

I am a Guide Dog owner and my sight has been deteriorating at some speed for the last few years. What sight I have left is precious to me. I knew that the operation would enhance the small bit of vision I had and it would no longer feel like I am trying to look through frosted glass.

However, there are risks involved with the operation and although they’re small, I was really worried and apprehensive. The days leading up to the operation I was walking around with my right eye closed… I was trying to see what life would be like with no sight or light in that eye.  The rational people in my family told me to stop being daft thankfully!

Zoe White with eye patch

On the morning of the operation we headed to the hospital and I was sat in a corridor with about 15 other patients, who were noticeable older than me! They did the pre op checks, drops in the eye for dilation and pressure check. I was then sent back into the corridor.  Everyone around me seemed calm and chatty. I was feeling more and more nervous and found myself staring at my husband who had fallen asleep!

Pen mark to show which eye to operate on.My name was called again and I went in to see the consultant. He asked me again which eye it was and put a mark on my forehead above the eye that would be operated on.

This was followed by a remark from my witty husband who said, “He has used permanent marker on your head Zoe!”, which I fell for at first before he giggled! The consultant explained that the op might not work and also the potential risk of losing my sight all together.

I was sent back into the corridor of calm people and wondering if any of them were feeling anxious like me. If they were, they hid it well. Once again my name was called and the staff led me into the prep room, put the heart monitor on my finger, gave me a sedative (optional) and started to pour a cold fluid in my eye. They were talking to me calmly and explaining what was going on.  I knew the sedative was working as for all my panicking inside my heart beat was nice and steady. Another surgeon came in and placed something in my eye and then a sheet over my face. I couldn’t feel any pain, just slight pressure, but nothing worse.

During the few minutes it took, I could hear various noises, sense he was changing the lens and then I was told it was all over. So why was everything pitch black in that eye?! I think the combination of the sedative and my pre op nerves made me panic and I couldn’t tell them what I wanted to. I was wheeled into the recovery room crying! My husband was concerned and I told him I couldn’t see out of the eye. “Of course you can’t see Zoe, your eye lid is closed and you have a massive eye patch on!”

The relief that flooded me was unbelievable! Through the stress I was feeling, I hadn’t paid attention to what the medical staff were telling me about the fact that I’d have an eye patch after the operation.

Cataract operations are just routine for the surgeons to perform, but not for the patients undergoing them. I realised also that having an additional, existing eye condition added to my anxiety and worry.

They offered me a cup of tea and a sandwich and I started to relax again. The first few days after the operation my vision started to slowly return. I can only describe it as like being in a smoky room that slowly clears. I had to wear a plastic eye shield for a couple weeks at night. This is to stop you rubbing your eye (which I woke up doing one night after dreaming I had sand in it!).

It’s six weeks later and my sight in the eye is now clearer than it has been for years. It hasn’t increased my vision, but the quality is so much better. The colours are sharper, I can see details better and the glare has gone.

The outcome for me has been a good one and I feel lucky. I can also now confidently talk to the patients I meet in my job about the process and understand what they may be feeling. One thing that I have learnt is never be afraid to ask questions. I think if I had listened to the consultant properly I wouldn’t have gotten myself in such a state, but that’s easier said than done!”

Huge thanks to Zoe for sharing her experience with us. It just shows that even professionals, working with sight loss can get confused and anxious about what is happened. We know that when that happens it’s hard to remember what medical staff are explaining to you.

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At Henshaws, we’re here to support you through the process whatever your situation. If you have appointments at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital we have a Patient Support Officer there five days a week, who can offer you support, advice and guidance and help you to understand your diagnosis and next steps. We also have a Counsellor who works across Greater Manchester.

To access these or any of our other services get in touch with our First Step Team on 0300 222 5555 or

Click here for more information about our hospital support service
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