Tuesday, 26 June 2007

LASIK eye surgery

Most of you would recall that I wore glasses and contact lenses for many years. Since I was 14, I had myopia (short-sightedness) i.e. distant objects appear blurred. Myopia is most commonly treated with LASIK but you need to wait until it stabilises (usually in your twenties when the refraction stops changing) before you can be considered for surgery.

In November 2005, I had flown down to Fendalton Eye Clinic in Christchurch from Wellington to have both my eyes LASIK. Though it costed me a bomb (NZD 4900 for the surgery, and you still need to include airfares, food and accommodation), it was the best birthday present I gave myself - the ability to see 'normally' again. Talk to another bespectacled person and they'll understand what I mean (how irritating it is to be unable to see the hands or digits of the alarm clock that's next to the bed every morning!).

The whole surgery experience was interesting. It felt a little like being put onto a conveyor belt, going in and out from room to room to see a different eye specialist and ending up in the surgeon's office to 'sign your eyes away'. The surgery was then held the next morning and took only 10-15 minutes. I was fully aware of what was happening since it was only my eyes that were anaesthetised!*cringe* Each eye was operated on separately. All I could remember was some drill-like sound, a tool making a precision cut on my cornea and the top flap opened, sudden lost of vision and the smell of electrocuted meat, and that was one eye done. Oh yeah, I could remember the smell, even right now - phew! But you know what, I could ACTUALLY see immediately after the surgery and THAT was really amazing. No words can describe the euphoria I felt being able to see again.

There were post-surgery follow-ups with the local optometrist throughout the first year to make sure that my eyes healed properly and the vision has stabilised. For the first week, I had to wear eye shields whenever I slept to prevent me from rubbing my eyes. Yep, looked pretty much like wearing goggles (frog-like look). Here's a photo of me post-surgery with the eye shields having a cup of coffee in the motel:

There were several other people who did the laser surgery on the same day, one after another. Hmm, perhaps I should have considered becoming an eye surgeon. Think about it, 5k every 10 minutes. Ka-ching, ka-ching!! :P

I've no regrets burning a big hole in my pocket for the surgery. Not having to worry about my contact lenses 'flying' out from my eye (hey, that happened to me once in Wellington) or doing water activities with blurry vision - it was worth it.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Scuba Diving in New Zealand

I've never been a good swimmer though I love being in the water and could manage the breast-stroke. At 18, I had a drowning incident at a water park and since then made me psychologically fearful of all water activities but I wasn't going to let it stop me from taking part in them. Yes, I do still have the initial fear everytime I step into the water but I'm sure someday, somehow, I'll be able to fully overcome this fear of mine.

I did some swimming lessons right after my drowning incident at Minyak Beku (this was in Malaysia, by the way) in this man-made pool. The swimming coach was fantastic and funny though the pool, er...put it this way - it was outdoor, uncovered and green with leaves and moss (possibly a few frogs too - eww!). Don't think it's a pool anymore these days. If my memory serves me right, the pool is now a fishing pond for the public to pay and try catching fish for fun. Haven't done much swimming since I moved to NZ. I still need to do more lessons to build up my confidence in the water. Hmm, I wonder if I should get the next coach to 'drown' me again, just to fight fear with more fear...

My first scuba diving experience was at Hahei, Cathedral Cove with Cathedral Cove Dive where I did their Discover Scuba Diving course. It was unfortunate that the weather was not really sunny so most of what I saw when Russ took me around was grey in colour. Lots of sea urchins, kelp and I even saw a large stingray! You'll have to see my upcoming posting on my trip to Coromandel for photos and more stories.

A couple of months before I went to Fiji last year, I decided to register myself for the Open Water course with NZ Sea Adventures. Probably wasn't a necessity but it was just cheaper than to do a Discover Scuba everywhere I go plus it was another opportunity to overcome my water fears. Besides, I've always wanted to scuba dive - this will be my first step to the discovery of a whole new underwater world! Yippee!!

I must say, if you are considering taking up the course in Wellington in early winter (I did it May last year), you may wish to reconsider doing so in summer. The water temperature was about 12 degrees and even with thermals, a set of clothing, socks AND a 7 mm wetsuit, my god was I shivering! All my dives in Wellington where shore dives (this is a plus for Wellington divers) - did I mention how clumsy I felt waddling into the water with all the heavy gear? The waters here are murky and filled with kelp - doesn't help a person like me who's new to scuba diving and has a water phobia. What kind of scared me was when the group was decending and all I could see were just flashes of their coloured fins underwater! Darren, my instructor, was wonderful - I was a handful for him, from not being able to sink, then not being able to float underwater (yep, I was pretty much hitting the seabed as I moved) or just floating round and round and away like a helium balloon. Hehe...sorry Darren! We did get a lot of laughs during the course and Darren gave me a few good tips to make my dive experience less stressful.

Tip #1: Get yourself a fitting mask. 9 out of 10 times the mask I borrowed from the shop didn't fit my face causing water to leak and me clearing my mask regularly underwater (I clear my mask often even though there's very little water in it - it's a nervous reaction).

Tip #2: Get a good snorkel. I got myself an absolute dry snorkel and I think it's just great! No worries when the waves come crashing in - hardly ever have to blow to clear the snorkel. It's a lot more work using the old-fashioned rubber tube one. Too much effort and I end up choking on sea water.

Darren's now in Hawaii on his diving OE. Check out his staff profile here: http://www.hawaii-scuba.com/thestaff.php

Scuba diving, like most activities, requires practice - the more you do it, the more comfortable you become. Water conditions in New Zealand makes diving a tad harder but some say if you can do it here, you can dive anywhere. Diving in Fiji was very different to my experience in NZ waters. You can ACTUALLY see!!! Clear, warm waters with colourful sea life - just absolutely beautiful :) See upcoming Fiji postings for photos and stories.

There are several other dive sites I would like to go to in NZ once I complete my Advanced Water course (not sure when and where to do this yet) such as Poor Knights Islands and also check out the HMNZS Wellington F69 which I had witnessed her sinking on the 13th of Nov, 2005 in Wellington. See photos of the sinking here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157600350482001/detail/

If you haven't experience scuba diving, you should give it a go. The experience underwater is worth every cent and minute (and maybe a few tears) spent for your course. It's a sense of achievement and freedom as well, just like getting a driver's licence :)