A Patient’s Journey: Lens Replacement in Prague, The Initial Visit

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Scott O’Regan McGowan shares his story as a guest blogger with us. Originally published in the Optician.net in August 2018, the main industry journal in the UK for opticians. In the first part of this two-part feature article, Scott will share the initial phase of going abroad for lens replacement entails. It will give you a snapshot of a day in the life of a Praga Medica patient, from going through the decision-making process to traveling to Prague for the pre-surgery vision consultation, and finally finishing up back at home with a general health check-up.

 My Story

I have worn glasses since I was age 3. I was really long sighted and was told I had “a squint.” After various trips to the eye clinic in Glasgow as a child, the result was quite a good sight with glasses, although my eyes function independently. Over the years my Mum enquired whether there was an operation to fix my eyes and was always told this was not possible. Flash forward 45 years and my eyes deteriorated further with age, I now required stronger lenses and needed varifocal lenses, thinned down.

I increasingly struggled with poor peripheral vision, due to the strength of my lenses, even though I had been wearing glasses all my life I found my glasses claustrophobic. Following a couple of head injuries, once walking into a post at the supermarket causing a mild concussion, another time while making some furniture, my wife encouraged me to look again at options. I attended a consultation with one of the main eye surgery specialists in Scotland and was told I was suitable for lens replacement, but the cost for the operation for 2 eyes was out of my means at over £7000. The consultation was exciting though, as it confirmed an operation was possible and that something could be done if I could afford it. I started looking further afield for alternatives.

Is this a real place?

I researched online and found it was possible to have eye operations abroad. A company that kept popping up on my internet searches was Praga Medica, based in Prague. Their prices appeared to be approximately a third of the Glasgow price, and once I sent them an email enquiry they immediately responded and were keen for me to travel to Prague for the operation. It was such a good deal, I immediately doubted it was real. I exchanged a few emails back and forth to find out what to expect if I decided to head to Prague, but I was not sure, as it was just a bit too good to be true. I wondered if it was some kind of a scam, to be honest.

One evening on the way home from work, as I boarded my train, I received a call from “Helena” who had an accent I didn’t immediately recognise. We kind of shouted back and forward at each other until I realised this was the consultant from Praga Medica! I was so delighted to receive this call, not that it was really any proof or validity, but it felt more like a ‘real thing’. Over the phone, amongst all the train announcements, while trying to find a seat, I agreed with Helena to start planning my trip to Prague. Everything was sort of ‘someday...’ or ‘maybe when we have time...’ until I received this call. When I spoke to Valerie, my wife, after I got home, she was certain that we should now proceed.

More emails

By this time, I had already emailed Praga Medica more times than anyone I know. I had concerns about my post-operation vision. I am an artist and was trying to get a sense of what the difference would be post-operation. I asked if I would still need glasses, the answer was yes, just for reading. I would need to go to Prague twice, once to measure my eyes to order the specific lenses I required. I needed a toric lens for my left eye due to astigmatism. It was recommended that I have monofocal lenses, due to the complexity of my prescription, it was felt that varifocal lens implants would be less successful. Trying to find an appointment time with Praga Medica to match up with finding cheap flights from Glasgow was a little challenging, but Praga Medica was so quickly responding to my suggested itineraries, that I was able to secure return flights to Prague for less than £150.

Prague, July 1, Initial Consultation

I hadn’t been to Prague before, and although the public transport system looked pretty straightforward, I opted to have Praga Medica pick me up at the airport and bring me directly to the clinic. Early on a July Friday morning, having someone meet me at the airport with my name on a card was a first for me. “Dobry den!” Everywhere I went in Prague I heard, “Dobry Den”! It’s the only Czech word I know. “Good Day!” or “Hello!” The driver was helpful and gave me a map of Prague, and we agreed where he would pick me up later. I was able to go for a wander around the centre of Prague prior to my appointment time, getting presents and seeing the sights. Once I entered the clinic, I was met by my Praga Medica representative and translator, Dominic. “Dobry den!” Speaking with him it was confirmed that Praga Medica was not actually the eye specialists but was in fact a company that sourced patients for treatment from outside the Czech Republic.

The clinic was on the top 3rd floor of a building in the city centre and it was buzzing with activity. Lots of comfortable couches and chairs with a variety of people, clearly waiting for a variety of procedures. Dominic was my translator for the day, but also as it involved a fair amount of sitting around waiting to be called, he was also a good company, and we discussed our respective countries. Having a translator at the various eye tests and eye examinations, meant that the day quickly became increasingly surreal. The translator interjection subtly changed the normal relationship between patient and eye specialist, it became a bit of a laugh, until eventually at one-point Dominic told me the consultant was going to make me cry. With further translation, it became clear they were carrying out final tests to check my tears were operating normally…

Once I passed the various eye examination tests, I was met by the consultant who seemed very serious after the fun I had had all day. She clearly explained the lenses she recommended and said I just needed to pay a deposit. When being invoiced for the total cost of the operation which was around £2000 there was some confusion as apparently an earlier quoted version for the lenses had merged with the final one, and I was being billed for 3 eyes not 2. Once we established that 2 eyes were the norm, I happily paid my £500 deposit and said goodbye to Dominic until next time. I went outside and had time to visit a traditional Czech bar nearby and sample the famous beer, before being met by my driver from earlier that morning (who turned out to be a huge Depeche Mode fan). I had a nice flight back and made it home to rural Argyll just in time to meet the last ferry.

A Quick Visit to my GP at Home

A requirement before the operation was to have a quick medical check with my GP. She was really enthusiastic and readily conducted the necessary tests to ensure I was suitable for the operation. This was not anything major; I was 49 years old and in good health generally. The tests were mere to ensure I was fit to have local anaesthetic and that I had no known allergies or high blood pressure.

Guest blogger: Scott O’Regan McGowan

Edited by: Lorna Straka