When an eye is removed, a six week period of healing is required before an artificial eye can be fitted. During this time, a clear shell called a conformer is inserted into the socket to assist with the healing process. Having the conformer shell for this amount of time can be both frustrating and inhibiting. People have to either wear an eye patch – which most refuse to do because it draws too much attention – or are forced to wear dark glasses. But even dark glasses aren’t always a viable solution. For someone who has a job – perhaps in an office – or who likes going out at night, wearing dark glasses can arouse interest and unwanted comments.
By the end of the six weeks, most people are more than ready to have their new artificial eye fitted and be rid of the conformer shell.
We have recently come up with a solution to this problem in the form of a temporary artificial eye. The temporary eye can be fitted just two weeks after surgery using the conformer shell as a guide. It has an iris and a pupil and looks just like a “normal” eye, except that it may be a bit smaller. This is done deliberately to reduce the pressure on the eye socket as it heals.
There are many benefits to having a temporary eye made. Firstly, and very importantly, the “normal looking” eye does away with the dreaded eye patch and dark glasses. It means people can go back to work earlier as well as get back to their social lives if they choose.
There are advantages on the healing side too. The temporary eye allows people to hold out for another two weeks past the mandatory six week healing period. Waiting until week eight after surgery gives the socket more time to heal. When we make an artificial eye after six weeks, we usually need to adjust or rebuild it after two weeks. With the temporary eye, this is not an issue.
The third benefit is that the temporary eye becomes a spare eye when the permanent artificial eye has been made. So the client leaves our clinic eight weeks or so after surgery with two eyes rather than one. We recommend people wear the spare prosthesis while doing water sports.
So why don’t we fit a temporary eye at the time of surgery? There is a very good reason why we don’t. Losing an eye is both a physical and emotional trauma. People need time to grieve, firstly for the loss of the eye, and then for the physical consequences of the surgery – what they see in the mirror some days later. Inserting a temporary and “normal looking” eye straight away would effectively interrupt or shut down the grieving process, and ignore the fact that the loss has occurred. To deny feelings of grief is not healthy and can have negative long term effects.
To date, we have made three temporary eyes for our clients, all of whom have been very happy with the results. In fact, one of these eyes looks so good that we don’t think we’ll be able to improve on the permanent one! Each person has felt liberated by having the temporary eye instead of the conformer, being able to go back to work and socialise more confidently.