Tuesday, November 3, 2009

More Than Meets the Eye

"I was walking down the street wearing glasses
 when the prescription ran out."

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who wear corrective lenses and those who don't.

If you don't need glasses, count your blessings … for now. Presbyopia catches up to everyone. 

In our family of eight, five of us wear corrective lenses, which puts us right about in line with the national average (78% of American adults wear some kind of vision correction, but not all our family members are adults yet). This takes quite a financial toll, since we don't have any kind of vision insurance and the average cost for a pair of prescription lenses runs between $50 and $350 (depending on the prescription). 

On our first tropical vacation together, my husband and I were astounded to discover that we needed an entire suitcase just for our eye wear: two sets of contact lenses (plus all the requisite paraphernalia), two pairs of prescription glasses, two pairs of sunglasses, two pairs of prescription sunglasses and, because we were going scuba diving, two diving masks fitted with corrective lenses. Thankfully, this was in the days before airlines charged by the bag (and when we could still afford to take tropical vacations).

I didn't get glasses until I turned 21 and I was sure I was going blind, since my prescription changed dramatically every three or four months for several years. It turns out my eyes were just going through delayed adolescence. Generally speaking, people either get glasses before or during puberty, or not until aging starts to wear away the elasticity of the eye, resulting in the aforementioned presbyopia and the need for reading glasses — usually around age 40. 

I struggled with contacts for years, due in part to an astigmatism (an abnormally-shaped cornea) as well as exophthalmos (slightly bulging eyes often associated with Graves Disease, which  sounds much worse than it is). Now, lucky me, in addition to the vision correction I need for my inherited myopia (nearsightedness — thanks mom), I also need reading glasses.

I used to think those half-glasses were kind of cool, and would pull my regular glasses down to the end of my nose to see how I'd look. Not bad, even now. The problem is that it's one more thing to schelp and track. If I wear my contacts, which gives me the best peripheral vision, then I need to carry the dumb reading glasses with me, and that's new, so I often forget them. 

When I was a kid, my mom was so nearsighted that she couldn't even answer the phone without her glasses. "I can't hear you," she'd say, "let me put my glasses on." So, it was bit disconcerting a few years ago when she had lenses implanted after cataract surgery and started walking around without glasses for the first time in my life. I kept offering to find her glasses for her. But, alas, it didn't last. Her distance vision is fine, but she can't stand not being able to read, so she got bifocals that are clear on the top and reading strength on the bottom. I guess old habits are hard to break.

My oldest boy claims he will never wear contact lenses. The idea of sticking something in his eye all the time totally freaks him out. As preemie babies, my twins suffered retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), a condition where the blood vessels of the eye develop abnormally and can, potentially, lead to blindness. Despite this ominous beginning, both cases of ROP resolved spontaneously. My son needs glasses as a result of his genetics (both his dad and I contributed to these bum genes), but my daughter won't need glasses until, well, she's my age now.

The first eyeglasses didn't make an appearance until the late 1200s in Italy. Even though corrective lenses are a mild pain and seriously expensive, I'm grateful to live in a day and age where people with less than 20/20 vision can live full, productive lives (as opposed to being eaten by predators that we can't see). 

I admire people who embrace their imperfect vision as a chance to make a fashion statement. I have several friends who collect prescription glasses as wardrobe accessories, matching the frame to the outfit or the mood. Of course, that's another way vision problems betray you — in photos, where your frames will forever date you in time. Why is it that no matter how cool your frames are when you buy them, five or ten years later they look completely ridiculous in the family photo album?

Despite being temporarily unsettled by my recent need for reading glasses, I came to terms with my less than perfect vision years ago. So, why this treatise, you ask? I'll tell you. Today was chilly, so I was taking a hot bath, as I am wont to do on cold days. I was, of course, reading in tub, which is what you do when you take a hot bath on a cold day, when all of a sudden one of my contact lenses popped out from behind my reading glasses and plinked into the water. This is not a good thing. It's not easy to locate a contact lens in a tub full of water with only one good eye. Was it floating? Did it sink to the bottom? Was it stuck on me or the side of the tub or the soap? 

I eventually found the damned thing and so I have some advice: if you are going to take a hot bath on a cold day and read your book with your contacts in and your reading glasses on, be sure to blink — often — so your eyes don't get too dry and your lens won't pop out.

Have you experienced an embarrassing lens loss, or have some other vision-related horror story to share? Just click here. Misery loves company.

By the way, don't take vision correction for granted. Donate your glasses with old prescriptions or dated frames, and share the gift of sight.

Finally, I'm pretty certain my latest Chicago Moms Blog post will stir up a little controversy with avid bike riders. Let me know what you think.

Photo credit: Rubber Duck in Glasses by SunShineLia-Stock via deviantart.com


Unknown said...

I'm also in the "reading glasses over contacts" years. Yay for being over 40! But at least I can see well enough to read, or life would not be worth living :-).

Unknown said...

I have problems with both distance and close up now. I began not being able to read well and had bifocals with the top being clear glass (I would take off the glasses and leave them! after chasing after them for years I got bifocals - finally!).

I now have trifocals since I was losing my computer sight, but I love my glasses and don't care much about what people think. :-)

Shari A. Brady said...

It was New Year's Eve. I was in my twenties, invited to a bash in the city at the Knickenbocker hotel, in a swanky HUGE suite. I wore my best outfit, was ready for the best night of my life when-- I lost ONE of my contact lenses in the car on the way to the party. They were soft lenses and a very strong prescription. Without any other options, I spent the night trying to look casual, having one eye corrected, the other eye completely blurred. Eventually, my brain did its thing and I hardly noticed...Go figure...Oh, and no, I did not score any dates, or even have any flirty exchanges with the opposite sex...Oh well....

Karen Park said...

I just decided I now need reading glasses and it happened over the span of about 5 days!! But I'm 49 and my older sister needed them when she hit 40 so I guess that's not so bad.