Warning: Read With Both Eyes Open.
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Let every eye negotiate for itself and trust no agent.
– William Shakespeare
All cliches aside, I’m trying hard not to make a spectacle of myself, but I’m tired of having lizard vision. Some lizards, such as the Yemen chameleon, have eyes on either side of their heads. In fact, each eye can move independently of the other. This makes it difficult to look them straight in the eyes and get an honest answer about anything – and certainly not about my vision problems.
Five years ago or so, my arms began to shrink. It seemed that I couldn’t hold reading material far enough away for reading comfort. Eventually, after seeking orthopedic consult, I wound up at a local ophthalmologist’s office. I’ll call her ‘Europa’. Things changed apparently in the 12 years or so since I had last gotten glasses. I was surprised to learn that a machine was developed that would read your eyes and calculate the exact eyeglass prescription needed… assuming of course there was no calibration error. I’ve learned in life never to assume, however.
Anyway, I was given a prescription for new lenses and also one for my first pair of reading glasses. Arriving at the optician, I figured ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ so I also ordered a pair of prescription sunglasses. It took a few days before everything would be ready, and in that space of time I tried to come with terms with ageing and the various situations that would warrant my having to carry 3 pairs of glasses or wear anything dangling from my neck. When my glasses were ready, I coughed up a month’s salary and tried on the first pair. To my chagrin, the left lens seemed to be off. I felt like I was looking through the bottoms of 2 different coke bottles. In fact, I had the same problem with the reading and sunglasses.
I complained to the optician, but after checking the prescription and all the lenses, he said all was well. He suggested I talk to the ophthalmologist, Europa, again. So I did. Not surprisingly, she tuned sour and bitchy, and though she checked my eyes and her prescription again, she decreed that it was all in my head.
Now in all his years, my father only changed his glasses twice. He must have been fifty-something when I first remember him changing his old 1950s era horn rimmed glasses to bifocals, because he eventually needed reading glasses. For years after though, whenever he was told to change his prescription he refused. Even when the arms on his frames broke, he just asked an optician to attach some extras, even if they didn’t necessarily match the frames…. or each other. He just hated having to adjust to anything new, and I can relate.
So maybe it was my genetic predisposition to do so, but I eventually resigned myself to wearing the 3 pairs of the glasses that weren’t up to snuff. As the years dragged on, I adjusted to some extent despite the distracting ‘thorn in my claw’. I visually limped my way through life until a few months ago, when I decided to run the gamut of doctor offices for a physical check up (as I’ve described here in my other blog posts titled Intrasomatic Conspiracy). In addition, pressure on me was brought to bear by my ‘significant other’ who demanded I also get my eyes checked … and also some new frames. Apparently, someone had commented that the 1980s called and said they wanted their eyeglasses back.
I agreed to go to her ophthalmologist, a supposed consummate professional who had never stolen a freight train or done her wrong. Arriving at her office, we found that she wasn’t there that day. In her place was her young son, fresh out of optometry school. I’ll call him “Newt”. OK, despite the fact that I thought it unprofessional that we weren’t informed in advance just who would be seeing us, I went along for the ride. I spent a fair amount of time describing to Newt how unhappy I was living with lizard vision for years, and specifically that I was unable to see things in the far distance clearly … ‘things’ such as street signs that read “don’t walk here” and “watch your step”.
Eventually, after making goo-goo eyes with a few optical machines, the ritual courtship dance of the lenses began. “Is this one better, or this one?” said Newt. Camera 1 … Camera 2 … Camera 1 … Camera 2 … Camera 3 … Camera 1 … and so on until I couldn’t tell the difference anymore. At some point, Newt proclaimed “this is what we’ll go with”. Maybe it was the headache talking, but I agreed. I knew the prescription wasn’t perfect, but Newt said with comforting authority that with my astigmatism, it was as good as it was going to get.
Yes, I have astigmatism. That means I can’t read between the lines because they are blurred into one. Alas, I always miss the point of everything.
So off I go to a different optician and his sales associate. I’ll call them Vince and Visine, respectively, … or Fric and Frac, if you will. Vince takes the prescription from my right hand … Visine, the fashion expert, takes the money from my left.
A week later, I return. Visine is orgasmic over how wonderful the lenses are that Vince has crafted and how ‘mod’ the new frames look on me. I try them on. Lizard vision! Angered to no ends, I begin to vent obnoxious. Vince tells me it will take a few days to get used to them. Visine nods and pulls the old shoe salesman ploy in telling me they’re like tight new shoes, you have to walk around with them for a few days so they can stretch. Tip: shoes don’t stretch and that’s why I only wear sneakers.
Exasperated, I decried that these were no better than my old glasses and that, in fact, I still couldn’t focus well on distant objects. Visine asks me if I have diabetes. Vince offers to check my eyes himself. I agree. After a ten minute examination and trussing me up in new lenses, he announces that Newt had probably split the difference between near and far and gave me glasses for middle to distant distances. Vince offers to take my old frames and make me, at no charge, his own suggested prescription with the caveat that I recognize that eyeglasses made for distant vision are too strong for middle distances, and vice-versa. I accepted this apparent new law of physics, in light of my philosophy to ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’, especially if it’s wearing eyeglasses.
A week later, Vince’s ‘wonder glasses’ were ready. I put them on hoping for some form of karmic bliss. Buddhists often speak of the blooming of ‘the third eye’ which is a symbol of the attainment of nirvana enlightenment. Such nirvana breaking forth to the other side was not forthcoming. Instead, it felt like someone had stabbed me between the eyes. I gingerly thanked Vince and left. On the way out, Visine remarked with a wave of her Gucci scarf “stop over in a few days and let us know how you are making out.”
A week later, in an effort to reclaim money from my insurance company, I paid a visit to its ‘authorized’ ophthalmologist to have Newt’s prescription written on ‘approved’ insurance script. I’ll call this new ophthalmologist, Iris. Now, Iris has a very professional demeanor. She dresses very smartly and has lots of modern machinery in her office. Won over her by ‘no bullshit’ smile, I opened up to her about my vision frustrations. She in turn offers to check my eyes. Immediately, she agrees with Vince that Newt’s prescription is no good. She addresses my right eye, does the lens dance, and at some point, tells me “this is the best I can do.”
I can see clearer and I say as much, but this time around I also ask: “shouldn’t the letters be sharper?” She agrees and then drops the bomb: “with glasses you only have 70% vision in your right eye.” Stung, I reply with a simple choked “why?” She shrugs her shoulders and says “we’ll find out.” She checks my left eye and finds that it’s OK and reassures me that with glasses it can see 100%. Images of Popeye flash in mind.
Iris then pulls out all the stops in checking my eyes’ health. Lights flash, machines buzz, and gears whirl. Checking off a mental list of possibilities, Iris finds no problems. Finally she pulls out some eye drops to check my ‘intraocular pressure’ and the possibility of my having glaucoma.
It occurred to me that a few weeks earlier, Newt had checked me for the condition and had found that my eyes’ pressure were within the normal to high range. ‘Normal’, I believe he said, was being between 10 and 19. I think he said my numbers were 17 (left) and 18 (right). I didn’t need to do the math to not worry. BUT, Iris is alarmed; she finds 27 (left) and 28 (right). She’s not sure but suggests a possible smoking gun. Before I can even begin to process the information, she scribbles off a prescription for eye drops called Xalatan, and tells me to start immediate treatment which I will have to continue until the end of my days. She also advises me to rush off and have a comprehensive and expensive eye exam called an ‘optical field of vision test’ to see if I have already lost any vision due to glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a nasty word and an even nastier condition. It sometimes referred to as the ‘silent thief of eye sight’ because at its onset it reveals no discernible symptoms, and erodes vision before it’s victim is even aware of its presence. Had my enemy been spotted? I remember that my grandmother had glaucoma when she was older. Yes, there is a genetic connection, and one that skips a generation, apparently.
|Blind Boy Fuller|
At first, I didn’t know what to think. “Will I go blind?” I thought? In a haze, I stopped at an electronics store and looked at an Apple iPod Shuffle, an Mp3 player that has no screen, but instead a little voice that announces what track has been selected. Later on, upon arriving at my apartment building, I entered the elevator and felt the floor numbers imprinted in Braille. I considered doubling my efforts to advance my guitar and harmonica proficiency so that I could perhaps eek out a living playing ‘blind man blues’ on some corner, like Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Boy Fuller. I reasoned that I didn’t play piano well enough to feign Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder.
At home, I counted the steps from the front door to the refrigerator, ate a carrot, and then plugged myself into the ‘world wide web’ and read everything I could on glaucoma and eye pressure. “Maybe I didn’t have the disease” I wondered. After all, I didn’t notice any blind-spots. Then the devil’s advocate in me kicked in as I considered if I would even notice that I had blind-spots … their being blind-spots, and all.
A few days later I had the field of vision test. It was a very humbling experience. I thought I failed. I stared into a machine that went ‘ping’ and had to press a button any time I saw a pinprick of light. During the test, I wondered if each ping coincided with a flash of light. I thought how easy it would be to cheat. Then, I wondered if perhaps there were placebo pings. Were they playing games with me? Had they programmed the machine to ping when there was no flash of light? What infernal mind trip were they trying to pull on me? Eventually, I dismissed such delusional thoughts to try in earnest to distinguish between what I saw and what I thought I saw.
When the test ended, I felt defeated. I was always bad at taking tests. Nevertheless, the results were surprisingly good. Indeed, I did not have any vision loss. I did not have glaucoma, or at least not yet. I just had ocular hypertension, which hopefully the eye drops would treat. So, one part triumphant and one part perplexed, I returned to Iris the ophthalmologist. “If I don’t have glaucoma, why can’t I see well with my right eye?” I begged.
Iris, thought for a second or two, and then suggested that if the eye was healthy, I must have amblyopia, better known as ‘lazy eye’. She suggested that when I was younger the brain-eye connection with my right eye had ‘issues’ and that my left eye overcompensated for my right eye’s short comings. Too clever for it’s own good, my right eye figured it could just slack off. My wearing of glasses at a young age could have corrected this, but … well you know the tune; I am my own worst enemy. Yes, I was supposed to wear glasses in my youth. I was handed a pair when I was six years old. However, I refused to wear them until I was almost 20 and started to drive. In the end, but for my stubbornness, I would have 20-20 vision in both eyes, or at least while wearing glasses. Damn my non-conforming nature!
OK, so back to the future. Iris writes me a new prescription and tells me to change glasses, again. I ‘surry down’ to Vince and Visine with a new prescription in one hand, my wallet in the other. Vince wants to know how it’s going with his prescription. I’m honest and tell him I’ve been wearing the Newt’s prescription, which should be as obvious as the nose on my face. Visine reminds me how ‘mod’ I look. I tell them that Iris says I need to change glasses again. Vince looks at the prescription, grimaces and says the prescription is stronger than both his, and Newt’s. He exclaims that I won’t be able to see the computer to do my work. Visine chimes in that it’s a lot of money to change lens again. Offering a solution, Vince suggests that I just change the left lens, because Newt was obviously off and that Iris’s prescription for the right eye is the same as Newt’s. He was wrong, but I didn’t pick that up until later. Maybe he was thinking of his ‘wonder glasses’. I’m not sure.
Vince also suggests that if I’m going to wear stronger glasses that I will definitely need something to work on the computer with. He suggests that I let him make me a weaker pair specifically for work purposes. Visine thinks it’s a good idea, and starts pulling out Cary Grant like frames. Lost in the confusion, as I’m sure you dear reader are, I don’t know what to think. I’m advised that I could also get all kinds of lens coatings to make glaring at the computer monitor much easier on my eyes. Beaten down, I nod because in some twisted logical way it makes sense. It all makes perfect mind numbing sense. I’m such a glutton for punishment.
A week later, the glasses are ready. I put on the ones for distance. At first, I’m amazed at how much clearer I can see with my left eye. Then, I open my right eye…. lizard vision! I delude myself that in a few days I’ll adjust… like with tight shoes. Visine agrees reassuringly. Next, I put on Vince’s pair of ‘wonder glasses’ for the computer. They sit crooked on my face. Vision wise, they’re not perfect, but they do seem easier on my eyes. Blindly, I shuffle towards the exit. Visine calls after me “stop by in a few days and let us know how you are making out”.
On the way home, I stop off for a bite to eat to dispel the dizziness and nausea that has overrun me. Reeling from a headache and eyestrain that Vince’s wonder glasses have brought on, I ponder my fate. At the end of this never ending assault on my visual acuity I am left with the following:
A pair of glasses that I can perfectly see anything in the far off distance, but only through the left lenses.
A pair of trauma inducing glasses for computer work with which I can’t see anything beyond or closer than 60 centimeters.
A pair of old reading glasses that yield lizard vision.
Eye drops. Lots of eye drops.
And, a deeply profound sense of empathy for the Yemen Chameleon.
PS. Thanks for reading. Can anyone out there relate to this post? How is your vision? Are your eyes wide open or shut? Do you see ‘well’ or ‘what’? Let me know.