The magic of clear sight
Isurvived the eye doctor.
It was time. I’ve been putting it off since before Oliver was born, stocking up on contact lenses as needed, but my supply was dwindling — and I couldn’t reorder without a new exam checking my prescription after so many years.
This wouldn’t be a problem, only it fills me with soul-destroying dread.
It’s no slight against the practice. For reasons that remain unclear, I can tolerate dentists, doctors and obstetricians with ease — all medical professionals who have, at one point or other, helped with or unwit- tingly caused me pain. I have blood drawn without issue. I take my blood pressure like a champ. I’ve had root canals and fillings, gum surgery and crown placements. It wasn’t fun, but I wasn’t scarred.
But ophthalmologists? Having your eyeballs examined, which hurts nothing and no one? I dread it with a deep, palms-sweating fear.
It stems from my lifelong inability to keep my eyes open during the “puff of air” test before the actual exam. My eyes water like crazy; the lids spasm. I look like I’ve just been given terrible news and, really, I have: because I’m supposed to be doing the puff test.
But I don’t like to be disagreeable, you know? I usually sit on the stool and obediently put my chin in the chin rest. But then I look up at the assistant setting up the machine and say, “I don’t think I can do this.”
It’s embarrassing, yes. I mean, I’m a grown woman — a woman who has placed little plastic discs in her eyes daily since she was 15. If I can wear contact lenses without issue, why am I so afraid of a puff of air? A puff I must only deal with once every few years?
These are questions without answers. My fear of the eye puff machine is not grounded in reali- ty. And once I became an adult with her own insur- ance capable of, you know, saying “no” to things, I be- gan to coach myself.
I don’t have to do the puff of air. I can politely refuse. I can explain my anxiety about this total- ly innocent procedure, asking if there is another method for checking eye pressure or . . . whatever it is they’re checking. (I don’t even know. I’ve never mustered the courage to ask.)
But what do I do? I cave. I let them position me on the stool, where I know that I absolutely will not be able to sit still, and I pretend. Pretend to be OK staring at a little hot air balloon through the viewfinder with sudden, uncontrollable tears streaming down my face. Pretend that I can pull myself together with eyelids twitching and mascara running.
Yes, I wore mascara to the eye doctor. My problems are, apparently, sev- eral-fold.
The air-puff massacre this time was blessedly short. The woman assist- ing me was no-nonsense, but she didn’t goad me into sitting at the puff ma- chine for more than a few seconds when she could clearly see that I was a disaster. I was released from duty without having to beg, which was a relief.
We moved on to a ma- chine which takes pic- tures of one’s eyeballs. The flash was so bright that I was momentarily blinded — but that? I was fine with that.
I’ve needed vision cor- rection since the third grade. My vision is 20/400 — “severe low vision,” according to the American Optometric Association. It’s one step up from “profound visual impairment,” so I guess there’s that?
Without my contacts in, my own hand extended in front of me will be completely blurry. It’s gradually gotten worse, of course, but stands at an all-time low.
Still, I resisted glasses as long as I could. The red-framed pair I rocked in elementary school seemed cute at the time, but I quickly learned I could see just fine if the teacher moved me to a desk closer to the chalk- board. No glasses — or classroom ridicule — necessary.
I wore glasses off and on until high school, but nev- er with any consistency. School was hard enough. I don’t recall anyone ever saying a word about my eyewear, yet I lived in fear of that happening.
I was young and self-conscious, you know? Most of my decisions from the mid-’90s on can be chalked up to that.
By the time I turned 15, the promise of getting a learner’s permit to hit the open road — er, with my parents — loomed large. But I couldn’t get a driver’s license without passing a vision test. Mom took me back to the ophthalmologist, who fixed me with a stern look when I admitted to rarely wearing the glasses I’d been prescribed many years earlier.
“But you can’t see without those,” he said. Painfully obvious, and painful- ly true.
I begged my parents to let me get contact lenses. Seeing as I was a stubborn teenager just trying to get through sophomore year, they agreed. Mom took me to the mall, where I spent sever- al painful hours trying to successfully poke myself in the eyeball with the new contacts. We actually took a break for lunch at one point and had to resume later.
It was a process. But oh, the magic of clear sight!
I actually remember riding home from that appointment feeling like I’d fallen into Willy Wonka’s Technicolor chocolate factory. I was fascinated by street signs and blades of grass, as well as my newfound, superhuman ability to see the television without squinting myself into early crow’s feet.
Contacts changed my life forever — but it took a while to master them. I had to start waking up an hour earlier to give myself time to successfully get the lenses in before school.
But practice makes perfect. Sixteen years later, I’m a pro. My husband watches me take the lenses out nightly with a mixture of curiosity and horror. He doesn’t understand the woes of bad eyesight; he naturally has “better than perfect” vision, which is apparently a thing. I wouldn’t know.
I hope our kids inherit his perfect eyesight but, if they happen to take after their mother, I’ll be there to show them the way.
Just don’t ask me to sit through an eye puff.
I’m not a superhero.