The magic of clear sight

Maryland Independent - - Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

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