Gayle Madwin (queerbychoice) wrote,
Gayle Madwin
queerbychoice

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Apparently I Can See

Today I went to get my eyes checked for the first time in, oh, about fifteen years? I first got glasses when I was 17 and woke up one day to find that I could no longer read the words on the calendar hanging on the wall opposite my bed, which I was certain I had been able to read the week before. My mother took me to an optometrist who told me that actually my eyes were still good enough that I probably didn't really need glasses, but that since I had noticed the change in my vision, he would go ahead and give me glasses anyway. I picked out wireframes with giant round lenses that were brass on the sides but had a purple facing around the lenses with black dots on it.

In the car in the way home, I got excited about being able to see individual blades of grass in the lawn. But within a week or so of getting glasses, I settled into a pattern of wearing my glasses only when I left the house, never when I was at home. The frames were a little heavy, no doubt partly because I'd picked ones with such large lenses, and my ears got tired of holding them up if I wore them every waking moment. Besides, my nearsightedness was mild enough that there was never really any need for me to wear them at home. I needed my glasses to drive, to see street signs, and even to see what teachers wrote on the board in front of the classroom or what the signs in the hallways said when I walked around school. It was even kind of useful to have glasses when conversing with people at school, because the glasses helped me to see subtler details of people's facial expressions. But at home, when I already knew what all the printed materials said and I already knew how to read my family members' facial expressions even when I was standing some distance away from them, it just wasn't important. There was no good reason not to just stand up and walk over to the calendar on my bedroom wall when I wanted to read what was written on it.

A few years later, when I was in college and probably about 20 or 21 years old, pretty much the exact same thing happened again. I lived with my parents throughout college, so I woke up one day in exactly the same bed and found that a slightly different calendar hanging in probably exactly the same place on the same wall opposite my bed was again too difficult to read. My mother took me in again, and again the optometrist said that my eyes hadn't really changed enough for me to really need a new prescription, but that since I had noticed the change, he would go ahead and give me a new prescription. We went to LensCrafters or some similar such thing and looked at some frames, but large lenses were already going out of style by then, and I hated all the frames with smaller lenses. My mother tried to persuade me that I should really get a second pair of frames so that I would have a backup pair in case one broke, but I refused to accept any of the frames they were selling and just had the new lenses put into my original frames.

Well, now I'm 35, and I hadn't been back to an eye doctor since. I still have just the single original frames, on which the purple facing with black dots has now worn away so thoroughly that Susan had no idea the frames had ever been anything other than plain brass. I know I should have gone back long, long ago. It's just that things kept coming up. I had a job with health insurance from ages 22 to 27, but my vision never seemed to get any worse, and I figured that since I had always noticed even very slight changes in my vision before, the fact that I hadn't noticed any changes in my vision since age 20 was a pretty good sign that the need to get my eyes checked was not yet urgent. I always planned to get around to it eventually, but I always figured it wouldn't hurt to wait one more year.

And then, six days after I turned 28, I got laid off. Six months later I found a new job, but the new job didn't include health insurance. I was nearly 31 by the time I got health insurance again. By then I certainly intended to get my eyes checked. But I also needed to get a lot of other health-related appointments taken care of, because I hadn't been to a doctor of any kind in nearly three years. And because I still hadn't noticed my vision getting even the tiniest bit worse in all those years, seeing an eye doctor was still one of the lower priorities among the various medical appointments I needed to make.

At age 32, I got laid off again. And I still hadn't gotten around to getting my eyes checked.

Well, that layoff happened in the midst of the Great Recession of Late 2008/Early 2009, so it took me until age 34 to find a steady job again at all, and it took me until age 35 to get health insurance again. I got the health insurance on the last day of last August. I spent September adapting to new job duties, October working a gradually greater and greater number of hours, and November and December working 60 or more hours per week. Now it's January, and I finally found time to make an appointment with an optometrist.

It seems that the entire concept of getting one's eyes checked has changed rather dramatically in fifteen years. Fifteen years ago, getting my eyes checked consisted of reading the letters on an eye chart and then reading them again while various different lenses were placed in front of each of my eyes. This time it was considerably more traumatic. They started out by telling me, "Sit down in front of these three machines. Don't worry, they won't hurt - they just surprise you." Huh? What will surprise me? It was an ominous warning, and I had absolutely no idea what these bizarre machines might do to "surprise" me. After about fifteen minutes of taking my family history (yes, I have many, many, many close relatives who have gone blind from pretty much every possible eye disease including glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts) and five minutes of fiddling around telling me to look at various lights inside one of the machines that was apparently going to "surprise" me at any moment, the woman operating the machines got around to mentioning that the "surprise" was going to consist of a puff of air being blown into my eye. This sounded quite off-putting, but I guess it was good that she eventually got around to mentioning it before actually subjecting me to it. When she did subject me to it, I clutched my eye in shock because it was even more unpleasant than I had imagined. I also apparently jumped back so quickly that it didn't actually work.

After she had subjected me to the unpleasant puff of air a second time in that eye and once in the other eye, we moved on to a much less unpleasant machine in which I got to look at a picture of a barn while she made it go in and out of focus. The only disconcerting thing about this one was the fact that I supposed this must be the new way of fitting me for new lenses and expected her to ask me to tell her when the barn came into perfect focus. When she put the barn way out of focus and stopped there, leaving it way out of focus, I feared that there had been some sort of terrible mistake and she was going to give me a prescription for new glasses that would make everything look horribly out of focus all the time like the way the picture of the barn had ended up.

She then described the third machine in a way that made it sound similarly untraumatic. "Look at the green light," she said. "When I push this, the green light will change to a big purple light. It's just going to turn purple, that's all. Well, and then it turns blue and red and yellow. But first it'll just be all purple." That sounded actually rather pleasant. I like purple! I'll be happy to look at a purple light. She neglected to mention that actually the "big purple light" was a blindingly bright purple flash, and that the light itself did not actually turn blue and red and yellow at all; instead, the afterimage burned into my retina turned blue and red and yellow while I sat with my eyelids fully closed, wondering whether I would ever be able to see again. And then we repeated the whole process on the other eye, while I wondered why in the world I was allowing a lunatic to blind me in both eyes.

After that I went out to sit in the waiting room for a few minutes, where the woman who had just finished blinding me emerged from a doorway just in time to overhear me explaining to Susan that yes, I did vaguely remember hearing her complain about how unpleasant it was to get her eyes checked, but that I'd always just assumed that the unpleasant tests she talked about were only for . . . well, for "people who are older than I am." The woman who had just subjected me to the unpleasant tests laughed heartily at that.

Then I got called back for the more familiar form of eye exam, in which I got to read a bunch of different-sized letters on a screen while looking through a bunch of different lenses. A different woman did this part of the exam. As the process continued, she seemed kind of surprised by the results. At one point she made the letters almost microscopically tiny, so I couldn't really be sure what any of them were, but I tried my best to guess at them. "Wow!" she exclaimed. Apparently I got at least most of them right. Shortly after that, seeming more confused than ever by the results, she put aside the machines entirely and simply fished an old laminated piece of paper out of her desk and placed it in my hand, which was on my lap. The paper had paragraphs of text, complete sentences and all, with the fonts gradually increasing in size from the top to the bottom of the page. "Can you read the small print on that?" she asked. "Yes," I said. I did not have my glasses on, but even the smallest print size on this piece of paper was perfectly easy to read. I've never needed my glasses for reading. In fact, by this point she had already asked me whether I wore my glasses all the time, and I had explained that I only wear my glasses when I leave the house, never when I'm at home, and I had also specified that I never wear my glasses when reading, so I was confused about why she was even asking me whether I could read a page of small print without my glasses. Of course I could; it was much easier to read than some of the small print she had asked me to guess at through the various lenses.

"Have you noticed any eye strain when you try to read or look at things up close with your glasses on?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "that's why I don't wear my glasses when I read. That's why I never wear my glasses at all when I'm home."

"Well, I can see why you're feeling eye strain," she said. "Your prescription is about twice as strong as what you need. If you keep trying to read with these glasses, you'll probably need bifocals earlier than you should. Usually most people don't need bifocals until they're 40, and I think that if we get you some glasses that aren't so strong, we can put that off a while longer."

Back when I worked in an office, I did actually experience some rather uncomfortable eye strain from sitting at a computer all day with my glasses on. During the last year or so before I got laid off, I occasionally even took my glasses off for a few minutes in my cubicle and noticed that it was much more comfortable for me to focus on the screen without my glasses. But I was never comfortable leaving my glasses off for very long in the office, because everyone was used to seeing me with them on, and I was clearly too young to need bifocals, so I wasn't sure how I'd be able to answer any awkward questions about why I had taken my glasses off. But ever since I got laid off in January 2009, I've worked at home all the time, so I've never worn my glasses during working hours. I haven't ever attempted to read a book or a computer screen with my glasses on during the three years since then. In fact, since I only ever leave the house for maybe about three or four hours per week these days, to go grocery shopping and such, I've only been wearing my glasses for about three or four hours per week. Prior to being laid off, I wore my glasses for about forty hours per week, because I left my apartment for about forty hours per week. (Within a week or two of when I started to date Susan, I made it a policy that I also never wore my glasses when I was in her home - because that was home-like too, and there was only one person there to explain my odd glasses policy to, and the eye strain was too annoying for me to want to just keep wearing them for long.)

So anyway, it seems that I can see! Twice as well as I thought I could, even! And my vision was never really that bad in the first place, even when it was twice as bad as it is now. Soon I will have new, weaker lenses and even new frames, although I still resent the fact that none of the frames now available have as large of lenses as my original frames.
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