Monday, February 01, 2010

Blindess, Seeing, Knowing, Identity.

I am scared of being blind.

Today as I walk outside in the snow from my car to the gym, I squint and try to block out some of the brightness of the snow reflecting the sunlight. I left my sunglasses, which I always wear while driving, in the car so I wouldn’t forget them inside. When I enter the gym, it takes me about three minutes to adjust. Though I know it is normal to adjust, I felt concerned that this might be the beginning of the end of my ability to see.

No one in my family is blind. My mother has glaucoma, but apparently that is fixable, and at sixty (or, almost, in two weeks!), they’ve told her that it will actually make her vision better before it gets worse. But it will get worse. My husband’s grandmother is nearly blind. She can only make out things when she is told what they are, and then her memory fills in the gaps of what was missing from her sight. She is almost ninety and is stubborn enough that it doesn’t seem to bother her unless it benefits her for it to. She has the freedom to turn down any book or avoid any movie she wants. Part of me envies this.

I had perfect vision until some time between October and March of my sixth grade year. I had my vision checked in October and it was fine. By January I was getting headaches from squinting and asking to be moved to the front of the class so I could see the board. My mom didn’t believe me, and still has more guilt than is necessary because she didn’t take me to the eye doctor. In March we finally went and it turned out I needed glasses. From that year on, until last year, my vision has progressively gotten worse.

I blame the steady decline of my vision for my utter hatred of the eye doctor. Often people loathe the dentist, but I happen to love it. I have fantastic teeth, have never had a cavity, and didn’t need braces; all the reasons I would hate the dentist are nonexistent for me. Rather, I hate the eye doctor. I find the puff of air to test the surface pressure of the eye intensely violating. Having a doctor, even one I know, stare at me through a bulky, fakely futuristic contraption and command me to look different directions is awkward. But what I hate more than most things… in fact, more than anything I can think of, is the vision test with the letters.

I hate this test because they make me do it first without any aids—I have to take out my contacts or remove my glasses. This leaves me feeling vulnerable and naked. And then, as if they don’t have my chart right in front of them and are not already aware of the fact that I will not be able to see the smallest line of the smallest line, they ask me to read the damn smallest line. And no, I cannot. So they click to a larger screen. Nope. Larger. Nope. Larger. Nope. And we get to the E that takes up the whole little screen, and I can see it’s hazy outline, and I finally squeeze out “sort of.”

Once the rigmarole of the first few checks are done, then they give me back my seeing aids and I get to do the letters again. And I can usually read one of the smaller lines, but not the smallest, and then they ask me to read the smallest line over and over again. Then they start comparing prescriptions with “is one better, or two? Is two better, or three?” I can’t tell a difference between any of them, and usually feel that they are trying to make me choose one over three and give them the satisfaction, which they’ll never reveal to me, of knowing that one and three are actually the same prescription. Finally, they ask me to read the smallest line of letters again, and this is where I start to feel like crying.

What infuriates me, and thus leads me to feeling flushed and watery-eyed, is the fact that I have read this line several times now and have memorized the six-letter sequence. So what now? Do I say that I know that that is a U when it looks like an O? Do I call is an F when I know it is an F, but if I really think about it, I see a T? Two years ago I committed myself to never “guessing” and trying to really look at the letters. That way, in my na├»ve little world, the doctor would know I wasn’t seeing them correctly (or perhaps I was) and they’d be able to give me the perfect prescription. At my last appointment I stuck to this promise I made myself, and when I said “Um, I think that’s a T?” with a kind of innocent questioning tone as if to say “I know that is not a T but I’m trying to do whatever it is I’m supposed to do here so you won’t screw up my prescription like the last guy did and send me to a headache-ridden year before insurance pays for my next vision appointment.” His response was “come on, you know what that is. It’s an F!”

Well… F you is all I could think. What is the point of even doing it again if you’re not going to listen to me!? Of course I know that it is an F. Yes, we’ve been over it five times. But I don’t see that it is an F, and isn’t that the whole point of this damn place!?

I think I get worked up like this because of the aforementioned reasons, plus some of the other tests. The worst is the one where they leave you in a small, dark room for your eyes to adjust. Then they tell you to lean into yet another machine right out of 1984 and they flash a super bright light, and you feel like your cornea is now scarred as you look at the growing red circle the flash has left in it’s wake. Fantastic. They prod and pull at you, and they stare into your eyes and flash lights and bursts of air in them, and then they don’t even listen to you as you struggle with the philosophical angst of the difference between knowing and seeing.

To end it all they show me the price for the brand of contacts I like, and of course they happen to be the most expensive ones. Oh, and since I’ve worn them before, I don’t get the 100$ rebate, I get the $30 one, which fails to refund me even a tenth of the money I’ll spend on ill-fitting, probably wrongly prescribed, contacts.

So I guess the obvious question is why don’t I get lasik surgery? At least that would eliminate the expense and discomfort of contacts. The idea of waking up and being able to see immediately is appealing. Getting to shower without contacts and not having my glasses fog up, but still being able to see the leg I’m trying to shave, sounds wonderful. I confess that being without need—not requiring glasses or contacts, is scary. The eyes are the window to the soul, sure, but that’s not my concern. I’ll still have my eyes, and I’ll still have my soul. But will I be different? Will the freedom of vision be too much? I don’t remember not having to fumble for my glasses when I wake up in the morning. Will I be me without this?

Probably yes. But then, what if they mess up the lasik, and I end up worse off than I am now? That right there is enough to keep me away. Plus, you have to have the same prescription for at least two years in a row: a feat I have yet to accomplish. I’m thinking about this now for no good reason, but I think I’ll go take out my contacts.


AMY said...

i totally agree. i have had a similar story to you... glasses in 7th grade and progressively worse prescription ever since. i long for lasik someday but i keep telling myself i will wait for it to become cheaper and more (even though it is pretty good) reliable. i don't like the eye appointments either. they ask me to stare at their ear when the bright light comes. i sometimes feel so much pressure to choose one or two or maybe three! or is it number one from before or two? the worst part is when you have to cover one eye to look at the small numbers (O and D always get me) then when you uncover the eye you have to adjust in order to see the letters but the dr doesn't give enough time so the second eye seems worse than it may have been. oh, i could go on and on. good writing, it made me think, "yeah, i hear ya" on more than one occasion.

KToth said...

Ick. That sounds awful, Claire.
Kevin had LASIK 6 years ago and hasn't looked back. I miss his BCG glasses sometimes, but I'm absolutely positive that he doesn't.

melissa oholendt said...

I LOVE the eye doctor; Matt HATES the eye doctor. I see a trend - granted, my eyesight sucked and I had to wear a patch but still nothing compared to you and (my) Matt's experiences. I wish you lived here so I could take you to my fancy eye glasses shop - I think you would hate it about 10% less.