Today, as many of you know, I went to have my yearly eye exam. Routine, yes, but less terrifying? No. Eye doctors for me never tell me good news. It is either no news or bad. Never good. To add to the normal anxiety, I decided to be a better advocate for myself and to visit a new clinic and a new doctor, after seeing the same doctor for nearly 20 years. I decided that my vision needs to be a priority to me, and with that, requires me to depart with the comfortable and to seek better.
So I did. I changed clinics. I sent all my eye history over from one clinic to the next. I arrive early, sat in the chairs, waited as patiently and bravely as I could. An older lady who works there went around to ask patients who had been waiting a while if they were okay. I bet she is an excellent grandma to some wonderful people. She made me smile. Finally, my name was called. The tech greeted me with a smile, was sincere and thorough. He asked routine questions about my eyes, including if I had ever had any eye surgeries. I told him, “No… but maybe someday?” He smiled at me and said, “There you go!” I took that as my first flicker of hope. He continued with the exam, never making a joke about my poor vision — even when he had to go “old school” on me because the normal equipment didn’t have lenses strong enough for my prescription. He simply said, “Not to be rude, but our equipment doesn’t go up that high. We will have to take another route.” His sincere acknowledgement throughout the exam of understanding the challenges I face every day, washed my worries away.
You see, it hasn’t always been that way. Yes, I understand vision is about the one thing in your body that you really have no control over. So I shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. But when you were the kid wearing glasses since first grade, you learned coping mechanisms to hide your weakness. As soon as I was able, by age 12, I was wearing contacts. Contacts hide the fact that you have terrible vision. No one can see how thick your lenses are, or how much your glasses magnify your face. My contacts give me a normal mask.
But when I am forced to wear my glasses, like I was today, that mask is taken away. I sat there in the exam room without my glasses, and was unable to see the big “E”, let alone the face of the person who was examining me. I see blobs of color, that’s it. Without my lenses, I am legally blind.*
After my exam and dilating my eyes, I met with my new doctor for the first time. Like many doctors, he was concise and to the point. He told me my eyes are healthy, but asked me if my previous doctor talked to me about my cataracts.
I nodded and said, “Yes. The left one?” To which he responded, “Yes, that one but your right eye is starting to form them as well.”
“Oh,” I nodded my head and thought, Here we go. Lay down the bad news..
“We will have to keep an eye on them. But maybe in five years you can have cataract surgery… which would also greatly improve your near-sightedness and your astigmatism.”
My eyes widen. This is the best news I have heard about my eyes in years…maybe ever. My expression must have showed, so I said, “I was never told that before.”
He said, “Yes. You are at a higher risk than most patients, but we will keep an eye on you. You may be able to have it sooner. We will have to monitor you. But maybe someday in the near future you can see beyond your nose.”
I smiled and said, “That…that would be amazing.”
I have always said, I don’t expect perfect vision ever. I just hope that someday I can see more normally — so that maybe my glasses don’t cost me $400 to get a new pair, or that a yearly supply of contacts (four pairs) doesn’t add up to $300. I don’t expect to be 20/20 ever. Right now, with all the best corrections, I can maybe see 20/25 or 20/30. I know I am a culprit of hiding behind my contacts — but even with my contacts, I cannot control the floaters I see or the glares my cataracts create. I hate reading menus at restaurants, or driving unfamiliar routes at night — but I make do. Maybe with time, I can get over the fact that my vision is not a weakness — but rather a vehicle that makes me appreciate what I can see more. I try not to complain too often. I try to see that there is a reason why I struggle with this. I try to be hopeful for the future. And today, Dr. Stephens at Edina Eye gave me hope.
*I do not know the true definition of legally blind in medical terms of distance. But the “E” on eye charts is 20/200 and is usually the best indicator. For one of the ways that opthamologists prescribe corrections, I measure close to -20 for both eyes.