The Eyes Had It

I begin to lose my close vision.

It’s inevitable. As a person ages, he loses his close vision. Now, as I approach my 45th birthday, I’m beginning to lose mine.

My far vision has always been bad. I started wearing glasses in 5th grade and I’ve been wearing contact lenses since my college days. Because I seldom wear glasses, however, people assume I have normal vision. I don’t. My vision is very bad. At this point, I wouldn’t trust myself to walk five steps without my contacts or glasses on.

It always makes me laugh when I see the “corrective lenses” restriction on my driver’s license and pilot medical certificate. Do they honestly think I’m crazy enough to drive or fly without some kind of visual aid?

I’m fortunate in that my vision, although bad, is extremely correctable. That means that with my lenses on, I can see just as well — if not better — than most people who don’t have “vision problems.” In my life, I’ve had two friends who weren’t so fortunate. Their vision was not correctable. Both worked with computers for a living. I still remember sitting with one of them at his desk while he stuck his face up against his 21″ monitor — considered very large at the time — reading something onscreen.

(Apple has a software solution for this called Universal Access. I wrote briefly about it in my Tiger book.)

Two years ago, I got an eye exam. My far vision had worsened again. My doctor gave me an option.

“You can keep the prescription you have or go with a stronger prescription. But if you go with the stronger prescription, you might have some problems with your close vision.”

I didn’t believe her and I went with the stronger prescription. After all, I liked being able to see things off in the distance, especially when I flew. The air can be so clear up here, away from the city. Visibility often exceeds 50 miles. I wanted to see those 50 miles as well as I could.

But she was right. After switching to the new prescription, I started noticing a problem with reading small print. At first, it was just a minor problem that could be solved by adding light. But it seemed to get worse and worse. I finally broke down and bought a pair of “cheaters” — you know, those cheap reading glasses you can buy in a drugstore. They were a +1.25 prescription and they really helped.

The trouble with wearing cheaters is that the more you wear them, the more you come to depend on them. I tried hard for a long time to just wear them when I was reading in bed. But it wasn’t long before I found myself needing them other times, like when trying to read package ingredients in the supermarket or drug store. Add more light.

I had an eye exam earlier this year and my far vision prescription has gotten worse again. But I learned my lesson. So far, I haven’t bought contacts in the new prescription. I don’t want my close vision to get any worse.

The doctor told me that with my new prescription, I’d need cheaters with a prescription of +1.5 or +1.75.

Oddly enough, with my contacts and glasses off, my close vision is still incredibly good. I can, for example, read the microprint on newly designed $100 bills. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff is printed in those tiny letters all over our new money! Of course, at the same time, I can’t recognize Mike sitting across the kitchen table from me. Or read the page of a book more than 5 inches from my nose.

I’m not complaining. I still consider myself very fortunate to have vision corrections available to me. So many people have vision problems that can’t be fixed. Many of them are probably grateful for what they have, too.

I saw an episode of Scientific American Frontiers yesterday that featured a man who’d been blind for the past 11 years. They’d given him an implant and a special pair of glasses with a video camera built in, enabling him to see up to 16 blobs of light. (Think of a computer monitor with a resolution of 16 blurry pixels.) He was so grateful to have even that — the ability to see the way the light changed when something moved in front of him, the ability to see something bright nearby. I’m lucky compared to someone like him.

You’re lucky if you don’t have any visual problems.

Right now, I’m sitting at the kitchen table, typing this onto my laptop. I’m having no trouble seeing or reading it. Yet.

But I know what lies ahead. I’m not anxious to go there, but I know I can’t stop time.

2 thoughts on “The Eyes Had It

  1. I’ve been wearing glasses for short-sightedness since I was about 11. There was a decade there where I wore contacts, but my eyes became intolerant of them and I had to stop.

    I’m now 51 and have found quite often over the last couple of years that I just can’t read labels at the supermarket.

    For the last 5 years or so I’ve been wearing progressive lenses – the ones where you can read up close at the bottom of the lens and look mid-range through the middle and far away through the top. They’re quite good, but with my hobby of astronomy it’s tricky. I’m looking up, towards the sky, through binoculars. It’s hard to get the correct focus, as I’m naturally looking more through the upper parts of the lens.

    The new MacBook Pro was a problem – the higher resolution screen made all my fonts just tiny. I’ve increased the font size in every single application!

What do you think?