A Cautionary Tale From My Eyes

A few weeks ago, I was merrily trundling down the road when I realised that my comments about the world seeming like a bit of a blur lately were literal as well as metaphorical. At some point, much of the sights along the road had blurred into an undistinguishable mass. Road signs were vague blobs that eventually resolved into looming, terrifying shapes before whizzing by the side of the car and disappearing. Other cars on the road were larger blobs. I didn’t remember driving being like that, so I suspected that I probably needed an eye exam, which I duly got, and new glasses, which I also got, and the world around me turned crisp and clear again, well, more or less. As much as can be expected.

Sighted readers, when was the last time you had an eye exam?

Here’s what I’ve noticed about declining vision, from my own eyes, at least: It tends to sneak up on you. Things start to blur out slowly and you adjust and get used to them and it goes on like that for a while and then, one day, you look up and realise that your distance vision is really pretty shitty, and you’re holding things much closer to your face than you used to in order to read them. Or maybe you feel really strained and tired after tasks requiring distance vision, or you feel kind of dizzy and disoriented but you cannot figure out why. Or maybe you can! Perhaps you are more aware of these things than I am and you are better about going to the optometrist/ophthalmologist to get the peepers peered at.

For me, the problem was compounded by the fact that I am doing a lot of detail work right now. I spend a lot of days in front of a computer literally all day; I will wake up around four or five, work all day, work on projects in the evening, and then go pass out. This is not really optimal for eye health to begin with, but it also means that when my reasonably close range vision is all I am using, I do not realise how bad my distance vision is. I mean, I noticed when I looked out the window to rest my eyes that the trees were kind of blurry and hard to focus on, but I didn’t really connect the dots, there, if that makes sense. Or I attributed it to strain from the screen, the whole reason I was looking out in the first place, and didn’t take note of the fact that it was happening all the time, no matter what my energy levels were and what I’d been doing.

Supposedly, your eyes will keep changing as you grow and then eventually they stop and your vision stabilises until you get older and then they start changing again. Evidently it is possible, although somewhat unusual, for people to experience vision changes as late as I am; my latest prescription was a significant jump from the previous. This is not terribly surprising since my father has extreme myopia and I have myopia paired with a history of eye injuries, which does not exactly lend itself to crystal clear vision. I laboured under the vague hope that I wouldn’t need a new prescription after my last one and it turns out I did.

Eye exams, however, are not just about making sure you are not a menace on the road. It’s true that getting a new prescription can make a huge difference; you will notice a significant reduction in strain when you are able to see more clearly, and that can be a pretty big quality of life improvement. Eye disease, especially in its early stages, tends to not be noticeable, until bam suddenly one day you realise something is really, really wrong with your eyes. And it is really frightening, and your treatment options may be limited by the fact that you didn’t catch it early.

Eyes come in lots of flavours and lots of people need vision correction; I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about what kinds of vision impairments are considered disabilities and how people interact with them. Simple myopia is usually not thought of as disabling, even though, in a real sense, it is; without my glasses, I cannot function. My glasses are an assistive device that help me to see. They’re such a normalised device that they are unremarkable. People generally don’t read myopia (or hyperopia) as a tragedy that people will never recover from, which contrasts sharply with the way people think about low vision and blindness. (I would love to see all disabilities as normalised and unremarkable as myopia!)

One thing I do know, though, which is that vision problems tend to get worse when they are ignored, and they are often treatable. Unfortunately, they are often caught late, for a lot of reasons. People may not notice, or they may be aware of a problem but unable to get their eyes examined. Unfortunately, vision and dental, two pretty key health issues, are often excluded from insurance plans and paying out of pocket for these services is expensive. Even in socialist utopias, I hear vision and dental care tend to get the short shrift. I’m not quite sure why these aspects of health are often ignored or treated as an ‘extra’ when they are so critical.

It is a source of endless frustration to me that many people are forced to forgo medical care because of financial reasons, and thus don’t get treatment and intervention when it might make a difference. The longer people are forced to wait for, say, an insurance company to decide they deserve care, the narrower their options become. It’s unconscionable that we live in a world where people can’t get a damn tooth fixed when it’s rotten, if you ask me.

So, if you haven’t had an eye exam in a few years, do me a favour and get one, if it’s possible?