Losing My Sight

I’m losing my eyesight.

It doesn’t really bother me in the classic sense. I’m in my mid-forties, after all, a full decade or more past when most start losing their senses. I’m not some Baby Boomer freaking out every time they subtract nineteen sixty-eight from the current year. We no longer must abide by Al Bundy trying to hold onto glory days. I’m overweight, I’ve got gout, and I’m either defined as diabetic or pre-diabetic depending on how overweight and/or gouty I’m feeling that particular day. I’ve had allergies my whole life and it’s grown to full-blown asthma in the past decade.

When I got my COVID vaccine (huzzah!), one of the questions asked if I’ve had an anaphylactic reaction to medication. Had to tell them that I had. They asked if I brought my epi pen with me and I responded, like an old pro at getting shots, that as long as there was no cat hair in the vaccine, I’d be fine. 

I’m not really upset about losing my eyesight. I guess I’m surprised at how it happened? Things just got a little blurrier each day. At the beginning, I swore it was only when I was staring at screens all day. And smartphones coming out the same time I turned forty is just coincidence. It’s the social scientist’s creed: correlation is not causation.

One of my best friends is legally blind. He can’t see anything out of one eye and his other eye is a train-wreck. When he’s getting his license renewed, he has to memorize the eye chart for when they make him cover his “good” eye. Fortunately it’s only five lines and it’s the same five letters, only in a different order. They also give you a few hours of lead-time.

But when he says he’s legally blind, I think of him as Daredevil or something. A stormy night in the middle of the desert. But I can still see fine. It’s just the details that are missing. Come to think of it, I’ve seen my friend drive. So hopefully he’s not in Stevie Wonder territory.

My hearing went the same way. It started with a “come again?” and ended with everybody talking like Charlie Brown’s teacher.  I probably shouldn’t keep listening to podcasts and audiobooks on earbuds, but it’s not like my hearing was gangbusters before. Or was it? I can’t really remember a time when listening was an afterthought.

The same thing happened with my sight. Maybe that’s why it’s rough coming to terms with the fact that I can’t see for fuck anymore.  Like when my daughter grows every day, but when her friend visited the other day, it’s like, “Holy crap, how’d she get so big?” even though Daughter’s still an inch taller.

It started innocently enough. I was in for one of my “diabetic but not diabetic” tests where they shoot lasers into the back of your eyeball to see if your eyes have been slurping down non-diet soda while you weren’t looking. I’d done it before. They make you stare into a camera then flash a bright light at you. I wonder if that has anything to do with my loss of vision? Regardless, it’s easy, peasey. In, out, done.

Only this time they wanted me to stick around and give me an eye test. What the fuck?

“What does that entail?” I asked, which is a much more kosher way to ask the above question.

“Blah blah blah look at stuff blah blah dilating.”

There was my opening!

“I drove myself here. Wouldn’t want to be stuck here after your work hours are over waiting for my eyes to sober up.”

“No problem. You can drive with dilated eyes nowadays.”

That seemed like a bad idea, although maybe it accounts for half the drivers I see on the road who don’t seem to be certain if they’re British or American. Although it doesn’t account for assholes backing into parking spaces.

“Well, I’m leaving here to sign legal documents,” I tried next. “Will I be able to see them?”

They conferred and decide, nah, maybe I should forego this whole pupil-fuck for a later date. But did I maybe want to take the ol’ “read some letters” test?

“Sure, but my vision’s fine,” I responded, knowing it wouldn’t be boring for technicians used to blind-as-a-bat ilk. No hilarious side-bets about whether the next guy can read 40 font. 

“Are you sure?” she asked mirthfully.

It turns out my eyesight ain’t what I thought it was. If I was, in fact, Al Bundy trying to relive a football game, my wide receiver needed to be less than five yards away.

They hooked me up to a machine where they can adjust the distance and effects of glasses. They started with a couple of easy ones, then made some adjustments. It wasn’t long before those little fuckers started messing with me. And by those little fuckers, I mean the letters, not the medical assistants.

“E, S,” I’d start out. ” The next letter’s either an H or a B, I think. No wait, it just turned into an R.”

No, the letter’s weren’t changing, they were just moving in and out of focus. The next batch was even smaller. I could barely hazard a guess.

“I’m not sure,” I continued. “It could be a P or the number six. Did you throw an infinity symbol in there just to mess with me?”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t see the things, they were just indistinct and distant. Like the sports score on a tv way up in the corner of a restaurant.

Wait, you’re supposed to be able to read the score?

Then they pulled the ultimate fuck-you move, the “oh, you wanted to skip the eye test” drop-the-mic moment. After a bunch of whirring and oscillating of screens and sheens, the letters disappeared, replaced by some smudges, a row of ants in the end zone while I’m standing at the fifty-yard line.

“This is twenty-twenty vision,” the technician smugged. 

Really? Too bad for JFK I wasn’t the guy in the book depository. Or on the grassy knoll. Hell, I could’ve been sitting in Jackie’s seat and missed the shot. 

Whatever. I guess my eyesight wasn’t as perfect as it had once been. I could still make do.

Except now that it had been brought up, pointed out that maybe I couldn’t see as pristinely as once upon a time, I started noticing it more. When I was looking at digital screens or reading street signs. Is it just me, or are the bright digital freeway billboards less clear than their old-fashioned, printed brethren? 

And that rub-the-eyes blurriness after waking up seemed to be lasting longer than in the past. Was I able to see the raisins in the bran in college? Wait a second. I don’t think I had morning blurriness at all. Is that just something I’ve made up now that I can’t see for shit? Incremental change can be a bitch. Just ask climate change.

It still took me another year to do a legitimate eye test. I randomly picked an optometrist from the vision insurance  I’ve been forced to pay into for twenty years. No way in hell was I going back to my primary care facility, admitting defeat to the schedulers and technicians who had the audacity to suggest I was anything less than perfect!

Not that I would have recognized them. Those bastards all had blurry, indistinct features.

I scheduled it late in the afternoon and walked there so Wife could pick me up after the dilation. I didn’t need to. Evidently my understanding of what happens during eye tests hadn’t progressed past the 1980s sitcom era. They now just puff some air into your eyeballs or take a picture of your brainwaves or put nanobots into your bloodstream. Who the fuck knows, but I totally could’ve signed legal documents when I was done. 

They asked if I brought in my current glasses, and I told them I didn’t have any. Each person, in turn, blinked in lack of comprehension, looking down at my chart. The receptionist, the technician, the doctor all seemed flabbergasted that someone might be taking their first eye test. We’ve all gotta start somewhere, right? Eyesight is supposed to deteriorate. If I went to the ear doctor, would it seem incomprehensible that I had no hearing aid?

Then again, when I see the requirements for COVID testing, I maybe understand. It seems like you can’t get a COVID test unless you can prove unequivocally that you have it. Well gosh, Doc, the guy that sits in the desk right next to me tested positive after hocking loogies into our shared percolator. What’s that? No, he didn’t crawl inside my esophagus. Was he supposed to?

Okay, ya caught me. I really just want to fly to Hawaii.

Oddly enough, the entire diagnosis seemed to come from the subjective “Which looks better, this or this?” than the scientific eyeball inspections.  I’m not suggesting I would lie or anything, but there’s a distinct chance I don’t precisely remember what things are supposed to look like. At one point, I called out, “Oh wow, yeah. That.” But I actually think the font changed on that one. It wasn’t that it got less blurry, but that it was all of a sudden written in bold. For all I knew, she hit ctrl-b instead of asterisk and now I’m going to be driving into walls waiting for italics to appear.

In the end, the doctor determined my eyesight is leaving me in the exact opposite manner it’s supposed to. Way to be difficult, body. The gout wasn’t enough?

Most people my age lose their up-close vision, which can be fixed via cheap, non-prescription reading glasses that’ll cost you five bucks at CVS. My up-close vision is fine, though. It’s distance that I’m losing.

My near-sightedness (not the first result to call me myopic!) isn’t helped by the cheaters. I need a prescription. But if I wear glasses to see the movie screen or, I don’t know, that car in front of me, then I can’t read a book or grade papers or see what I’m eating. So if I’m going the glasses route, I’m gonna be that guy who’s constantly putting on and taking off his glasses.

“You’ll still do fine when you get your driver’s license renewed,” my doctor told me. “But you might want to get a pair of glasses for night-time driving.”

Sure. Just for night driving. And day driving. And curling. And watching TV. And grocery shopping. Because that was over a year ago and it sure as shit hasn’t stabilized.

That first look through the glasses was shocking, though. Wow! On my way home from picking them up, while at a stop light, I focused on a tree across the intersection, then put on my glasses. I expected maybe a ten percent increase in clarity, but holy crap! Unbeknownst to me, that tree I’d been looking at had leaves! And branches! To say nothing of the sky beyond. 

Obviously, I was aware of the sky. You’d have to be pretty damned blind to not see the sky. But behind the glasses, it became so crisp. Is it possible for the blue to brighten up?

My whole world had gone from standard-def to high-def. It had been a Bob Ross painting, and I kinda like Bob Ross paintings, so I never really thought it was supposed to be more. But I guess the world ISN’T supposed to be impressionistic? 

And once again I’m second-guessing myself. Did I really used to be able to see this well? Certainly, I must have, because I remember my real transition from SD to HD. How did I not notice that my television had regressed in the past five year? Probably because I was watching crappy children’s television.

But I can’t wear those glasses too much or else my eyesight will get even worse, right? It’s crazy, I know, but I feel like it’s a drug, man. My body’s telling me that, before it knew of this magical panacea, it was gonna do its damnedest to offset the pain. But holy shit, man, we’ve had this clear plastic heroin to numb the blurry pain all this time? Body’s gonna take the weekend off. 

Of course, I know this can’t be the case. My eyesight was already growing worse, hence the glasses in the first place. It makes sense it would continue to slide. That’s why they ask me to bring in my old prescription for the new eye test. But when I first got my glasses, I could see the labels at the grocery store without squinting. Now, not so much.

In addition to not wanting to make my sight worse, I still face that near-sight/far-sight conundrum. If I’m watching a sporting event on the tv eight feet away from the couch, I can barely tell if the pass was completed or not. But if I put on my glasses, I won’t be able to check my phone or laptop during stops in action.

After a couple weeks, and a few new pairs of glasses (thankfully some of those blind friends told me how to buy them online for ten percent cost), I finally opted for bifocals. How do ya like that? Make it forty years without glasses, have to go straight to the oldest man of old-man glasses. Who the fuck am I, Benjamin Franklin now? Only instead of magnification on the bottom half, I went with a straight 1.00x. So I can shift between the TV and my laptop. And somehow my laptop looks clearer, even though the glass has no modification. Is that crazy?

Speaking of watching tv, since my hearing is going, I have to turn the closed-captioning, too. “You don’t really watch tv,” Daughter says. “You read it.”

Bifocals and closed-captioning. Good thing I’m married, cause I don’t think gramps would be picking up floosies at the bar. But at least I’m not doing what every Baby Boomer I know does, which is turn the volume up to 70 or something. Maybe that’s why this Gen Xer lost my hearing.

I’m starting to worry that the only way for me to pass my next driver’s test, still a year-and-a-half away, is to avoid using my glasses between now and then. Sure, I’ll probably cause seventy-five accidents in that time, to say nothing of the curling shots I’ll miss, but it’ll totally be worth it to not get the little “needs corrective lenses” on my drivers license. 

“Sir, have you been drinking?”

“No, officer. I just didn’t see the child in the middle of the road.”

“Are you supposed to be wearing glasses?”

“Totally, but I don’t want my drivers license to know that. It still thinks I’m a hundred eighty pounds with brown hair.”

And then we’ll both laugh as he’s cuffing me. At least I won’t tell him I took off my glasses to read a text.

I don’t think I’m alone in my conspiracy theory about glasses fucking up my sight. When one of my students found out I recently got glasses, the first thing she said was to not wear them too often or they’d make my eyesight worse. 

I mean, it’s no “Ulysses S. Grant turned the country into a corporation,” but if Linus can sit in the pumpkin patch all night, then ya gotta give me this one.

I’d be able to see perfectly fine if it weren’t for Big Eyeglass.

Sounds totally logical. You never seem them coming.

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