Houston, We Have Contacts

Throughout my childhood, I remember some very distinguishing features about my mother. She struggled with her weight most of her adult life. She was a master of diplomacy. She had a laugh that was from one extreme or the other: the silent shaking giggle or the sound of a hyper-caffeinated  kookaburra (both were simply infectious). She regularly tinted her hair due to getting her first grey streak at 12 years old.  The most distinctive feature of Momma was her glasses. Momma first started wearing glasses when she was 8 years old. Almost every picture of Momma from early childhood well into her adult years showed her wearing her glasses. When she took them off, she truly looked like a different person. They were almost as much of an identifying feature as the green eyes they corrected.

When I was about 9 years old, my mother made an investment. She got contact lenses. Bear in mind, this was around 1975. Contacts were probably much more an expensive investment when you compare them to the relative costs in 2016. They were hard lenses. This fact alone brought other considerations. If you looked at her from the side, you could actually see the edge of the contact lens resting upon her eyes. Sometimes, that was neat. Sometimes, it was weird. Since I found weirdness neat, that was cool to me. Also, because they were hard lenses, that meant that an unfortunate bump or a well intentioned pat on the back would result in everyone in the room assuming a freeze frame position while my mother searched on her hands and knees for the missing lens. Offers to help were  politely declined. You see, the more people that moved, the greater risk of hearing an awful crunch. It was worse than the sound of stepping on a cockroach. Why? Cockroaches are free (gross but free). A crunching lens sent Momma back to horn-rimmed purgatory until she could replace the lens. 

The upside of all of this is that Momma was no longer tethered to her glasses. Contact lenses don’t clash with a dress, or shoes or a haircut. Contact lenses offer much greater freedom of mobility. Cooking with contact lenses is much easier as there is little risk of the lenses fogging up. Cook burgers or fried chicken with eyeglasses and they get messy in a hurry. Rainy days down South present the same fogging problem but not with contact lenses. That’s a lot of freedom.

Over the years, heredity took its toll. I have always said that I inherited my father’s looks but my mother’s medical issues. I struggle with my weight (though not as much as my scale does). I starting getting grey hair in my early 30’s. Like Momma, I also have struggled with high blood pressure for years. Then, it happened. In 1999, at the age of 33, I wound up getting my first pair of glasses. By the time I was 45, I began wearing bifocals. When I invested in my glasses, I tended to invest big. I always bought glasses that reacted to light when I was out in the sun and changed again when I went back indoors. I bought progressive, high definition, bifocal lenses. It was expensive but it greatly improved my quality of life.

17 years went by and, all that time, I was totally resistant to wearing contacts. This was in spite of the fact that many of my friends and two of my kids wore contacts. Why? I’m a grown man but I just did not like the idea of sticking my finger in my eye on a daily basis.

I reached the age of 50 and decided to make some changes. Among other ventures, I decided to get contacts. It was time to man up for the sake of vanity and freedom. Plus, the technology behind contact lenses had changed dramatically since my mother started wearing them. Lenses are now soft, and flexible, and more form fitting. People with bifocal vision have  much greater options for contacts. It was time to make the move.

This venture required an eye exam and a training class. The training class shows new contact lens wearer how to properly clean and store the lenses. The training also shows how to insert and remove the contact lenses. The trainer demonstrated but putting her left hand over the top eye and pulling it upward. Meanwhile, the lens is rested on the index finger of the right hand while the rest of the right hand fingers hold the bottom eyelid open. It took me nearly 30 minutes of using this Clockwork Orange technique to get the lens onto my eyeball (and have it stay there). Time and time again, I would drop the lens (or it would fall out of my eye). I then had to clean the lens and start this process all over again. My trainer told me this happens with all new wearers and not to be discouraged.  Plus, these were trial lenses. They were my visual training wheels.

For the first week, I would wear my glasses to work then wear my lenses until bedtime. The time it took to get the lenses in and out was shorter. Eye drops became a quick necessity as putting the lenses in and out can irritate the eyes. I know why the medical abbreviation for drops is gtt. That’s the sound you make when the drops hit your eyeball. OK. LOOKING UP! HERE WE GO! HERE WE GO! GTT!

Then one day, I had the worst contact lens experience. I wore my contacts to work that day. I had to leave early and report for jury duty. I was excused after several hours and went home. Apparently, at some point, my right lens fell out without me realizing it. There was a bigger problem than a missing lens. The fact that I didn’t realize it was gone meant that I was rubbing my index finger against my eyeball, over and over again, trying to remove a lens that was not actually there. So this meant I had a lost lens and the feeling of being totally absent minded. On top of all of this, people in public were pulling their kids away from me because they thought I had pink eye. I got a lot of stares in that restaurant. I DID think it was kind of rude for them to insist that I get a take out order.

My trainer gave me new lenses but also went with a different brand. This was a night and day experience. The lenses went on far more easily than the previous pair. I got better vision results. The lenses were also less expensive over the course of a year than the previous pair. Talk about your WIN-WIN.

I’m really looking forward to the freedoms these lenses will offer. I can ride my bike without worrying if the wind or the wrong lean will send them flying. I can tap dance. I can slam dance. I can work the parallel bars. I have never done any of those three things before but, BY GOLLY, if I want to I WILL. It’s a small step for me. It’s one giant leap for my eyeballs. HOLD ON, WORLD! I’M COMING! (and I can see you).