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The Myope
Written June 9, 2004

 

Yesterday I got a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  Then the other eye.  Then a different stick was brought in so that the process could be repeated.  But I was happy with the results.


I've always had myopia, or nearsightedness.  It first showed up around the age of six.  My parents noticed that when we went out for a ride in the car, I wouldn't look at the scenery out the window; I would sit in the back seat and read a book.  They finally realized that I couldn't see the scenery.

Of course, maybe I just preferred reading.  There was some suspicion that perhaps my nearsightedness had been brought on by spending too much time focusing on books.  I think that's unlikely, but what do I know?  I'm not an optometrist.  (In fact, if this article contains any errors in medical terminology, you are hereby instructed to overlook them.)

Anyway, my parents hauled me off to the eye doctor  He confirmed that to see things at a distance, I needed glasses.  So I got them.  Here I am with my parents later that year, visiting my grandparents in Kentucky at Christmas of 1953.

As I grew, my eyeballs became even more elongated.  Every six months I'd get my vision checked, and usually I needed new, stronger lenses.  Eventually these became bifocals.

The bespectacled little boy wasn't at all athletic, so I wasn't going to be on the football team.  But I did have some musical talent, so perhaps I should join the marching band.

At the age of 12, I started to learn to play the trombone.  A couple of months later, however, my eye doctor recommended against continuing; I think he felt the strain of blowing into a wind instrument would put too much pressure on my delicate eyeballs and could cause retinal detachment or other damage.  Therefore, I quit the band before we ever got close to the marching stage.

Not on the football team?  Not in the band?  The only other option was for me to be a manager on the football team, keeping the statistics.

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Richwood High School managers Jerry Stidham, Terry Erwin, Tom Thomas, Bob Howald, and Mike Orcena pose with clipboard and stopwatches for the 1965 yearbook.

Being a student manager led eventually to my present line of work.  And what is that, you ask?  Click here.

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There were other advantages to my nearsightedness.  I was able to avoid most PE classes and, more importantly, Viet Nam.  Also, I'm able to see some things better than most people can.  Here are the details.

Advantage:  No Phys Ed

Along with my job as a manager, notes from my doctor kept me out of physical education in high school.  When I got to college, another note kept me out of contact sports.  However, I did have to spend two years taking other phys ed courses such as ice skating and bowling.  Unathletic as I am, I was unexceptional in all of them.

(For example, consider golf.  I was able to chip and putt reasonably well, because essentially these strokes move only the shoulders while keeping the arms and legs locked in one position.  But a full swing requires unlocking the wrists, elbows, waist, hips, knees, and everything else.  Moreover, you have to coordinate their various movements to take place at the correct times and the correct speeds and to the correct extents.  I could never get it all together.  I took hundreds of swings, but only one time did I ever hit a golf ball squarely, by accident.)

Advantage:  No War

By the time I was in college, my growth had slowed down, and so had the semiannual strengthening of my lenses.  But my glasses were rather thick, and I was practically blind without them.  I hoped that they were thick enough to keep me from being drafted and sent to Viet Nam.  This was confirmed six weeks after graduation from college in 1969, when I had to take a physical exam to determine my draft status.  The maximum acceptable strength of lenses was 8.00 diopters.  Mine checked out at 9.25 and 9.50.  I did not have to go into the Army.

Over the years since then, the strength of my glasses has actually gone down.  I suppose it's because people naturally get slightly more farsighted as they age, or in my case, slightly less nearsighted.  My latest prescription calls for 8.25 and 8.00.  I'm practically draft-eligible!  Fortunately, I'm now too old, and there currently is no military draft.  Besides, my prescriptions do specify an increasing correction for astigmatism.

About Those Sharp Sticks

Another potential eye problem has been the possibility of glaucoma.  The screening test involves pushing lightly on the cornea, with puffs of air or a solid instrument.  The less the cornea moves, the higher the pressure inside the eyeball.  Excessive pressure leads to glaucoma, which can lead to permanent damage.

Ever since optometrists started measuring my pressure a couple of decades ago, it's been around 21 or 22.  Anything over 22 supposedly indicates the presence of glaucoma.  And at yesterday's exam, when the doctor gave me anesthetic eye drops and then poked me with his first sharp stick, the numbers came out 22 and 23.

He was preparing to schedule me for a follow-up exam when he decided to check something else.  He explained that recently, it's become necessary to measure the thickness of some patients' corneas, in preparation for refractive surgery (Lasik and the like).  It's been discovered that abnormally thick corneas give readings on the glaucoma test that are higher than the true pressure.  I suppose it would be like trying to measure the air pressure inside a ball by squeezing it.  A stiff, thick-walled basketball would resist deformation more than a flimsy, thin-walled volleyball would, even if they both were inflated to the same pressure.

So the doctor got out another sharp stick and made a quick measurement, and sure enough, it turned out that I have thick corneas.  Using a correction table, my real intraocular pressure is more like 17, and presumably has been all along.  I can stop worrying about that.

Advantage:  Closeup Views

I mentioned that another advantage of nearsightedness is that I can see some things better.  How does that work?  Well, when normal people look at a small object, they can't hold it closer than about ten inches in front of their face; any nearer, it starts to get fuzzy.  (Farsighted folks might have to hold the object 20 inches away.  Some find that their arms aren't long enough.)  But if I take off my glasses, I can focus on objects that are only about five inches away.  Holding an object that close allows me to see twice the detail.  It's like always having a 2x magnifying glass handy.

Glasses Are Good

I've been wearing eyeglasses for half a century now.  I've never seriously considered alternatives.  Surgery seems too permanent, because the condition that it attempts to correct is constantly changing as I age.  And I don't like to have drops put in my eye, so it would be unpleasant to try to insert contact lenses every morning.

But I don't mind being bespectacled.  Vanity is not an issue; I've always looked like this.  And the glasses themselves aren't a problem.  In fact, they're less of a problem now than ever.  The lenses used to be ground from thick slabs of actual glass, but modern technology has produced durable, lightweight plastic lenses of the "progressive" type (no sharp line between the halves of the bifocals).  My current pair of eyeglasses weighs less than half an ounce, and everything looks good to me!

 

2015 UPDATE:  Hold everything.  Now it's all different.  After cataract surgery, I'm no longer nearsighted; I'm the opposite!  See my article The Hyperope.

 

TBT

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