Monday, February 11, 2008

The Erratic Evolution of the Eye Exam

Before glasses became such a trendy accessory, many vain people (myself included) turned to contact lenses to create the illusion of perfect vision. By wearing contact lenses, your face was no longer separated into separate units by the presence of a plastic or wire frame. Of course, you had a lot of high maintenance with contacts, including the nightly ritual of cleaning them and soaking them for twelve hours in some kind of bubbly fluid. But since I hated wasting my time on the cleaning process, I usually skipped it in favor of almost anything else.

It’s a miracle my eyes never became infected because of the lack of care I gave my contact lenses. But once I hit 30 or so, I stopped worrying about looking like a geek, and began wearing my glasses on a regular basis. At least in business or work situations, where looking like a geek is often considered advantageous.

When I went out socially, though, I still went through the ritual of putting on my contact lenses. (Vanity, remember?) But since I never wore them that often, a pair of ordinary “daily wear lenses” could last me three or four months. I would just take them out, clean them (hopefully), and put them back in their vile until the next usage. Or until they’d disintegrated or ripped apart on their own.

For a brief time, I experimented with wearing colored contact lenses. This was when they were only available in the hard contact format, and for some reason I felt the need to turn my dark brown eyes to a lighter shade of green. But as I’d never had experience wearing a hard contact before, and I was trying to break them in while vacationing in the blinding Florida sun, I was never able to get my eyes open more than a squint when I was outside. And when I was inside, the severe green color of the contact made me look like a deranged Aquaman. So after a week, I traded them in for a regular pair of soft lenses.

That began a long history of hoarding contact lenses like they were food rations during the Great Depression. I didn’t throw any of them away until absolutely necessary. In this way, I could go years without paying for another eye exam, or having to order a new supply of contacts.

Which brings us to the present, and my need for contact replenishment. As I hadn’t been to an eye doctor in nearly half a decade, I didn’t have a current prescription. And without a prescription, most stores won’t sell you the contacts. I’m not sure why; it’s not like contacts are an illegal substance. But perhaps they’re afraid people will try to wear inappropriate prescriptions to get some sort of visual “high” off the blurriness.

Nevertheless, I needed to get an eye exam in order to purchase new lenses. So one Saturday afternoon I went over to a local Lenscrafters to take care of it. And much to my surprise, the ordinary five-minute eye chart examination had turned into a half hour marathon of machine hopping until they tested every conceivable element of my eyeballs.

A very sweet young assistant took me through the process, which was an obstacle course of machines and contraptions designed to measure and scrutinize my eyeballs from every possible angle. There was a machine to measure the size and shape, a machine to calculate depth perception, a machine to blow air into my face. (At least I hope it was air, and not the Assistant spitting on me.) By the time I was done, Lenscrafters knew more about my eyes than I did. And who’s to say they’re not sending that information to the Government for some kind of mass Eyebank?

I remember when an eye exam consisted of following the red dot on the wall with a flashlight and then looking at an eye chart with one eye covered. When did it escalate into a Las Vegas production of gears and wheels and lights and machines? By the time I’m ready for my next exam, they’ll probably just hook my eyes up to a computer, push a button, and out will pop my first six-month supply.

At any rate, I finally got my contacts and a prescription for new glasses (which is different story altogether.) The process took more than an hour, which also included a special half hour consultation and examination by the staff Ophthalmologist. Or is it an Optometrist? An Optician? I never know the difference. Whoever he was, he seemed to know what he was talking about as he described the various types of contact lenses available for purchase. I eventually decided on the disposable lenses, which was a concept rather new to me. The idea of using something only once and then throwing it away went against everything my Depression-influenced Mother ever taught me. But the idea of not having to clean them every time was also quite influential.

So now I’m a member of the Disposable Generation, and it feels great. I just wish I had a little more disposable income to make me feel completely indoctrinated.

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