It's not too late for a healthy view of eye care

April 11, 2013|Alicia Notarianni | Making Ends Meet

I never fared terribly well with eyeglasses. I was amazed at how crisp the world looked when I first got them in the third grade. But all that clarity kind of gave me a headache and made me a little dizzy.

Just days after I got the oversize smoky purple beauties, a large, bouncing, eraser-colored kickball sailed across the echoing gymnasium in gym class and thumped me in the eye. I wobbled back, trying to maintain my balance, as a lens popped from the frame and I ended up with a shiner that left my brothers referring to me as Muhammad Ali.

For months, I would remove my glasses when I ate. I felt like they were after my food.

I never really did settle into having an object suspended from my ears and propped over my nose. It seemed unnatural and obtrusive. So as a fifth-grader, I was filled with anticipation when my uncle, an optician from out of state, offered to let me try out some contacts.

I sat at my dining room table as he placed the flexible little lenses in my eyes. I was amazed that I couldn't even feel them and the world came into focus. They were decidedly more my speed. Through middle and high school, I was the girl with the optician uncle, sporting contacts in lavender, sea foam green and electric aqua. They were very cool, but not without their challenges.

I was an active teen with somewhere to be most every night, and I've always had a tendency to be a night owl. The 12-hour weekly enzyme treatments called for by contact manufacturers were tough to maneuver. I struggled to set aside half-day timeframes during which I could bear to be without my contacts. Instead, like a mad scientist, I would try to cut the treatments short and remove the lenses from their fizzy vials before their time, thus setting my eyes ablaze with a watery burn.

I also had a tendency to sleep without removing my contacts — this was before they were made sufficiently oxygen-permeable for extended wear. On more than one occasion, my doctor ordered me to stop wearing contacts for days, warning me of corneal hypoxia and permanent vision loss. When I failed to heed his warnings, he showed me pictures of children in third world nations with blood vessels grown into their corneas as a result of oxygen deprivation. If the kickball to the eyeglasses hadn't caused vision-related anxiety, this did.

I would lay off the contacts as directed, but I would not wear eyeglasses, in favor of groping my around in a blurry haze and relying on my friends for information about approaching people and objects. This was before the heyday of geek-chic, and my glasses had long since lost a stem and been shoved in a junk drawer. If I deemed something worth seeing, I'd pull the beaten spectacles from my pocket and hold them before me like a bygone military officer with a monocle.

Other incidents over the years have caused me eye-related apprehension. As kids, my siblings and I created a unique brand of tag we creatively dubbed "run-around-the-house." One night while playing, the cutest boy I knew ran head-on into a tall shrub. He took a stick to the glasses and glass to his eye, creating a rather gory scene.

For a number of years, as I understand it often happens with near-sightedness, every time I went to the eye doctor, my vision declined. There were a handful of times when I ripped a contact the night before an important event causing me a sense of panic. There have been plenty of older people I've known over the years who have struggled with glaucoma and cataracts. While I'd hear people speak with dread about doing to the dentist, it seemed strange, as it had always been eye-related issues that disquieted me.

Thankfully, I've had good vision care and my trepidation has eased over the years. In fact, at my last appointment, my near-sightedness had actually taken a slight turn for the better. My optometrist ribbed me about this a bit, as it apparently is a sign of age. It's comforting to know, though, that it is normal and can be managed.

That National Institutes of Health National Eye Institute website offers helpful information on eye health including anatomy, diseases and disorders, and it offers resources for financial aid for eye care at

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her email address is

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