New glasses, renewed perspective


I used to have remarkably acute vision (20/15, if you’re curious) and exceptional color perception to go with it. It used to make me happy just to look. Turning my sweet eagle’s eyes on a treetop and picking out each leaf really felt good. Noticing the individual speckles on a falcon overhead made my heart sing.

I liked to see.

That has been changing for some years; I remember when I could no longer see the star at the center of the sparkle in the night sky, for instance. With more pressing matters (food, rent, keeping CRPS under control) I’ve adapted and adapted and adapted to my worsening vision, using pattern-matching skills (another 5-star category in my old brain) to replace actual perception.

It is an excellent adaptation to use, leveraging a primitive part of the brain that is very hard to screw up. However, it does have its limits.

My housemate, the excellent R. (I avoid using personal names without permission), finally confessed that my driving scared him because he really thought I couldn’t see well enough to manage it safely. He worried even more when he wasn’t in the car. That made me think.

And then I scared myself today on the road, and decided that was the last time. I called the ocular shop and they squeezed me in at 4 o’clock on a Sunday.

My visual acuity had deteriorated from 20/15 to 20/80.

Some things should not be adapted to.

I’m now a member of the four-eyed fraternity.

I think my nose was red because I almost cried.

I wear my polycarbonate steel-rimmed cheaters as if they were portals into heaven, because they are. I spent an hour and a half simply strolling around, agog, with the whole world smacking me squarely in the eyeballs.

First thing I noticed is, everything has an edge. I had forgotten that; more precisely, I had taken it so much for granted when I could see, that I didn’t notice when it faded from view. It’s like the resolution on the world is turned up to infinity. (…It is, in case you’re wondering.)

The next humdinger was the warping effect. Looking through the lenses is hunky-dory, but it gets a bit weird at the very edges, and beyond the rims there is no correction at all — the world is a palid mess, off to the sides and around the bottom, right where my feet and hands are most of the time.

I twisted my head slowly around, expecting wa-wa noises and doppler effects to accompany the dizzying twist of light around the margins of my sight.

I stumbled until I figured out that my feet were just where I’d left them, and I’d have to treat them just the same as I did before the glasses.

I was sure the pavement was breathing.

I’ve never taken hallucinogens (apart from exhaustion, surgery and chronic pain). I have nothing against them, I just felt no need to. There might be a reason why: all it takes is a pair of new glasses and I’m nearly there.

I went down to the beach and saw two boys in red shirts. I was riveted. My ocular nerve itself was stained, the color was so intense. Did you know red is the color of healthy, living blood? Red so glorious and alive that it almost quivered was all over street signs, cars, carts — shirts.

When I noticed that, I noticed that all the colors were darker, richer, more alive. The dim shapes of the SF Peninsula across the Bay were purple, dark steel and deep amber. I had no idea. It was spectacular, in a tasteful and slightly intimidating palette.

Then the shapes and colors came together for me as I looked up at the sky. The clouds didn’t just drift stately by, they floated in a tender dance of radiant whites and silvers, caressing the air with fingertips trailing Chantilly lace and oxygen.

As I saw that, I realized that the movement of things had taken on new poetry. Palm trees shifted in the breeze with the distracted grace of mermaids playing with their hair. Every frond was alive and had a finger of wind wrapped around it. Who knew?

I walked until I could bear to focus on a path, could do head checks without headspins, and generally felt able to drive more safely. It was still a stunning trip home, and I got here just as the sun touched the top of the Marin Headlands and dropped out of sight, staining the sky with farewell colors. I said thanks to it, right out loud.

I’m told it will take another day to adapt, and by then I’ll know what my world will look like from now on. The hallucinatory wonder will probably be replaced by something I can talk about in public (“Didja see that? Looked like the Goodyear blimp!”) but, from my personal history as a visual junkie of ocular delight, this intense thrill of LOOKING will probably be mine again forever — or for as long as I keep my prescription up to date.

I’m pretty motivated. This cuts into my car-buying budget, but I do think it’s worth it. Being able to survive driving is not a bad idea at all.

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