Reflections on the Eve of Eye Surgery

I was seven.  My family and I were on a trip, driving across some part of the Midwest.  Perhaps from Nebraska to Texas, but I seem to remember my father being in the car and he didn't take that particular trip with us, still being in Thailand at the time.  So maybe it was just myself, my siblings and my mother driving us.  I was sitting in the back seat of the car and looking out at the landscape passing by.  As far as I was concerned, I could see fine.  And then my mother said, "Do you see the ducks on the pond over there?"  And I said, "What ducks?"  Horror of horrors, I could see the pond clearly, but there weren't any ducks, not that I could see.

No, I was not going blind or anything close to blind.  Just myopic.  But at seven in the 1970s, nobody my age wore glasses.  Certainly not more than two or three kids per class.  And the glasses that we had to choose from?  Oh, my goodness.  It was more or less impossible not to look like a geek.  And then I went and picked probably the most ridiculous pair of frames that I could--blue, cat's eye shapes, in my mind, "just like Grandma's," except hers were black and she only had to wear them for reading.  After age seven, it was more or less impossible for me to ever be cool.  Yes, the kids teased me.  Yes, I got the "four-eyes" taunts.  Sometimes the glasses were an asset, for example, when one of the neighborhood girls wanted to be me up.  "Take off your glasses," she said, "so that I can hit you."  But most of the time, they just weren't me.

It was tragic (at least, socially speaking).  I had been a cute kid.  I know this because I've seen the photos from before the glasses.  And I felt that way--until I had to wear specs.  Who might I have grown up to be if I hadn't had to have specs when I was seven?  I might be popular and glamorous and even beautiful.  Instead, at seven, I became the Girl with Glasses. Geeky.  Awkward.  Protected and yet isolated from the world by my inability to see without lenses in front of my eyes.  Worse, in my mind, it seemed that having to wear glasses was somehow my fault.  If only I had been able to see those stupid ducks, I wouldn't be cursed with looking so uncool.

I had a brief period, okay, maybe more like a decade, of wearing contacts, all through high school and college.  My first ones were hard and brown and I can still remember the feel of putting them on my eye.  This meant I looked good, well, better, at least.  But.  Why is there a but?  I don't remember actively disliking the contacts.  It was, indeed, relatively cool not to have to wear glasses.  But I knew I still did.  And I always did have to whenever I would go swimming (I was on the high school swim team, so this meant daily).  There was also always the anxiety about losing or, when I finally got semi-soft lenses, tearing one.  And the discomfort if you fell asleep with them in?  I stopped wearing lenses my first year in graduate school, my eyes simply too tired and dried out to keep having something foreign sitting in them while I was spending so much time reading.  And so I've worn glasses ever since.

Last night at dinner, I was talking with my family about how nervous I am about having this surgery today.  "I feel like I'm betraying myself in some way," I told them.  "Becoming some kind of cybergeek, bowing to the techno-solution rather than accepting my disability, mild as it is."  They laughed and started talking about neural implants and lenses with LEDs.  Trust my guys to go even techier!  My son (who doesn't wear glasses) just thinks it's cool that they can do this kind of surgery; he is imagining all sorts of variations on what you might add to your vision technically.  But then he was the one showing me these videos yesterday in which body parts morph into other body parts, skin-colored branches sprouting hands, fingers sprouting eyes.  I'm not sure I trust him not to swing to the other extreme.  I just want to be normal.  Okay, not quite normal--as my husband pointed out, I do have this navel ring.  Let's say, free.

Why am I anxious about the surgery?  Well, there were those consent forms that I had to initial last night, full of phrases like "possible malfunction" and "visual loss."  But I am assured that the doctor who is doing my procedure has done tens of thousands of these operations, and the walls of his offices are covered with portraits of beautiful people, local media celebrities, a half-dozen Bears, soldiers and paraplegics whom he has given de-spectacled vision.  I am encouraged, but also a little freaked out.  Am I really one of these people?  Do I deserve to get to see without glasses?  My sister had the procedure done ten years ago and has been extremely happy with the results.  But then my sister has lots of procedures, some more strictly cosmetic than practical, and she is generally happy with having surgery.  Am I just giving in to the beauty culture?  I don't think so.  I have beautiful glasses at the moment, much, much prettier than any of the ones that I wore back in the day.  But it would be nice not to have to wear glasses under my fencing mask.  And it would be pleasant not to have to wear them under my winter hat.

Plus, given how old I am, it isn't as if I am going to be completely glasses-less, even if everything goes perfectly today.  There are still reading glasses, which I already need and will most certainly still have to continue to wear in ever-increasing strengths.  Maybe I'll get some like my grandmother had.  Maybe I'll wear them more than I expect, peering over them at my students as they struggle to answer whatever impossible question I've asked.  But I won't have to look through artificial lenses anymore to see them.  So will I still be me?


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