Friday, August 03, 2012

Presbyopia

Sometime early this year I finally had to surrender the notion that I would stay young forever. 

The plan, I once thought, had been fool-proof.  In a nutshell: stay I'm touch with my Inner Child.  Stay around young people.  Maintain my old hobbies, and pick up some new ones along the way.  Read. Travel.  Fall in love.  And learn, learn, learn, and keep on learning.  All of which I did, enjoying it immensely.

I was going to stay young forever, dammit!

But you never really know when and where the assault is going to happen.  Well, actually, you do, from all the whispered tales of people just like you.  You just don't think it's going to happen to you, like it did to me: my eyesight started to go.

It started oh so simply.  I couldn't read as much as I did before.  My eyes tired easily.  I chalked it up to long hours on the computer, or to the stresses of the day, or to my changing tastes in reading. Whereas before I could go through a novel in a week, my unfinished books began to pile up.

But in all other respects, my eyesight was normal!  I could still drive, I could still read signs, and once I even thought I was beginning to see better.

And then one day, as I was slogging through a book, the letters started to blur to the point that my eyes started to water.  Unconsciously, I pushed the page farther and farther away until, at arm's length, the words started to fall back into clarity.

My God, I said, I'm middle aged.

I scheduled a check up with the doctor, just to be on the safe side.  Perhaps it was some developing eye disease, affecting my vision? (How would that news be better than the prospect of middle age, again?). The doctor submitted me to a battery of tests, shining lights and puffing blasts of air into my eyes, asking me to read charts of varying sizes.  Then came the final verdict: no disease, thank goodness, just...presbyopia.

As near as I can recall, the doctor's explanation went thus: as we age, the muscles controlling the focus of our eyes start to weaken.  The image no longer strikes the back of the cornea as it should, resulting in blurring.

For nearsighted people like myself, presbyopia results in what I call a zone of blindness.  Beyond a certain distance, we can see with our glasses much as we did before.  Without the glasses, we can read pages up close.  But there's a gap somewhere in between, around a foot in length, that's just hard to see, with glasses and without. And cruelty of cruelties, that's just about the space where a book would normally rest.

"Don't worry," the doctor said, "I have the same condition, too."

"What are my options, doc?" I asked.

"Well, for some people it's bifocals—" He must've stopped when he saw me grimace.  "Or you could just get another pair of glasses.  For reading."

So: chronic visual discomfort. Or bifocals. Or glasses just for reading. Not much of choice, is there?  I opted for the last.  It's one more thing I have to carry around in its own little case, ready to whip out when I have to read anything up close.  I just had to make sure I got the hippest frame the lens crafter had to offer.

Several months on, I've reached a status quo with the minor change to the lifestyle.  For a time I'd forget the extra pair, but now that seems to be happening less and less.  Some friends notice it, and laugh, but then I point that they're carrying their own set as well.  How strange is it that it becomes a conversation piece among the friends from your youth?  Ah, just another reminder of Middle Age.

But what the hey? I'll always have my Inner Child, right?