Monday, February 19, 2007

I can see clearly now

I have recently been experimenting with wearing contact lenses again.

This is not through vanity, I hasten to add. No, I need contact lenses because I'm going skiing, and after a couple of runs my glasses tend to steam up. Hurtling down a snow-covered mountainside on two short planks and just the wrong side of out of control is bad enough as it is. Add foggy blindness into the mix and it's really a recipe for disaster.

So, contact lenses then. I've worn them, on and off, for well over twenty years. I can remember the early ones, thick as a fingernail and that felt like you'd just undergone reverse cataract surgery. Cleaning them was a pain, too. When I was at boarding school, only prefects were allowed access to a kettle,* so getting boiling water last thing at night was always a chore. You can imagine my delight when my optician suggested I try monthly continuous wear lenses.

These were great. Pop them in on the first of the month and forget about them. True, getting them out at the end was a bit like trying to lever the sticky label off an empty jar of coffee. But there were no chemicals involved and none of this pesky cleaning.

Unfortunately, what my optician had failed to tell me was that the technology was very much in its infancy back in 1990. I got an eye infection which developed into a stye, requiring surgery to remove. This is a procedure carried out under local anaesthetic, so you remain awake and aware as the surgeon clamps your eye open with some fearsome prop from a Wes Craven movie, then pokes around with a scalpel whilst you watch. There was no pain, but there's something very unsettling about the feeling of someone sawing away at your flesh. And I had the mother of all shiners afterwards.

That kind of put me of lenses for a while, but I came back to them a few years ago, when the Horse Doctor and I first went skiing in Canada. OK, I'll admit, I wanted to look cool. You can get perfectly good skiing goggles that are large enough to accommodate a pair of spectacles, but they make you look like an ubergeek, and can suffer from the aforementioned fogging if the going is heavy. I wanted to be able to shoosh down the slopes wearing my Rohan glacier goggles, and to do that without skiing into trees, other people and the occasional building, I needed my sight corrected.

The solution was, of course, daily disposable lenses. These wonderful inventions need no cleaning, last for a day and can then be thrown away. If you get something in your eye, you just take the lens out and bin it. It only cost about forty pence, and there's a dozen more like it in the box. I've still got about five pairs left from that holiday, my prescription's not changed and they haven't reached their sell-by date yet, so I can still use them. But there's only five left, and we've got two weeks of skiing to do.

So off to the opticians again, where a pretty young ophthalmologist with a very sexy Perthsire accent peered deeply into my eyes and told me I had very good distance vision (at least with my glasses on). And, wonder of all wonders, in Scotland nobody pays for eye tests any more.** She was happy to prescribe me daily disposable lenses, but she also sang the praises of continuous wear lenses. She wore them herself,*** she said, and liked how she could just put them in and forget about them, how she'd never had any trouble with them, how she didn't realise that they'd been available back in the late eighties and early nineties. I didn't like to point out to her that she'd probably still been in nappies back then, but seventeen years on, the technology's much better sorted, and the price has come down so that they're cheaper than the the daily disposables. I'm a sucker for a pretty face, too, so despite memories of Dr Pope and his Tomas de Torquemada-style torture, I signed up for the trial.

That was last Thursday, and I've not gone blind yet. For the first couple of nights, I was recommended to take the lenses out and clean them. This in itself was a revelation. One pot of solution can, it seems, clean, disinfect, rinse and store your lenses. There's no boiling involved at all, no buffered saline and oddly-smelling liquids. There is, however, a neat little jar, with a couple of plastic cages suspended from the lid. One of them is, as you might expect, labelled 'R'. The other, however, has a heart symbol moulded into it.

I find this mixture of symbols very odd, and slightly disconcerting. Quite apart from those few unusual people who have their heart on the right side of their bodies (and who should presumably not wear contact lenses at all), why did the manufacturers of this cleaning and storage jar have to mix symbols and letters? Everything else about it is clever and well thought out, but this is just plain daft. It would be easier if one side said 'R' and the other nothing at all.

I'm glad that whatever lenses I finally decide to get, continuous wear or daily disposable, I'll not often come into contact with the cleaning and storage jar. Every time I see it, I feel this perverse urge to deliberately put the wrong lens in the wrong cage, just because they've introduced a tiny element of uncertainty into the design. My eyes aren't quite the same prescription, so if I crash my car into a bus stop, killing several elderly pensioners waiting for the number seven bus to take them to the Bingo, and in the ensuing investigation it is found out that I wasn't under the influence of drink or drugs, but addled by an incorrect installation of contact lenses, will I be able to sue the manufacturers for their lack of foresight?

No, probably not.

* I guess they didn't trust the rest of us. Quite right too, if you've ever had a cup of tea made from water someone's boiled an egg in.****
** nor for anything else, it would seem. I have a pair of monthly continuous wear lenses in right now, and five sets of daily disposables to try out later, plus cleaning fluid and that annoying little cage thing, and I've yet to pay for any of it.
*** which begs the question, are there any ophthalmologists with 20/20 vision? Mind you, why would you go into optometry if you had perfect eyesight yourself?
**** or, indeed, tried to boil an egg in an electric kettle.

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Blogger Vincent said...

When I tried continuous wear contacts, it felt like someone was constantly blowing cool air across my eyeballs. It didn't look like that of course, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to see where I was going due to the vindictive blow-hard standing in front of me, though I suppose they could have been wearing some sort of active camouflage that rendered them invisible.

Anyway, my problem with constant wear contacts was due to my tears drying up too fast to keep the lenses hydrated, but my brother wears them without problem.

All of which is very interesting, but largely without a point.

February 20, 2007 8:35 am  
Blogger JamesO said...

much like my whole post, I think, Vincent. Hence the label 'wittering'.

Which is just a sort of one-sided toot, if you think about it.

February 20, 2007 11:11 am  
Blogger Trace said...

I've got dry eyes, so wearing contacts for more than ten minutes kills me unless they are a brand spankity new pair. I wear them pretty rarely. If I have a short shift at work or if I'm going to the movies maybe.

But I'm blind as a bat distance wise. So I figure that if I'm gonna wear glasses, I'd might as well WEAR glasses. I got myself a nice thick, black pair of rectangular jobbies. They stand right out. I look like a super-geek and that's fine!

February 20, 2007 4:38 pm  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

What they don't tell you often here, anyway, is that disposable contacts can actually be reused.

I don't do well with contacts either.

February 20, 2007 10:42 pm  
Blogger JamesO said...

You've got to be careful though, Sandra. They're flimsy things which can tear easily, and there's nothing quite so painful as a torn contact lens in your eye.

OK, maybe having a limb amputated without anaesthetic, that'd hurt some.

Trace, what's with this fashion for rectangular glasses? I've always had round ones - they suit the shape of my face, and also my peripheral vision. Long before Harry Potter I had John Lennon specs. But now you can only get things that make you see the world as if looking through the letterbox. Try to get something round and the opticians look at you with an expression of sadness, pity and derision on their faces. Or at least I think that's what it is - it's difficult to tell what's going on behind their monstrous square facial ornamentation.

But you're right. If you're going to wear glasses, you might as well WEAR them.

Right now I'm trialling some new disposable toric lenses, which accommodate my astigmatism (try saying that when you've had a skinful). Pure dead brilliant they are. It's like the scales have fallen from my eyes.

February 20, 2007 10:56 pm  
Blogger Vincent said...

Once upon a time I was taking a shower (don't worry, this is contact lens related) and I managed to split one of the disposable lenses I was wearing. Half popped out there and then, but the other half went 'missing'. After half an hour of fumbling, I finally managed to get the errant piece back to the front of my eye in order to prize it out. More disconcerting than painful, but still not something I'd like to repeat.

February 23, 2007 8:23 am  

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