Saturday, November 24, 2012

Through the Eyes of a Child - Nancy, 79

“How long have you worn glasses?” the new eye doctor asked me last week.

His question made me think about my childhood experiences as an extremely myopic (near-sighted) child and my feelings about what wearing glasses meant to me.

Spring of second grade—my grades in school began dropping. As an A-student I was unaccustomed to scoring poorly on exams. When questioned by my teacher I assured her I could see the blackboard fine. What I didn’t realize was what I was seeing was inaccurate. My changing vision meant I could see the blackboard; I just couldn’t see it correctly. Seven-year-olds with vision changes don’t realize that not everybody sees the same. Blurry vision was normal for me, so I thought nothing was wrong. The teacher moved my seat to the front of the room—situation resolved!

Spring and summer came to an end with nothing more said about my vision problems of the previous school year. Sometime in August Mom took me to see an eye doctor—my grandma’s eye doctor. Dr. Hayes’ wife was my Gram’s cousin. The exam was interesting. Reading letters from a lighted chart and telling Dr. Hayes what I was seeing ultimately ended with Mom choosing a pair of eyeglass frames for me. In the 1940’s there was very limited choice; the only important consideration was the fit, which was certainly not ideal. When we left the office, I was happily surprised that I left there without any glasses. Little did I know! A couple weeks later we returned to Dr. Hayes; this time I left the office wearing a pair of glasses.

As we walked out the door, my first impression was a feeling of being off-balance. At the trolley stop I was amazed at how clear everything appeared. The biggest surprise was that I was able to read the trolley number. That was an ability I did not have for the previous two to three years.  It was as if a whole new world opened before my eyes. My first experience with eyeglasses was repeated yearly until I was in my early 20’s.

Although a new eyeglass prescription became an annual August “tradition” I was not really accepting the need for wearing glasses. Although I couldn’t see distant objects clearly, reading books was no problem. Wearing glasses was not necessary as far as I was concerned.  In fifth grade, I was seated at the front of the classroom at the beginning of the school year. Soon I realized I could see the blackboard without my glasses. Hiding my glasses in my desk, I told my teacher I no longer needed glasses. Sometime in the spring, my grades began dropping. Guess what? I was not seeing the blackboard accurately. That was my last attempt at not wearing glasses. The condition I had—progressive myopia—meant that each year found me more near-sighted than the year before. This progression finally slows in the early 20’s.

Eyeglasses were not comfortable, especially as the glass lenses became heavier with each new prescription. This caused moderate discomfort behind my ears, necessitating frequent adjustments. I think I was 11 or 12 one winter when I decided I had had enough of heavy uncomfortable glasses. For some reason the eye doctor that year (not Dr. Hayes) had fitted me with frames too big for me. Maybe it was all he had or maybe he told my mom that I would “grow into them.” One cold winter day walking home from school, I grabbed my glasses off my face and tried bending them in half. Oops!  Suddenly I was holding a piece of my glasses in each hand. I’m certain Mom didn’t really have the money for a second pair of glasses that school year, but somehow she managed. If I was punished for this behavior, I have no recollection.

In 1948 Mom and my brothers and I were again living in Wilkinsburg, so I returned to Dr. Hayes that summer for my annual eye exam. Because my vision was continuing to worsen, he prescribed glasses with bifocals. I was astounded. Bifocals were for old people, not for a 15-year-old. His explanation was that adding bifocals meant my lenses would not be as heavy. Amazingly, to me, I had no problems adjusting to the bifocal part of the lens . . . an advantage of youth! Whether or not they helped me, I really cannot recall.

Although I have experienced various eye problems associated with aging, my memories—and feeling—of wearing glasses as a child remain vivid. Maybe it’s just because—hindsight is always 20-20!

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