A little foresight can prevent a tragedy

September 30, 2013
fashion glasses

I once had perfect vision. I could see round corners, I could read in the dark. That’s what I used to boast. For my hubris I was cut down. Now I’m standing in the Myer department store. A pair of glasses dangles on a chain round my neck. It’s a travesty of a fashion statement. I’d promised myself I’d never be that sort of woman. I nearly choked once when the chain got caught in the necklace. But that’s not the worst of it. I’ve also got a pair of glasses in my hand. The ones on the chain I don when I walk from rack to rack, otherwise Myer is a blur. The glasses in my hand I don to read the price tag. I disliked clothes shopping when my sight was perfect. Now that I must juggle two pairs of glasses to accomplish the simplest purchase, I go only in times of necessity. How did it come to this?

My house is littered with the flotsam and jetsam of failing eyesight: reading glasses, reading glasses with broken stem, spare reading glasses from chemist shop; glasses for driving and watching TV; glasses once used for reading now better for computer work; prescription sunglasses, and sunglasses from pre-prescription era. Yet the right pair is never to be found when I need it. I can’t read a cookbook because the glasses are upstairs, or a text message because they’re downstairs. And worst is the television. It’s the Myer situation again. I need two pairs, one for the remote, and the other for the program.

A kaleidoscope of spectacle cases in shiny orange, red and green, as loud as sirens, lie all over the house. But too often I’ve grabbed a case, and my Kindle or newspaper, and rushed to the bus or gym to find the glasses aren’t inside. Is there anything worse than public transport or the exercise bike without something to read? Not for me, there isn’t. “For heaven’s sake, woman,” I can hear you say. “Get a grip. Get contact lenses; go multi-focal like the rest of us; get laser surgery.”  Or at least spend some decent money on the frames.

But it’s not so simple. Like the average person, my sight went off when I was around 43. I couldn’t believe it. Like I said, I had a talent for seeing really well. Friends could sing, quilt, garden, make paella like they do in Spain. Asked about my hobbies, I was the dork who said, “Reading.” I’d read the phone directory if that was all I could get my hands on. Ah, those were the days.

When my sight started to go, I thought, “Here come the glasses.” But it turned into an emergency. The GP took one look in my right eye, and rang the eye specialist who took me in immediately. The eye specialist took one look, and rang the super-specialist. The super-specialist saw me 6 pm on a Saturday night. That’s when I started to feel scared. Before long, I was being pumped full of cortisone. Before long, I’d entered a foreign land, the land of serious eye disease: the land of macular degeneration, retinal vein occlusion (my ailment), diabetic retinopathy, macular holes. It was standing-room only in the super-specialist’s surgery: forty or fifty people, all older than I was, and not enough seats to go around. With drops streaming down our cheeks and our pupils dilated, we really did look mad-eyed.

This is what I want to tell you: if you’re over 50, and you’ve been remiss, get your eyes checked soon. Like a pap smear, a mammogram, a colonoscopy, a prostate exam, an eye check is part of the grand tour of ageing. Ask the optometrist about your macular. Macular degeneration causes half the cases of blindness. One million Australians over 50 show evidence of this particular eye disease alone. Recognise the symptoms – blotches in your central vision, an empty space, or distortion; problems distinguishing faces; a sense you can’t get enough light to read the fine print or do your needlework. A sudden change in vision is a medical emergency. It’s imperative to see a doctor immediately to give yourself the best chance.

With most macular diseases, treatment can be effective. Yes, it can involve an injection in your eye on average seven or eight times a year. I’m told that’s not as scary as it sounds. In my case, the occlusion (blockage) in my right eye was cleared by cortisone, and the sight saved. But more recently, the sight dimmed again as a result of scar tissue and I underwent an operation. Now I watch over my good eye like a hawk, knowing if anything happens to it, a dozen pairs of glasses may not save me.

So to my younger, spectacle-free readers rejoice while you can. (Vanity accounts for my blog picture above). It’s true what they say: Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses. Instead, here’s what one man did instead. He took off my glasses, cleaned them, and put them back on my head, muttering, “That’s better.”

Please click on this link to the Macular Disease Foundation for information. Or phone 1800 111 709 for their free information kit.

Got any eyesight stories to share?  Please click on Comment.

Coming of Age is updated every Monday. Click on ‘Subscribe for free’ to get it emailed to you.