pres·by·o·pia – noun \ˌprez-bē-ˈō-pē-ə, ˌpres-\
: a visual condition which becomes apparent especially in middle age and in which loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye causes defective accommodation and inability to focus sharply for near vision
On Monday, I picked up my first pair of bifocals. If you see me over the next few days and I lift my chin to you nonchalantly or lower my brow to you suspiciously, don’t worry. It’s not you; it’s me. I’m just trying to figure out my new glasses.
My husband had warned me that bifocals were in my future when I started taking off my glasses to read in bed. For the last 33 years, I have suffered from myopia, or nearsightedness. My glasses corrected my distance vision, but as far I was concerned, they left my near vision alone. Glasses on, glasses off, I could see just fine to about the end of my arm. Beyond that, glasses–or contacts–were necessary.
I remember getting my first pair of glasses with the Snoopy monogram in the lower left corner at age 10. The lenses were as big around as a pin-on campaign button, and the frames connected low on the corners and looped up around my ears. Trust me, they were very fashionable circa 1980.
But the thing I remember most is driving away from the optometrist’s office and noticing every leaf on every tree, the way they bounced in the breeze, the way they cast shadows on each other in the sun. With progressing myopia, my ten-year-old eyes had been lumping all the leaves together into a giant green cottonball at the top of the tree trunks.
For me, though, myopia doesn’t just affect the eyes. Since my cancer diagnosis a few years ago, I have had a hard time seeing into the distance in all of life. In the early days immediately after chemotherapy, I couldn’t even plan into the following week. Today, I had to keep telling myself. Just get through today.
As time went on, I could see a little further ahead, but never more than three months – the intervals of my blood work and doctor’s visits for the past six and a half years. Once I got the all clear, I knew I had a three-month reprieve until I had to worry about cancer all over again.
After three years cancer free, my myopia improved a little. I started making plans, imagining a future. And then a recurrence happened. And then another. I feared I would never feel hopeful again; that I would be a victim of cancer even if the disease was completely gone.
But God did something unexpected in my heart, the same kind of thing that has been happening in my eyes the last few months.
The leaves have all started lumping together again, but so have the words on the page. Not only was my near vision difficult with my glasses on, so was my far vision. I felt like Mr. Magoo, bumbling through the house, the office, the grocery store.
When I told the eye doctor about it, he said it was normal. Patients with myopia tend to see their distance vision worsen until they reach their early 40s, he said. Then, their near vision begins to worsen–what is called presbyopia–and their distance vision sometimes improves. “So your glasses are overcorrecting for your far vision but not correcting enough for your near vision,” he told me.
According to the Casey Eye Institute at the Oregon Health and Science University, the same aging process that causes the presbyopia–the hardening of the eye’s natural lens and the weakening of the muscles that support the lens–can actually correct the myopia. Maybe bifocals are a blessing in disguise?
I still can’t see the individual leaves on the trees without my new glasses, but with the correct prescription for my distance vision now, I can read both street signs and books without taking off my glasses, even if do have to tuck my chin and look down my nose a bit. And like my eyes, my heart is seeing a little further down the road these days. Maybe it’s the good news I got from the doctor yesterday that my blood counts look normal, and I’m doing better than ever. Or maybe it’s the accumulating days between my diagnosis and today. The more years between us seem to give me confidence. Or maybe I’ve been both hardened and weakened by being knocked down a few times in life. Could it be that those experiences give me a clearer picture of the future?
Or maybe it has something to do with hope, and a growing confidence that what I can’t see is clearer than ever.
WORD COUNT: 754