I hope I'm not one of those new-media types that belabors readers too regularly with personal trivia, like the best meals I've eaten recently (a chicken Marbella my sister-in-law made at the Lake) or what's happening outside my window this morning (it sounded like someone was killing the neighbors' children—at least two of them must have been having a total wailing, screaming go-to-pieces at once), or quotidian meanders like doctor's visits. But I thought perhaps a doctor's appointment I had yesterday might actually be apropos to our subject.
About eight or ten years ago, an optometrist who was fitting me for glasses I don't often use (I was slightly nearsighted and mildly astigmatic) looked long and hard into my right eye and first asked me if I had health insurance (I didn't, and still don't) and then suggested, enigmatically, that I might want to get checked out by an ophthalmologist. I asked him why, but he wouldn't say, suggesting without saying so directly that if he told me anything it would make whatever it was into a pre-existing condition.
I remembered that incident only in the last year, as my right eye has progressively started to go bad. At the same time, I started getting mysterious headaches on the right side of my head, which sometimes, but not always, seemed to respond to treatments for muscle tension.
In camera-lens terms, my right eye has developed excessive flare in bright light and lost some contrast and a lot of resolution. And I fancy I feel some discomfort in it, sometimes, like there were something in it, or like the beginnings of pain.
I have to admit I've been preoccupied with this for some time now, and it's one reason why I took such a lengthy vacation—I'd made an appointment at an eye clinic for Monday, and, though I may be guilty of hypochondria, I feared bad news.
To my great relief and somewhat to my surprise, the news was not bad. My left eye is still 20-25 (as both eyes were ten years ago), but my right eye is now 20-40, and my astigmatism has worsened. I have the beginnings of cataracts (which I was told I will probably have to deal with "in twenty years or so"), but my pressure is perfect and the ophthalmologist couldn't find anything worrisome in the eye or on the retina. He suggested that the headaches might be due to eyestrain.
So I've ordered two pairs of glasses—one a lined bifocal for computer use and reading (corrected for 24" and 15" respectively) and one pair for driving and distance. I presume I'm about to become a regular glasses-wearer for the first time in my life. Doubtless this will make me even more cranky about camera viewfinders, a subject I am already plenty cranky about. But I will try to remember that it could have been worse. We all go blind in the end, but, as long as we are blessed with sound enough eyes and, more importantly, a living mind with which to see, sight remains the soul's perfect delight.
Featured Comment by Geoff Wittig: "It's really ironic that many of us start reaching our peak of photographic skill...just about the time our eyes start going to pot.
"Under the best of circumstances our eyes lose about 50% of their light transmission capacity by the age of 40, and it's downhill faster after that. The accelerating inability to focus close up (presbyopia) puts most of us into reading glasses or bifocals by age 50, and this can be maddening with some viewfinders.
"Then there's the steady accumulation of floaters. I used to visit a well-known hawk watch site every spring to see and photograph migrating birds of prey. I gave up a few years ago because a retinal tear in my left eye produced so many floaters I saw a dozen 'birds' with every turn of my head. Sigh.
"Might as well make lemonade. The decline in absolute acuity and light transmission as we age can actually facilitate clean composition. It's easier to appreciate dominant visual elements when the smaller details get murkier.
"Or at least I tell myself this as I squint through that danged dark viewfinder."
Featured Comment by R. Edelman: "Mike, if you are developing cataracts, corneal refractive procedures such as LASIK are relatively contraindicated. You don't want to have a procedure on your corneas, and then have cataract surgery just a few years later. Procedures such as LASIK also make the predictability of determining the intraocular lens implant power more difficult than if the cornea had not been reshaped. (For you folks who have had LASIK or similar procedures, get a copy of your pre- and post-procedure eye measurements and lock them in a vault. They may prove helpful if you eventually need cataract surgery.) LASIK also doesn't truly correct presbyopia.
"On the subject of intraocular lens implants, the 'holy grail' of cataract surgery is the correction of presbyopia. There are some intraocular lens implants that address this problem, but hopefully better ones will be available in the future. You might be interested to know that two of the lens implants that are approved by the US FDA, the ReStor and the Tecnis Multifocal, use diffractive optics (think Canon DO lenses) to allow simultaneous distance and near, and some intermediate range vision. The trade off is some glare when looking at point sources of light.
"One should never trivialize eye surgery, no matter what the procedure. But if you had to pick an operation, cataract surgery beats the hell out of open heart surgery."