June 2013: Getting in contacts

Tomorrow is one of my favorite days of the month.

The first day of every month is a little special for me, for it is on the first day of the month that I open up a new pair of contact lenses.

This great day is preceded closely (and sometimes surpassed in greatness) by the last day of the month, when I get to throw away the pair of contacts I have worn for the past 30 or so days.

Funny how my attitude towards the same two little discs of plastic change over the course of one month. But a lot can happen during a month of ‘normal’ wear … and usually does.

I’ve been wearing contact lenses since I was 15, so that means I’ve been wearing them for … a long, long time. Before, I’d been wearing glasses since the third grade. Heavy, thick glasses that tended to break easily, and in my mind made me silly looking.

I don’t want to make you think that contact lenses are a bad thing; they’re not. I highly prefer them over glasses. But as any wearer of contact lenses can tell you, using them is a love/hate situation. When contacts work the way they should, they’re wonderful and the wearer hardly knows they are there.

But when contacts go bad, they’re very, very bad.

I’ve always worn soft contact lenses. I started out wearing extended wear lenses which could be left in while sleeping. This led to a number of my lenses getting lost when they came out during the night. Back then, contacts weren’t disposable nor were they cheap, so I spent lots of time searching through my bed sheets trying to find the tiny, shriveled up bit of plastic that usually could only be spotted by the shadow it cast and, once found, looked like it would shatter due to desiccation if it was even barely touched.

Ironic that a device that helps one to see is so hard to be seen itself.

That I didn’t have a backup pair of glasses further complicated matters, necessitating that I undertake my search with my nose about four inches away from my bed. If I was lucky, I still had one contact lens in, so I could close one eye for ‘normal’ vision, and close the other for ‘extreme-close-up’ vision.

Eventually, it was determined that extended wear lenses simply were not for me, and I switched to daily wear lenses, then later still to the monthly disposable lenses I wear today. Regardless of the type of lenses, however, the way they like to stir up trouble remains the same.

Contact lenses that get too dry while being worn are an exquisite type of agony. The item I most dread leaving home without is my bottle of eye drops. But perhaps even worse is when a lens decides it’s play time, and there is really no need for it to sit quietly in one place and do its job.

When a contact lens sticks to my eyelid, every time I blink the world blinks and shudders with me. Allergies that make my eyes watery cause buildup on my lenses that make the world almost as blurry as it would be if I wasn’t wearing contacts.

The worst, however (and I’m sure many other wearers of contact lenses will agree) are those times when a contact lens on my eye simply … disappears. Blink, and it’s gone!

Oh, I can still feel it on my eye. Somewhere. But usually the more I blink and rub my eye, the further the lens retreats underneath my eyelid and towards my brain. Before long, I swear it’s cuddling up with my hypothalamus and making my frontal lobe itch in places I can’t scratch without drastically and permanently changing my personality. Sure, I’ve had optometrists reassure me that there is no way for a contact lens to get stuck back there permanently. But ‘permanently’ is one of those definitives that can be measured for an awfully long time without crossing over that final line to fit the definition. That’s the part that’s not too reassuring.

(Fun fact: The membrane that covers our brain also extends out and covers our eyes. At least that’s what I read. On the internet. So it has to be true. I’d look it up myself, but I’m under deadline, and since I’d be looking it up online, it wouldn’t be long before I would be looking at pictures of cats instead of writing.)

By the time (minutes, hours, days, years … hey, at least it’s not permanent!) the contact decides playtime is over, I’m usually ready to lean close in to a mirror and try to find it myself. But it’s one thing to say I’m going to lift my eyelid and look under it, and another thing entirely to actually accomplish. In fact, I think I’m going to lay down another definitive word that’s far easier to put into play here, and say it’s impossible.

My missing contact usually reappears folded into fourths in a cone shape (how it gets that way, I have no idea) and slowly sliding out from the corner of my eye, biggest end first, frequently coated in goop (eye boogers, duck poop, whatever you want to call it.) Usually with a rinse it’s ready to go back in. But sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t the little bugger back in place. Sometimes I drop it. And sometimes, when I drop it and I’m not quick enough to pick it back up, the cat will eat it.

(Ok, that only happened once. But once is enough.)

I know these little trials and tribulations aren’t limited to the wearers of soft contact lenses, either. A former co-worker wears hard contact lenses. Frequently, and without warning, often in the middle of a conversation, she’ll throw her head forward while cupping her hand to her eye to catch her contact as it flies free. It took me a few times witnessing this before I accepted she wasn’t actually having a seizure. Still, in all the years we worked together, I never did really get used to this spontaneous and enthusiastic method of contact lens removal.

For all the issues with contact lenses, I wouldn’t want to go back to glasses. And since surgery is not an option (I am not squeamish at all about touching my own eyes after years of wearing contacts, but massive amounts of tranquilizers will be necessary before I let anyone one or anything else touch them!) I’ll happily maintain the happy medium of vision correcting eye care that I’ve found with contact lenses.

Especially since I’ve learned how to put them in and take them out while keeping one eye on the cat.

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