When I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my roommate in the dorm was from just west of Chicago. We had a great year together, and one of the things I especially remember her for is the fact that she had contact lenses and wore them every day. I was totally amazed and captivated.
Contact lenses were so new at that time that they were not yet available here in Madison. I had been fitted with eye glasses in first grade when my teacher realized that I could not see what she had written on the blackboard. After wearing them every day since then, I could only imagine, with envy, what life would be like without having to wear glasses.
So the summer after that sophomore year, I went to Chicago to get fitted for contacts. At that stage in the game, as I remember, the lenses were rigid and not gas permeable (as they are now and have been for decades). I walked out of the eye doctor’s office with nothing on my face, no glasses perched on my nose, and, yet, I could see the individual leaves on the trees!
Never mind that it took patience to learn how to put them in and take them out. Never mind that it took a long time for the contacts to feel comfortable. Never mind that for days and weeks I felt like I had “sand” in my eyes. Wearing them and being able to actually see without glasses was well worth all of it.
At first, in addition to the “sand,” one or the other of the lenses spontaneously popped out fairly regularly, especially if I forgot and rubbed my eyes. I remember my co-workers and I searching for one lost lens and finally finding it on the front of the shelf below the counter at the concession stand where I worked that summer. Another time, one popped out when I was doing some early field work in a hospital; it was virtually invisible on the terrazzo floor. I learned then the trick to use a flashlight, and, sure enough, we found it under the bed as it reflected the beam. And, there were many, many other incidents of a lens temporarily lost but, also, ultimately always found.
So . . . . nearly sixty years of wearing contact lenses!
In a few more days, however, the contact lens part of my daily life will be over. I have cataract surgery scheduled for next week — first, the right eye, and, a couple weeks later, the left eye. There will be no more contact lenses. There will be no more carrying out the routines of cleaning and conditioning the lenses every night, of rinsing them and putting them in my eyes in the morning, of keeping the little case for the lenses scrubbed, of figuring out how best to wear or not wear them on the long airplane ride to wherever, of making sure I have the cleaner and conditioner packed for any days away from home, of dealing with a speck of something that has gotten under the lens and feels like a giant splinter leading to copious eye watering — all while I am up in front, giving a class lecture or conference presentation.
But, I have loved my contact lenses! Once the “sand” problem resolved, I was lucky to be able to wear them long and well every day. On more than one occasion in recent years, I have somewhat proudly told the eye clinic staff how long I had been wearing contact lenses. And they have been unfailingly kind, reacting, of course, with total amazement!
The long familiar morning and evening routines will be gone forever. From what I’ve heard, the colors in the world will be incredibly brighter. I will be able to drive safely at night again. It’ll all be good, right? Wish me luck!