Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Eyes Have It

My five-year-old great-granddaughter Roslyn came to visit me along with her parents and her older brother. She is bright, bubbly, and undaunted, and never seems to stop talking—offering her opinions about everything. “Great-grandma, you’re old,” she said, “and you’re going to die soon.”

I replied, “Yes, I am old, and many people die when they are my age. However, I don’t think I’ll be dying any time soon.” I do happen to pay attention to the ages whenever a death is announced on the news or while reading obituaries in the weekly paper. Eighty-two is actually a popular age for dying, but so is ninety-three. Even so, I’m guessing I’ll be around for a while. Currently, I am managing six different chronic conditions, none is life-threatening. In annual visits, my personal physician, my cardiologist, and my pulmonologist all sum up their findings with words like healthy, strong, stable, and doing great.

Managing my health sometimes feels like a part-time job. It involves two machines: a CPAP when I sleep and an electric vibrating vest to help keep my lungs clear. It also includes walking at least a mile every day, various stretches, physical therapy exercises, meditation, and Feldenkrais lessons at home using CD’s. I don’t have many prescriptions, but I do take a handful of supplements daily, and my diet is low fat, high fiber and excludes foods that aggravate GIRD.

I don’t count my eyesight as one of my chronic conditions, but it is something that requires management plus gadgets, , new habits, attention to light sources, and a larger computer screen. Caring for my eyes is a top priority. In this endeavor I have the guidance of three eye doctors: the ophthalmologist I’ve had for years, plus one who specializes in retinas, and another whose specialty is neuromuscular eye conditions.

Rather than giving a medical report, I’m going to describe what it is like to see the world through my eyes. As a baseline I can happily report that ever since I had lens implants following cataract surgeries, I see everything in glorious Technicolor; I just don’t see it all accurately. Often people, dogs, or cars are doubled when I’m out walking, and double vision also occurs with mailboxes and road signs. The yellow lines marking the lanes appear to soar up toward the sky when they go around a curve, and cars safely parked on the shoulder appear to be in the middle of the road. Fortunately trees and flowers and stars in the sky seem to stay put. I can feel the constant moving of my left eye as it tries to synchronize with the other eye. Depth perception is also impaired.

As for close vision, I can no longer read anything moving across the TV screen. I can only read “Local on the 8s”on the Weather Channel if I walk up close to the TV and squint. If there are multiple images on the screen (in boxes inserted over other images, for example), I can’t see any of them. I miss many clues in Masterpiece Mysteries because the characters spend a lot of time in the semi-dark, perhaps with a flashlight. I do much better in the bright light of Downton Abbey. The glare from glossy paper in magazines causes everything on the page to be blurred. Usually I can see the pictures but really strain to read any text. Books that have limited line spacing and less than twelve-point type appear to me as a slurry gray mess with everything slumped together. Sometimes I can read a little to find a needed bit of information, but it takes a great effort and causes eyestrain.

In June between writing projects and research I was doing more computer work than usual. Gradually the scattered episodes of painful eyestrain became constant in spite of the prescribed eye drops. Most of the time I was seeing things through what looked like a gauze scrim. I had discussed this with my primary eye doctor at an earlier visit, and he had quizzed me on my computer usage. Along with eye drops and hot compresses, he suggested, that I look away from the screen and blink my eyes every twenty minutes explaining that most people stop blinking when looking at a computer monitor. He also recommended that I reduce my computer usage to an hour a day. I dismissed this suggestion as impossible because at the time I was using the computer for three or four hours each day.

When I could no long read books at all, I decided to try several things. I bought a Kindle Paperwhite, which enables me to enlarge the type and increase the space between lines. The lighting is gentle and I immediately fell in love with a gadget I previously never expected to buy. For some time I have been listening to audio books occasionally and have now made that a regular part of my day. Finally I asked for a prescription for reading glasses with the prism I have in both my bifocals and my computer glasses. (This addition mitigates some of my symptoms.) With these glasses I can now read some books, depending mainly on the margins and spacing.

I did not, however, limit my computer use, and the frequent spells of painful eyestrain continued. While I was writing my book some years ago, I worked about four hours a day—usually in one sitting with a ten-minute tea break in the middle. Often my best work happened in the fourth hour. My essays take an initial session of about three hours for composition, rewrites, and error corrections, then usually a second one-hour session a day later for fine-tuning. It was hard to imagine working any other way.

Nevertheless, I knew I had to try. After just a week of limited usage, (writing only one hour a day on the computer) the eyestrain was under control. That was two months ago. Since then I increased my preparation with handwritten notes and outlines as I continued with the shorter computer sessions. With this process I don’t develop sufficient momentum and have been less satisfied with the end result of some of my writing projects.

For the past year I have been considering how long I wanted to continue with my Decrescendo essays and other writing projects. Mainly I thought of the stamina it takes to write and measured that against all the other things I wanted to do with my daily ration of energy. Once I proved to myself that limiting computer time is an easy remedy, my eyes tipped the vote. I put up my first post on October 4, 2010, and for the sake of symmetry, I plan to post my last one on the same day this year. In the meantime, I have a few more things I want to write about.

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