Have you ever wondered which of your senses you could stand to lose if you were forced to sacrifice one? (A sort of reverse genie-in-the-lamp thing?) Glen and I have. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s human nature to flirt with fears we think are unlikely to come true. But sometimes we’re compelled to ask ourselves: What would it be? Touch, taste, hearing, smell, vision?
Glen says music is too important to him to give up his hearing. He wouldn’t give up touch; he’s an engraver. Smell is already off the table; after hitting his head in a fall off the back of his welding truck years ago, his olfactory nerve was so damaged he lost most of that sense. (Katie and I noticed it was missing before he did, so evidently smell wasn’t that important to him.) His sense of taste was only blunted by the loss of smell, not eradicated, and he’s happy to hang onto what’s left. So Glen’s choice would be to give up his sight.
As for which I’d choose, I don’t really know, but I can tell you for sure it would never be sight. I wouldn’t make a successful blind person. There’s no real evidence to back up this claim (thank heavens). Sometimes one just has to take things on faith.
I’ve worn glasses from the time I was 5, just entering 1st Grade. I remember being fitted for them, and wearing my brand-new glasses out of the optometrist’s office. The ride home in the car was breathtaking. For the first time in my life, I could distinguish between turkey vultures and airplanes in the sky. I was astonished to see individual leaves on the trees, rather than a vague green mass as we drove by. Apparently I exclaimed in amazement all the way home, kind of like the fifth little piggy.
Then, when I was about 20, soft contacts came into my life.[cue the swell of stirring music]
In those days, soft contact wearers had a small plug-in appliance in which to heat up the contacts nightly for sterilization. We also dissolved little salt tablets in distilled water to make our own saline solution. Caring for the lenses required shopping, expense, preparation and forethought, but even so, they gave me the greatest sense of freedom I could imagine. Being able to see without glasses hanging on my face thrilled me even more than going off to college did. From then on it’s been my habit on most days to get out of bed and pop two thin, flexible pieces of plastic onto my eyeballs, even before I make coffee. Everything in life is easier with my contacts in. Way better than with glasses. I don’t trip and fall as much, and I don’t (often) step in questionable substances. Odd as it sounds, I’m less anxious when my contacts are in place. Whatever Glen may claim about it, for me, clear vision is irreplaceable.
People who blithely have their eyes operated on just to keep from wearing glasses or contacts are asking for trouble, I think. Glen did it about twenty years ago, after too much tiny text reading for college compromised his vision. “Are you nuts?” I asked him. “You’re cutting on your eyes!” Of course it all went perfectly, depriving me of the chance to say, “See? Look what you've done!” (Which he wouldn't be able to do, not anymore.)
A few years ago, an ophthalmologist asked me during a routine checkup if I’d thought about laser surgery. “You’d be an excellent candidate,” he said. I stared at him, appalled. No, I wouldn’t. What if something went wrong?
I’m sorry to say, though, that cataract surgery is probably in my future. My mother and her mother both had to have it. When my mother had hers in the 1990s, techniques had modernized and recovery was easy and short. As I recall, it was basically out-patient surgery by then, no lengthy bandaging required. I hear it’s even easier now.
However, when my grandmother did it in the 1960s, it was a pretty big deal. She had to lie as motionless as possible in a hospital bed with her eyes covered for what seemed like days. Maybe it was days. I remember visiting her in the hospital and feeling a cold horror creep across my skin at the sight of her, helpless in her bed. Wondering how desperate she must’ve been to put up with that bandage-induced blindness. What kind of trust would that necessitate? If I’d been trapped in that bed, my other senses would have gone into anxiety-induced overdrive. Imagining soft footsteps approaching my bedside. Faint, warm breath tickling my ear. The cold tip of a steel blade against my throat. *shudder*
What brings all this up now? Last week I was a bit late to my annual eye appointment.
By fourteen months.
By the time I got into the exam room, the anxious scold in my head had already diagnosed me with cataracts, scheduled my surgery and fitted me for a pair of thick, black shades. Luckily, that turned out to be way off the mark. Not sure about the rest of me, but my eyes, at least, are in great shape.
As Glen will tell you, though, I still mistake airplanes for turkey vultures sometimes. I did it just last week. He never does, of course. Thanks to his surgery, his sight is perfect. But what’s important is the view we see together:
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