When I was in second grade, I failed a standard vision screening and was prescribed glasses so that I could read the blackboard. I picked out an ultra-cool pair of blue cat’s-eye glasses with little rhinestones in the corner. (Hoping that wearing such cool specs would be my armor against taunts of “four eyes”.) As I grew and my vision changed, my glasses changed too. I can remember receiving a new pair of glasses after one dramatic prescription shift. I saw the world sharp and crystal clear for the first time in a long time. Route 40 has never looked more beautiful than it did on that ride home years ago. Eyeglass styles evolved- even as taunting the visually challenged remained static. We began to wear very tiny “granny glasses” with our mini-skirts and fishnet stockings- or if you were a boy- with your tight bellbottom jeans.
My neighbor who was older and drank green wheat grass smoothies and ate only nuts and berries gave up his glasses. He read somewhere that daily exercises could cure poor vision. It seemed plausible so I tried it, too- for a day. That whole groping your way through the school hallways was a little embarrassing. Just as our culture hit the tinted aviator stage of eyeglass style, I was able to graduate to contacts. A critical step for me as it was becoming more difficult to participate in sports with specs and the whole thing about guys not making passes at girls who wear glasses was beginning to matter more to me than I would ever admit.
Perception of those who wear eyeglasses has, thankfully, changed. Wearing specs is no longer the mark of a pariah and has instead become a right of passage. (The late, great pediatrician Dr. Leffler once told me that the sobbing little girl who had just left his exam room was having a very bad day. When I looked concerned, he laughed and said she was told she didn’t need braces OR eyeglasses!)
As a parent of twelve eyes, I know that the world of ophthalmology, specifically pediatric ophthalmology has continued to evolve. New treatments including surgeries have been developed for a variety of conditions. Doctors recognize that younger patients aren’t just miniature adults when it comes to eye problems. They grow and change and so their treatment is dynamic and ongoing. Often children can have many of the same issues as adults including low vision, cataracts, and retinal detachments, but treatment can be very different and examining and diagnosing the smallest patients takes a special skill set.
As a parent, it can be difficult to understand our child’s diagnosis and the available treatment options and harder still to decide if and what kind of surgery is the best option. I understand now how my parents felt. Children may have the luxury to focus on the style of specs… but parents must focus on the substance of vision and ultimate health of their child’s eyes. After all, they say it’s a gift to be able to see the world through a child’s eyes so it’s important to ensure that we can see it clearly!