Written by Jen Brown


Through a glass, darkly

After a lifetime of poor eyesight, Jen Brown thought laser surgery would transform her life. It did. But not in the ways she was expecting.

Claire Jones Eyesight cropped

Illustration by Claire Jones.

When I was nine years old I was reprimanded in class for copying from a fellow pupil. “Miss” noticed me squinting to see my classmate’s work and my eyes were duly tested. Soon after I was prescribed my first pair of spectacles. My teacher was encouraging and said, “Won’t it be wonderful to be able to see the blackboard again?”

Miss thought my poor sight was the reason I was copying. She was lovely, my teacher. My new specs were for reading so I couldn’t see the blackboard any clearer than I could before, but copying from my classmates became a shitload easier.

I liked my glasses a lot. They were pink but not National Health pink, which was important. I felt great in them and nobody called me four-eyes (yet). Then I got older and my sight deteriorated with every subsequent eye test, until I ended up with jam jar bottoms in my teens – the worst possible time. I didn’t wear them when I went to youth club dances and once spent hours staring across the room at someone I really fancied, only to learn later that he was in fact a post holding up the ceiling.

To keep adolescent mockery at bay I aimed for stylish frames ranging from black John Lennon squares (he wasn’t into the little round ones yet) to vibrant over-the-eyebrow types; rather reminiscent of Dame Edna Everage, now I think about it. But no matter the style, I didn’t love myself in specs and graduated to contact lenses as soon as I could. These were hard lenses, the kind that lacerated your eyeball if the wind changed. I couldn’t look left then right too quickly in them either because if I did, the left lens would remain ‘left’, then drop out altogether.

My delight at the arrival of soft lenses was similarly short-lived; they weren’t that much easier to deal with owing to their fineness, which made them incredibly difficult to find. They looked akin to single eyelashes in their individual pots and to this day I have difficulty believing they ever existed.

“Going from a prescription of minus 12 in both eyes to 20/20 vision almost brought me to my knees.”

A long time after the softies came the dreaded laser surgery and a new set of hurdles. I say dreaded because once the laser beam struck my elderly peepers, I wasn’t the same woman. Not because it didn’t work. The problem was it worked so well I couldn’t bear it. Going, in a single day, from a prescription of minus 12 in both eyes (that’s ‘basically blind’ to you and me) to 20/20 vision almost brought me to my knees.

Day one was fabulous and I drank it all in, every startling bit of it. There was a lot to see. It was the morning after when it hit me. Specifically, it was when my dog, Daisy, leapt onto my bed to give me her daily greeting. This once sweet, beige blur had, without warning, turned into an HD monster with jet black holes for eyes and a tail that had the clarity and sharpness of a whip. I told her to get down. When she looked at me with head cocked, not sure if she’d heard right, I screamed, “At once!” She shot off the bed like a pooch possessed.

I suffered my superlative vision for one more week after that; a tortuous week of coming home from a day’s work to find I could no longer relax. To ease my angst I attempted to fool my brain by wearing old glasses with the lenses popped out. I would remove the imposters only when I was firmly tucked up in bed with the light off. It was effective for a day or two but I knew my furtive behaviour couldn’t go on forever. I called the laser eye company and asked the receptionist whether my strong urge to remove lenses that weren’t there was normal. When she transferred me to the surgeon I broke down and demanded a reversal. He advised me to see my GP as a matter of urgency. My GP kindly explained that it was no surprise I had become anxious: my brain had undergone a massive turn around. I was prescribed Valium until I got used to my bright new world. It turns out I needn’t have worried because, after only a month or so, my eyesight regressed. It turns out that this isn’t all that uncommon among post-surgery myopic types. After all that fuss, I only had to wait.

Eye test letter chartPsychotherapist Philippa Perry told me of a theory that holds that being myopic can be a psychological defence mechanism – the body’s way of making our vision selective so that we don’t see what distresses us. She suggested my sudden, clear sight was perhaps too stimulating and that my body sided with me by reverting to what it used to be. Daisy never distressed me at all until the day she turned 3D and Technicolor, then I positively hated the poor thing. It seemed I preferred a faint little doggie for walks along pale, misty shores.

Laser surgery stripped me bare, rendering me unprepared for my naked eye’s view of the world.

I have mulled, ruminated and speculated (pardon the pun) as to what happened to me the day I first saw clearly without bins. But since Perry informed me that being over-analytical could be considered a trait of the near-sighted, I have decided to stop. I am just grateful that Mother Nature decided to lend a hand when she did, taking me back to Myopia – that dim but wonderful place.

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Written by Jen Brown

A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter's words!) @MmePcato