Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Washington, D.C.: Glasses Replacement

Well, this sounds like a boring post, doesn't it?

When you've got glasses in hand when you need them, then it is boring. When your last pair of glasses break in two while you're on the road, then it's exciting.

Since fourth grade, vision - or lack thereof - has been an important part in my life. 

Until 2010, without corrective lenses, I was "legally blind" (in the lazy, layman use of the term). There were years of Coke-bottle glasses; a painful, stressful, tearful adolescent episode with hard contact lenses ("if your daughter's motivated enough, she'll adapt to the contacts"); more years of thick glasses; and then years of daily, soft-contact lens rituals. The soft contact lenses were pretty good, but my prescriptions were difficult because I had an astigmatism on top of the severe near-sightedness, and soft lenses do not provide as sharp an acuity as hard lenses do.

And then the onset of presbyopia ("old-age" farsightedness).

And then crept in an unexpected inability to see well while driving at night, with the lights of oncoming traffic blinding me to the road in front of me. Over time, this troubling development shrank my world. It affected my road trips, obviously, because it curtailed the number of hours I could drive in a day. It affected my ability to drive to another community to take in evening cultural activities such as movies, live music, or theatrical performances.

I also had noticed that when I walked down stairs or on uneven pavement, my depth perception was slightly out of whack.

I had considered laser surgery over the years, but the benefits of same, weighed against the cost of the procedure and potential short-term and long-term risks, did not offer a clear ROI over maintaining my usage of contacts (plus, now, reading glasses). Furthermore, even the best laser results would be no better than using soft contact lenses.

But new life events flipped the board, changing all of my calculations.

The crash of 2008 led to my job elimination two years later, and I found myself competing for jobs with attorneys and PhDs who'd also been cashiered - and what employer wouldn't snatch up an alphabet fish who could be had for pennies on the dollar?

Oh, and my marriage eventually crashed, as well.

The above two events would result in an end to my health insurance coverage. No, wait. They would result in an end to affordable health insurance.

(Sidebar: I had a good health care plan with my job, and when I lost that, I was able to go on to my husband's employer-related health care plan. A political system that compromises an individual's access to affordable health care due to a job loss or a marital dissolution is a system that compromises an individual's right to self-determination. A single-payer, national health care plan along the lines of Medicaid or Medicare would give Americans more freedom of choice in their life decisions.)

About a year before my health insurance sunset, I'd re-considered laser surgery (I had also looked at an alternative surgical procedure, PRK).  

I began the screening process for the surgery, and I made it past the first couple of routine benchmarks, including the preliminary screening for sufficient corneal thickness.  But when it came time for the final vetting step, during which the doctor had a personal look-see into my eyes, I failed. My near-sightedness was so severe, I needed more corneal thickness than most people, and mine didn't meet that higher standard.

After getting this bad news from the doctor, I remarked almost off-handedly that I seemed to have this little blind spot in one of my eyes, noticeable only when I applied eyeliner on one of my lids. Whereupon we discussed how I hadn't had my eyes dilated in some time, which he promptly rectified. And that's when something entirely unexpected revealed itself.

I had cataracts. In both eyes! Wha!? How could that be possible - I was far too young for such a thing!

This was dismal news. The common wisdom is that one must wait years for cataracts to "ripen" before insurance will cover cataract surgery, and in the meantime, one's sight continues to deteriorate and affect one's daily quality of life.

At some point in the year that followed that doctor visit, it became clear that I had a time certain for when my health insurance coverage would end. So I was in an unlikely situation of hoping that my cataracts would deteriorate as fast as possible so I could have the surgery with the assistance of health insurance.

As the deadline loomed closer, I called the insurance company to find out for sure what the requirements were for the company to cover cataract surgery. That's when I learned a critical piece of information: There was no arbitrary "ripeness" number that dictated yes or no for the surgery to be covered. The coverage decision relied on the doctor's assessment that the surgery was necessary.

Long story only slightly shortened: Two or three months before my insurance deadline, I made an appointment with the doctor to check the status of the cataracts. By that time, my research had shown there was a connection between cataracts and night blindness and depth perception. When I visited the doctor, I emphasized how these issues affected my daily life, both professional and personal. After the doctor's staff verified, through testing, the night blindness, I got a green light for the surgery.

I paid extra for toric lenses to offset my astigmatism. After considerable research, I opted not to go with a multi-focus option for my lenses, which would have (in theory) corrected both the near-sightedness and the presbyopia. Too expensive. Also, for me, the risk of less-than-stellar outcomes put me off.

The cataract surgery. A procedure so fucking easy to undergo, with immediate, astounding, life-changing results. My God. For the first time since childhood, I could wake up and live my life without glasses to correct my near-sightedness. Without contacts. I could go anywhere in the world and not worry about access to clean water or contact solution or replacement contacts or broken, lost, or stolen glasses to correct my near-sightedness, without which, remember, I was "legally blind."

I could again drive at night.

Sure, I still had to wear reading glasses when necessary, but these are easy to come by and there are work-arounds for their absence.  

My cataract surgery opened up the world to me in ways not possible - or much more difficult - than were available to me beforehand.

Whew, long story, eh? But maybe someone's reading it who will realize s/he has the same symptoms I did, to be dumbfounded at the prospect of having cataracts.

So ........ with that long detour story complete ... let's get to the glasses in Washington, D.C. 

One of my cheap pair of glasses broke in D.C. I did have my primary reading glasses with me, but that was my only pair left. From past experience, I needed to go get another fall-back pair of glasses. (Guatemala had claimed a pair in April.)

Normally, Dollar Tree is my go-to place for reading glasses. Each pair costs one buck. I've bought 10 at a time and distributed them around my home and my gear. I wasn't staying in a Dollar Tree kinda neighborhood, so I walked a few blocks to a CVS and bought a pair of readers for about 15 bucks. Ooh, that hurt a bit. But I try to put these outlays in terms of the cost of a meal at a medium-priced restaurant. A meal will only provide an hour or so of satisfaction utils, but a reusable good such as a pair of glasses will last, if not years, then at least months.

For what it's worth, I don't carry my prescription reading glasses with me in my purse. This is because I handle the glasses so much when I'm out, pulling them out of a pocket and putting them back in, opening and closing them, that it puts too much wear on the hinges, contributing to their early demise. (I can attest to this after having replaced two pairs of prescription glasses because their frames fell apart. Maybe three.) I leave the prescription glasses at home and take the cheap, non-prescription readers with me when I'm out and about.

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