Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Virgin Eyes (or, how I learned to relax and enjoy contacts)

Sooooo I went to the eye doctor on Friday for a contact lens exam. Contact lens exams aren't really exams at all; in reality, the appointment involved my eye doctor prying my eyes open and trying to get a contact in the vicinity of my eye. After an epic struggle, she succeeded in getting one into my right eye, but for some reason my left eye is much more sensitive, and that one was a bust. She got exasperated, and I had trouble relaxing and keeping my eye remotely open, despite my best efforts.

In the course of our frustrating meeting, the doc made the astute observation that my eyes are A) very small and B) don't open wide at all. This doesn't surprise me at all, as I am descended from tiny forest people (true story) and my father in particular has tiny squinty George Dubya eyes. Putting a toric lens (diameter: 14.5 millimeters) in my eye is like trying to park a semi truck in a one-car garage.

Once the right contact was in, the eye doctor left me to my own devices in getting it out after quickly describing the process. I pussyfooted around the issue in her office for about a half-hour; finally she shooed me into the bathroom to finish the job. I finally got the hang of it and burst out of the bathroom, triumphant that I could do something right.

I left the appointment with two contacts, two bottles of contact lens fluid and the sinking feeling that I would never be able to put the damn things in. After all, if a trained professional like my doc couldn't even get within six inches of my eyes without me flinching like a mofo, how would I ever learn to put contacts in?

Naturally, I Googled. I found this Metafilter thread, which had lots of good suggestions for how to overcome a fear of touching one's eyes.

On Friday night, I tried again to put in the contacts. Not...even...close. I wanted to cry hot tears of frustration and rage.

Saturday morning, I tried again. Again, I totally failed. I realized I needed to take a step back. I re-read the Metafilter thread again, and (this is so lame) watched videos of people putting in contacts on YouTube and Videojug. These helped me visualize success, and to realize that if snot-nosed teenagers could master contact lens insertion, so could I.

I washed my hands, sat in front of a mirror, pulled down my lower eyelid, and touched my eyes for hours. First I touched the white part at the very bottom; then I worked up to touching the iris. This took dozens of repetitions, especially for my ultra-sensitive left eye. Finally, I was able to touch my eye for a few seconds, consciously keeping myself from blinking the entire time. I was slowly retraining my reflexes. It worked much better than I expected. All it took was patience and lots of repetition.

After hours of poke-poke, I got my contacts out and attempted to put the right one in. After much less of a struggle than I anticipated, it was in! I was ecstatic.

Putting in the left one wasn't as hard as a I anticipated, and I got it in about 20 minutes after the right one.

I immediately left my apartment and went for a walk in Balboa Park. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I had a great time. It seemed like my vision was better than it had ever been.

This morning, my goal was to get both the contacts in before breakfast and a shower. Once again, I started slow. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, washed my hands, sat in front of the mirror, and practiced touching my eyes again. In about two minutes, I was able to touch my eyes and keep from blinking as well as I had done yesterday. And I got both contacts in within a half-hour.

I'm pretty shocked I was able to retrain my reflexes so quickly. On Friday, in the eye doctor's office, I was a mess. I got scared and even shaky at the very thought of putting something in my eye, and when my eye doctor got close my only reflex was to shut my eyes tight. Now, my reflex is to keep my eyes wide open. My brain knows that when a finger (with or without a contact on it) is approaching, no pain will result.

Now, I can put in contacts like a pro. Pull down bottom lid, tuck contact in, repeat for other side.

My eye doctor will be shocked when I tell her about my success. I think she's expecting me to call tomorrow morning and say that I'm having no luck whatsoever with contacts.

Edit: Oh yeah, and some other things I did to help the process: first, I cut my nails. Touching one's eye with a pointer finger is less scary when that pointer finger is not tipped with a long nail. Also, I found that curling my eyelashes helps a bit in keeping them out of the way.

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