Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Reader Again

I love to read.

All my life, since I figured out Hop On Pop at age four, I'm often found with my nose in a book. As a story unfolds in my head, I can go anywhere and be anyone - for a time - and I find that adventure to be entirely freeing and enjoyable.

But my life as a reader changed abruptly last winter. After a year of diminishing eye sight due to long-dormant but finally-awakened congenital cataracts, I underwent surgery to swap out my old clouded lenses for a pair of high tech replacements. Embedded deep behind my corneas, these new lenses permanently correct my vision and my days of being a contact-wearing nearsighted freak were finally over.

However, my surgeon cautioned me, the technology doesn't work so well at close range. So I should probably expect to wear reading glasses.

Oh, what a bitter pill to swallow. Because even though I'm long past the age where reading glasses usually become a fact of life, my close-up vision has always been excellent. Granted, since the age of six, I've been so nearsighted that I couldn't see more than a foot in front of my own face, but dang, if I held a book close enough, I could read perfectly. Starting to wear reading glasses at this stage of my life seemed like a big step backward and I was determined to avoid the setback.

Just a few days after my bionic implants, my long- and mid-range vision jumped to a perfect 20/20 in both eyes, and I'm still reeling with the shock and awe of that miracle.

But my struggles with close work - reading, in particular - had just begun.

In the first weeks after the procedure, I did a series of high-tech eye exercises to strengthen my new robotic eyeballs. Okay, so they were actually word search puzzles. I felt like I was back in fourth grade again, but all those hours of squinting at the increasingly narrow rows and columns of letters helped a lot and I was hopeful.

Still, at my three-month check-up, my eye doctor clucked his tongue and shook his head.

"You're going to need readers," he declared. 

"Can we give it a few more months?" I wheedled. "Maybe my vision will improve if I keep working at it."

In the end, he agreed that I had nothing to lose by trying, but informed me that after six months, my eyes would be stabilized and I was going to have to accept my limits.

Six months came and went. I still felt my vision strengthening. I learned some tricks to help me cope - maximize the light shining on the page, hold the book just a little farther away from my face, look up from the page every few minutes to rest the eye muscles.

I made progress. By Christmas, I could easily read from any glowing electronic device, and my math textbooks, with their copious white space around the text, were also manageable.

But reading a story from an actual book was still a challenge. 

Which made me sad. And to be honest, I found myself avoiding books because I didn't want to admit that those reading glasses were looking like an unavoidable necessity.

If you haven't noticed, I can be a little stubborn.

Then, just before the end of the year -  a full eleven months after my surgery - my friend Chris gave me a book for my birthday. 

This was not just any book.

This, he told me, was his favorite book. And he thought I might really like it too.

I don't know about you, but when a good and true friend shares a part of the soul like that, my curiosity is provoked and my devotion awakens like a lion.

I was going to read this book, buggery bad eyes or not, and that was that.

So, for the past four months, I've been wrestling with those pages full of vague black squiggles, commanding them to come into focus so I can savor this story. And I would be a liar if I said it has been easy.

But recently, something has shifted. Maybe it's the longer daylight hours of spring, or perhaps my new strategy of lying sideways across my bed to read the book as it rests on the floor. Could be just my straight-up ornery disposition.

And I'm still not about to say that reading is as effortless as it used to be. I probably do need reading glasses, though I am not ready to admit that yet.

But finally, finally! I am comfortably reading my book at an enjoyable pace and making my way into this quirky story about a washed-up musician, his faded career, and the woman who learns to love him anyway.

* * * * *

So thank you, Dr. Rostov, for vacuuming those old cloudy lenses out of my eyes and inserting the tiny, intricately folded new lenses into place through my corneas like two tiny ships in a bottle. Your technology worked a miracle in my life, and I appreciate you every day.

But even more so, thank you, Chris, for inspiring me to keep trying to read. My new eyes are a gift, but the motivation you provided was key to unlocking their full potential.  Thanks to your encouragement, I can consider myself a reader again.

* * * * *

I've written other stories about my friend, Chris. Check 'em out:

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