On Sight

It is amazing how mankind has evolved in such a way that we are very dependent on sight as one of our five senses. For those of us who were born sighted, we use this faculty a great deal to filter our perception of the universe. And yet we are often reminded that all that you see may not often be the truth or actual reality (e.g. think of optical illusion puzzles or the slight of hand tricks that magicians are so adept at performing) and that there exists elements beyond the spectrum of light that we can perceive (e.g. ranging from what science tells us about UV light, gamma rays and the like, to the realms of the paranormal and the supernatural).

Like many Singaporeans, I began wearing spectacles from a young age, if I remember correctly when I was about 9 years old, thanks to the intensive schooling system. Although my eyesight worsened as I entered my teens, I was fortunate not to develop very high degrees of myopia (less than 400 degrees at my max) and astigmatism. In my twenties, I started wearing contact lenses which gave me greater mobility and flexibility; sadly at the same time, I was bound to the cycle of washing and storing my contact lenses daily plus buying endless bottles of contact lens solution and saline and countless packets of sterilizing tablets.

Around 2000, my sister, whose eyesight was always much worse then mine, had the miracle operation called Lasik done on her eyes. Then she recommended that I do the same, despite the high cost, the discomfort of having one’s pupils dilated with special eye-drops, and the scariness of having machines cut into one’s corneas and shave off microscopic layers to get the desired result. And voila! Crystal clear sight within hours! Able to see far vs. near with hardly any problem! No more contact lens & their paraphernalia to deal with! Can travel to places lightly!

At least for 10 years, until middle age and the effects of too much computer work started to hit. I was warned before the operation that Lasik was not a permanent solution as it would not be able to combat the aging process on the eyes. What I was not prepared for was the path that this aging process would take on my eyes.

When I was young, the concept that one’s eyesight dims as one ages did not have much meaning. I always thought it meant perhaps that the growth of cataracts would make the eyes look cloudy and cause one’s eyesight to deteriorate. Around 2008/9, I started becoming aware that my eyes were changing. It was harder to see as daylight faded and dusk approached. Driving at night became a little more dodgy as my night vision became not so sharp. In 2010, my sister arranged for me to see her friend, an opthamologist, just for a base check to start tracking the development of cataracts in my eyes. At that point in time, the opthamologist declared that I had only just a dusting of cataract clouding in one eye and to see him again in five years’ time for another check-up. However, as part of the 2010 check-up, he did put lenses over my eyes (like how an optometrist does when measuring people for their spectacles) to see if I needed reading glasses. There was one moment after he put a certain lens in the framework when suddenly, I swear, the world changed. I should have shouted then, “Hey! Who turned on the lights?”

Basically, a little bit of my previous myopia had returned. The opthamologist wrote out a prescription for spectacles for me to wear when driving and watching cinema/theatrical shows. I had two pairs made (the first pair was a mistake as I chose frames that were too thick and I found that my side vision was obscured when driving — alas, out of practice in choosing appropriate spectacles after 10 years of not using specs). Now, I feel much safer driving at night with the specs.

The return to using spectacles has been an extremely interesting experience. Because my eyes are now much older, I cannot transit between near and far sight with ease and must take off my specs in order to read small print: using these specs to read programmes, maps, books, etc. that are held in my hands is pretty useless as everything is out of focus. At the beginning of 2011, I did attend a short course on how to improve one’s eyesight naturally in which I learned many practical exercises on how to relieve various aspects of eyestrain. Unfortunately, I have not been persistent in practising these exercises and so my eyesight has not improved. Nevertheless I am comforted to know that there are methods out there that I can systematically practise, if I so choose, to manage the quality of how I sees, and that it is possible to halt or reverse the natural deterioration of this very important sense.

There are some comments that the instructor of this course said that were novel for me: the quality of our eyesight is actually not fixed. On some days when you are less tired, your eyesight is much better. Whereas when you are fatigued, your eyesight is worse. And actually, we do not need exactly 100% perfect vision to survive in this world.

Extrapolating these notions to how I have generally perceived the universe through my eyes over time: In my youth, I tended to see things in a very clear-cut, sharp fashion. Everything was clear and bright as I had the light of youth within me. Now in middle age, with less pep and verve, plus experience knocking out some of the clear-cut expectations of life, I’m now seeing the world (literally and metaphorically) in a soft-focused mode, like how old style Hollywood movies used to film their heroines. And actually now, life is still OK and in some ways better than before.

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