August 20, 2008

We're none of us getting any younger

Back in 1984, when I was still going to school, my parents noticed that I sometimes ended up holding text books a bit close to my face and wondered if I needed glasses. So, I was bundled off to an ophthalmologist, who diagnosed me with a mild astigmatism. An astigmatism is a disorder of the eye whereby the image formed on the retina is "squashed" and a ghost image also appears. This "double" image appears in the same axis as the "squashing", and it makes focussing difficult.

I did use my glasses for a while in school. The whole point of them was, of course, to make it less tiring to look at books all day long and I think they did achieve that goal. However, the astigmatism was mild enough for me to be able to live more or less normally anyway without them. In hindsight this was probably a mistake. Then again, find me a 16 or 17-year-old who doesn't make mistakes...

Fast-forward to early 2007. I'd been working with computers and therefore squinting at computer screens, some of better quality than others, for the past 18 years. Of course my eyes had taken a beating over the years, especially as I hadn't really been taking care of them properly by using my glasses. The inevitable happened and it became clear that correction was going to be needed.

The only problem is that the whole eye-care thing in France is a closed market. Opticians cannot prescribe corrective lenses, so you have to go to an ophthalmologist. You have to make an appointment up to 3 or 4 months in advance and you end up paying this specialised medical practitioner a fee comparable to the price of a pair of glasses in the UK. It's expensive because many people have top-up health insurance, which will foot the bill. Once you have the prescription you go to an optician to have your glasses made. You then pay a high price for the frames and lenses. All in all, the consultation with the ophthalmologist and the glasses from the optician can cost the equivalent of several hundred pounds, and that's just for plain, monofocal lenses. Bifocal, varifocal, photochromic, coated and polarized lenses cost a load more.

Paying that kind of money wasn't really an option, so my only choice was basically to carry on working while I could or until I had a lucky break and was finally able to afford glasses.

The lucky break came in late 2007, when I finally moved back to the UK. The removal and trying to get my business (I'm self-employed) back off the ground kept me extremely busy for a while and, since I could still see relatively well at least with my left eye, the glasses had to be put on the back burner.

Fast-forward now to August 2008. I have a bit of money in my pocket from a web site commission so I called Specsavers in Bolton and made an appointment for an eye test. I went in in the morning of Monday 11th. The eye tests take place on the first floor, and I was seen dead on time (you try seeing an ophthalmologist in France less than an hour late) by a young girl who performed a few preliminary tests, asked a few questions and photographed my retinas. A few minutes after that was done I was taken into a cubicle for the eye test proper. Within 15 minutes the exact nature of the correction needed in each eye was established and I walked out of there with a prescription and went downstairs to choose the frames I wanted. In the end I went for a pair at £75 and, as luck would have it, there was (and still is) a special offer on whereby you get the "reactions" option (photochromic lenses) free on specs at £75 or above. It's another £49 otherwise… I had had my eyes tested, got the prescription, chosen my frames, placed the order and paid my £92 (£75 for the specs and £17 for the eye test) all within ¾ of an hour and was told that the specs would be ready for collection the following Monday (18th) with the possibility that they'd be ready before then.

Anxious to have the specs and get used to them as soon as possible, I called on Friday afternoon (15th) on the off-chance that they'd be ready by then and I was in luck! So, I trundled off back to Bolton, a 25-minute bus ride, and went to have the specs fitted. My first reaction was, wow! The effect on my left eye was immediate and very positive. I'd forgotten how it felt to see that clearly! The right eye is a different matter since the correction required is greater, but I decided to leave it a few days before asking if it was right.

Yesterday morning, I decided to go back just in case there was something wrong with the right lens because vision was still rather blurred and the ghost image was now on the opposite side of the main image to where it used to be. I was wondering if there was maybe too much correction. I was seen shortly by a lady who checked the specs to ensure that they were indeed as per the prescription, which they were. She then took a look at the prescription itself and explained that a lens of the strength needed for my right eye (which is now rather severely astigmatic and short-sighted to boot) can easily take up to 2 weeks to get used to. I was obviously thrown for a loop by the immediacy of the effect in the other eye and thought that it would be quicker than that.

36 hours after seeing the optician again I have to agree with what I was told. The acid test for me is looking at the TV screen and at this laptop's screen. I can see a definite improvement even since Sunday evening and expect to be well and truly used to these specs by the end of this week. All I have to get used to now is the things steaming up whenever I have a cup of coffee or do any cooking!