II. Jenny’s Story

Story 2 of the trilogy by Aliena

Hi, I am Jimmy’s sister, Jenny. You met me in Jimmy’s Story. As you already know, I am extremely nearsighted and I have had to wear very strong glasses most all of my life. I don’t really remember when I didn’t wear glasses. My mother tells me that I got my first glasses when I was a little over a year old. I was having difficulty learning to walk and I fell down a lot and bumped into things. But, what really got them to thinking that I couldn’t see very well was my holding things very close to my eyes to see them and my squinting my eyes nearly closed to see things only a few feet from me.

The first part of this story, up to about 3 years old, my mother and brother told me. My mother took me to a doctor that examined my eyes and tried to get me to look at things that I couldn’t really see. The Dr examined my eyes by looking into them with various lights and having me look into some machines. After that, I got my first pair of glasses. The first time that they put them on me, she says that I was quite surprised, as I could see things that I had never seen before. Everything seemed so sharp and clear. The Dr took my hand and we walked down a hall and then she had me look out a window. Again, I was quite surprised at the things I could see through those two pieces of glass in front of my eyes. At one point, they took the glasses off of me and everything just went away. She says that I started to cry, as the world had again disappeared for me. After a while they put the glasses back on me and I could again see. I went home with my mother and looked at everything around me. I looked at my mother, and then I realized she also had two pieces of glass in front of her eyes. It was the first time that I had been able to see her clearly enough to see the glasses.

When I got home, my mother let me look at myself in a mirror and it was the first time that I could really see myself. I saw that I had very dark hair and pink cheeks and I saw the little pieces of glass in front of my eyes that allowed me to see everything so well. The glasses were little round pieces of glass that were held together with little gold wires, but I couldn’t see my eyes behind the glasses as the lenses looked like two white spots due to the light they were reflecting. I moved my head a little and the glasses flashed. I got very close to the mirror and I could just barely see my eyes behind the glasses and they looked very small. I asked my mother about this and she said that my eyes were of normal size, but the glasses made them appear very small.

My big brother, Jimmy, came into the room, and it was the first time I could really see his face clearly. I ran and gave him a hug and he kissed me on the cheek. When it came time to go to bed, I didn’t want to take my glasses off. My mother took them off of me and said that I wouldn’t need them when I was sleeping. She said that she was going to put them close to me on the night-table, if I should need them. She let me try to put my glasses on by myself, and I did manage to do so. Without them everything was very blurred, as I closed my eyes and went to sleep.

The days passed quickly and I seemed to see new things every day that I had not been able to see before I got my glasses. My glasses became a part of me and I put them on as soon as I woke in the morning and then my mother had me take them off when I went to bed. In the morning, my mother took the glasses off of me to wash my face and then I immediately put them back on. She also had me take them off when I took a bath, but I didn’t like this very much, as I was blind without them and felt insecure. My glasses actually were my eyes, because my eyes were so weak that I couldn’t see anything much with them, unless I had my glasses on. It became a ritual that when I went to bed, they would take my glasses off of me and read me a story. I usually fell asleep, but sometimes I would wake up and immediately put my glasses on to check that I could still see everything. I sometimes had trouble finding them, as I couldn’t even see the edge of the table next to the bed. I would usually feel for the edge of the table and then feel all over the table to find my glasses. At first, I had trouble cleaning my glasses, as I just couldn’t see them well enough when I didn’t have them on. I had to get very close to them to see them. My mother or brother usually cleaned them for me in the morning.

It seemed that I often went to the white building that my mother called the Eye Clinic. The Dr had me look at different animals and would ask me what they were doing and how many legs they had or how many eyes, ears and so on, while looking into a machine that the Dr would work on. At first, the animals were blurred, but eventually I could see them clearly. They also used other instruments, with bright lights, to look into my eyes. They had me look up, down, to the left, to the right, and all around, while looking into my eyes. I often got new glasses after such visits. I always liked getting new glasses, as they were different and I could always see so much better. Everyone said that I was doing very well and growing fast.

Now, the following is what I remember. On my 4th birthday, I could not see the candles on my cake very well and had trouble counting them unless I got very close. So, off I went to the big white Clinic building. By this time, I had learned my letters and numbers and now they had me look at letters and numbers when I went to see the Dr. I was prescribed new glasses. I overheard my mother tell my father that the prescription for my left eye was as strong as her glasses and the lens for my right eye was quite a bit stronger than hers. I also heard my mother say that the Dr said that I was quite blind without my glasses. But, I already knew that. I heard my aunt comment how thick the lenses were for such a young, little girl. This didn’t really bother me much, as all I knew was that I desperately needed my glasses to see.

I enjoyed drawing and coloring. Often I had to get very close to books and papers to see things, even wearing my glasses. I would put my face very close to the paper when I wrote letters and numbers and drew pictures. The Drs said that was OK. They should let me do whatever I needed to see. My eyes were changing so fast that even having new glasses, I had to squint my eyes behind the thick lenses to see things in the distance, after a few weeks. Jimmy was a big help to me, and when he was with me, he always took my hand when I went down steps and when we walked together. He would tell me where things were if I couldn’t see them. So, growing up in my home was not too difficult as long as I had my glasses. I didn’t like going to see the doctors all of the time, as it took up time and they always took my glasses away from me and sometimes left them off of me for what seemed like a long time, as they ran different tests on my eyes. But, they also were very nice to me and said I was their special patient and would give me some candy.

Just before I started school, I had to get another new pair of glasses. I think it was the 10th pair that I had. Again the lenses were strengthened and the prescription was; RE, –16.25D, –2.00D × 180; LE –13.00D & –2.00D × 120, and this time they also gave me a bifocal of +3.25D add for my RE, so I could read, write, and draw more easily. When I got them, I could see so much better than I could with my old pair and looking at books through the bottom part of the lenses, I could see the letters and numbers and pictures very clearly and everything was so sharp, both far and near. I did notice that I couldn’t see small things in the distance, as well as I could the last time I got new glasses. They also gave me special glasses for reading, writing, drawing, and looking at small things up-close. They had a prescription of –13.00D with my astigmatism correction for both eyes. When I got home, I went to my room and took my new glasses off and put my old pair on, to look at the new ones. The lenses did seem pretty thick, as I touched them and felt along the edges. This was the first time that I realized how thick my glasses really were. I put them on and forgot about how thick they were, as I could now see better again, both far and close-up.

My mother took me to school the day before it started, so she could meet my teacher and explain that I was very nearsighted and had to wear very strong glasses all of the time to see and that she wanted me to sit in the front row so I could see things well. She also said that I would always have a spare pair of glasses with me in case something happened to my glasses, as I was functionally blind without them.

In school, I always had to get closer to things to see them really well, as my eyes seemed to be always getting worse. I was having trouble seeing detail when I was not close enough. I always put my face and glasses close to my books and papers. One time, I had my glasses almost touching the paper that I was writing on. The teacher asked me if I had to get so close and I said, “yes”. I was the only one in my class that wore glasses and I heard the teacher say to another teacher that my glasses were the strongest and thickest she had ever seen on such a young child. Because of my glasses and poor eyesight, I was treated special. But, I didn’t develop any close friends. I was always picked last to play games. But, this didn’t really bother me much. Jimmy always walked me to and from school and treated me special.

The next year we moved and Jimmy and I went to a new and bigger school. There were two classes for each grade. At this school, there was another girl in my grade that wore glasses. We became friends almost immediately. She wanted to know how strong my glasses were, so we exchanged our glasses. Her glasses must have been pretty strong but not as strong as mine were. I could see a little with hers and likewise she could see a little with mine, primarily through the bifocal. Some of the girls and boys called us the “four-eyed twins” and one girl said that we wore “coke-bottle glasses”. I didn’t know what that meant, and my friend didn’t like it very much, but I didn’t let it bother me.

Each year before school started, I had to get new glasses. When I was 8 and going into the 3rd grade, my prescription had increased to LE –15.00D & –2.50D × 130 and RE, –18.00D, & –2.50D × 170; and they gave me trifocals with +2.00D and +4.00D adds, as I was again struggling to see small things up close and also things that were a few feet from me. I always liked it when I got new glasses, as I would also get new frames that I would pick out, with the help of my mother and Jimmy, and I could always see so much better, even though my initial corrected visual acuity had now dropped to 20/40 for my LE and 20/60 for my RE. My eyesight was so poor that I very little peripheral vision or depth perception and sometimes I did not see things around me too well. I always put my hand on the rail when going down stairs, as I couldn’t see the edge of the steps very well. More and more, I had to get close to really see things. At school, I was terrible when we had to do physical education. I could do the exercises OK, but when the girls played soft-ball or kick-ball, I just couldn’t see the ball well enough to hit it, so I always struck out. I could kick the kick-ball pretty well, as it was much bigger than the soft ball, but I could not catch it, because of my lack of depth perception and hand to eye coordination. When we played soccer or basketball, I was always afraid of loosing my glasses or having them hit. One time when I was playing soccer, my glasses got bumped and came off. I was immediately blind and became frightened and couldn’t even see where to go to get out of the way. They stopped the game and got my glasses for me. When I put them on, I couldn’t see very well all day, as they were out of line on my face and everything was very distorted. I used my back-up pair and my mother took me to have my regular pair adjusted. After that I didn’t play in the ball games very often.

It was also about this time that my Drs told my parents that I needed a physical activity that I could do and enjoy, as I was becoming a ‘book-worm’ and seemed to have my nose in a book all of the time. They recommended that I take swimming lessons, as swimming didn’t require as good eyesight, as did the ball sports. So, my mother arranged that I go to the YWCA for swimming lessons. The first day when I arrived and put on my swimming suit and went to the pool, they told me I had to take my glasses off. I said, “no, I cannot see anything without them”. They said that I couldn’t go into the pool with glasses. So, I went to the locker room and took my suit off and called my mother to come and get me. When she came, I was crying, as I felt terrible that I could not even learn to swim. She was furious with the “Y” people and said, “Couldn’t you see that the child wore very strong glasses and was probably blind without them?” They said that they had their rules and could not let anyone wearing glasses into the pool. A friend of my father’s knew of a private pool that gave lessons and I could probably wear my glasses there. So, my mother called them and they said, “yes, I could wear my glasses, if they were strapped on”. So, I did get to take swimming lessons and I eventually developed into being a good swimmer and I then got prescription-swimming goggles. They also gave me music lessons and I learned to play the piano and the flute. From about 4 years of age, I was drawing pictures. My parents gave me art lessons when I was in the 5th grade. I really liked this and I learned to use different kinds of media, but painting was my favorite. Because I was quiet and maybe a little shy and self-conscience about having to wear such coke-bottle glasses, I didn’t have many friends. So, I immersed myself in reading, drawing, painting, swimming, and music. Jimmy was often there to help me, if I needed it.

When I started Junior High School (12 years of age, 7th grade), I had to have my usual increase in my prescription. My prescription was now extremely strong: RE, –20.00D & –2.50D × 180; LE –17.00D & –2.50D × 120 with +2.00D & +4.00D bifocal adds. My corrected visual acuity remained about the same. I now had to hold things about 2 inches (5 cm) from my bifocals to read and sometimes even closer. This time, they also gave me two kinds of glasses. The first pair had regular plastic lenses that had trifocals and were relatively small in size, but very thick, LE, 3/4th of an inch (19 mm) and RE, 1 inch (25 mm). These were really “coke-bottle” glasses with biconcave lenses and a lot of power rings and reflections with trifocals. My eyes looked very tiny and practically invisible behind the strong lenses that had very high reflections from their front surfaces. The second pair had different kinds of lenses that they called myodiscs. The Rx in these glasses was –17.00 D for both eyes. These weren’t nearly as thick, only about 10 mm, but I thought they looked funny, as they seemed to be two lenses, one set into another, with the outside lens magnifying things and the inside lens minifying things. I was told to use the myodisc glasses as often as possible, to get used to them, as my next pair would probably be only with myodisc lenses. I had to get used to wearing the myodiscs, as you had to look through the center of the viewing lens and you had to turn your head to the right or left to see, rather than turning your eyes, as the field was much smaller. If you turned your eyes too far and hit the edge of the viewing lens, everything just disappeared. Further, they did not put bifocal or trifocal adds in the lenses as they were too difficult to make and use. They gave me what they called “monovision” glasses in which one eye was corrected for distance (LE) and the other eye (RE) for close-up. So, I had to learn to use one eye for distance and the other eye for close-up. I learned quickly how to use them, as I couldn’t see close-up with my LE and I couldn’t see in the distance with my RE. The distance CVA (corrected visual acuity) for my LE was 20/40 & RE was 20/200.

I went to school the first day, wearing the myodisc glasses, as I was told to do, I had my other pair with the regular trifocal lenses with me, as my back-up pair. When I entered the schoolyard, someone came from behind me and pulled my glasses from my face. I was shocked, as everything immediately was a complete blur. I didn’t even see who had pulled them off of me. I stopped and started to cry a little. Then I remembered that I had my back-up pair and got them out and put them on. Now, I was angry, and even though I was shy, I had a little temper that I had inherited from my mother. I looked all around, but I didn’t see my myodisc glasses. As the school bell rang, a boy came to me with my myodisc glasses and gave them back to me. He apologized and said that some of the boys had dared him to take them off of me and he just wondered what it would be like to look through them. I said, “Well, what did it look like?” He said that he couldn’t see anything through them and wondered how I could see through such strong glasses. I told him patiently that I was extremely nearsighted and I could see pretty well though them. He said, “Well, yes, I guess so”, as the last bell rang and we entered our classroom and I put on my myodisc glasses. After that, he was always very nice to me and we became friends. He even invited me to go to a movie with him, and I accepted.

When I was 13, the strength of my glasses was such that I now absolutely had to have myodisc lenses. I decided to try contacts. From the start, I had a lot of trouble with them. Without my glasses on, I couldn’t see the contacts or my eyes in the mirror to insert them. I always had to have help inserting them. At first, I tried to wear them just in the morning. I could see pretty well for about 2 hours and then blurring would set in, and I had to remove them. I never really got to the point of wearing them a whole school day (6 hrs). The Drs thought that I was probably allergic to something in the contacts. So, they tried another type. These were worse. They hurt almost as soon as they were inserted and my eyes would water and itch and I had to remove them after only 2 hrs. Another thing happened. One or both of the lenses would all of a sudden pop off. Because I was so nearsighted, I almost always lost them and they were pretty expensive. It seemed that my wearing of contacts was quite unsuccessful and I decided against trying to wear them, as I couldn’t really see very well with them for any length of time and they were painful and just a big bother. So, it was back to the myodisc glasses.

Another incident occurred the next year in my first year in high school that really upset me. I was considered quite intelligent, as I had a big vocabulary, was good in math, and did really well at most everything except physical education. In study hall one day, one of the boys said to another one, “Why don’t you ask Jenny?” The other one said loud enough that I could hear, “You mean that girl with those very thick, ugly glasses? Naw, she can’t see past her nose, even wearing her glasses, she wouldn’t know”. Well, I was just starting to become aware of my body and the importance of looking nice and being feminine. His comment hurt me and I left the study hall and cried a bit. I decided that after school, I would take my glasses off and walk home not wearing them, if they were so ugly. As I was leaving the school, one of my girl friends joined me, I took my glasses off and of course everything disappeared. It was the first time that I had been deliberately without my glasses, since I had started to wear them some 13 years before. It was really very difficult, but I was also somewhat stubborn and continued on. My girl friend, who also wore glasses, looked at me and asked where my glasses were, as she knew I was blind without them. I just shrugged, as tears came to my eyes. When we came to an intersection, my friend stopped me and took my hand as the light changed and we crossed the street. She helped me all the way home. When I got home, my mother immediately asked me where my glasses were and how I managed to get home without them. I started to cry and told her the whole story. She put her arms around me and held me tight until I stopped crying. She said, “Jenny, don’t let small minds upset you. You know that you have to wear your glasses to see and that you tried contacts and can’t wear them. You will have to wear glasses all of your life, if you want to see, and you know how terrible it is not to see. Just be thankful that you can see with glasses, and accept that you will have to wear them. You can do many things if you wear your glasses and don’t let stupid comments by stupid people upset you. You are a pretty girl and you can always be attractive, even wearing your strong myodisc glasses, if you are clean, keep your hair and skin nice, wear nice clothes and have excellent health by not smoking, not drinking very much, and not doing any drugs. Someone, maybe many, will see that you are a beautiful young lady, even if you have to wear really strong, thick, funny-looking glasses”. This little speech by my mother was an important turning point in my life and I really never again was ashamed that I had to wear coke-bottle glasses to see. Oh, I heard comments like, “She would be very pretty, if she didn’t have to wear those glasses!” “Can she see anything with those glasses?” “She must be blind. Have you noticed that she holds everything right up to those thick glasses to see?”

But, I did make more friends in high school, as I got involved in many activities and as before really forgot about having to wear were strong, thick glasses. I made the swimming team in my Freshman year and placed first in several of my events and there were stories about me in the newspaper. I was on the swimming team for all four years. In my Senior year, I placed first in the 200m & 400m free-style in the State Tournament, and I also swam on the 400m relay team. I played the flute in the Marching Band and cello in the Orchestra. I was in the Art Club and I worked on the school newspaper. Several boys asked me out on dates and they always treated me very well and I had a good time on every date. They knew that I had to wear my coke-bottle glasses to see and they just accepted it. Actually, several people told me that I was very attractive, even wearing my coke-bottle glasses. I had long, soft blond hair, very deep blue eyes, when they could see them, and very fair skin that usually had a nice pink color. I was 5 ft 6 inches (168 cm) tall, with a nice figure and several boys said, sexy legs.

At the beginning of my junior year, I was asked out by a boy that also was very nearsighted and had to wear strong glasses with thick lenses. His glasses were about half the strength of mine, –10.50D and –12.50D, with some astigmatism (–1.50D RE & –2.00D LE), but he too was blind without them and also couldn’t wear contacts. In many respects, we were kindred spirits. He was a top student and also did sports and was in the Band and Orchestra. He played soccer and ice hockey, and threw the javelin on the track team, and played drums in the Marching Band and Orchestra. He was always very kind and gentle with me and because he also had to wear strong glasses to see, he understood and especially sympathized with my need to wear my strong, thick glasses. On our second date, he took me on a Halloween-hayrack ride and cookout with 5 other couples. Everyone was kissing, so I took my glasses off for a while, and then he kissed me several times. After a while, I put my glasses back on, so I could see him, and we continued to kiss and neck. He was very good at it and made me feel very good and wanted. After this date, we became ‘steadies’ and had many dates. He would come to watch me swim and I went to all of the soccer and hockey games and track meets. When we graduated, we both received scholastic awards and sports awards, mine of course in swimming, and his in ice hockey, as he was the leading scorer.

Like Jimmy and Nancy, we both went to the local university. I studied English and journalism and Bill, my steady boy friend, studied physics. My myopia continued to progress, even when I reached 20 years of age, so my glasses continued to get stronger and stronger, and my corrected visual acuity dropped to 20/80 for my LE and much worse (20/250) for my RE, because of the monovision myodisc glasses that I had to wear. I did have glasses with my full distance correction, and with them my RE had a –30.00D lens, along with my astigmatism correction of –3.00D. This correction for my RE also gave me better acuity of 20/100, but I couldn’t see anything up-close very well and I had to use my magnifying glass for my left eye to read and see small things. I only would put these glasses on to watch a movie or a sports event and sometimes when riding in the car. I sometimes would take my glasses off to rest my eyes and I would then go into my own little world for a while, and could not see anything, except blurred colors and vague shapes. I actually sometimes liked to dance without my glasses, even though I was blind. I would listen to the rhythm of the music and let my boy friend lead me. He always held me close, so I felt secure.

As I mentioned, my Drs had given me monovision myodisc glasses when I started high school, as I couldn’t focus on small, close things with my very high myopic correction and before the myodiscs, I had trifocals. My stronger LE was corrected for distance and my weak RE was corrected for reading and close things. I could not read with my LE wearing my glasses, as the correction was too strong, and everything was very minified and blurred, and to read with my RE, I often had to hold it almost right up to the lens because of the small print and the minification caused by the myopic correction. I always sat in the front in class, and when I was at university, I used a small telescope that I held up to my left lens to see the board and professor better. I could just barely see to write my notes with my RE. For extensive reading and using the computer, the Drs prescribed clip-on magnifying glasses that really helped me a lot to read and study, as things were magnified and were not so minified, as it was with the close myodisc lens. They also prescribed a single magnifying clip-on for my RE to help me to write my notes. Without them, I don’t think I would have been successful in college. The last couple of years in college, my myopia seemed to slow down somewhat and I only needed small changes in my prescription. I hoped that my eyes would stop getting more nearsighted. But, my eyesight now was quite poor, even with –25.00D and –28.00D lenses with –3.50D astigmatism correction for both eyes. My corrected visual acuity was LE 20/100, RE 20/250. I used my right eye mostly for seeing things up close and somewhat for intermediate distances, but I couldn’t see much of anything clearly more than 10 ft with it. My Drs prescribed telescopic glasses to help me see things in the distance better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t walk around with them on, as the field of vision was too small, but I used them at movies, plays, sport events, watching television, and sometimes when riding in the car. I also used the little telescope that I always carried with me to see things in the distance better when I needed to. I would put it up to my left lens so I could see street signs and bus numbers and anything else that I had trouble seeing with my glasses. I couldn’t see peoples’ faces very well and couldn’t easily recognize them until they were about three feet from me. To see them really well, I had to get about a foot away. Fortunately, by using the clip-on magnifying glasses, I could see well enough to read quite easily. In high school, I had started to carry a small magnifying glass with me, all of the time, to see small things such as things in laboratory classes and labels on things at the store, prices, etc. Otherwise, to see small things, I had to hold them right up against the right lens of my glasses to read and see detail and even then, I sometimes had trouble seeing them. So, I was pretty visually handicapped.

After we graduated from university, I got a job working as a copy editor and sometimes writer for a small newspaper, and then after about a year, Bill and I got married. Bill’s eyes also got worse since our first date, but his glasses are nothing like mine and he doesn’t have to wear glasses with myodisc lenses. He wears rather thick (15 mm) trifocal glasses with –15.00D & -17.50D Rx and -1.75D astigmatism correction. I worked full time, until I had my first child. I am now trying to write fiction and get things published. I swim twice a week to stay in shape and still paint when I have time. We have a boy, 5 years old, and a girl, 7 years old, and yes, they both have to wear strong glasses. Lisa’s eyes are about as bad as mine were at 7 years and she has to wear thick bifocals, like I did, and will probably have to have trifocals soon and then probably myodiscs and magnifying clip-ons, as she also has galloping myopia. Jimmy’s eyes aren’t as bad, but he still has to wear quite strong glasses (-7.00D for both eyes) and can’t see much of anything without them and probably will be getting bifocals next year when he starts school and he also seems to have increasing myopia and has needed new glasses every year. I have started to teach both children how to swim. A friend picks us up, as of course, I cannot drive, and she takes us to the pool where I first learned to swim.

Even with our severe nearsightedness, all of us are quite happy and very healthly and well adjusted, because we know that we must wear our very strong glasses, with very thick, high-minus lenses to be able to see. I will help our children when and if they have any problems from other kids and/or adults about having to wear such strong glasses, with very thick lenses to see and hope that they adjust to any problems that they might have in or out of school. So far, neither Lisa or Jimmy have indicated that they have had any teasing and do not really think much about wearing their glasses, except to realize that they must have them on to be able to see. Maybe one of them or both of them will be able to wear contacts, at least some of the time.

Story by Aliena, April 2003