Mountains Of Myopia
There is a mountainous area of the Appalachians that has remained largely undeveloped and unspoiled by the progress of modern day man. This is the part of the country that I called home. We do not have many visitors, but when someone does come to visit this area they are astounded by how simplistic and backward life is here. Most of the homes in the region didnít even have power until the mid to late 60ís, and there are, even now, one or two homes that do not have hot and cold running water. By the early 70ís, when I was in grade school, there were still a large number of outhouses in everyday use.
Access to the outside world was still mostly by unpaved roads that were next to impassible in the wet seasons of the spring and fall. Because of this, and because all of the automobiles in the area were old rattletraps, most of the residents had never left the area to visit other parts of the country. What we didnít know really didnít hurt us, and we grew up very self sufficient and independent. There were approximately 80 kids in my school. The school consisted of 2 rooms. One room was for grades 1 through 4 and the other room was for grade 5 through 8. There was no grade 9 or above. If anyone had the grades to go on in school they had to go to live with relatives in one of the larger towns in the area. As a result, very few kids got more than a grade 8 education.
Also, there was a lot of ďalmostĒ inbreeding in the region. Donít get me wrong, because first cousins didnít marry, but there were lots of third and fourth cousins that did. I donít know if this was the reason for it, but something eventually caused pretty well all of the women in the region to be nearsighted. And, maybe the marriage thing didnít have anything to do with it at all. It is entirely possible that the ladies and the young girls became nearsighted because they did so much needlepoint and other close work in the evenings by the light of a coal oil lamp. All I know was that by the third grade, virtually all of the girls had to sit right up in the front rows in order to be able to make out anything that the teacher wrote on the chalkboard.
It was just an accepted fact that the women didnít see too good. There was no money to buy any of them glasses, nor was there any good, easy way for anyone to get to the city to have their eyes tested. I often remember my own mother struggling to see across the yard to try to differentiate between myself and my sister. Or maybe she was just struggling to see to make sure there were two of us there playing.
Bonnie Jenkins was the first girl I knew who actually wore glasses. Bonnie had gone away to high school, and then went on to become a school teacher. Her paw was sickly, and Bonnie came home to help out her mother, and to teach in the local school. She taught me in grade 6, grade 7 and grade 8, and I loved to look at her eyes, so tiny and clear behind the strong lenses of her glasses. By the time I was in grade 8 I could tell that Bonnie couldnít see very well anymore, even with her glasses on. She could no longer tell which one of us was acting up in the back rows of the classroom, and I supposed that she probably needed thicker glasses.
My sister Caroline was 2 years younger than I was, and she was in grade 6. Caroline was in a bad way. She had really bad eyes, because she had to bring her book to within about 3 inches from the end of her nose to be able to read anything. Her girlfriend Angela was even worse off. Angela couldnít see anything, even up close. Angela had to close one eye, and bring her book almost to the tip of her nose to see. But neither Angelaís parents, nor my parents had any extra money to take the girls to the city to get them glasses, even if they needed them a lot worse than any of the other girls.
Unbeknown to anyone in the town, Bonnie Jenkins had written to some people on the outside to see about getting an eye doctor to come to our town. As a result of her letter writing, one day a panel truck came into town. No, there wasnít an eye doctor that came along with the van, however a public service nurse had brought along a large collection of glasses from some club that collected old glasses and distributed them to people, mostly in third world countries that needed glasses badly.
By the end of the day almost all the girls and ladies who needed glasses had a pair of glasses that enabled them to see a lot better. There was one pair that Angela figured would work pretty well for her. But, this pair was also the same pair that seemed to work the best for my sister Caroline. I knew that these glasses were too strong for Caroline, because I could see her eyes struggle to focus when she put them on, but after a few minutes of wearing them her eyes seemed to adjust, and she could see quite well with them. There were still a couple of pairs of the other glasses left that Caroline had passed over because they were not quite strong enough for her, and just as Caroline was going to give up and let Angela take the stronger pair, the nurse dug up a pair of heavy black framed manís glasses that seemed to have very thick lenses. She gave them to Angela, who put them on. Even though it was a manís frame, the heavy black frame didnít look too bad on Angela, but I could see her eyes struggle a lot to be able to see through the lenses. I was a little surprised when Angela proclaimed that she could see fairly well with them. So, Caroline got the other glasses back, and after having had a few minutes experience of being able to see, she was glad to be able to see again.
I liked the looks of Angela in her thick lensed manís heavy black framed glasses. So I started watching her more and more. For the first little while after she got the glasses she wore them pulled away from her nose a bit. But the longer she wore them the closer she began to wear them to the bridge of her nose. Angela was also starting to develop into a woman. Her breasts were much bigger than my sisters, and she was filling out nicely in her legs and rear end. She had been very cute as a child, and now she was looking very pretty as a woman. So, when Angela was almost 14, and I was 15, we started to go steady.
By the time I turned 16, I knew I didnít want to go on in school. I had 2 choices. I could work at the sawmill, or I could go down underground into the coal mines. My dad, and Angelaís dad were miners, and they both pushed me to go to the sawmill, so I did. I enjoyed my work, and it was a much cleaner job than it would have been working in the coal mine.
Caroline and Angela finished their grade 8. Caroline was going to go on to high school, and she would be living in the city with one of my dadís sisters, who had moved away a few years ago. But Angela couldnít go on in school, as she had no one to live with, and her parents didnít have any money to pay her board in the city. So, even though she was only 15, her parents gave their permission, and we were married.
By the time she was 16, Angela was 6 months pregnant. She was still wearing the black framed manís glasses that she had gotten back when she was 13, and I could tell that they were much too weak for her now. She was always pushing them tight to the bridge of her nose, and scrunching up her eyes every time she tried to see anything more than a few feet away from her. The town doctor was very worried about Angelaís pregnancy, as the baby was apparently facing the wrong way, so he decided that we were going to have to take the train into the city, and go to a hospital there that could deliver the baby properly.
It was a couple of days before the baby was due when Angela and I headed into the city by train. We stayed the first night at my auntís place. The next day I was determined to buy Angela a new pair of glasses, so we hunted around for an eye doctor that would examine her eyes immediately. We were fortunate, as we contacted the doctor that had examined my sisterís eyes after she came to the city, and he managed to fit Angela in between appointments. He was quite surprised that Angela was as myopic as she was, and he was even more surprised to find out that she had never had a proper eye examination.
I knew very little about myopia, but I managed to find out from the doctor that the glasses that Angela had worn for the past 3 years had a prescription of -14D. Now Angela needed a new prescription of -18D, an increase of -4D. The doctor understood our position, and he knew that it might be a number of years before Angela was able to return for another examination. So, he suggested that we might want to consider getting Angela a little stronger prescription than she actually needed. He convinced us to order new glasses for Angela that had a prescription of -19D. He explained that since Angela was quite young her accommodation would enable her to easily adapt to the slight over correction and he hoped that by doing this she could go another 3 years before she needed even stronger lenses. However, he did caution us that Angela was at the age where her eyesight might get even worse very quickly. He explained that this is what had happened to my sister Caroline, who had come to him wearing glasses with a -10D correction. She had needed an immediate increase to -12D and then, just a few weeks ago, which was less than a year later had required a further increase to -15D, which she was now wearing. So, following his advice, we picked out a new frame for Angela, and ordered her a pair of plastic lenses that were supposed to be a lot lighter than the glass lenses she had been accustomed to.
That evening her water broke and I took Angela to the hospital. The doctor decided that he would operate and deliver the baby the first thing the following morning, so I returned to my auntís house for the night. The next morning I was at the hospital very early, and I sat with Angela until they took her away. Within an hour she had delivered a healthy baby boy, and after she came out from the anesthetic we decided we would call him Clay, after her dad.
Angela had to stay in the hospital for a little over a week. The last day she was there I went by the opticianís and found that Angelaís new glasses had just come in. So, when I picked Angela and Clay up at the hospital we also went by and got her new glasses. They were really thick. The fronts of the lenses were dished in quite a bit, and the lenses were so thick they barely cleared the arms when they closed. But Angela was delighted that they were so light, and was thrilled at how well she could see everything. After she was released we returned to the opticians where her glasses were adjusted to fit her properly, and we went back to my auntís house to spend the night.
The following day we took the train back home. We had not seen my sister Caroline, because she had returned to our town for her summer vacation the same day that Angela and I had taken the train to the city. So I was looking forward to showing Clay off to my parents and my sister when we arrived. I was also looking forward to seeing Caroline in her new, stronger glasses.
I was not disappointed. Caroline came to the door to greet us, and I could tell that her glasses were very similar to Angelaís. They didnít appear to be dished in quite as deeply at the front, but they did appear to be almost as thick at the outer edges. Angelaís glasses shrank her face in a little bit more than Carolineís did, but all the same I loved looking at both my sister and my wife.
After we got settled into a routine I found that I was enjoying being a family man. The baby didnít bother me at all, and I loved coming home to my wife. We were not allowed to make love for a couple of months after the birth of Clay, as Angela had to heal first. But as soon as the doctor told her that it was all right we began our lovemaking again. I had often suggested that Angela could leave her glasses on while we made love, but before she had always taken them off. But now she asked me if I minded if she left them on. I told her I loved her, and it didnít matter to me if she wore her glasses or not, so we began making love with her wearing her glasses. I did ask her why she wanted to leave them on now, when she hadnít before, and she told me that she just didnít like to take them off. Apparently she felt a little dizzy every time she put them back on now. I wasnít sure, but I attributed this to the fact that the front of the lenses were so dished in.
By now the ladies and girls from the town had become so accustomed to wearing the glasses that they had gotten a few years before that many of them were now going to the city to get eye examinations and new glasses. I saw Bonnie Jenkins wearing new glasses one day, and I just assumed that she had gone to the city, but when I mentioned it to Angela she told me that my sister Caroline had given Bonnie her glasses that she had only worn for a few months before she got her newest pair. I liked the looks of Bonnie wearing these glasses, but I didnít like her looks as much as I liked the looks of my own wife.
Clay was 23 months old when Angela became pregnant again. Because of the potential for complications, the doctor decided that Angela should go back to the hospital again. We had been discussing taking another trip to the city to have her eyes examined again, because we could both tell that she wasnít seeing very well again, but once we found that she was pregnant we decided that we would save the money and would get her a new pair of glasses when we went there to have the baby. The state had recently paved the road from the town to the main highway, and I had purchased an older car that I spent a lot of time fixing it up so that it was in good condition. I had been driving a logging truck for the sawmill, so I had my driverís license, but when we took Angela in to see if she could get hers as well, she had failed the eye examination miserably. It wasnít a real problem if Angela couldnít drive, but she had been looking forward to the independence that driving would give her. So, Angela was hoping that when she got her new, stronger glasses that she would be able to pass the eye exam for her license.
This time I drove to the city. Traffic was crazy, and it was very hectic driving a car there, as all I had been used to was the leisurely pace of traffic around home. I almost wished we had chosen to take the train however I managed to get us there safely. We went to my auntís house again, and the following day we had an appointment with the same eye doctor that we had gone to before. I had wisely made the appointment a couple of months ago from home, and this time the doctor had enough time to do a thorough examination of Angelaís eyes.
Fortunately there was nothing wrong with the workings of her eyes. She was just extremely nearsighted, and had gained another -2.50D of myopia over the past 3 years. Her glasses prescription was going to now be -21.50D, and the doctor suggested that he could fit Angela with a pair of the newest type of soft contact lenses that had come on the market. They were not powerful enough to give Angela her full correction, but would give her about 80% of her required correction. Then her glasses would not have to be quite as strong. But Angela decided that since she was going to have to wear glasses anyway, she might as well not bother with the contact lens part of it. So, we ordered her a new pair of glasses with the new -21.50D lenses, which apparently were designed in such a way that the lens portion was now a small circle right in front of Angelaís eye. The doctor had a sample of this type of lens which he called a myodisc lens. He explained that these lenses were designed for people like Angela who were among a small percentage of the population that were very highly myopic. I could see what he meant because there was no way the little circle would extend to the sides of the lens, and if it did the lens would have to be as thick as half the diameter of the circle. In the case of the sample lens that the doctor showed us, this would have meant that the lens would have been over an inch thick, and there still would have been a circle in the lens.
The next couple of days, until Angela had her appointment at the hospital, went fairly slowly. Clay had been left at home with my mom, and Angela missed him terribly. She felt that her vision was so crappy that it would be a waste of money going to a movie, so we just hung around my auntís house. Fortunately Caroline was still there, as she was now attending teacherís college, and she took some time from her studies to spend it with Angela. Caroline had gotten another pair of new glasses a few months earlier, and her latest prescription was now -17.50D. She had chosen a frame that had a fairly small eye size, and her new lenses had gone back to the old flat front style. But the edges of her lenses had an area that was flat that was about a quarter of an inch wide at the outer edge of the frame. Her glasses were very thick and were a little less than an inch at the thickest point.
This time Angela gave birth to a baby girl, who we named Laura. Angela couldnít wait to get home, so when she and Laura were released from the hospital we headed home before her new glasses were ready. It took a couple of weeks before a package arrived from her optician, and again Angela was thrilled to be able to see properly again.
Angela was now almost 19 years old. The doctor had told her that her prescription could keep getting stronger for a few more years. He also told her that sometimes very nearsighted women end up requiring stronger prescriptions when they get pregnant. Angela told him that she really needed new glasses before she became pregnant with Laura, but he still suggested that maybe some of her increase had occurred after she became pregnant. We were a little worried about this, as we had figured on having a family of four children. But we didnít want Angelaís eyes to get any worse, so after a lot of discussion Angela and I decided that we would be happy with having just two, if it meant that Angelaís eyes wouldnít get any worse.
A couple more years passed. Clay was now 5, and I was sure that he wasnít seeing things in the distance very well. He couldnít make out the different animals in the woods, nor could he see a fish jump on the lake when I tried to take him fishing. As far as outdoor activities went, Clay would rather stay home with his mom and his little sister. But he sure did love to read, and he always had his nose buried in a book from the library. He was no longer reading books for little kids, but was now reading stuff for boys almost twice his age. Angela and I discussed Clayís apparent poor eyesight, and we decided that, even though no other boys in our community wore glasses, maybe we should have Clayís eyes tested. So we were going to make an appointment for Clay, but then Angela decided that everyone should have their eyes examined and we ended up with eye appointments for the whole family.
We drove to the city early that morning. One of us had to sit with the kids while the other had their appointment, so Angela decided that I would go first, and she would go last. The doctor examined my eyes and told me that everything was fine. But he did suggest that I might need reading glasses a little earlier than some people. Then Clay went in for his exam, and I stayed with him. It wasnít any big surprise when the doctor pronounced Clay to be very nearsighted. His prescription was going to be -8.50D in one eye and -8.75D in the other. While Laura and Angela were in the doctorís office Clay and I looked over the frame selection for boys at the doctorís office. We found a frame that actually looked quite nice on him, so we ordered his glasses.
Angela came out with Laura, and told me that Laura needed glasses as well. She left Laura with me, and went back in for her own examination. When she came out she was holding 2 slips of paper.
ďI think we could have had another couple of kids Carl. My eyes got worse again even though I wasnít pregnant.Ē Angela said.
ďHow much worse did they get?Ē I asked.
ďI was -21.50D and now I have to be -23.00D. But Laura has really bad eyes too. She needs -12.00D for her glasses.Ē Angela replied.
The numbers didnít mean very much to me until I did some thinking. I remembered that my sister Caroline had a prescription of -10D for her first pair of glasses, and then I remembered that Angela had -14D. Now I realized that Laura had a prescription right between them for her first prescription, and Laura was only 2 years old. Her eyes must be really bad. And then I realized that Clay was almost a -9D, so obviously his eyes were not very good either. There were no other boys in town that wore glasses, and this meant that Clay was going to have to endure a lot of teasing from the other boys. I suddenly felt badly for my son.
We ordered new glasses for Laura and Angela, and we drove back to town, arriving home late that evening. I had been pretty silent during the trip, and Angela had noticed.
ďAre you sorry that you married a girl with such bad eyes that she passed her poor vision on to our children?Ē Angela asked as we lay in bed together.
ďYou have been reading my mind girl. I love you so very much, but I do wish the kids had better eyesight.Ē I replied.
ďI do too Carl. I didnít do anything to cause myself to have such bad eyes, and I guess I knew it would be passed on to Laura, because most of the ladies in this town have passed on their bad eyes to their daughters. But I didnít think it would affect Clay. Nor did I realize that there was any possibility that their eyes would start out being this bad. I guess it is a good thing that we didnít have any more children.Ē Angela replied as she snuggled up beside me.
ďI have been thinking about that Angela. If we do have a couple more kids, we will be doing so knowing that they will likely have very bad eyes also. Would that bother you?í I asked.
ďI could probably live with it, but what about you?Ē Angela asked.
ďIt wouldnít be a problem for me. However we donít know what effect another pregnancy might have on your eyesight. How do you feel about possibly needing even stronger glasses?Ē I asked.
ďMy eyesight isnít much good now. I canít see where it would be a problem if my glasses needed to be stronger.Ē Angela said.
So, with the full knowledge that further children would likely be very nearsighted Angela and I started the process of creating more children. If I told you this was a chore, I would be telling a lie, because I loved making love to Angela. It didnít take long before Angela was pregnant again. Fortunately this time during her pregnancy she didnít seem to be having any problems seeing things. And, once the baby had gone to full term, our local doctor had told us that a trip to the hospital would not be necessary this time. It seemed that the baby was in the correct position to just pop right out.
And that is exactly what he did. The midwife came as soon as I called, but I was worried that I might have to deliver the baby. She got there just in time to assist Angela in delivering our new son, Zachariah. Zach was a much cheaper baby than the first 2 had been, as now I didnít have all those hospital bills to pay. It had taken me a couple of years after the birth of Clay to make the payments, and then I had to pay another 2 years of payments for Laura. I am not even suggesting that they were not worth the money, as they were wonderful children, and I loved them with all my heart.
Clay was now 7, and Laura was going to be 4 at her next birthday. I was so used to seeing my kids wearing their glasses that I didnít even notice them anymore. And once Clay got his glasses he became more of an outdoor person. I taught him how to load, clean, and fire a rifle and a shotgun, and he would accompany me on weekend hunting trips. Sure, he still read a lot, but now that he could see he enjoyed being outdoors. He made the ball team, and with a strap holding his glasses on he was also doing pretty good at track and field. The fact that he wore fairly strong glasses didnít seem to bother his friends, and I think that this might have been because they were all used to seeing their motherís and sisterís wearing glasses. Possibly there might have been a fight involved as well in the beginning, but I have never discussed this with Clay.
Caroline had returned to town, and she and Bonnie Jenkins were teaching together at the school. Bonnie had gotten married shortly before Clay was born, and she now had a 6 year old son named Luke. Luke had gotten glasses when he started school, so now Clay wasnít the only boy in town wearing glasses. Lukeís first pair of glasses looked almost as strong as Clayís did. Lukeís younger sister, Linda, had also gotten glasses at the same time, and her glasses looked to be pretty strong as well. Laura was in first grade, and although her glasses were stronger than any of the other girls, she was only one of many glasses wearers, as I think every girl in her class wore glasses.
Once the road had been paved into the town we had a few more people move in. Some of them were kids that had moved to the city, and had returned with their spouses. Others were retirees, who wanted a slower paced life and found it in our town. Once in a while an outsider would come to town, and open a business, so the town was growing. Caroline had not yet gotten married, which was pretty unusual for a girl in our town, but she did have a boyfriend who she went to the city to see on a regular basis. She had not told us much about Mitch, her boyfriend, other than to say that he was attending medical school. Finally she let it slip just before the wedding. Mitch had graduated as a doctor of optometry, and he was going to set up his first practice here. I wasnít convinced that he could earn a decent living in town, but Caroline convinced me that this didnít matter. Even with the influx of new residents there were only a couple of ladies who were not shortsighted, and most of the children needed better eye care. Even Bonnie needed better eye care, as she had progressed to a point where she was wearing Carolineís old -17.50D glasses. Caroline had progressed to the point where her newest glasses were somewhere around -20.00D, and were now myodiscs like Angelaís.
After the return from their honeymoon I helped Mitch set up his practice. He purchased an old store on the main street, and we renovated it completely. Then I helped him set up his equipment. He even had me build him a wall of display cases for frames, as it was his intention to supply glasses to the townsfolk as well. I wasnít as excited about helping him set up his contact lens fitting room, because I liked seeing everyone wearing glasses. Mitch didnít wear contacts, and I know his prescription was similar to Lauraís -12D, but with a bit of astigmatism. Mitch explained that women liked to be able to have a choice, and I understood that, even though I didnít like it.
Once Mitch was set up there were a lot more women wearing new glasses around town. And some of the women appeared to have much stronger prescriptions than they used to. When I asked Mitch about this he told me that a number of the ladies had never had a proper eye exam, and had just continued wearing the glasses that they got from the visiting public health care nurse years ago. In some cases the glasses had not been the correct prescription to begin with, and in others the ladies myopia had continued to climb over the years. They had chosen to accept their vision and not go to the city for new glasses, so they were glad Mitch had come to town. And now that Mitch was here I saw a few more boys wearing glasses, although none of them wore glasses as strong as Clay or Luke did. Actually Mitch had examined Lukeís eyes, and had discovered that Luke needed a pretty decent increase in his prescription, so now Luke wore much stronger glasses than Clay did. Clay had needed new glasses as well, because his old ones were pretty close to falling apart. Clay had needed an increase of about -0.50D in each eye, but Mitch explained that if he hadnít needed new frames Clay could have continued to wear his old glasses a while longer.
Laura and Angela were not as fortunate as Clay. They both required increases. Angela had gone up a diopter to -24.00D, and Laura had jumped to -14.25D. Zach at age 2 had not shown any sign of needing glasses, but I wasnít cheering yet. We hadnít noticed Clay having trouble seeing until he was around 4. Angela and I had been trying to have another child, but this time it had taken a lot more time and effort with no results yet. I wasnít complaining, because I was enjoying the extra practice I was getting. Finally, we got results. Laura wanted a sister, Angela wanted another girl, Zach didnít have any opinion, and Clay seemed pretty disinterested. I just figured that whatever happened was all right with me, but I wasnít at all disappointed when the ultrasound showed another girl.
Our town, which had been very isolated until about 10 years ago when the road was paved, had now become very up to date. We now had satellite dishes for television, and a lot of the people, myself included, had internet. It wasnít really high speed, but it was a lot faster than the original dial up I had started with a couple of years before. As a result I started to spend a lot of my spare time researching myopia. I found it hard to follow some of the lines of thought that I discovered. One school of thought was that myopia increased steadily from the time a child started to wear minus glasses. This had not been the case in our town. There had been many cases of myopia around long before anyone got glasses. Certainly there had been increases in the degree of myopia, but three of the highest myopes, Angela, Caroline and Bonnie, had all been next to blind before they ever got their first pair of glasses. Luke, Bonnieís son, had needed a pretty decent increase, but Clay had not. Angela, Caroline and Bonnie had all needed stronger and stronger glasses. Caroline and Bonnie did a lot of near point work in their job, but Angela didnít do nearly as much, and she had a stronger prescription and had had higher increases. Mitch and Caroline had a daughter who was now 3, and she wore glasses much the same as my daughter Laura had started off with. Bonnieís little girl had also worn pretty strong glasses from the age of 1. I didnít believe that any of the myopia in our town had been created by too much close work. I believed that the people here had a genetic defect that made mostly the females predisposed to being myopic. I also believed that the high myopia that we were starting to see in a number of children was just a natural progression of congenital myopia, and that even more cases of high myopia would follow as the years went on.
In this town, everywhere you looked you were surrounded by mountains. And, everywhere you looked, you were surrounded by myopia. You could almost say we had mountains of myopia.