By: Christina J. Johns

"When you reach forty," a perky little optometrist said to me a few years ago. "Your eyesight just goes to pot." She, of course, looked all of fifteen.

"I'm really glad you told me that." I wanted to say. "I'll just add it to the increasingly long list of things that weaken, sag, wrinkle and otherwise degenerate after you turn forty. It makes me feel good to keep track of them."

But, she was right. My eyesight did go to pot. I had to admit it for the first time when I went out for lunch and forgot my glasses. I had to ask the waiter, a perfect stranger, to read the menu to me. Then, things got so desperate in our house that my husband and I started borrowing each other's glasses so we could find our own.

Then, as if things were not bad enough, I became unable to see both my lecture and my students. I could get glasses that would make my lecture notes crystal clear, but mean that I would have to tell students apart by shape. Or, I could get glasses that would allow be to see my students, but have to memorize my lecture notes.

"Bifocals." My optometrist hopefully suggested. This, incidently was a new optometrist. I don't like perky, in anybody.

"Bifocals." I just about came up out of the chair. "I do not intend to start looking like Roy Orbeson at forty-five."

"Well," he thought a minute. "Why don't we try contacts."

We did. We went through seven different pairs of contacts - disposable contacts, long life contacts, daily wear, extended wear. Still I had to choose between seeing my lecture notes or my students. So, we tried those mono things - you know those contacts where one eye sees in the distance and the other eye sees up close. Well, with those contacts, I couldn't see anything - up close or in the distance.

"Well, we've got one thing left to try." My optometrist said, tapping his pen on the counter. It was something I had never heard of - bifocal contacts.

Well, we went through three pairs of those before we finally found a fit. But, we did find a fit, and I could see.

There were a few minor problems, though, like the fact that they were glass and managing the things was as time consuming as if I had taken on a part time job - what with putting them in, getting them out, cleaning them, crawling around on the floor looking for them, sometimes with unwilling confederates and ordering replacements for the ones I crushed underneath my foot. And, they were as temperamental as an inbred chiwawas. If a piece of dust flew up in Texas, it would end up behind my contact gouging a hole in my eyeball.

But, as I said, I could see. As I told my students, with these contacts I can count the hairs on the bridge of your nose, at the back of the room, so watch out.

But, there were disadvantages to being able to see that well. I'll give you an example.

I can't put on my make up with my contacts in. If I do, they pop out of my head and go jumping around the bathroom floor trying to hide on the ledge of some cabinet so I can't find them. As I told my husband, if I could see well enough to put these things in or find them when I drop them, I wouldn't need them.

Anyway, so I have to put my make up on in a total fog. Some mornings, I put my make on and think I look O.K. for a 47-year-old dame who's spent her share of years in the fast lane and then I put in my contacts. "Good God." I say gripping the edge of the cabinet and staring in the mirror. "I've still got Queen Hellene Mint Masque underneath my chin" - it's green incidently, in case you didn't know. "And I've got so much white powder caked underneath my nose the students will think I've been snorting coke in the car on the way to class. And where did all those lines underneath my eyes come from?"

It is truly terrifying what I can see with those contacts in.

You see, I think we've taken entirely the wrong approach to the degeneration of eyesight. I think diminished eye sight after forty is God's way of keeping us from knowing how truly horrible we're starting to look. And here we go messing it up with glasses and contacts and laser surgery.

After finding out how well I could see with my contacts, my husband proposed getting some of his own.

"No!" I exclaimed in a panic.

"Why not?" He asked.

"Because then you will be able to see me as well as I can see me in the mirror with my contacts on and I just couldn't stand it."

Like Art Linkletter said: Getting old is not for sissies.

Radio Stories Christina Johns Home Page