When I was 11 years old, I went to the football (AFL, or VFL as it was in those days) with my Dad. He was a Carlton supporter and I barracked for Hawthorn. That meant we'd go to games at Princes Park, which was the home ground for both teams in the 1970s. But when I kept asking my Dad to read the scoreboard to me it was time to get my eyes checked. After almost four decades of wearing glasses every day since then, I've decided to give contact lenses a go.
My eyesight is afflicted by two issues: shortsightedness and astigmatism. My myopia, or shortsightedness, is quite severe - I'm basically useless without my specs. My prescription is -7.00 which is quite strong. But the time had come to have my eyes checked. Also, I was recently married and during my honeymoon I couldn't go snorkelling as it was pointless. While I can swim, I can't see anything.
So, at my eye test the time came to look into contact lenses.
The optometrist I visited (at my local Specsavers) said I could give contact lenses a go. They offer a free trial of disposable daily lenses. So, I booked in for a tutorial where they ran me through how to put them in as well as a further visit from the optometrist who tested my eyes with the contact lenses in.
It took me about 30 minutes to go through the process of putting on and removing the lenses a few times. It takes some practice to place the lens on your eyeball. For most of my almost 50 years, my reflexes have been trained to stop anything from touching my eye so it took a few goes to get the lens in.
But once I got the hang of it, it wasn't too challenging.
The folks at my local Specsavers recommended disposable lenses that I can use for a day at a time. Once I'm done with them, I simply toss them out.
The cost is about $2 per day. But I doubt that I'd use them every day - maybe once or twice a week.
Not all I expected
I'd never really understood the effect of astigmatism on my vision. The contact lenses I'm using correct for shortsightedness but, as I understand it, there are no contact lenses that correct for astigmatism as well.
When I first had the contact lenses in, I looked all around and was able to read the various signs and posters around the room. For someone who has worn glasses for as long as I have, it was quite amazing to be able to see without them. I did experience some image distortion, particularly around my peripheral vision.
With glasses, the shape of the lense can distort things but my brain has learned to compensate for that. Without the glasses, my brain had to readjust. But that only took a short time.
The second thing I looked at was my iPhone. Surprisingly, it was actually harder to read but the optometrist told me this was because of my astigmatism. He suggested a pair of cheap reading glasses from the local pharmacy would do the trick. So, I need to use glasses while reading even when my contacts are in.
When I got home and went back to work on my computer, I found the reading glasses were helpful. On the days when I use contact lenses, I'll keep my $10 reading glasses handy.
As part of my initial review by the optometrist, I did the standard eye test where you read letters from a chart. With the contact lenses I was able to read beyond the 20/20 vision line, indicating that the contacts were countering my myopia.
While driving, I did notice that I had a slightly harder time reading the odometer and trip meter on my dash but the speedo, which uses a larger typeface and better white-on-black contrast, was easy to read. I had no trouble treading street signs, seeing other vehicles and keeping track of pedestrians.
However, if I'm using my phone's navigation app, the screen is harder to read so I find I"m more dependent on the audio cues. Also, if I'm getting directions on my Apple Watch, I can't easily see the screen with my contacts. Again this is a consequence of the astigmatism according to the optometrist.
Sitting at home, I can watch TV glasses-free for the first time since the 1970s.
I've also purchased a pair of regular sunglasses for the first time in a very long time for when I drive or exercise.
A secondary benefit that comes from contacts is that I don't have to bother with a spare set of glasses. Until now, I'd had two pairs - one regular and one tinted or a pair of phtochromic lenses and a pair of presecription sports glasses.
Now, I can have a regular set of specs and use contacts and off-the-shelf sunnies.
Why did I wait?
The one question I've been asking myself since trying contact lenses is why did I wait so long? I've never really thought of wearing glasses as a hassle until recently. But I'm living a more active lifestyle these days and there are times when glasses get in the way.
I had not really kept an eye on changes in contact lens technology. Because of the strength of my prescription, there was a time when lens technology couldn't deliver a comfortable contact lens. That has clearly changed.
There's also inertia. I've been happy with glasses so there's been little need to try anything else. I've not really played any contact sports - I was a squash player until my 30s, then I took up tennis and I run and cycle - so glasses weren't an issue. But with summer coming and the missed experience of snorkelling during my honeymoon, life has given me the push I needed.