Culture

Do You Have to Be a 'Progressive' to Wear Progressive Lenses?

M13-12 Progressive Lenses(1)

“Failure to adjust.” That’s what Becky, the cheerful optician, said my problem was with the new progressive lenses. “Failure to adjust” sounds like it should be in the same category as “doesn’t play well with others,” or “runs with scissors,” so her words stung a little and I inwardly berated myself for not making more of an effort to make the new glasses work.

For the last few years I have been getting by with dollar store reading glasses as my near vision deteriorated, apparently in anticipation of my 50th birthday. Twenty years ago I had surgery to correct my distance vision and had enjoyed a blissful, lens-free life until about five years ago, when I began to squint when reading small print. Then came the embarrassing stage of holding everything at arm’s length. I avoided reading glasses as long as possible, but eventually, my arms became too short and I could no longer read anything smaller than a STOP sign without glasses.

My dollar store reading glasses, if not fashionable, were cheap enough that I could have a pair handy at all times. Well, at least, I owned enough glasses that I should have had a pair handy at all times. I had a pair in my purse, my car, the living room, the kitchen — even the bathroom. Nevertheless, I could never seem to locate a pair when I needed them. It seemed I had a pair for every room except for the room I was in. I’d find myself at Walmart, unable to read any of the prices and straining to find the English print sandwiched between the French and Spanish warnings. I’d fumble around in my purse looking for the reading glasses, only to remember that I had taken them out of my purse at home because I couldn’t find the pair that had somehow migrated from the living room to who-knows-where.

It could be worse. Recently my husband and I we were at a restaurant with friends — Bob Evans, where people my age are supposed to eat, I’m told — and my friend’s husband had to borrow my reading glasses because he didn’t have his handy. Right there in Bob Evans! At least I haven’t sunk that low yet.

I mean, not completely. I recently returned home from a trip to Kohl’s (Kohl’s is where almost-50-year-old women like to shop because they jigger the sizes so that it looks like you wear a size 4 when you really wear a size 6) and told my husband about how much trouble I had trouble shopping without my glasses, which had mysteriously disappeared from my purse. Again. His eyes widened as he contemplated the prospect of his wife loose at that store with a Kohl’s charge, oblivious to the price tags she was unable to read. But I had a 20% off coupon! (Or maybe it was 10%. It was a little blurry.)

So I decided it was time to graduate to real glasses. If I wore them all the time, I reasoned, I wouldn’t be losing them in the bowels of my purse or in between couch cushions. At my most recent eye exam, the eye doctor informed me that I needed a tiny bit of distance correction, so she recommended progressive lenses, which allegedly correct for vision at varying distances.

One website touts the “cosmetic advantages” of progressive lenses, saying, “You may be maturing, but “mature” doesn’t have to mean “old.” Progressive lenses offer a “younger-looking appearance” than the lined bifocals our parents wore.

Right. I can be mature but not old. Thank you for that little pep talk.

I convinced myself that I could suffer through the indignity of wearing something with “progressive” in the name if it meant I could be mature without looking old. I may be pushing 50, but I’m not ready to completely let myself go yet.

My ophthalmologist warned me several times that I’d need time to adjust to the new lenses — in particular that I’d need to get used to turning my head instead of moving my eyes.  Becky, the optometrist, carefully measured my eyes for the new lenses after I picked out my frames.

From the minute I put those wretched progressive lenses on my face, I knew something was wrong. Becky handed me a card with text that looked blurry — even the big letters at the top. My eyes hurt from the strain of trying to read it. She assured me that this was fairly normal and said there might be an adjustment period, but my eyes and brain would eventually figure it out. She said to come back if I had problems, but assured me that I would probably get used to them in a few days.

I left the eye doctor’s office sporting my new glasses and tripped going down the stairs as I walked to my car. I looked like a bobble-head doll, nodding my head up and down and turning it side to side, trying to acclimate myself to the new glasses.

My distance vision was sharp and I was excited to be able to read the words and numbers on my car dashboard for the first time in a couple of years. I was hopeful that finally, perhaps, I could see well enough to switch the overhead console controls back to American numbers and rid my Jeep Cherokee of the evil metric system once and for all. Unfortunately, my glee was short-lived. When I pulled my phone out, I couldn’t read my email. I tilted my head as the doctor had instructed and tried to find the right spot to read the small text, but found that only if I tilted my head just right and closed one eye, could I read the text. Not a good start.

A week later, I was back to see Becky. Though I had good distance vision — it was nice to be able to read the teeny, tiny score in the corner of the baseball games on TV — I had trouble reading. I could read a book if I held it about 10″ away from me and tilted my head at a weird, uncomfortable angle. And I could barely read any text at all on my computer. Since I spend a lot of time every day on my laptop, this was not going to work.

Becky said my problem was a “failure to adjust.” After the eye doctor checked my vision again and they double-checked the measurements on the glasses, it was determined that I was the problem and not the glasses. I took some comfort in the fact that what I failed to adjust to was progressive lenses — what good conservative wouldn’t fail at that, right? Fortunately, they had a “failure to adjust” guarantee and said I could get new glasses. They suggested a less-progressive model. Instead of the most extreme progressive lenses, we would go a step down. Moderate progressives.

The moderate progressives were worse (does anyone else see the irony?). I made a valiant effort to “adjust” to them, but the eyestrain resulted in a 3-week migraine.

Back I went to see Becky, my indefatigable optometrist. Again, she measured my eyes, had me read the card, and even let me sit in her chair so I could try to read her computer. We finally came to the conclusion that progressive lenses were not for me.

Becky solemnly informed me (in the tone of voice a funeral director uses) that my next best option was lined trifocals — you know, the glasses our parents wore that made them look mature and old. Sigh.

So now I’m waiting for my lined granny lenses (with the really hip frames) to arrive. If you see an old woman tripping over displays and nodding like a bobble-head doll the next time you’re at Kohl’s, it’s probably me.

But this hasn’t been a total loss. In a way, I feel like I’ve passed an ideological purity test. I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt —  because of my failure to adjust to those blasted glasses — that I’m no progressive. So there’s that.