we call it my bionic eye

17 Mar

Questions have been raised about the eyepatch.

This is only natural. Even my own memories of that period are a bit fuzzy. I had glasses, long white-blonde hair and wore a Girl Scout vest every Tuesday. Possibly there is a reason I have blocked it out. Anyway.

When I was in kindergarten my grade school had an eye test day. We were all shuffled into the gym (which shared our school stage and had hot pink posters that said ‘Yo!’ all over the walls) and pushed into the shortest available lines. Once we got to the front, we were instructed by tired volunteers to sit in a folding chair and stare at the letters tacked up on the wall. They held a chunk of cardboard over my left eye, and I read the letters proudly, with perfect precision. They held a chunk of cardboard over my right eye, and suddenly everything went wrong.

Everything was a blur of color and shapes. I felt blind, as if I were looking through a glass of oil or a frosted window, and a thick bubble of panic started swelling in my stomach. The cranky volunteer asked me to read the letters. I promptly burst into tears.

The next day my parents received a notice that they needed to set up an eye appointment for their youngest daughter.

Turns out I had a cataract. I guess it was uncommon, but not that uncommon. Kids can form cataracts like oysters form pearls. A speck of something gets on the eye and it builds up a protective covering around it. Unfortunately, this covering can’t easily be seen through. For many years, this is what we assumed my cataract was. Years later we would discover the cataract was on the lens of the eye, which means I was somehow born with one normal eye and one eye that somehow got recycled from an eighty five year old man.

But onwards to the eyepatch.

In order to prevent my weaker left eye from going lazy, I had to wear an eyepatch for six hours a day for three years. I somehow hadn’t realized it had been that long, but I called and asked my folks who said that it was from kindergarten to when I reached ‘visual maturity’ at about eight years old. So there you go.

The patch was flesh-colored and adhesive. With each box came a pad of oval stickers that you could put in the center of the patch, roughly where the eyeball would be. I had never before considered exactly how bizarre that was. They were all cheerful little scenes of boys with kites and flowers waving at the sun and kittens playing with yarn, so, from a distance, it looked as though my eyeball had become a cutesy Norman Rockwell tableau.  It was like those movies where if you stare into he witch’s eye, it shows the future.  Only the future in this case was a dystopian world where humans are gone, and puppies wear rompers and eat ice cream cones.

This somehow never registered as strange.

I would scrupulously pick my least favorite stickers first, so I could save the ones with any sort of cat on them until last, and on those days,  I would wake up with a little jolt of excitement, remembering that on this day, my eyeball would be made of kittens.

You’d think I’d get teased for this, but if I was, I don’t remember it.  I was probably too much a picture of abject pity to bother trying to humiliate.  One expects eye patches on mad scientist, pirates, and sea captains of the non-pillaging variety, but a six year old girl woefully wearing her Brownie beret and squinting painfully out of her bad eye was just too easy a target, I suppose.  People just let me pass as I was, which I should be grateful for.

There’s an affirmation of the good in the world!

A world that can let a kid in an eyepatch with stickers on it go on her merry way without comment or condemnation is a-ok by me.  Thanks for that, world.

Maybe next time I’ll talk about growing up without any depth perception or becoming the youngest person in the country to undergo the specific lens-replacement surgery that I had.  Oh, my claims to fame!


Posted by on March 17, 2009 in Life


Tags: , ,

13 responses to “we call it my bionic eye

  1. Sal

    March 17, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    I love that you got excited for kitten eye day.

    • saturdayjane

      March 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

      You gotta look forward to something! I was slightly obsessed with cats at that age, I think. I even had the posters of the fluffy kittens on soft blankets that were popular in…the eighties? The nineties? Gosh, I don’t even know.

  2. sarah

    March 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    i remember that the little directions insert for your boxes of eyepatches said that you were supposed to give stickers to different kids in your class, so they could put the stickers on your patch and it would make it seem more “familiar.” that always seemed weird to me; i wasn’t sure how putting a scene with little pastel animals in clown suits on a little girl’s eyepatch was supposed to make you feel at peace with the world.

    you should post a photo of you with the patch on.

    • saturdayjane

      March 17, 2009 at 10:18 pm

      You know, I don’t remember wearing the patch to school…? I think Mom and Dad figured that would just be a step too much. I wore it at home, mostly, I think, so I got to pick the stickers for myself.

      Oddly enough, it DID help, the stickers, I mean. You wouldn’t think it would. Maybe it was the idea of having some small amount of choice inthe way the eyepatch was implemented, because I didn’t have any choice about wearing it or not.

      I wonder if there are any pictures of me patched? I think there’s one of me at the zoo with Casey and Ben, looking distinctly sorry for myself. I believe that was the day I got into that weird grass in the greenway and my eyes swelled shut.

      What a lucky kid I was.

  3. amanda

    March 17, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    The stickers on the eye patch are so creepy, yet so adorable. Especially since you were so pumped for kitten day!

    I have something I call “a double lazy eye”, which is probably totally inaccurate, but works for me. Apparently, my eyes don’t rest while looking forward; their resting position is slightly off to the side, which means I wear really gorgeous coke-bottle lenses (when I remember) to keep them from straining. It isn’t as bad as my cousin who is legally blind in both eyes. Her parents refused to take her to an optometrist, so her vision is something like 20/400.

    • amanda

      March 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm

      Ah, almost forgot! I nominated you for an award on my blog!

      • saturdayjane

        March 17, 2009 at 10:16 pm

        Oh, thank you! 😀 😀 😀 😀 That totally makes my day! Ahd the little blurb you wrote about my blog was incredibly sweet. Thanks so much!

        I’m glad that you know the pains of beinga nearly-blind child. My right is just fine, but I was legally blind in my left. I too know the woes of coke bottle frames. I’ve never heard of a ‘double lazy eye’ though. I somehow imagine that when you unfocus your eyes you look a bit like a chameleon.

        Which is just totally awesome.

  4. Emily

    March 17, 2009 at 10:22 pm

    Wow. that’s… yea. I did watch a documentary where a couple doctors went into North Korea to treat this though, because apparently with malnutrition its very common. They performed like 100 surgeries a day? It was insane but incredibly touching for them to do that!

    • saturdayjane

      March 18, 2009 at 1:37 am

      Oh, wow, I had no idea that cataracts could come from malnutrition! That’s super interesting. A hundred surgeries a day…that’s intense. I wonder how many surgeons they had?

  5. Vanessa

    March 17, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Now I want an eyeball made of kittens. Really, REALLY badly.

    • saturdayjane

      March 18, 2009 at 1:38 am

      Maybe one could get a glass eye with like…tiny pygmy kittens in it? And you could pop it out and play with them, like pokemon!

      Oh, gawd, that got morbid and disturbing really quickly. 😉

  6. Brittney

    March 18, 2009 at 5:29 am

    “Slightly obsessed with kittens” eh? I went through that, only with wolves. Never was that normal, I guess.

    Man, I remember when you had your eye surgery, and we were all patently worried about you, in our own way. And then going to DisneyLand and your SUPERHERO LIKE detection of black light! Man, Jess, your kids are going to be convinced their mom is a superhero!! (If, yaknow, when. hee.)

    • rubybastille

      March 18, 2009 at 6:52 am

      It’s true, the eye is superheroic in an annoying sort of way. It detects black light when no one else can, and reverses the ravages of old-man eyes. Find a way to get your super-smelling sense without the migraine and you’ll be the next step in evolution!

      Only with technological additions.


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