I hadn't been to an eye doctor since I moved to Austin 2 1/2 years ago, because, frankly, I don't like to go to any kind of doctor if I don't have to - and I still had a supply of contacts, so I didn't have to.

But this summer, after almost 3 years since my last exam, my lens supply was dwindling and I was started to have trouble focusing, so I hit Yelp and hoped for some decent reviews for optometrists located in Cedar Park. (I mistakenly chose a dentist way down in South Austin. Not good to have healthcare visits that could be considered day trips.)

I have certain criteria when I choose an eye doctor:

  1. No liquids in my eyes (a.k.a. dilation).
  2. No super-strong prescriptions. I'm not looking for eagle vision, just the regular human variety.
  3. No inappropriate comments or glances. (Yes, Dr. Weber, this rule was made just for you.)
  4. Don't call me. I'll call you - and only if I am out of contact lenses.

You'd think that I should have run out of lenses long before three years, and you'd be right. I should have, but I stretch them. A daily would be a weekly; a weekly a monthly; a monthly a yearly... You get the idea.

Long ago I saw a special, investigative, behind the scenes report on the contact lens industry. They revealed that contacts cost just 8 cents to make, but are sold for much more. (My Acuvues cost $45 a box which breaks down to $7.50 a lens.) They also said that there was no difference between disposables (daily/weekly/monthlies) and non-disposables (yearlies).

So, being the frugal-distrusting-of-doctors person that I am, I didn't keep track of how long I wore those "monthly" contacts and popped them in every morning until they tore, escaped down the drain, or irritated my eye. (Actually those last ones were kept in a spare "holding container" until it could be determined if they were responsible for the irritation or if it was really a stray eyelash or piece of grit.

With this system, one month disposables can last as long as a year if they are treated with care and the benefit of a doubt. I've been prolonging the life of my contacts for years and with no repercussions - I thought.

Until this summer when I started having difficulty seeing, focusing. It scared me - enough to try out a new eye doctor. (And my contact lens supply was running low anyway, so making the appointment was inevitable.)

This was my first eye exam since becoming a mom (and the first in almost three years), so I was rusty and I was busy and I ran out the door forgetting my spare pair of very outdated glasses, my contact case, and my saline solution.

Anyone who is as myopic as I am knows that missing all these items makes for a very strange visit. Once the contacts were out, I was walking blind. I couldn't even see the face of my new doctor to know if he were violating rule number 3. His blurry high-energy head was flitting about like a swarm of blurry peach butterflies.

He told me something new: eyes need to breathe and mine hadn't been. He said my Acuviews were good contacts but old technology, and my oxygen-deprived eyes were compensating by growing blood vessels all over my eyes. (I had noticed that they were redder than before but attributed this to my baby and lack of sleep). He wanted me to try out some new lenses that let in more air.

I was dubious, but I thought it couldn't hurt to try a free pair of new contacts. (I was wrong.)

He also told me that the intense over 100 degree, dry heat was probably the cause of my inability to focus. The desert conditions were drying out my contacts in a way I'd probably never experienced before, causing visual disturbances. He said he'd had a steady traffic of patients with the same problem.

That was a bit reassuring, but I still wondered if these new lenses were more costly and if scaring me with the idea of blood vessels growing all over my eye was the marketing tactic. (I studied advertising in my psych classes. I know about using fear as a motivator.)

I decided to take his trojan lenses and do some research on the internet once I got home. I had some trouble seeing on my drive back, but I didn't know if I should attribute that to the new lenses or to seeing nothing but blurry shapes for the last half hour.

When I checked the web, I found out he was telling the truth. Eyes that don't breathe develop blood vessels that can eventually lead to vision problems. I decided to give the new lenses a week to see if things improved. The doctor seemed to think that the vessels might recede a bit even after that short a time.

But day two with the new lenses, I was feeling nauseous and still having trouble focusing. I had to take a trip to San Antonio the next day, and decided I would just wear my old Acuvues. At home I could close my eyes occasionally when I felt ill, but that wouldn't be possible while I was watching that Nish didn't fall in the water at Riverwalk. So I skipped a day, then went back to the doctor's experiment.

When I saw him the next Monday, he told me that my eyes were much better. He asked me how I liked the contacts, and I told him they made me want to close my eyes and vomit. (And they dried out faster than my supposedly oxygen-depriving Acuvues.)

Apparently I'm not the first person to have experienced such a thing. He explained that the chemistry of the contacts were incompatible with the chemistry of my tears. (I'd never heard of such a thing.) And he gave me a new brand to try for another week.

Well, these contacts were much better. I was able to walk without holding my head, and there was no nausea - a vast improvement. But were they really better than my old Acuvues?

I found out while cooking up a stir fry. I cried.

I've been chopping up onions for years without any effect. I thought maybe I had extraordinary eyes, immune to the potent fumes. Seems I was just wearing super shields that weren't letting any air through at all.

So I bought a year's supply of the new contacts, promised myself I wouldn't stretch them, and began crying over onions, because my eyes gotta breathe.

(Epilogue: There's no way I can stretch these contacts, because they tear before the thirty days are up. Guess that's the cost for getting oxygen to my eyes?)

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)

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