Not too long ago, I had an eye examination. I like to make sure I’m seen at least every other year. If for nothing else, I like to make sure no early stage of glaucoma is coming on. As usual, my ophthalmologist flipped out the lights on us and then flashed the tiny alphabet soup chart on the wall and told me to read the third line from the bottom. To that, I said to her – I think I can read the bottom line.
Dr – Really? OK, give it a try.
Me – AFGCLP
Dr – Hmm, let’s try another chart. Can you still read the bottom line?
Me – CDRFEO
Dr – Well Rob, I see one of these perhaps once a week. Your long distance vision has improved to 20/10!
Yup, that’s right. I’m one of those lucky folks who when their vision moves towards the bifocals, their long distance vision moves back to what it was when they were a teen. According to a previous doctor, this happens to maybe 5-10% of us. My sight right now is spectacular…..but it wasn’t always this way.
Up until the age of 25 or 26, I enjoyed fantastic eyesight, (except for the time a cat tried to take out one of my eyes – link). The only time I had my vision tested as a kid was for an ROTC medical exam. They too told me I had 20/10 vision. Top Gun, here I come! (Nah, I’d probably end up like Goose).
There was a time in my life when my vision suffered a setback and this is that story.
I’ve mentioned in a couple of stories my love of sports, baseball and basketball in particular. I got a late start in sports as a kid and so I didn’t get to play on any kind of an organized team until church and industrial leagues. I absolutely loved to play, but I didn’t have what one would call natural ability. I could be decent, but I had to work at it. In softball, I never had a season where I hit less than .500. Always playing the infield, I rarely had an error, but like I said, it wasn’t a natural ability – on a tough grounder, I’d get down on one knee in order to keep the ball in front of me. I played a little shortstop, but I really loved third base. At third, you don’t have much time to think about the play. I was always better fielding a quick line drive. Regardless, if I was the best infielder on the team, I’d play short.
On the flip side of guys like me, (guys that have to practice to be good), there are boys and girls who have natural athletic ability. My wife, (as an example), is one of those lucky people. Another person in my family like this is my brother in law, Rick. Rick really shined in baseball, so much so that he earned a baseball scholarship out of high school. In the early 80’s, Rick was playing a little fast pitch and slow pitch softball. The slow pitch team he was playing on was very good, one of those teams who’d been playing together for a few years and was always winning just about every weekend tournament they entered.
For a couple of years, I had been coaching my own team, Sultans of Swat. We were a decent team, but nowhere as good as a team like the one Rick played on. A couple of times when we needed a substitute, Rick filled in and played second base for us. Typically, I’d play shortstop or third but if needed, I could be called on to pitch as well. I really liked playing those games with Rick and recall turning a couple of sweet double plays with him at second and me at short. I should mention again here that I almost always played infield, rarely the outfield. Although I was always one of the faster runners on a team, not everyone was comfortable playing infield.
So it was that on one weekend tournament Rick’s team was needing a substitute player. After having played with me a few games, Rick must have felt that I wouldn’t screw things up so he stood up for me and suggested to his teammates that I was good enough to play with them. And so, he asked me to play. This was a big opportunity for me to play with a higher caliber team. I had played on a couple of good teams for weekend softball, but never one this good. I was really looking forward to this!
First game, first inning….did they stick me behind the plate, nope. Did they put me in right field where there’s really not much action, nope. Coach put me smack dab in left field, one of the hottest zones in slow pitch softball. Right off the bat, (baseball pun), someone hit a nice high, long one my way….and right off the bat, I could not for the life of me tell whether it was short in front of me, directly to me or a hundred yards over my head (it was a 100 yds over my head)!
What is normal is for the eyes to immediately pick up the ball flight. Then the brain sends signals to the muscles, based on previous experiences. A good outfielder gets the legs and arms moving directly to the flight of the ball right off the bat and then looks the ball into the glove at the proper moment for the out. I, however, did not pick up the ball flight until it was much too late. I didn’t even know immediately that it was due to a loss in vision acuity; I was clueless. All I could do was to chase the ball after it went over my head. The left center fielder though picked up on my issue pretty quickly – the second time that inning, he caught one that flew over my head, having ran over from his own fielding area. He even said to me – hey, you looked frozen, did you not see the ball?
I don’t get easily embarrassed. I mean, look at my stories, I’m trying to put it all out there, good or bad. But I was embarrassed that day. I was embarrassed for me because I didn’t really have a clue as to what was going on and I was mostly embarrassed for my brother in law Rick for speaking up for me. I felt like I was letting him down and that was very disappointing to me. I don’t like to let others down.
After that embarrassing inning, I asked the coach to put me behind the plate. Playing catcher doesn’t bother me. What bothered me was not knowing what the heck was going on. Our minds always go to the worst, don’t they. When you feel a brand new ache or see a new spot on your skin, are you getting ready to die of some rare form of skin cancer? At the time, I didn’t really know my eyesight was the culprit. Heck, I thought maybe I had some rare disease, you know, frozen outfielder’s cancer, something like that.
The next day was really embarrassing because the Coach gave us all an ‘important announcement’ before the play.
Hey guys, listen up. Here’s the starting lineup….
(And he proceeded to list everyone’s place in the lineup and his position)
And today Rob’s going to be our “super sub”! If you get hurt, Rob goes in to play your position, no matter which it is.
Wow. I didn’t mind being benched. After my pathetic fielding the previous day, I would bench myself too. What sucked was that miserable attempt to assuage my feelings. I know the coach was trying to be as gentle as possible but that little speech was more embarrassing than my play the previous day.
My only moment that game came towards the end when Coach put me in to pinch hit for him. They had a decent lead and I guess whatever I did wouldn’t cause us to lose. For the hell of it, I decided to turn around and bat left handed.
I didn’t bat left often in softball, but if you are a constant reader, then you might recall my writing about all of us Prytania baseball kids batting our opposite way when we got too big for our park. I must have played two whole years batting nothing but left handed. At first it was difficult but we all picked it up quickly and soon we were hitting some out of the park. We even played fast pitch with tennis balls, batting our opposites.
But anyway, I guess because I was embarrassed that weekend, I probably felt like I had something to prove. The second pitch was a perfect high and outside ball that I was able to pop right over the third baseman’s head and stretch into a double. I doubt I impressed anyone, but it made me feel good for a few minutes. The next game, Coach let me play a little first base. That was nice of him. I could see just fine at that close range.
Oh well, it was what it was. I knew I wouldn’t be asked back. I looked like I didn’t even belong on the same field as those guys. And I didn’t.
In the evenings I had been driving to Cincinnati, working on a degree in night school. One evening soon after this embarrassing softball performance, I thought I was beginning to see blurring while driving and when I looked at the chalkboard. I’d hold a hand over one eye and notice that I could see better with one eye versus the other. This was the moment I moved up into the very front row and decided to make an eye examination appointment.
Within the next week, there it was – I was told that I was nearsighted and needed glasses or contact lenses. I was surprised. But a light went off in my head about my softball play a couple of weeks previous. (Wile E Coyote, Super Genius, that’s me).
Like millions of others, I wore glasses to correct my nearsightedness. I tried contacts for a couple of years but didn’t like how my eyes always seemed too dry. One day while watching one of my boys play baseball in Louisiana, I pulled them out of my eyes and threw them on the ground, swearing to never wear them again.
I am guessing at my age when I began wearing glasses, likely 26 or so. Around the age of 35, I noticed that the only time I seemed to need glasses was for driving at night. Maybe around the age of 45-47 I declared to my wife that I swore my vision had improved, that I didn’t need glasses any longer and was going to make an appointment to confirm it. She thought I was crazy, (likely based on much accumulated evidence over the years). When I returned from the doctor here in California, sure enough, I came back with a 20/20 report.
The weirdness with my eyesight didn’t stop there. Maybe 5 years ago, during a regular exam, my doctor told me that my vision had improved to 20/15, almost what it was when I was a kid. Like just about all of you, I too dreaded each passing decade, but considering the alternative, the 50’s have been pretty darn good to me and now I’m loving the return of my high school 20/10 vision.
None of us enjoy our failures and that’s what my weekend with my brother in law’s softball team felt like; an embarrassing failure. I like to try to end my little true life stories with a lesson learned, if I can find one. If I learned anything from this little episode in my life, maybe it was the beginning of learning to be self aware from a health perspective. No one knows our own bodies as well as we do ourselves. Perhaps I learned to keep a mental log of changes to my body? One thing I’ve noted over the years is that it can sometimes be a thin line between feeling like a hypochondriac and being in denial.
I got it, I got it!……..Oops, I don’t got it!