Before I tell you the story, I have to give you some background info about contact lenses. Many of you wear contacts, so you are familiar with the experience of sticking your finger in your eye to insert and remove them. What most of you are not familiar with is the concept of a "rigid gas-permeable lens." (That's what it says on the boxes of cleaner and storage solution that I keep next to my little contact lens containers by the bathroom sink.) When I was a kid, we used to just call them "hard contacts." I'm not sure if they are made of actual glass or what, but they are most assuredly not flexible like the "soft" kind most people wear now. Most of you who wear contacts these days wear the "soft" kind. I have also heard them referred to as "extended wear," meaning that you can leave them on your eyes for about a month, and you never really even notice that they are there. I envy you. The "rigid gas-permeable" lenses that I wear are not soft, and I can't wear them for more than about ten hours at a stretch. If I do, or if (Heaven forbid!) I accidentally fall asleep wearing them, I will wake up with an oozing crust in both eyes and the distinct sensation that I have been scratching my corneas with a metal claw. Exquisitely uncomfortable.


"Semi-soft" my eye! (Get it?)


According to the Mayo Clinic website, astigmatism is defined as "a common, mild, and generally easily treatable imperfection in the curvature of your eye. The condition can cause blurred vision." What the Mayo Clinic website does not say is that astigmatic folks like your humble narrator often can't wear those oh-so-comfortable soft lenses because our eyeballs aren't shaped spherically enough to suit them. If we want to avoid wearing glasses, we have no choice but to wear "rigid gas-permeable" (HARD) contacts. And that is what I have done for the last 20 years or so.

Here is how I describe the insertion of a hard contact lens: Imagine taking a little cup of gravel and heating it in a microwave oven until all the little fragments of rock are hot enough to burn flesh. Then imagine sorting the little chards of hot gravel with a toothpick to find the piece that has the sharpest edges and the most jagged, pointy surface. Put that piece on the tip of your right index finger while holding one eyelid open with the index finger and thumb of your left hand. Then jam that little fragment of hot rock into your eye! Feel the burn as it sears off the corneal layer. Hear the hiss as the eyeball steams (like that of the cyclops when Odysseus blinded him). Smell the burning flesh! That's your flesh, you know! Taste the salty tears that well up immediately, overflowing onto both cheeks and even back down into your sinus cavity and throat. And see...well...not much because you are blinking and crying and screaming and praying for a painless death. Got that image firmly etched in your mind? Okay, THAT is what it is like to put a "rigid gas-permeable" contact lens on your eyeball.

Gettin' queasy yet? If not, click here to continue.