Watching me playing from across the room, something alerted my dad. He held up a newspaper and asked me to read the headline.
And that's how we found out my eight-year-old self had been faking it: guessing my way through what was written on the board at school; spotting buck from the car at the Kruger Park that no-one else could see (turns out I couldn’t distinguish between a bush-blur and an animal-blur).
I had no idea there was any other way to see the world until we drove home from the optometrist, me wearing my first pair of glasses. I could see individual leaves on trees! I could see the details on the mine dumps! The world was a magically beautiful place.
By my second pair of glasses, my parents thought it was kinda funky to put me in Andy Warhol frames, with those lenses that darken in sunlight. I spent my early teens mortified by nasty yellowish lenses in tortoiseshell frames.
I was telling this story at an eye-health education breakfast sponsored by the people behind the new generation of those changeable lenses. Their argument is that among all the things we're not doing to look after our eyes, sun protection is one of the most sinister.
Children are particularly vulnerable, and spectacle wearers, because it's a drag to duplicate your prescription in dark glasses. Yes, I said, but they don't do those lenses for prescriptions beyond a certain strength. And anyway, glasses that go dark, stay yellow the rest of the time, and then you have to walk around looking like Bono, except without the cool cred.
The MD of the company told me I was out of date, took my spectacle prescription and disappeared. Some time later, a pair of specs arrived – thin-lensed enough for beautiful frames, bifocal for versatility, and crystal clear within minutes of coming in from the sunlight.
I've never been happier to be proved wrong.
My poor eyesight has been a drag my whole life. Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses – they steal them, thinking it's funny. My own family used to be amused at my inability to find my way back on the beach after a swim in the sea. If I don't know where my glasses are, I can't find them. They steam up when you open the oven or work out at gym, and they collect mist and raindrops. Contact lenses are a solution – but they come with their own set of problems.
But I've always been immensely grateful that if any of my senses had to be compromised, it's my eyesight, mainly because medical science is genius at compensating. The contact lenses or glasses we wear today were simply not available even a decade ago; surgical solutions are getting better all the time. While there are still diseases that blind one, and conditions that cannot be rectified, the vast majority of those with compromised vision can have a life that is 100% normal.
I'd urge everyone who has sight, to look out of the window, right now, at the individual leaves on the trees, or the architectural detail on the building over the way, or the way the clouds change shape in the sky.
(Heather Parker, Health24, October 2009)