Contacts changed life for the better

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

One of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, in my opinion, is the contact lens.

I rank those little pieces of plastic right up there with automatic washers and dryers and air conditioning.

Oh, they aren’t labor-saving devices and they don’t keep me cool on a hotter n’ you-know-what kind of day, but I have to say contact lenses changed my life for the better.

I was a shy, bookish kid who started squinting at the spelling chart when I was in grammar school. Sure enough, little Angie needed glasses.

This was the 1960s, and not a great era when it came to choice of eyeglass frames. (At least I escaped the cat’s-eye fate of my sister Sara).

For some unknown reason, I actually wore thick black frames for a while, which stood out like a sore thumb against this pale skin and blonde hair.

And as the years passed, those spectacles got progressively thicker and thicker, the more near-sighted I grew.

By the time I was in junior high, comparisons to the bottom of a Coke bottle weren’t unreasonable.

Everyone assumed with a pair of glasses like that, I must be very, very smart (didn’t the class brain always wear thick glasses on TV?).

Fortunately for me, I was pretty bright, but it was downright depressing sometimes to be viewed only as a walking Encyclopedia Britannica by my peers.

Like every other adolescent girl, I wanted to fit in. I wanted someone to think I was cute as well as brainy.

I was finally given a reprieve midway through my sophomore year when my opthalmologist said those magic words: &uot;It’s time for you to get contacts.&uot;

Back in those days – the mid-1970s – soft contacts required a lot of care. You had to mix your own saline solution together and put the contacts in this special machine every night, a sort of contact lens dishwasher that got very hot as it disinfected the lenses.

The time and trouble it took meant few people below 16 were prescribed the lenses. I was 15 and thought I had arrived!

When I first wore the lenses out of the office, it was raining. I was excited – not because of the precipitation, but because I could still see in the rain. No fogged-up lenses, no droplets streaking my lenses. Freedom!

The first day I wore the lenses to school, it caused quite a stir. Turns out I had eyes under those glasses, and not bad-looking ones, either.

I overheard a girl in my art class (someone who always slightly intimidated me; she was the only girl at school that wore false eyelashes) comment about me to a fellow student: &uot;You know, she’s actually cute.&uot;

(I wanted to get and dance on the desks, but I was pretty sure Mrs. Davis would have frowned on that.)

Suddenly guys seemed to notice me. And I became a lot more self-assured. I was still, and always be, shy, but I developed a degree of confidence that helped me escape feeling like such a wallflower – not to mention the fact I finally had peripheral correction and could just plain see better with my lenses.

I sympathized with near-sighted Betty in the GHS production of &uot;Father Knows Best&uot; last weekend. This ’50s girl felt forced to hide her vision problems, fearing &uot;boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.&uot;

Thanks be to those who created slimmed-down lenses, no-line bifocals and good-looking frames for today’s visually-impaired to wear.

I’ve even been known to wear my glasses out and about on occasion.

But don’t take my contact lenses away.

Angie Long is Lifestyles reporter for The Greenville Advocate. She can be reached at 382-3111 ext. 132 or via email at