I never set out to become a middle-aged woman known for jazzy eyewear but that’s exactly who I am.
Like many 40- and 50-something people, I have presbyopia, a condition that makes it difficult to see what’s right in front of me. Words and people look a little bit smudged around the edges, sometimes to a dizzying degree, like a watercolor painted with a sodden brush.
Now, in addition to the contact lenses I’ve worn since sixth grade to correct nearsightedness, I wear reading glasses to keep the close-up world crisp. I own a dozen pairs in all shapes and sizes, with a bias toward big frames in primary colors — think Sally Jessy Raphael, Carrie Donovan and Iris Apfel. I stash glasses in my desk drawer, sock drawer and junk drawer, at the bottom of my bag and in my car, between couch cushions and under a pile of mail, on my bedside table and on top of my head. Still, I can never find a pair when I need one, and I’m never sure what strength I need. It depends on the brand, the quality of the lenses and the brightness of the room where I’m sitting. I read for a living — I’m an editor at The New York Times Book Review — so I need to be able to see words on a page! Clearly!
At 38, wearing reading glasses was a fun way to express my individuality and free-spiritedness (or to summon the free spirit I wish I had). At 48, I’ve become so dependent on them, they’ve lost some appeal. I constantly miss texts and emails because I’m on the go and can’t see my phone. Yes, I’ve increased the font size, but sometimes I don’t want my kids to be able to read my screen from across the room.
So when I heard about Vuity, a new type of eye drop for people with age-related blurred vision, I was eager to give it a try. From an article in the Times, I learned that “a single Vuity drop in each eye improved trial subjects’ close-range vision for six hours and improved their intermediate vision — important for computer work — for 10 hours,” though each person’s experience will vary.
After a quick eye exam, my optometrist gave me a prescription, warning that the drops might not work because I’ve worn reading glasses for so long, my eyes are accustomed to them. She said we could talk about options other than “cheaters” at our next appointment. (I try to avoid this word unless I’m referring to the frumpy half-glasses I wear while knitting; it strikes me as the “dungarees” of the eye world.) The only ones I know of are bifocals, progressives or monovision, where you wear two different types of contact lens — one for seeing close up, one for distance — and let your eyes find a middle ground.
Vuity isn’t covered by insurance, since it isn’t considered a medical necessity, so I paid $101.99 at CVS for a bottle about the length of my pinkie finger from knuckle to tip. I’ve swallowed prenatal vitamins that weren’t much smaller. I zipped the drops into the change purse in my wallet and drove home with my 18-year-old son, who thinks my collection of creative eyewear is “mad weird.”
Sitting on the couch in my living room, I put one drop in each eye, as directed by my doctor. Nothing happened, which wasn’t surprising; I knew my eyeballs needed a bit of time to marinate. Miracles take time.
Each day, Ms. Egan chooses from her wide selection of reading glasses. “I try to mix it up,” she said.Credit…Desmond Picotte for The New York TimesFig Newton, the writer’s 12-year-old terrier mix, thought a bottle of Vuity might make a nice snack.Credit…Desmond Picotte for The New York Times
About 20 minutes later, I was waiting for my 14-year-old daughter in the parking lot outside her dance studio, I got a text from my husband at home. It said, “Fig got your eye drops. I think I rescued them, but I’m not sure.” Fig Newton is our incorrigible 12 year-old terrier mix, who has a taste for cardboard, plastic and non-potable liquids.
I felt twin flashes of annoyance and concern, then the thunderclap of an epiphany: I was reading my texts without glasses! In a dark car! I could see the full palette of emojis, right down to stripes on the zebra and holes in the Swiss cheese.
It wasn’t exactly the moment when the Velveteen Rabbit realizes he’s real, but it still felt momentous.
That night, in the bright warmth of our dining room, I realized my texts were fuzzy again. I knew the drops could wear off in a matter of hours, and you can only use them once a day. But I still held my phone, then a book, at an arm’s length, exacerbating my double chin, not wanting to surrender to glasses. I felt like Charlie in “Flowers for Algernon,” slowly reverting back to my old self.
To make matters worse, the whites of my eyes had a pink tinge. Picture Campbell’s tomato soup when you add an extra can of milk. My 20-year-old daughter assured me I did not look high: “But your eye bags are bigger than usual,” she said.
The next morning, I put in the drops as soon as I woke up. This time, I waited the recommended 10 minutes before popping in my contacts. I had not been able to read the microscopic instructions the first go-round, so missed that detail. For someone as nearsighted as I am (my lens prescription is -9.50 in each eye), with an outdated pair of regular glasses, this extra time would have been worthwhile had Vuity worked as promised. It didn’t.
Not only did my eyes retain their bloodshot, rheumy cast during the five days I used the drops, my close-up vision never improved significantly enough to make reading glasses redundant. The drops burned as they went in, too. I’m not talking about an acid kind of pain, more like a lash in your eye, but still unpleasant.
Vuity did come in handy when I walked Fig within a few hours of taking a dose. I could pause on a corner, peek at my phone and make sense of what I saw without fumbling around in my pocket for a pair of glasses that would fog up the instant they touched my skin.
But overall, the drops did not pull their weight enough to justify spending approximately $3 per day for a 30-day supply. And they most certainly did not offer the extended clarity I need when I’m reading. I kept giving the drops another chance until it occurred to me that I’d never revisit a toothpaste that gave me bad breath or a moisturizer that made me itch.
One of the best perks of middle age is perspective: You see things as they’re meant to be seen, whether they’re right in front of you or not. Wisdom provides the gift of clarity, even if your corneas and pupils don’t behave the way they’re supposed to. That gray hair, those eye bags? They’re my stripes, earned with the help of time, worry, tears and smiles, plus a little boost from genetics. For now, I’ll continue to accessorize myself with the biggest, brightest, weirdest glasses I can find.