A Change of Perspective

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
A Change of Perspective

My wife and I knew something was wrong with our daughter’s eyes within a week of her birth. One of them tended to drift inward while the other looked straight ahead. An eye specialist gave us the bad news. She has Strabismus, a condition where the two eyes do not work together. She would need eye patch therapy, glasses with bifocals, and one or two operations.

The hardest news was delivered unintentionally by a nurse who was putting drops into Lillian’s eyes in preparation for a test of some kind. She warned us that the drops were very painful. Lillian writhed and screamed when the drops went into the first eye. I didn’t think it was possible but she managed to cry even louder when her second eye was pried open and the drops applied. We hung our heads in the shame of this betrayal, knowing it was for the greater good but not being much comforted by that knowledge.

As her cries finally subsided into whimpers the nurse said, “There there, sweetie. You might as well get used to this.”

I didn’t like the sound of that and spoke up immediately.

“What do you mean, ‘get used to this?’”

The nurse seemed surprised.

“Well, she’ll be doing this for the rest of her life. Didn’t they tell you? You can’t fix this. Strabismus is just something she’ll learn to live with.”

We sat in silence for perhaps 15 seconds.

“No,” I said. “They didn’t tell us that.”

It is a hard thing to hear that your child is broken, that some part of her is not right and cannot be made right. Later we learned that Lillian will not have depth perception. Her world will be forever flat, like a movie screen. For weeks after we got that news I kept closing one eye and wondering how she would ever park a car or play softball.

After several weeks of wearing an eye patch to strengthen her weak eye, she was ready for her first pair of glasses. The doctor warned us that her glasses must be carefully made. The center of each lens and the tops of the bifocal lenses had to line up exactly with her pupils.

We went to several large optometrists. The clerks seemed bored and not particularly interested in taking measurements of Lillian's eyes. And when Jeanene saw their small selection of frames for infants, she despaired. All they had were clunky, plastic frames that looked like sports glasses.

It may seem like a small thing and perhaps even a little vain, but after being forced to accept all the hard news about Lillian’s eyes, we could not bear the thought of her wearing the eyewear equivalent of orthopedic shoes.

And then someone told us about Carrera Optical. The owner, Gary Carrera, was a third generation optician. His grandfather started the business years ago. One look at Lillian’s eyes told Gary all he needed to know. He pulled out a measuring tool, squinted over it, and lined it up with her eyes.

As he reached over to steady her face, Gary said, “You know, her glasses must be fitted perfectly. The lenses should be precisely the width of her eyes. And the bifocals must exactly bisect the line of her pupils.”

“That’s right!” said Jeanene. “That’s what the doctor said. They didn’t seem too interested in taking measurements at the places we went before we came here.”

Gary looked at her over the top of his glasses.

“Where did you go? Walmart? LENS crafters?”

Jeanene was embarrassed. “Yes. Both places, actually.”

Gary turned his attention back to his measurements. His eyes darted back and forth over his instrument as he lined it up with her pupils.

“You can get away with places like that for typical, single-vision glasses, I suppose. But with her condition, she really needs everything to be done exactly right. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of her.”

Jeanene nodded.

“Um, I guess you have some frames for very small children like her, right? She’s only four months old.”

Gary went to the back of his store. He returned with a wooden box. He sat it in front of Jeanene and opened it. Dozens of miniature frames sat glittering on velvet. They were tiny replicas of stylish frames for adults. There wasn’t a single pair that was ugly.

Jeanene gasped and reach out to touch them.

“Oh, they’re darling! They’re so cute. All of them.”

Gary smiled. “Here’s what I want you to do. Take the whole case home with you tonight. Try them on. Take your time. And if you can’t find one you like, I have catalogues full of others. We’ll order one if we need to. It’s important that you be happy with the way she looks in her glasses.”

That evening we tried various frames on Lillian until we found a pair that looked perfect. She was so cute wearing these little glasses our entire perspective changed. From that moment on we never thought of her glasses as a medical apparatus. They became instead a precious part of her personality, something that set her apart.

There was something about the gentle and confident way Gary dealt with us that helped change the way we saw things. We knew we were going to be okay and so was Lillian. After all, Gary was in this with us. He was one our side.

And my little girl was going to look like an absolute DOLL wearing his glasses.

The high calling of our daily work, my friends. Do not underestimate your power to touch lives.


Image by Raysa Fontana. Used with permission via Flickr. Post by Gordon Atkinson.

Note: Years ago I wrote a couple of stories about my daughter and her glasses. You can read them here and here.

Lillian Hope Atkinson - 1999