Government protects pupils, but allows a chain-saw free for all

By JAYSON JACOBY, Baker City Herald January 02, 2009 02:03 pm

I used to think, as I suspect most people do, that a chain saw posed a greater threat to eyesight than a contact lens does.

Recent events have forced me to reconsider the comparative danger of the two items.

The thing is, it’s easier nowadays to procure a chain saw — or for that matter pretty much any powered implement with sharp metal pieces that spin really fast — than it is to replace the contact lens you washed down the drain.

Or snapped in half, as I did last Saturday.

I was cleaning the lens, too, which amplified my frustration.

Few things annoy me as completely as preventive maintenance that backfires.

It’s like changing the oil in your car and then blowing a piston because you forget to tighten the drain plug.

I knew, even before my mishap Saturday, that contact lenses were, as the Food and Drug Administration puts it, “medical devices.”

Contacts, after all, are prescribed by a doctor, just like antibiotics and morphine-based painkillers.

What I didn’t know — and couldn’t, in fact, have even imagined — was how interested the government actually is in what I put in my eyes.

Far more interested, certainly, than in which power tools I own.

This discrepancy shouldn’t shock me, I suppose. It does after all involve the government, which often lets its insatiable curiosity get the better of it. I guess I’m not as cynical as I thought I was. Or maybe I’m just more naive than I believed.

In any case it turns out that if more than a year has elapsed since you had your eyes checked, your contact lens prescription is as worthless as Weimar Republic currency.

My eyes, unfortunately, are more than three years in arrears, although so far as I can tell this does not render me, or my eyes, subject to prosecution.

I hope not, anyway.

Which is not to say that my optometric obstinacy is without penalty.

Lacking a valid prescription, I can’t buy a new lens — not even the disposable ones that spared me the ignominy of extended spectacles-wearing after previous lens-wrecking episodes. And anybody who sold me a lens —  or, I suspect, who even let me have a look at my outdated prescription — could get into trouble with the FDA or some other initial-ridden federal agency.

To be honest, I felt a bit troubled when I grasped the scope of my predicament.

There I stood at my bathroom sink, in this country that is the bastion of freedom in the world, yet I was powerless, due to a edict from my government, to correct a minor problem caused solely by my clumsy fingers.

I’d have been better off had I busted the faucet instead of the contact lens. You don’t need a prescription to buy bathroom fixtures.

I suppose I ought to be grateful that my government wants to make sure an optometrist gives my pupils a good going over at least once a year.

I’m counting on this pair to last me for at least another half century, after all.

Also, I’ve proved, by procrastinating in making an appointment, that I’m not to be trusted to look out for myself.

Still, it seems to me that the government, in its zeal to protect my corneas, has gouged its way a little farther into my affairs, and my retinas, than is warranted.

I feel a twinge of discomfort about the business, anyway — and it’s not only because one of the nose pieces on my eyeglasses fits too tightly.

All I wanted to do was buy a duplicate of the lens which a doctor prescribed and a trained expert fashioned — the clone of the plastic disc that I’ve been gently placing on my right eye every morning for the past three years.

Probably that eye isn’t quite what it was back then. But if the lens I cracked had become so ill-suited to its task that medical intervention was called for, and federal laws needed, I’m sure I’d have had at least an inkling that something was amiss.

I’ve maintained a perfect record, at any rate, of steering my car into the driveway rather than the adjacent irrigation ditch.

Perhaps I should feel fortunate that the government hasn’t dispatched an agent to confiscate my other lens, which is intact but undoubtedly  dangerously obsolete.

My initial anger about this situation has largely subsided.

Within a couple weeks, I’m sure, I’ll own a sparkling new pair of lenses and the Elkhorns will seem more vivid on the next bright winter day. I’ll bask, too, in the knowledge that my windows to the world are in order.

And yet, although my outlook will in one way have been clarified, it will in another way have been muddied — slightly, perhaps, but I fear also irretrievably.

I can’t easily dismiss that comparison between the contact lens and the chain saw, is the thing.

It seems queer to me that the government — which concluded it needed to pass a law to prevent me from acquiring a contact lens that might be a handful of microns off its ideal dimensions — cares not a whit if I buy a Stihl with a 24-inch bar and then go out and sever my leg with it.

I value my femoral artery as much as the next man.

But I’m partial too to the notion that I can saw up a cord of tamarack in my back yard without asking the government’s blessing.

I don’t have to put on goggles, either, although I recommend them highly.

They’re cheap, but they can save you from a nasty splinter.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.