G is for Optician

Stay with me. You need some background before I get to why G is for Optician. Yeah, the first part is a bit of a rant about education. If you want to skip the background info, jump to the next heading.

I left teaching elementary in June of 2013. I just couldn’t do it anymore. Too many hours in one week just to attempt to keep up, ill-tempered and violent kids and their equally ill-tempered parents, endless test preparation, and paperwork that would fill the Mid-Atlantic trench for each kid in the class.

There were bright spots, of course. Each year, I had kids who really, truly wanted to learn. They would try walking on air if I told them that was the lesson of the day. Kids who tried – and often succeeded – to overcome language barriers, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, disastrous home-lives, and myriad other challenges. I also had parents of the kids who were truly helpful and supportive.

Unfortunately, with all the high stakes testing and the “tiered education” model in use now, those kids who were desperately wanting to learn were not the ones I had to give my attention to. As much as I wanted to do otherwise, I had to spend my time with the ones who could learn but would not learn. In some cases, that was because they aspired to nothing greater than “playin’ games at home and waitin’ for the mailman to bring the gov’ment check.” That’s what Mama and Daddy did, after all. I wish I was making that quote up, but I’m not. I heard it more than once from the mouths of 10-year-olds.

That’s sad, but because those kids were failing the benchmarks for lack of effort, those were the ones I was mandated to spend my time on. The kid in the corner who was there to “get a good education so I can take care of my mama” because Daddy had died last year in a car wreck … he was passing, so he didn’t make it onto any of my “small group” lists. The girl who spent every possible moment in class working her butt off because when she went home she had to do housework and taking care of the younger kids — Mama and Daddy both worked two jobs to make ends meet — she was passing, barely, so she didn’t make it onto any of the Tier lists. Sad. Heartbreaking even. After 14 years of it, I couldn’t do it anymore.

I tried getting a job in a private school, assuming that they’d be free of the high stakes testing nonsense that sucked so much of the life out of teaching, but I couldn’t break into that group. Why? “You’ve only taught public school?” Yep. “Sorry, but we went with a more qualified candidate.” Terrific. I got the same thing applying for corporate training kinds of jobs. So, fine. I decided to go for a degree to back up my efforts to break into adult education.

In the meantime, I needed a way to pay the bills. I moved in with my folks to help them with expenses and reduce my own expenses at the same time. The money from the sale of my house, a few very generous birthday and Christmas gifts, a tax return or two, and my last 3 teacher paychecks funded my Master’s program.

But What About G is for Optician?

Hold on. I was just getting to that.

To make my expenses for things like car insurance, gas, food, bird food, etc., I needed a “day job.” My folks saw a sign in the vision center of a large retailer, and my southern pa used to work with the manager there. He put in a good word for me, I applied, and before long I was mangling and wrangling glasses. People who mangle and wrangle glasses are called “opticians,” so that’s why G is for Optician.

Photo (c) 2009 “bedroom eyes”/Retrieved from Flickr under Creative Commons and used unchanged

Photo (c) 2009 “bedroom eyes”/Retrieved from Flickr under Creative Commons and used unchanged

There was a learning curve and a half for that job. I hadn’t done anything like it before, even with my other retail experience. I understood optics from teaching basic physics to 4th graders, and I could figure out how to bend and warp a frame to straighten it out by thinking in terms of leverage and other basic physics to adjust glasses to fit right. Exactly which lens goes with what kind of prescription, and how to maneuver my way through the computer system to set stuff up? Yeah, that took more doing. And insurance? Oh, wow, if that could be more confusing… I got it, though, and I’ve reached a point where I can do most of the normal functions without having to call my boss and bother her.

Glasses are interesting, if you think about them in terms of how they do what they do. See, there are multiple parts of the prescription, and each part tells what to do to fix the problem. The prescription I’m going to use is not a real person’s prescription. I would be in violation of HIPAA privacy laws if I were to share someone’s real prescription with you. I totally made this one up.

OD: +2.00 -0.75 x 010 +1.25

OS: +2.25 – 1.50 x 075 +1.25

First, before the numerical gobbledygook, you’ll see OD and OS. Those are Latin abbreviations.  OD means Oculus Dextrus, or the right eye. OS is Oculus Sinister, or the left eye. Yes, sinister means left. Someday, I’ll walk you through why that is, but for now, just trust me on that part.

A glasses prescription can have up to 4 parts. The first is the “sphere” which is the main power of the lens. It can be + for far-sighted or – for near-sighted. Near- or far-sightedness results from an improperly shaped eyeball. It’s normally spherical, but if it isn’t, the sphere corrects for that so light focuses at the right distance. For farsighted people, the eyeball is kind of squished, so the natural focus point for the light is behind the eyeball. Not helpful. For nearsighted people, the eyeball is stretched out, so the natural focus point for the eye is in front of the retina. Also not helpful. In the case of our bogus prescription the person is far-sighted in both eyes. If it says “plano” that means there is no sphere power, which means the eye is normal, at least as far as the shape of the eye.

To fix this problem, the lens of your glasses is curved. It’s fat at the outside and skinny in the middle for near-sighted people. That makes the light refocus further out, preferably on the retina where it’s handy. For far-sighted people, the lens is fat in the middle and skinny at the edges. This makes the light focus earlier, again, preferably on the retina where it’s useful.

The next two numbers, if they’re there at all, are an astigmatism correction. Astigmatism is a correction for the tilt of the football-shaped lens in your eye or a defect in the curvature of the front surface of the eye. If your lens is tilted or the surface is monkeyed up, the light is focusing in the wrong direction. The first number, which usually has a – sign, is the power of the correction called the cylinder. The second number, called the axis, is the angle of the correction. The astigmatism power adds to the sphere power along the angle of the axis. That makes the power different along that axis so the light bends back in the direction it’s supposed to go and you can see straight again. If it says DS instead of two numbers, that means Diopters Sphere, or no astigmatism correction needed.

Finally, you have the bifocal Add power. This number is only there if you have difficulty focusing up close. It provides your eyes with a little extra help at close range, like having a mini-magnifying glass built into your glasses.

There are other quirky things that can be done with glasses like a “prism” adjustment to correct for doubled vision, but most glasses prescriptions will fall into the description above.

Stay tuned next week when … H is for SCA.

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