Before talking about living with an eye prosthesis, I suggest reading my story on “The accident that changed my life,” which details how I ended up with a damaged eye and the need to use an eye prosthesis.
I forgot to mention in “The accident that changed my life” that before getting my eye prosthesis, my damaged eye became a benefit and saved me from getting beat up in school.
Getting saved by my damaged eye from a beat down happened while in middle school. I believe I was in the sixth grade at the time. I was on one end of the hall outside my class, waiting for the doors to open, when I noticed a group of eighth-graders coming down the opposite end of the hall and punching random sixth graders. As I saw this happening, I had two choices, stay and see what happened or run away before they reached my end of the hall. I was never one to run, and so I stayed. I was the only one at my end of the hall, so the probability of them coming to me was very high, and that’s exactly what happened. It was a good size group of eighth-graders, about 7 to 10 of them, with a mix of girls and boys. The biggest of the group was hitting the kids while the others laughed and encouraged him. No doubt I was scared of what would happen, but I had to stand my ground for better or worse. As the group stood in front of me, specifically the one doing the punching, he seemed like a giant. I was a small skinny kid compared to him. I don’t remember what he said to me if he said anything at all; all I remember is he threw a punch aimed at my head. I ducked while simultaneously moving my hands up while holding my school notebook. It was one of those three-ring binders. He punched the binder instead, which they didn’t seem to notice for some reason, and the binder hit the lockers behind me and made a considerable noise. As I lifted my head and anticipated another punch, one of the girls in the group looked at me and very loudly said something of “Oh my God, look at what you did to his eye.” I guess they never paid too much attention to me before throwing the punch, and so when she said that, the kid who threw the punch looked at my eye, and you could see fear in his face. He thought he caused that to my eye and apologized to me before they all ran away.
I think it’s important to mention how I learned about an eye prosthesis in the first place. It was through the optometrist I went to at the age of 15 when I went to get my first prescription glasses. As she evaluated my good eye and went through the prescription, she asked me if I had ever heard of an eye prosthesis? I said no, and she told me the basics of what it is and handed me a brochure of a clinic that does that type of work. I talked to my family about it, and one of my older brothers called and made an appointment for me. He was also the one that took me to that appointment. After everything was set and how much my family would pay, the process of an eye prosthesis went as follows. A rough mold was made of the damaged eye; the rough mold was cut and smoothed into what looked like a big white eye contact. At this point, this white eye contact is fitted into my eye to see how it feels and how it looks. Once inside my eye, I was given a hand mirror, and as I looked into it, I got emotional, and a few tears ran down my cheeks. Both the doctor and my brother thought I was crying because they thought the prosthesis was physically uncomfortable. The doctor said that this wasn’t the final version and how it still needed to be polished and colored, but the truth was that it didn’t hurt me. It made me happy, and I felt like I had an eye again. It gave me a sense of wholeness that I had been missing up to that point. The next step in making an eye prosthesis was to get it colored to match my good eye, which was very interesting for multiple reasons. First, it was very cool to see the process of getting the prosthesis hand-colored while the artist looked at my good eye, and she applied these small red ribbons to the prosthesis to mimic the red veins I have in my good eye. While this process was happening, the most interesting part was that a revelation was made to me about my brother, the one taking me to the clinic. It was revealed that my brother was my half-sibling. I’ll dive more into this in another story. After the prosthesis was painted to look as close to an actual eye, it had to go through the final process of getting set and polished. I often describe the final result of the eye prosthesis as a large contact that encompasses the entire eye, but instead of being transparent, it mimics the look of an eye. I often get asked if I can see with the eye prosthesis, and the answer is, of course, no.
Initially, I couldn’t remove or put in the eye prosthesis for the first few years without using a small suction cup the clinic provided me. Using my fingers made it very uncomfortable until I lost all three suction cups down my bathroom sink and was forced to rely solely on my fingers. I didn’t lose them all at once, but I told myself I needed to be extra careful with each loss, but of course, I wasn’t.
It’s remarkable that it’s held up so well after 24 years of the same eye prosthesis. Typically, it’s recommended that you go in every few years to get it polished and refitted, especially refitted, due to the facial structure changing as we grow older, but I’ve never done that. My maintenance consists of taking out my eye prosthesis before going to sleep and cleaning it with a contact solution. I didn’t always do this until a couple of years ago and would leave on the eye prosthesis 24/7. What made me change this was I would constantly get eye goo throughout the day, and it made it very uncomfortable to have it on as I always had to be wiping my eye. Leaving on the eye prosthesis 24/7 was irritating the damaged eye. Once I started taking out the eye prosthesis and what I call “letting my damaged eye breathe,” I no longer had the issue of having eye goo throughout the day. Cleaning it has been essential since it removes dirt and grime that I was letting accumulate when I kept it on 24/7. This was made very clear to me when I was still wearing the eye prosthesis all day every day, and I went to an optometrist to get new glasses, and he wanted to clean my eye prosthesis for me because he told me it looked very dirty when he took a close look at it.
One of the things that I’m always afraid of is leaving the house without the eye prosthesis. I think that’s why I used to keep it on 24/7. If I never removed it, I would never forget it. Now that I remove it, I usually find myself checking the rearview mirror whenever I get into my car and making sure I have it on. There was one time I forgot to put on the eye prosthesis before work, and I’m pretty sure it’s only been once so far, which surprises me. As many times as I forget things, I would have guessed it would have been more times. The time I did forget, I noticed I didn’t have it on while on the freeway heading to work. I immediately got off the next exit and headed back home. I don’t know what I would do if I were to lose or break the eye prosthesis when it comes to showing up at work. I would probably go in, but I would feel incredibly awkward and self-conscious. One time I forgot to put on the eye prosthesis heading to the grocery store but for some reason that didn’t make me turn around and go back home. Instead, I tried to avoid eye contact with other shoppers and get out as soon as possible.
Another thing I’m afraid of is losing my eye prosthesis down the drain, as I did with the three suction cups I used when removing and inserting the eye prosthesis. Whenever I remove my eye prosthesis, it usually happens in front of a sink because I could then wash it. If I have to remove the eye prosthesis, it’s because I have some irritation, typically an eyelash or a tiny object, and so I try to make it a habit to check the sink to see if I need to plug the drain. The eye prosthesis itself is pretty sturdy, and I’ve dropped it many times, and so far, there hasn’t been a single crack or chip that I could see.
One time I was at the mall with my brother, and I felt an itch on the eye that has the prosthesis. I started rubbing the eye prosthesis, and suddenly it fell off. That was the first time that ever happened, and I looked around to see if anyone noticed, and I don’t think anyone did. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights. Another time I was at work getting coffee and heading back to my work area, and as I passed one of my colleagues, she stopped me, and she said, “Wow, your eye just went cross-eyed.” While we were still in front of each other, I was walking with my head down and looked up. The eye prosthesis moves slightly, but not very much as it doesn’t have the full articulation that my good eye has, and from her point of view, my good eye moved in a normal manner while the prosthesis stayed in place for the most part.
I’m often self-conscious about how I look in front of people. Whenever I talk to someone, I always feel they can tell I have something off with my eye, they just can’t put their finger on it, and at any moment, they will solve the puzzle. When I let people know that I have an eye prosthesis, the answer is always that they couldn’t tell. Knowing that, I still can’t help feeling self-conscious. I try not to let those feelings overcome me, become a barrier, and stop me from interacting with others. It’s a struggle that I will always have to deal with, but in my case, it’s something that isn’t obvious, and many others have greater physical issues that can’t be hidden, so I try to keep that in perspective.
Thank you for reading, and on to the next story.