Second Sight in the Ice

Paul Lowinger


Suddenly, I could see without the eyeglasses that IÕd used since my teens, about sixty years earlier. I could discard the glasses that I used for movies, theater, sports and driving. It happened as I was cruising the Southern Ocean in the Ice off the coast of Antarctica on a Soviet-era ice breaker with other members of Elderhostel.

Now I could see the roiling waters, the ice floes, seals, birds and whales all without glasses. First, my glasses were off intermittently and then constantly as I discovered that I could distinguish between fellow passengers across the dining room and down the long passageways.

I was always nearsighted; I had myopia. At a distance, faces werenÕt sharp enough to produce certainty. I was able to read without glasses but reading the blackboard in school required corrective lenses, eyeglasses.

I recall my disappointment at the age of twenty when I failed an eye exam for Army Air Corps flight training during World War II. I wasnÕt going to get a officerÕs uniform and wings. Instead, I got sent to basic training in the Field Artillery as a private although laterI got a chance to transfer to premed studies in the Army Specialized Training Program and finally to med school. No opportunity for combat here. Did myopia save my life? Maybe, although not all those who entered flight school became aviators or were shot down.

It was on a tour of Antarctica in 1997 when I discarded my glasses so next year, I will have a seven year cure. Folklore and textbooks both speak of Second Sight as occurring when the blurred vision of an older person becomes normal again. Acuity of vision depends on the ability of the lens controlled by the ciliary muscle to expand and contract in order to focus the image on the retina. The retina sends the image to the brain. If the picture is focused in front of the retina, the blurring is called nearsightedness; if the image focuses behind the retina, it is called farsightedness.

In middle age, a usual development is presbyopia when the lens becomes less flexible and there is some compensation for the focal deficiency of nearsightedness. Myopia plus presbyopia can improve vision. A cataract which is caused by the hardening of the lens may also improve the ability of the nearsighted eye to focus the image just as the shaped lens of the eyeglass does. This isnÕt the usual effect of cataracts which cloud vision. I will ask my eye doctor what caused my second sight since he agrees that I donÕt need glasses now.

So the miracle is a correction of an error of accommodation. But isnÕt the discarding of eyeglasses like the experience of cripple who walks miraculously after a visit to a shrine and abandons the crutches?

IÕve seen heaps of discarded braces and crutches at Ste. Ann de Beaupre in Quebec City and I recall there were eyeglasses too. There must be larger piles at Lourdes. Could the Ice be a natural shrine?

© Paul Lowinger 2003