Pirate Ophthalmology: The Treatment for Amblyopia

Blackbeard the Pirate with Hipster GlassesI used to blame the eye doctor for my bad vision. You see, I was born with amblyopia, which is a fancy way of saying “lazy eye”. From what I understand of ophthalmology (which is very little), the problem is not so much my eye as my optic nerve. The camera works fine, but the wiring is faulty. Fortunately, there’s a cure: dressing up as a pirate.

When you’re young and your brain is still developing, it’s a lot easier to strengthen the eye’s connection to the brain. With amblyopia, there’s a “good” eye and a “bad” eye. The bad eye is lazy; it’s not sending the proper signals to the brain. With the good eye functioning normally, there’s no need to. But if you disable the good eye, the bad eye has to pick up the slack. The underdeveloped optic nerve will start to grow and heal, and the kid’s vision will improve.

The problem is disabling the good eye. The easiest way to do this is to put a patch over it.

“You’ll look like a pirate,” the doctor told me.

“I don’t want to be a pirate.”

I was a smart kid and the doctor couldn’t fool me. The medical eye patch looked nothing like a pirate patch. It was flesh-colored and taped onto my face. And even if my mom were to draw on a skull and crossbones, I wouldn’t be able to notice. The whole point of the exercise was to blind me. With my good eye covered and my bad eye so lazy, I couldn’t see worth a damn. I couldn’t watch TV or play with my friends, or even walk down the staircase.

So I cheated.

My parents couldn’t watch me all the time, so it was easy to peel away the tape and peek around the edge. By doing so, I could see better at the time, at the cost of ruining my adult vision.

Years later, I blamed myself for being so stupid. I blamed the doctors for thinking a little kid wouldn’t cheat. Eventually I came to terms with it. It’s no one’s fault that I have bad vision. It’s just the way I am.

Steve Lovelace

Steve Lovelace is a writer and graphic artist. After graduating Michigan State University in 2004, he taught Spanish in Samoa before moving to Dallas, Texas. He blogs regularly at http://steve-lovelace.com.

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