Category: aging

The dying of the light

I wish it looked like this to me.

Dylan Thomas wrote, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” He was talking about death and dying.

Having just visited my ophthalmologist, I suddenly see a different meaning in Thomas’s words. No pun intended. Bad things are starting to happen to my eyes and I’m not happy about it. Not at all happy. It was enough to have been stuck wearing glasses since my early twenties. Dry eyes kept me from wearing contacts, although I tried repeatedly over several years. That and allergies meant a lot of eye irritation. Now, adding insult to … insult … come glaucoma and cataracts.

The elevated intraocular pressure (IOP) of glaucoma can steal your sight, slowly, painlessly, starting with your peripheral vision and working toward the center. Generally the pressure can be controlled with eye drops or ultimately, if necessary, with surgery. But you must have your IOP monitored, because the nerve damage, once it occurs, is irreversible. I’m currently using two different kinds of drops to control my IOP. It took a lot of trial and error and a lot of visits to the doctor’s office to figure out which combination of drugs worked best for me. For now the magic mix is Lumigan, one drop in each eye at bedtime, and Combigan twice a day in the left eye. Yes, that means two different drops in the left eye at night, with a 5- to 10-minute wait between. And that’s an improvement. With a different kind of drops, it was three times a day in the left eye.

There are about 4 other kinds of drops in my bathroom drawer now; those are the ones I tried that didn’t get the results the doctor wanted, but might be used again if one of the current ones starts losing its effectiveness. You should see the notes taped on the inside of my medicine cabinet door. Use this one this one this one in the left eye once a day three times a day twice a day. Use this one this one this one in both eyes once a day.

(There also are artificial tears, and drops for allergies, but those are on an as-needed basis.)

Then there are the cataracts. Early stage, not very distinct yet. Enough to mess up my vision in subtle ways but apparently not yet enough to do anything about. I’m beginning to consider a second opinion on how soon this might become a situation correctable with surgery. Not that I’m in any hurry to have anyone poking around in my eyes, but knowing my vision is even one iota less sharp than it once was makes me crazy.

The doctor’s assistant did a refraction test to check my eyeglasses prescription and made some changes. When the doctor came in and asked how it went, I told him, “crappy.” Each of my choices had been the best of a bad lot. The result was basically crap, compared to 10, 15, or 20 years ago. He checked everything again and made some more changes. “Cataracts,” he said. Fine, I thought. Don’t just change my prescription. Let’s get those buggers out of there! Yep, definitely thinking second opinion …

A few of you may be able to appreciate that before computers came along and allowed us to enlarge tiny type for easier viewing and close inspection, I was routinely measuring and eyeballing differences of 1/72″ (in typesetting, a point = 1/72″; 6 pts = 1 pica; 6 picas = 1″). Or reading 6-point type and having to determine if it was set in the correct font — every single character. Or distinguishing one tiny font from another, when the difference was little more than the shape of the descender on the lowercase g, or a different crossbar on the lowercase e, or the slope of a certain letter’s serifs.

More of you may be able to appreciate having to slow down in order to read a street sign soon enough to make your turn onto an unfamiliar street. You used to read those signs clearly from a lot farther away and as a result could drive faster. It gets more frustrating when you know you’ll have to be in a different lane to make your turn, but you can’t move into the turn lane until you can read the sign and know you’ve reached the correct intersection.

It didn’t used to be like this, doctor. Fix it! Glasses aren’t enough anymore. What’s next?

Then there’s night driving. I’m getting no help there at all. I just don’t drive at night anymore. (Well, okay, maybe, occasionally, I’ll drive the 1.5 miles to my son’s house.) Think about all the things you couldn’t do if you couldn’t/didn’t drive after dark.

There’s only so much you can do to ensure optimal vision at night. First, four surfaces have to be spotlessly clean — the outside of the windshield, the inside of the windshield with that hard-to-remove layer of greasy scum, and both sides of your eyeglass lenses. Unfortunately, cataracts will still cause lights to appear as flares or starbursts rather than focused points and you can’t wipe them away with Windex and a paper towel.

I’m guessing maybe my problem is made worse by my car’s 16-year-old windshield. There’s got to be at least a minimal amount of pitting and scratching that probably would cause lights to flare and distort, right? And yes, I’ve seriously considered replacing the windshield, just to see if that helps.

Also, my car is very low-slung and the crowns of the roads here are quite pronounced. Even in daylight it can be difficult to see left turn lane lines on the far side of an intersection; at night … well … so far, not many headlights point around curves for you.

Finally, if all that weren’t enough, age slows your pupillary response time, the time it takes for your pupils to dilate or contract in response to darkness or light. Imagine if your eyes didn’t respond instantly when you drove from oncoming headlights to the dark road beyond. Or from bright sunlight, through a dark tunnel, and back into sunlight. Or just walked from bright sunlight into a dark movie theater.

Yes, yes, getting older beats the alternative. But couldn’t I just sag a little more, or ache a little more in the morning, or have a shoulder that goes out occasionally. Less hair, gray hair, more wrinkles. Age spots. Come on, I can handle those. Take an appendage or two.

But dammit, leave my eyes alone!

Bad news brings bad memories for retired editor

Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!! Rant Alert!!!!

This is what’s happening these days to print media employees. “Early” retirement. When you think retirement, what age comes to mind? 65? Maybe a little older now, given the tough economy. So if an employer mentioned early retirement, you might think a couple of years earlier, say, 62 or 63. Or maybe as young as 60.

You’d be wrong. Some employees at Oklahoma’s largest newspaper, The Oklahoman, 150 of them who’ve accrued 15 years’ experience with the paper and reached the ripe old age of 55, are being offered early retirement. (Newspapers are slowly dying as the world goes electronic.)

I don’t know the details of the offer, such as whether the company is throwing in “lifelong” (until their next budget cut) health insurance, or padding employees’ retirement funds (which could disappear tomorrow if the company undergoes some kind of financial reversal). And the story doesn’t say if the offer is a “voluntary” early retirement, or one of those deals where the employees are out, one way or another. You know the kind: “You can resign now, or be fired; your choice.”

Why am I so angry about this? Because too many details in that story sound too damn familiar. I lived in Oklahoma City for a very long time. Almost all my working years were in that market; all my job searches were in that market. And I’m here to tell you, that market sucks for anyone working in print. There are even more coincidences: I was fired the week of my 55th birthday and just 15 years after I’d started working with that employer.

In this day and age, 55-year-old workers are at their peak, not tottering off into the sunset. In this economy, they are many years from retirement. They are counting on having those years as their most well paid years, as the years when their retirement funds, finally, will really start growing by leaps and bounds due to larger contributions from the employer and accruing interest. At 55, a worker is just beginning his best, most lucrative years of financial preparation for retirement.

I haven’t the words to tell you how heavily a person can be counting on those years after 55 to get ready for retirement. I can’t begin to describe how devastating it is, both financially and emotionally, to be suddenly, unexpectedly fired at that age. It’s even worse if you’re single, because there’s no one else there with emotional and secondary financial support.

It gets worse, of course, as the months drag on and the unemployment checks finally stop. OKC is an especially lousy job market for jobs in print. One major newspaper, a couple of smaller community and business papers, a couple of small community and private magazines. If you happen to have worked your way up to the higher level editing/managing tier, you can count on two hands the opportunities available there. And for the most part they are not really in publishing; they’re the PR directors for the companies big enough to have PR directors. And the same people keep holding those slots; they just advance sideways through the different companies.

I heard some of the management-level discussions when my non-profit medical association was looking for a new director. I heard what they said about the guy who was obviously the best-qualified, nicest guy in the bunch, the one we all wanted to work for. “But he’s 55,” the bosses said. “He’s just biding his time till he retires.”

So they hired some cocky young wunderkind all the way from a snooty rich county association in the NYC suburbs. (Many in Oklahoma City still have an extreme inferiority complex that they try to overcome by hiring people from more sophisticated parts of the country.)

I only lasted a few months after that jerk (shorthand for “arrogant, pompous ass with “Short Man Syndrome”) arrived. There were two of us “antiques” spoiling his office ambiance, and the other woman was the bookkeeper/accountant who had, at the behest of our boss, cooked kept the association’s books for the previous 20 years or so (I learned from her how creative accounting really is). I was only the managing editor of a journal that had never turned a profit at that not-for-profit association. And hell, by then (1998), any pretty young (preferably single) secretary could crank out a publication using Microsoft Word, right? Why keep paying a professional (and old) editor to do it?

Do you detect a little bitterness here? Just a tad, maybe? Nahhhh. It’s ten years later. I’m not bi … bit … bitt … resentful. Hell, no! Why should I be!? (Besides, even though three different lawyers said I might have a case, they all said my time and resources would be better spent looking for another job. So I did. Unsuccessfully. Now that I think about it, all three were men, all three were well-to-do and employed, and all three were in their 40s.)

I know. I know. I need a shrink to help me get over this. But have you checked the going rate these days for a shrink?

(I did warn you this would be a rant, didn’t I?)

Just retrain, management says

Sound familiar? You lose your job and The Man, from his paneled office, says, don’t worry. There are plenty of jobs out there. Just retrain.

In my case, as in many, management was missing the point. I didn’t want to retrain. I had thirty years invested in printing and publishing and that’s where I wanted to stay. It hadn’t made me rich enough to move elsewhere for retraining and a new job. Besides, it was what I knew and loved.

As it turned out, all of that was moot anyway. I was forced to accept that nobody wanted to hire a 55-year-old, or a 56-year-old, or a 57-year old. Not that I didn’t already know it. I had been in on my employer’s side of the discussion when a highly qualified 57-year-old was applying for a position. The bottom line was his age; my organization didn’t want someone who “just wanted a place to park until his retirement.”

Nor, apparently, had my boss wanted to retain anyone in that age group. Experience didn’t matter. I was the only one in the organization who knew anything about publishing, but hey, by the time I got booted, the secretaries were cranking out stuff with Word, and it looked great (different fonts, columns, and everything!) to the uninitiated. So on a variety of pretexts (they never settled on one, and none related to my job performance), I was terminated.

Need I mention that my chair was hardly cold before they hired two or three lovely young women who happily shared what I used to make.

If you’re the worker, the one in the trenches every day, you understand what I’m talking about. If you’re management, you don’t care.