Bright Light Blinding the Dependent Eye

Two week ago, I went in for my yearly routine eye exam.  My regular doctor told me she wanted me to see the retina specialist because — the new treatment theory is that anyone who has a -6.0 or higher correction is at risk for a retinal tear and they want to find any trouble early and laser it to prevent more severe degradation in the future — and she wanted to get a baseline for me, even though she didn’t see anything that concerned her.

I had my retina specialist appointment this week and the dreaded experience didn’t disappoint.  The specialist was excellent, but I have light-colored eyes, and bright light of any nature tends to be uncomfortable in all circumstances — so when there’s a purposeful “heavy dilation” and then a spotlight is stunningly aimed in my eyes, I cry a little and a I see everything with a purplish tint for 30 minutes afterward.

Everything turned out to be fine.  The doctor said, “You’re in good condition for the condition you’re in” — which seemed, at the time, like a backhanded compliment, or, later, as some sort of hat tip to a Kenny Rogers lyric.

One of the more interesting things my doctor asked me during the exam was which hand is my dominant hand.  When I told him I was right-handed, he explained that since my right eye was my dominant eye, my left eye would be much more sensitive to the light he planned to next poke in my eye.  He was right!  My left eye is always more sensitive to light than my right.  I thought it was because my left eye is weaker, but the doctor told me the reason is really because that eye is the dependent eye and not autonomically protected by my brain.

In later research at home, I was fascinated to learn that we preternaturally, and unconsciously, protect our dominant eye.  We tilt our head to favor it for seeing important things.  If we wear a hat, we angle the brim ever-so-slightly to shield that eye from the sun.  We subconsciously squint our dominant eye to see better when startled, and we also squint that dominant eye more to protect it from the sun, wind and rain.

The dependent eye is not as protected by the brain — and that’s why that eye is more sensitive to bright light and other invasive elements.  If our body can only preserve and protect one eye, it will be the dominant eye, and that means the dependent eye is sort of left in its ocular orb to suffer its own, second status, fate.

As I was preparing to leave my retina examination, I overheard my doctor in the other examination room quietly telling a patient he had fluid in his eye and that he had to come back next week for laser surgery to fix the problem.  The patient — an older Latino man — said in broken English he didn’t have any money for such an operation.  My doctor whispered, “Don’t worry about.  Go to the front desk and tell them, and I’ll take care of it.”

I never felt so good seeing purple as I did that moment when I learned my retina specialist was not only a great doctor, and a Kenny Rogers fan, but he was also one great human being when nobody else was looking — even though one person was listening.