Lost and Found. And Lost and Found. And . . . . by
(58 Stories)

Prompted By The Eyes Have It

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Let there be (properly refracted) light.  Please.

And then, I realized that a lens had fallen out.  Jeez.  While I was riding on the back of an open truck traveling at 65 miles an hour.

I was an early adopter of corrective lenses.  Age ten.  Couldn’t see the blackboard clearly.  Straightforward.  World’s ugliest glasses, worn only for school.  To my detriment.  This was Little League baseball age.  I was a terrific sandlot softball player, especially at the plate.  But playing hardball?  Fuhgeddaboutit.  In retrospect (ha ha) I think it was my somewhat impaired eyesight compounded by the usually well-worn, discolored baseballs used at that level.  No matter.

Age 15.  Contact lens time.  These were the state-of-the art at the time.  Rigid.  Not gas-permeable.  I had an ophthalmologist who was exceptionally good at fitting lenses and I was in heaven.  Perfect vision.  Vanity intact.  What could be better?  But then . . .

Episode the First:  A weekday evening at my prep school, walking back to my dorm.  Oops. Seems a lens just popped out and was.  Somewhere.  On the mica-laden walkway.  Those of us who have had the experience of losing a lens quickly learned that it’s useful to look for the glint of light hitting the fallen lens.  But on mica?  I looked and looked and looked.  Hands and knees.  To no use.  I stood up, defeated.  And looked down. Could that be it? No.  Not possible.  But it was.

Episode the Second.  Several years later.  Summer before college.  I worked my tent-crew job, which involved a fair amount of travel to and from fairgrounds.  Sometime late in the season I was on a crew for one of the larger jobs, and due to circumstances I cannot reconstruct we found ourselves with a crew of four and but one truck that sat three in the cab.  So one lucky crew member would get to ride on the back of the open truck for the better part of two hours.  It was nighttime, of course. Being the rookie on the crew I was volunteered.  Fortunately not too cold.

I made myself as comfortable as I could on top of several of the canvas bags of tents.  And then, I realized that a lens had fallen out.  Jeez.  While I was riding on the back of an open truck traveling at 65 miles an hour.  Bye bye lens.  But when we turned into the parking area at the company headquarters and into bright light, lo and behold there it was.  Perched in plain sight on top of one of the bags.  Don’t know how it held there.  But it did.

Episode the Third.  A number of years later.  Now in adult mode but with my original contacts.  On a flight from Hartford to Washington, D.C.  That familiar feeling.  Oh no.  This time, try as I might the lens was not to be found.  So I deplaned without it.  Makes me think that the lens became a kind of inanimate Charlie on the MTA, forever flying and never repatriating to its home.

Anyway, my trip was a short one, just one night.  And I adapted.  And looked forward to returning home to my standby eyeglasses (I had but one set of lenses).  Upon arrival I quickly retrieved my specs and relished my return to the land of sight.  Only to find . . .   Huh?  This can’t be right.  Things are blurry and out of focus. Blinking and blinking and blinking changed nothing.  I scheduled an emergency visit with my ophthalmologist who refracted me and, in response to my comment that the best he could do wasn’t much of an improvement, said “Perhaps you never saw that well to begin with.”  I refused to believe that.

A good friend referred me to his optometrist.  I explained what had happened and what my experience with the ophthalmologist had been.  He nodded and said “let me take a look”.  He did a quick examination and said “everything looks fine, we’ll schedule you for a return visit for refraction in a couple of weeks.”  My expression spoke volumes.  He explained that the reality of hard lens (at that time) was that they worked as a constraint on the shape of the eye, which was useful because it retarded changes in visual acuity, but in the event that the wearer abruptly stopped using them the eyeball, free of its constraint, would reshape itself somewhat.  Once it settled down he would be able to do a normal refraction.

The ensuing two weeks passed without incident.  Mostly.  I discovered that I could see at least as well without my glasses as with them.  For a time.  The day finally came for my refraction; the results were excellent.  And I bought two pair of lenses.

Profile photo of Tom Steenburg Tom Steenburg
Retired attorney and investment management executive. I believe in life, liberty with accountability and the relentless pursuit of whimsy.

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Glad things finally settled down, and two pair of lenses was smart. Your lost and found stories were great—along with the perfect Far Side cartoon. I once lost a gold earring on a beach—and found it!!—so I can relate to the incredulous feeling you had. I learned it is always worth going back to look. Unfortunately, the time I lost a pair of glasses, I never found them.

  2. Suzy says:

    Love your lost and found episodes. The one in the back of the truck was truly amazing. Interesting that you got no help with your blurry vision from an ophthalmologist, but an optometrist knew exactly what to do. Growing up as a doctor’s daughter, I was taught to disdain any “doctor” who wasn’t an M.D., but in fact optometrists spend a lot more time learning about the eye than ophthalmologists do.

    • Thanks, Suzy. I, too, was the child of a physician and was raised with the same perspective on non-MDs. But, yes, I think that ophthalmologists spend so much time learning about diagnosing and treating diseases of the eye that they are (wait for it) somewhat blind to the fine art of refraction.

  3. Glad all is well with your vision now Tom. I never wore contact lenses myself but often remember friends scrambling around to find one that had fallen out!

    And glad to see you back on Retrospect with your pursuit of whimsy, and hope you keep writing to our wonderful prompts!

  4. John Shutkin says:

    I love happy ending stories, Tom, so very much enjoyed all your stories. And, never having had contact lens myself, I really only know the stories from afar (yes; play on words intended).

    One I particularly remember was watching a Yale football game in about 1960 when Yale’s top receiver, a guy named Kenny Wolfe, stopped the game to report that his lens had popped out. Then all the referrees and his teammates gathered on the field at Yale Bowl (real grass at the time) to look for it. I don’t recall who the opposing team was or whether they helped. But one of Wolfe’s teammates eventually found it and raised it on high to perhaps the loudest cheer I had ever heard in the Bowl. Boola, boola!

    • Thanks, John. I vaguely remember something like that at Cornell at about the same time. As to whether the opposing team was allowed to join the search my guess is “no”. Were I, as an opponent, given an opportunity to assist in the lens search and found it let’s just say that the chances that the lens would be repatriated to its owner would have been nil.

  5. Marian says:

    Great recounting of the experience of a contact-lens wearer, Tom. I love my ophthalmologist for medical issues, but my optometrist’s refractions are way better. That tracks with what you and the other commenters have to say.

    • Thanks, Marian. I’ve wondered at times why ophthalmologists don’t include an an optometrist in their practices; it’s the ideal division of labor for the benefit of patients. Oh, wait. That’s not the way medicine works, is it?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Quite an adventure, Tom. As usual you made me laugh. I’ve missed your humor & am glad to see you back.

  7. Betsy Pfau says:

    Great stories, Tom. As someone who also wore hard lenses back in the day, I had a few instances of lenses popping out at inopportune moments, but nothing like the ones you’ve described.

    My best story (which I left out of my Retro story this week, as it didn’t really move my narrative forward, but is a great story), happened at a dorm party my junior year…back when we all wore large bell-bottom pants. My particular ones that night had cuffs on them. Anyway, I blinked out a lens, then couldn’t see to get home to my dorm room. Some guy named Dan Pfau volunteered to get me back to my room. The rest, as they say, is history (our 48th wedding anniversary is next month). I did have a second pair of lenses, so switched to those. I was/am also a precise creature, who had a specific place in my closet for all my shoes. I hung up my pants that night and put my shoes away. It was some time before I wore those shoes (with a certain heel that I needed for those pants) again. When I did pull them out of the closet, THERE was the lens on the floor. It had dropped into the cuff of my pant. When I hung up my pants, it fell beside those shoes which I didn’t discover until the next time I wore those shoes. Voila!

    Interesting about the optometrist. I may just go to one in addition to my ophthalmologist (I have all sorts of eye issues, but never get a good correction).

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I never had hard contacts, but I did have first-gen soft lenses. They were so expensive, that you cleaned and re-used them, and bought insurance against their loss!

    Soft lenses were much less likely to fall out, unless you happened to be 120 feet underwater on the wreck of the Stolt Dagali off the Jersey coast and another diver with no bouyancy control sideswiped you from above and kicked your mask off of your face….

    I reflexively closed my eyes to avoid losing the contacts, and immediately began to sweep the water with my hands in a downward motion, knowing that masks sink. My instincts and luck were good that day; I snagged my mask, donned it, cleared it and was able to open my eyes. I never did find out who kicked me.

    The reason for the sudden anxiety attack was that I instantly realized that I had to make a hundred mile drive home that evening, and I had no glasses with me.

  9. Your story evoked for me a lot of memories of losing or misplacing lenses–looking for them in the drain of the sink, finding one on the sidewalk outside a restaurant. So much anxiety, so much aggravation! (And a surprising proportion of the time, I found them!). Your vivid descriptions brought it rushing back.
    P.S. No more lenses for me since I had cataract surgery in 2017, and no more even carrying around reading glasses! Unfortunately, I have now been diagnosed with myopic degeneration. A whole different challenge, but at least so far, I’m getting by with no corrective lenses of any kind.

    • Thanks, Dale. While I’ll temporarily envy the freedom cataract surgery has brought I’m sorry to hear of the new challenge. But getting back to the Lens Experience, now neither you nor I have to experience the exquisite misery of getting a bit of grit under a lens.

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