Keratoconus, you lose!
I was born in 1988. For the first 13 years of my life, I did not know what perfect vision was. It’s like a paradox, how do you know what is the definition of good vision? You can’t try someone else’s eyes for a day. You always see the world through your own, which is what color is to you, that is what clarity is.
Then a teacher at school noticed me reading with my eyes too close to the book. That moment defined my existence since then. What would I be if she had not done that? I don’t know. Her observation started a chain reaction. I went to an optometrist and he leisurely put on those spectacles with interchangeable lenses that these people use to test and correct vision. He began with a small number, then bigger and bigger until he was finished. Whatever he put in front of my eyes either didn’t do anything or made it worse. He was baffled.
I was referred to a more capable facility, where the doctors finally told me what is going on. That is when I first heard the word Keratoconus, what it does and how rare it is. He told me that only contact lenses would help me. I was ecstatic! I constantly pestered my dad to get me blue colored lenses.
We arrived at the contact lens clinic. The doctor tested my vision and then put on hard lenses to check for comfort and fit. Oh what a torture that was! I could not lift my eyes above waist level. Then the worst news was broken to me: Semi soft contact lenses, that I would need to wear, do not come in colors.
Thus began my relationship with Rigid Gas Permeable lenses, which is still going on. Initially, I refused wearing them to school since I was confident that my normal vision is enough for day to day operations. It was only when I got used to the tremendous vision improvement with lenses that I thought about wearing them daily. My school was about 6 kilometers from home and I had to cycle all the way through. India is a dusty country, so those 6 kilometers meant I went weeping all the way. I tried wearing goggles, but they did not help much and only made me self-conscious.
The task of keeping the lenses clean and the constant tension due to them flung me into the world of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders. I was a teenager and the pressure infected almost all areas of my life. I would wash my hands a thousand time a day, would never touch my eyes and spend around 40 minutes daily cleaning the lenses.
One day while I was going to school, the obvious happened. Dust got into my eye and decided to take a walk between the cornea and the lens. My right eye got severely bruised. I brushed it off as just a bigger instance of a normal routine of eye pain and went on with my life. During my next yearly eye checkup, the doctor told me now I had a Corneal Opacity as well and the vision in my right eye would be reduced considerably.
So, the first year of my contact lens days was pure hell. I was absolutely unaware what to do and what not and all the things that could go wrong did. The good thing was that my KC was constant from the beginning, around -6 in both eyes and unchanging.
The Silver Lining:
The huge responsibility of taking care of two little pieces of plastic in your eyes, which have a strong liking to come out when you least expect them, matured me a lot. I have changed more than 15 different sets of contact lenses in the 11 years I have been wearing them and never lost a pair. This is a huge accomplishment, because I never stopped myself from being normal in any way. I took part in all types of sports, played football till state level and did things that any teenager would do. I remember during our last football match, I played with only one contact lens, reducing the chance of injury by 50%! I started taking much more care of my eyes and the lenses.
Along came college and I had to move out from home. Life in the hostel provided further challenges. Simple things like no attached bathroom became big headaches to someone like me, who was already reeling under OCDs. It was during this time that I got my first motorcycle and fell in love with life on the road. I always wore a helmet, which was completely sealed and air tight with duct tape, which became my signature look! Below the helmet I wore goggles. With this double layer of protection, I travelled around India uninhibited.
“Fortune favors the brave” holds completely true for me. On multiple occasions, while I was driving on roads with heavy traffic, one lens would come out. Sometimes it got stuck inside the helmet, sometimes somewhere around the eyelid. I would somehow make my way to the side and find it and put it back and get on. It was sheer luck that the lenses never fell out into oblivion.
Another instance would be during school, while I was playing football, somebody hit me in the face and the lens fell out into thick grass. Now the funny thing is, if your lens falls out, you don’t even have enough vision to find it! So like many other occasions, I was left with no other option but to brush lightly with my hand the entire area I thought the lens might have gone to. I have no idea how, but it always worked!
During my final years in college, I got into photography. Even with contact lenses, my vision is not perfect, due to the opacity and the very nature of Keratoconus. I believe this gave me a different perspective to the world. My photography is less about the finer details and more about the mood; it’s an impression of the world that I see.
Life goes on:
Some of you might wonder why I have not gone for any other alternative for correcting this disorder. I have heard about Intacs rings, C3R and some other procedures, apart from cornea transplant, that could help in this matter. The biggest reason is fear. I am not confident enough in the medical services provided here and feel that life with contact lenses is not that bad after all. It is a bargain, but I have decided to carry it for the future, at least till there is a sure shot treatment available that I can take without objection.
So for anyone out there who has just been diagnosed with this rare disease, there is a silver lining! A life with contact lenses does not have to be any less exciting, rewarding and crazy than a normal one. You are different than most other people out there, that is a blessing in disguise.
I have driven more than 40,000 kilometers on my bike and 20,000 kilometers in cars on the dusty roads in India in cold and rain and sun, have taken more than 8000 photographs, worked in 2 MNC’s in day and night shifts, and lead a normal life. Here I am photographing my friend during a suicide burnout! Why? Because it’s fun.
So go out there and do what you want to do! The only limitations are those you set on yourself. If you wish to contact me, https://plus.google.com/u/0/112685199293700779997/about , https://twitter.com/AkhilKalsh and https://www.facebook.com/akhil.kalsh would get you there.