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It’s my birth month, which means that like every other Army aviator on their birth month, I went in yesterday to get a flight physical. It’s a pretty comprehensive exam, but they run through it quickly here; they get lots of practice. It’s not difficult or particularly painful, but still nobody looks forward to it; it’s a situation with no particular upside. The best possible scenario is that you go through and they give you your upslip and you get to continue flying for another year. The worst case is if anything has gone wrong–and things go wrong with human bodies distressingly often–then you might get a waiver, or they might simply refuse to let you fly anymore.

Yesterday, everything went pretty smoothly, except at the eye station. There, the technician looked surprised at the results of one of the tests, and did it again. Then they sent me down the hall to an actual optometrist, where he used a more sophisticated machine to perform what was recognizeably the same test. They had me come in today, where he repeated that test as well as a battery of others, from simple visual acuity to colorblindness to depth perception.

With both eyes open and a little time to focus, I can read the 20/10 line. Each eye individually is better than 20/20. I have better than average depth perception, and normal color vision. However, it seems that if I am not focusing on anything and let my eyes relax, they drift apart. It’s as though I’m crosseyed, but with the natural point of intersection somewhere behind my head. When I focus on something, the problem disappears; I have no trouble actually bringing my eyes in line to look at an object. However, I have to get a waiver before I can resume flight. They’re worried about eye strain.

In light of the fact that I have no trouble seeing things, that I didn’t even know that there was a problem until they told me, the optometrist recommended that the waiver be approved. Still.

I get annoyed, when I happen to think about it, at the inefficiencies of the human body. I hate having to deal with the process of eating the right food and finding time to sleep and making sure to exercise. This new thing, this condition that came out of nowhere and threatens to ground me, is symptomatic: adjusting the natural track of two eyes should be a simple mechanical fix, but because we’re dealing with messy biology, I just have to deal with it and hope it doesn’t get worse.

I dream of the day when technology has advanced to the point where I don’t have to deal with it anymore.

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Comment by Parallax Windows XP Mozilla Firefox
2009-01-21 12:02:15

But it SHOULD be a simple mechanical fix for you…

Comment by Julia Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.5 Subscribed to comments via email
2009-01-22 13:53:11

As someone who’s spent the last year plus dealing with a variety of non life threatening-but-still-annoying health issues, I can definitely agree the human body is deficient in the way it breaks down. We’re in our best physical shape in our teens and it’s downhill from there. It sucks that your eye problem is threatening your career as a pilot. I just have to deal with my issues by going to voice therapy for broken down laryngeal cartilage and muscle tissue (my voice hasn’t sounded normal since mid September), physical therapy due to a malaligned neck, and avoid gluten due to recently being diagnosed with a gluten allergy that was the cause of a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms, and meanwhile not fail out of grad school. I’m 26, have never smoked, and have health problems typically seen in smokers in their 60s. Go figure.

Comment by Julia Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.5 Subscribed to comments via email
2009-01-30 23:29:02

I’m not writing this to scare you, but rather to warn you of a possible consequence of ignoring eye strain. I went to the optometrist yesterday, expecting to need a much stronger prescription. After a few minutes of the eye doctor starting with my current prescription and then trying and failing to find a correction that would work for my right eye, he left it alone and went onto my left. The difference was stark and rather shocking: a slight change in my left eye, and my vision was as sharp as ever. With both eyes open, my vision was cloudy. With my right eye, there was no correction that would allow me to see even the biggest letters from the standard distance. After that, the doctor put drops in my eyes and did a close up exam and then sent me over to Mass Eye and Ear to get an appointment with a corneal specialist ASAP. I have that appointment next Friday, but in the meantime, it appears as though I ignored the warning signs of progressive corneal damage. It started with me taking longer to focus my eyes when adjusting to different depths about a year ago. By September, I was constantly washing my frames to try to get rid of the cloudiness. Then I noticed my astigmatism getting worse. Finally in the last few weeks, I’d been noticing I couldn’t focus properly at short distances or see things I had been able to a short time ago. My suggestion is that if they are concerned about the length of time it takes you to focus, get an appointment with an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Worst case scenario for me is that I may have to have a corneal transplant, but it’s still nerve racking and I can imagine it would be more so in your case.

Comment by coriolinus Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.5
2009-02-02 19:47:56

Good luck on that appointment!

I’m lucky, I suppose, that I haven’t been having anything like that amount of trouble. If it wasn’t screened for at the annual physical, I wouldn’t have noticed anything was wrong at all. Even if it is a degenerative thing progressively worsening, there doesn’t seem to be much I can do about it. Under the circumstances, I don’t think it’s worth worrying about.

Comment by Shep Windows XP Mozilla Firefox 3.0.6 Subscribed to comments via email
2009-02-25 15:41:12

This is another reason I disagree with Intelligent Design proponents – if this meatbag is designed, then someone should revoke the designer’s engineering certifications…

I too long for the day when problems that would be a simple fix in a machine are a similarly simple fix in the human body, though that would require ample supplies of replacement parts.

Comment by Chuan Napolitano Windows XP Internet Explorer 8.0 Subscribed to comments via email
2010-05-21 14:44:15

I had the same thing happen to me in the last 3 weeks, and am sweating bullets (I’m a Naval aviator–helos). I’m concerned that the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute will not grant me a waiver, and I’m 10 years into my flying career. If you have any info on your experience getting the waiver, please shoot me an e-mail.

Comment by coriolinus Windows NT Mozilla Firefox 3.6.3
2010-05-22 17:58:55

I can’t say how the Navy’ll treat this, but for me once I saw the Flight Surgeon two weeks later she said it was fine, and I didn’t want to pry too deeply in case she was wrong and it wasn’t. It didn’t come up at all on this year’s exam, so I’m guessing that it was if anything a temporary phenomenon.

Good luck getting approved! You’ve got a lot more flight experience than me, so you should be even more likely to get waivered, but all I can really do is sympathize with your experience right now.


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