Hindsight Isn’t Always 20/20

Sometimes you just learn something that so impresses you that you can’t wait to tell someone.  This just happened to me.  I should warn you that it really doesn’t take a lot to impress me, but still I think this information could come in handy some day.  You could be at a party where you need to impress someone and you can ask, “Do you know what 20/20 vision really means?”

I know most of you think that a person with 20/20 eyesight has the best possible vision.  They don’t.  They just have what is called “perfect vision” for measurement purposes.  In fact people can have 20/15 vision, even 20/10.  Also, most of us have the misconception that 20/20 is the measurement of each eye.  Not so either.  This measurement is called visual acuity and you use the standard vision chart to measure it.

The standard vision chart, that we are all familiar with, is called the Snellen Chart.  It was named after the Dutch ophthalmologist, Hermann Snellen, who developed it in 1862.  And it’s normally viewed at six feet.  So perfect vision is really 6/6.  That’s why the chart differs in size, but measures the same thing, like that little one you see through the stereoscope at the DMV. 

The first number is always 20.  Ever notice that?  I don’t think I did.  That number represents the smallest letter on the chart that a person with perfect vision could see from 20 feet.  Pretty cool, huh?  The second number is your “visual acuity.”  For example, if you have 20/40 vision, the smallest letter that you can see on the chart from 20 feet away, a person with perfect vision can see from 40 feet away.  People who measure 20/10 have some pretty good vision.  It means the person with perfect vision can see at 20 feet from the chart, the smallest letter that you can see at 10 feet.  If you have 20/200 acuity, you are only able to see the largest letter, the letter “E,” on the Snellen chart at 20 feet.  You have some serious problems.  You are considered legally blind.  We’re talking pop-bottle-bottom lenses.

Why did I find that so amazing?  Because I’m a boomer who has worn glasses almost all my life and I’ve always thought that was a measurement for each eye.  I had no idea about the 20 foot thing either.  Now, I feel enlightened because my eye doctor thought it was valuable enough information to explain to me.

I can remember the first time I put on a pair of eyeglasses.  I can flash back to the exact moment in an instant in my mind.  That’s probably why they call those kinds of episodes “mind-blowing”.  Anyway, I was in third grade.  One of those kids that had to sit in the front row in class to see the board and a few feet from the television to see it clearly.  My mother was always telling me not to sit so close to the screen because I was getting radiation poisoning.

Finally, when my third-grade teacher called my parents in for a conference, she told them she believed I needed glasses.  After the eye exam, which I still find very stressful because I’m never really sure if number one is better than number two, and then they’ll throw number three into the mix, it was determined that I needed “corrective lens”.  I suffered from “nearsightedness”.  That’s like a death sentence to an 8-year old kid who has never had anything wrong with them.

So, after a week, I went back to Dr. Whitney, for my fitting.  He told me to stand at a window and look out at the tree in the front of the yard, about twenty feet away.  “Do you see the tree?” he asked.  Sure I saw the tree.  It was a big tree. 

“Okay,” he said, “now put these on.”  He handed me the black framed, “four-eyes,” glasses and I put them on.  “Now look at the tree he said.  What do you see?”

My Gawd.  There were leaves on the tree and I could see each one attached to branches that were swinging in the breeze.  I can’t explain how incredible it was.  I’m sure the eye doctor got his kicks out of watching people “see” for the first time.

So now you know what 20/20 eyesight is.  I don’t have it.  I don’t even know what my visual acuity is, but if I was to guess, I would say 20/50.  I’m pretty near-sighted…about a lot of things.   

And just remember now, hindsight doesn’t always have to be 20/20, sometimes it could be 20/10 or 20/15.  Sometimes the outcome shouldn’t have been that hard to see in the beginning.



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9 responses to “Hindsight Isn’t Always 20/20

  1. Me

    I was just sitting here trying to picture you at 8 years old and the look on your face when you “saw” the tree – how cute 😉
    Growing up with an optometrist for a dad, I learned quite a bit about all this stuff, especially because I used to get to “work” for my dad for candy bars. I remember when I had to put together my first science box for school and one of the requirements for the box was a magnifying glass… my dad the ((cheap)) optometrist said we didn’t need to buy a magnifying glass, he would bring one from the office for me. When he came home the next day, I was horrified… yes horrified, I was in the 4th grade. My dad was proudly holding out a lens with half a frame. Picture cutting your eyeglasses in half at the part that goes over your nose, then flattening out the piece that goes behind your ear to use as a handle. “Here you go honey, here’s your magnifying glass” he said excitedly. I wanted to cry (in fact, I think I did). I was tearing up the first time in class we were told to take out our magnifying glasses in class, I was sure I would be made fun of and laughed at. However, my teacher made a big deal about how incredibly creative it was and the next thing you know, some of the kids that didn’t get theirs yet were begging me to ask my dad to make more – ha ha ha.
    I also did a science fair project on the eye in 6th grade… my dad all kinds of cool things for me to use. A model of an eye that came apart like a puzzle, an eye chart and other gadgety things… I guess that’s when I learned the most about it.
    Anyway, sorry to get all long winded on my reply. Sometimes your little blogs spark up a memory and I think I’m going to take a second to tell you and turns into this – ha ha

    • Great stories. Don’t ever apologize for a long-winded reply. I enjoy them, and it’s secretly what I hope will happen when someone reads some of these posts.

      Isn’t it funny how the simplest things affect us when we’re kids. I remember, and I tell the story often, about a free movie one of the two movie theatres in Sheridan was showing one summer when I was about 10. All you had to do was bring a milk carton. All my brothers and sisters had a pristine milk carton except me. I refused to go to the free movie with a crushed milk carton because I was under the impression that they were going to reuse them. Well my mother finally got tired of hearing me wine about it, so she emptied the milk carton that was in the refrigerator into another container. I proudly handed my pristine milk carton to the dude at the door, and he promptly laid it down on the ground, crushed it with his boot, picked it up and threw it in the box behind me. I was mentally scarred. The movie was “The Long Long Trailer.” I’ve never forgotten it.

      • Me

        Ha ha haaaaaaaaa… that’s awesome!!!
        Okay, here’s another for you since you mentioned movies… when I was in the 2nd grade we moved to Huntington Beach and just down the street was a Drive-In Theater. Oh my gosh, it was the coolest and we were sooooo excited. My sisters and I begged my dad for days to take us until he gave in. When we got there, dressed in our pajamas, we laid out our sleeping bags and pillows on the roof of the old station wagon (with the luggage rack) and snuggled up to watch the movies (yes plural, 2 movies for the price of 1 back in the day)… The movies??? Soilent Green and West World!!! OMG, I had nightmares for days that my grandparents were robots that were trying to turn us in to food to eat us – ha ha haaaaaaaa. Don’t know if my dad even checked to see what was playing, I’m sure he just went to shut us up. Boyyyyy did that shut me up!!!

      • We watched a movie on TMC last night about giant mutant ants. “Them.” It was made in 1954. Reminded me of the double features at the drive-in. My Dad would never let us kids sit on the roof though. As you got older you got a better seat. We used to go a lot though. Cheap family entertainment.

  2. Me

    By the way… the Long, Long Trailer… One of my fav’s!!!

  3. I loved this post. When I was I kid, I wanted glasses so badly–I thought they would make me look smarter. So I lied on my eye exam. Apparently I lied in a balanced way, because the doc told me I had perfect eyesight, which I did until I turned 50.

    I the 20/20 thing is all so clear to me now, thanks to you!

    • Simple, huh? And it took me 46 odd years to figure it out. I’m beginning to think, now, that it doesn’t matter whether you say number one looks better, or number two. I think the eye doctor already knows and just asks you to read a line to confirm what he already knows. Otherwise, I’m sure I would never get the right prescription. LOL

    • Me

      Ha haaaa… when my son was younger, he wanted glasses very badly as well… so, he went down to the store and bought himself glasses that just had plain glass in them (not sure where he got them). But, he was so proud of them and wore them all the time because he said they made him look smart 😉

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