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13 Questions I've Been Asked About My Eye Prosthetic

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I have micropthalmia and wear an eye prosthesis. Here is a list of the top 13 questions that I have been asked or have had to answer.

 1. Does the eye prosthesis hurt?  No, a well fitted, well made prosthesis should not hurt. From my past experience, pain usually means the prosthetic isn’t fitting properly and needs an adjustment. The eye is made by an ocularist; someone with both an artistic background as well as one in maxillofacial structure. They blend science and art together to create a one-of-a-kind product that is custom made for each patient. Each year patients can go back to the ocularist to have the eye professionally cleaned and polished and to make any adjustments to the prosthesis if necessary.

2.  Do you have a real eye or just a fake one?  In my case, I do have an eye underneath. Due to micropthalmia, it is much smaller than my other eye, so the prosthesis isn’t just for looks but also to help balance out the bone structure of the face. The type of prosthesis I wear is called a scleral shell. It sits over the real eye like a thick contact lens.  One of the advantages I have that not everyone else has is that the muscles around my eye are intact. When someone has surgery to remove an eye, those muscles are also removed.
Having these muscles allows for the prosthesis to look and act more like a real eye — it makes things more natural. I have been told that I’m pretty good at rolling my eyes.

3. Is it made out of glass
?  No. Glass eyes do exist, but mine is made out of different materials that are sturdier and more durable than glass.

4. How do you care for your eye prosthesis? I don’t take it out often, but usually once a week I will clean it with saline rinse and then put it back in.

5. Does insurance cover the cost of the prosthetic, and what is the cost?  Sadly, insurance companies see the eye prosthetic as cosmetic only, so I am lucky that my
ocularist will let me use a payment plan to cover the cost. This last prosthesis cost around $6,000. The next one will be $10,000 or more.

6. What caused you to need your eye prosthesis? I was born with micropthalmia with blindness in my left eye. Micros means small and opthalmia refers to the eye. Your eyes have a lot to do with the shape and bone structure of your face, so my eye prosthesis was necessary to help with that. Today, infants can be given a spacer or an artificial eye very early on. In my case, there was very little information available about eye prostheses where I lived. I didn’t received my first one until I was 5 years old. Because of that delay, my left eye is still somewhat smaller than the right. In my case, micropthalmia was a congenital abnormality that even today remains unexplained.

Doctors worried I would be developmentally disabled, but I sure proved them wrong. I am a community college instructor and have a graduate education. I live a typical, active life.    

7. How did it impact your vision? I’m nearsighted in my right eye, but the biggest issue is a lack of depth perception. To compensate for that, my right eye actually has a wider range of peripheral vision. I can drive a car; I just can’t ride a bike very well. I also
prefer if people walk either on my right side or slightly ahead of me on my left side so I can see them.

8. Did you get bullied in school for having a prosthetic eye?
Years ago, I was picked on. Middle school was horrible. I was called every name in the book, and really only had a few friends during those intense pre-teen years. Being called a “freak” and other names really stung. I learned to make my own jokes and turn a blind eye to the unsightly negativity of others. (See what I did there?) Jokes and sarcasm did two things: 1) If I could laugh at myself, the bullies had no power or influence over me, and 2) the jokes or comments broke down barriers and allowed people to see me for who I really am. Even today, I use humor as a means of expressing myself.

I also had to learn a hard but essential lesson — self-acceptance. By accepting myself for who I am, flaws and all, others learned to accept me as well. Today I live by the motto “My eye and prosthesis are a part of me, but they don’t define me.”

9. Have you ever lost your eye prosthesis?  One time in fifth grade, I had outgrown my prosthesis and was ready for a new one. It was loose, and it fell out. I was with my class in the library, and the librarian and the teachers were scrambling to help me find it.  Thank goodness it had only fallen down my shirt. Then in sixth grade, I rubbed my eye during class, and sure enough, out it came. The end result was some poor kid next to me climbing on top of the desk in terror.

10. What’s the funniest thing to ever happen involving your eye? When she was 4, my now 17-year-old cousin went around telling everyone she was going to poke their eye out. She had no idea about my eye, but every time she told me that, I would tell her I didn’t need her help — I could poke out my own eye. After months of hearing this, a group of relatives including myself and my mother were gathered at my grandmother’s house. The child once again started telling people she was going to poke their eyes out. I warned her, and when she said it again, I popped my prosthetic out and showed her. She high tailed it out of the room. After that, she kept saying “I don’t like it when people pop their eyes out.”  For weeks, she made sure she kept a wide berth between the two of us.

11. Have you used it for Halloween? I have my old prosthetics, and will sometimes get them out for Halloween or to show others. I have also popped it out as a practical joke
more than once. As my grandmother has told me, you have to be able to laugh or else you will cry. I choose to laugh.

12. Can you get an eye with a symbol on it or a different color?  Sure, if I had a part in a Hollywood movie or wanted to pay extra money, I could have those. But I prefer that my prosthesis match as closely as possible with my working eye. As you can see from the picture of the eye prosthesis that at the top of the page, that matching element can be kind of difficult to achieve.

13. Why would you want to write about having an eye prosthesis?
  Talking or writing about it helps educate others. We are lucky to live in a more open and accepting society that allows for us to embrace our differences. But people still want to learn so they can better understand. I’m open to talking about my eye and my prosthesis because it shows I accept myself. If someone is genuinely interested in learning about it, I am more than happy to share any information I have.

If anyone out there has a question I haven’t answered, you can post it in the comments and I will try to answer it.

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Originally published: November 26, 2016
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