It’s a classic scenario. Stranded on a desert island somewhere in the tropics. Just you alone with your thoughts. It is often used as an example to determine your preferences; people will ask, for example, if you could only bring one book/cd/supermodel to the island which would it be. Those hypothetical situations are not what I think of when someone mentions a desert island. When it is mentioned I tend to think more in the realistic scenario of getting stranded on an island by myself without immediate hope of rescue. While on certain days I would welcome the chance to escape this white collar drudgery and on others I would love to put my Crusoe-esque skills to the test (if I have any) there is one glaring detail that I cannot get over. It prevents me from ever wanting to be marooned on the aforementioned island or archipelago.
[flashes back to 5th grade]
It all started in class. We had a pop quiz and the questions were on the chalkboard. Mrs. Bradin, our teacher who had bells palsy had written quite legible and large with her good arm the questions. I was not seated in the back of the class but all of a sudden I realized I couldn’t read the questions. I had to literally walk right up to the board to read them. That is when I knew I had bad eyesight. It should not have come as a shock given both my parents wore glasses. Still, in a small catholic school where even the slightest movement attracts attention and judgement, this was a hefty blow. Now there is nothing wrong with glasses, and those that had worn them from a young age had that marker as part of their image. Sure some were labeled nerds, Saved By The Bell certainly helped in perpetuating that stereotype, but there were middles and higher ups on the social ladder of our 40-some number of classmates that wore spectacles.
However, right as we were about to enter middle school my eyes expressed their genetic make-up. I am nearsighted. Without visual aids I cannot see anything 3 feet in front of my face. Not good timing in this case. I broke the news to my mom and off to the eye center we went. I got the news and got perhaps the most unattractive silver framed glasses possible. The selection process was set up for disaster. Here I am already loathe to be selecting eyegear and combined with my intolerance for shopping of any kind I nabbed the first pair of rims I see just to end the process quickly. I ended up looking like a young Bill Gates, the frames were just not flattering. Of course I was too socially sensitive about the whole thing. I got a few pokes and prods but after awhile I was just another kid with glasses. I could see the board when needed, although it did not give me supposed egghead powers like Homer.
A couple years later I was given liberation from the ill-fitting glasses and introduced to contact lenses. I’ve been with them ever since. After some initial trouble with them it’s second nature to take them out and put them in. I’ve had a few different kinds but right now I use the one-month disposable. They work well enough but sometimes I still have trouble with distance.
The point of that whole digression was to emphasize how important the lenses are to my vision. If we flash back to the present and assume I am on some kind of voyage over open water, be it air or sea and a wreck leaves me stranded on an island, vision is my top concern.
Assuming my contacts stayed in during the chaos that brought me to the island, I have no longer than a month to enjoy accurate vision. To further this problem, I take special care to remove my contacts each night. I know with the type I use it is important to take them out while I sleep, both to clean the lenses and give my eyeballs oxygen. It’s one of the basic tenants of contact care (I am aware there are a few types out there that allow for sleeping). Assuming I have to leave them in while sleeping because I won’t have a case and solution, stretching their lifetime out beyond the one month would be iffy.
Now in the movies or other stories there are usually some kind of convenient turn of events that allows for the stranded character to make due with his hardships. Tom Hanks had some Fedex boxes wash ashore (which I concede is plausible) but I assume that whatever luggage item carrying my contact case and solution will be lost at sea. The chances of me holding onto them are slim and even if I did, I only would have brought a finite amount of solution and only one spare set of contacts.
I can imagine trying to get as much done as I can while having adequate eyesight: trying to build a fire, stockpiling coconuts, checking all flora and fauna on the island, determining a help signal. However, once those contacts reach untenable levels of crustiness I will have to throw them away. At that point the world will be a very well-lit blur. I will have to stumble around, most likely using some kind of walking stick. At night I won’t be able to see anything, with or without moon or fire. If I were to develop a fishing technique it would be terribly difficult without the use of vision. Not having the contacts would reduce my chances of surviving and even worse, of getting rescued.
This knowledge prevents just about every desert island scenario from being a fantastical adventure. Of course there are many other things that could and probably would go wrong. I could suffer an injury without proper medicine. Some kind of wild animal could get me. There could be inadequate amounts of food or water. I might not be able to start a fire (I was never a Boy Scout but I think I could get a fire going eventually). Much like Piggy’s vision being central to survival for the Lord of the Flies, I don’t want to envision how I would have to stumble about no a tropical island with horrible vision. If forced to I would naturally do my best to survive and possibly my eyes would get a little adjusted to not wearing the contacts all the time but not something I would look forward to going through.
So if the conversation turns to what book I would bring with me to a desert island I can answer that easily (Count of Monte Cristo), but if it is time to imagine survival scenarios I hope it never comes to the point where I’m left with -6.25 vision.