As I have gotten older, I have discovered that the words on pages seem to have grown smaller and less distinguishable. I was convinced for some time that this was a result of printing companies using cheaper and less effective ink and smaller letters to conserve costs. Kind of like the fast food restaurants are doing with their burgers these days. I have yet to get one that looks like the one on the advertisements.
Unfortunately, the cost cutting measures could not be equated to my slowly shrinking computer screen and my wife introduced me to my very first pair of reading glasses. Amazingly, at that very moment, I discovered that the printing industry recognized my concerns and returned the quality level to both the size of the letters and relative quality of the ink.
Vision can be a funny thing. It can be affected by a number of things including internal and external factors. This reminded me of the first time I experienced a vision issue related to unusual environments.
As the George Washington was getting ready to surface for the first time in over two months, one of the old salts on board told me to be prepared for what I would see when we finally got to go topside. It turns out that living in a closed metal tube for that long of a period of time has an effect on your eyesight. Once you are topside, everything looks completely out of whack.
There are lots of reasons for the phenomenon. The typical day on a submarine is fractured compared to normal life. Since the watches are broken up into six hour segments, your body is constantly out of whack if you are on an eighteen hour rotation. The lights in the berthing compartment are normally turned to red or off (depending on where you slept) and the control room is varying shades of white to red to black depending on what you are doing at the time.
Depending on your watch station, you find that the most important length of vision is from your body to the gage or panel you are monitoring. If you are a helmsman, its less than a few feet and you are constantly monitoring the course, depth and bubble indicators. Not doing so could result in a swift whack to the back of your head so you learn quickly how to focus. The same can be said for many of the watch standers both forward and aft. You really just don’t need to see that far at any given time.
Climbing out of the forward hatch for the first time, two things are quickly apparent. Even on the cloudiest day, its BRIGHT and everything you see is much larger than you remembered it from two month ago. I think the tender must have grown to three times its size in the short minths we were gone.
Your depth perception is out of whack as well. Two conditions (myopia and esophoria) are prevalent in almost all returning sub sailors. Myopia is a near sightedness that grows to be less intense after you are away from the boat. Esophoria is something else completely and apparently affects many submarine guys over the course of their careers. It is described by medical personnel as a tendency of the eyes to deviate inward.
The Naval Submarine Research Laboratory did a number of studies in the 1960’s and 1970’s to determine the long term effects of serving on submarines. Since patrols were lengthened and our ability to stay underwater was increased with newer technology, it made sense to try and figure out why guys were having so many vision problems after leaving the boats.
The submarine environment was always thought to be a contributing factor. Think about it. If the furthest space you could see on a typical submarine was about twenty feet, you would naturally believe that the eyes would focus more on close in objects. Test were done on a number of animals but the most telling ones were those conducted on monkeys.
Our friends the monkeys have similar sight systems to us so placing them in a comparative confined visual environment showed that they almost immediately started showing signs of progressive visual impairment. When the monkeys were removed from their restricted spaces, they would bump into objects and express frustration at not being able to understand what had changed. Much like the bubbleheads turned loose in fast cars not long after returning from patrol who were unable to perceive the curves they failed to negotiate properly.
So there is proof that living in confined spaces for too long will cause changes (short and long term) to the vision of the people in those spaces. That explains a lot to me about Washington DC. The people who work in the capitol building have become myopic and esophoric in the way they see the rest of the country. That explains why some of the decisions they have been making lately seem so cross eyed. They have such limited vision, they can’t see beyond their next election cycle. It also explains why they are so awkward when they are forced to leave their little comfortable confines and tend to bump into things that have always been there.