Old Wives' Tales
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Claim: Careless industrial worker is blinded for life when his contact lenses fuse to his eyes.
Origins: It's a rare contact lens wearer who has never experienced at least a few fleeting moments of anxiety when removing his lenses. Fishing about in one's eye after a stubborn lens raises momentary concerns that maybe one of these days that little bit of technological wizardry will become well and truly stuck there, forever bonded to the eyeball. Thought is also given to the possibility that you might inadvertently pull out your cornea instead of the lens that sits upon it.
It's those irrational fears these legends speak to; we worry that no matter how well the technology has worked for others, one of these days it's going to fail for us and we will, in effect, pull our eyes out.
When held up to the light and examined, those anxieties seems pretty baseless. But fearful creatures that we are, we're seldom content to leave well enough alone — we have apprehensions that need to be expressed, no matter how silly they are. Misgivings are thus aired through a series of contact lens mishap legends governed by seemingly plausible scenarios wherein one potentially could tear off one's cornea. The "freak accident" element is introduced into the mix, or possibly the "dangerous chemical combination," because these work to elevate what was impossible (yet feared) into the realm of the seemingly
For many, their first contact with the 'hapless welder' version of the scare came from a badly blurred photocopied memo warning against the dangers of engaging in welding while wearing contact lenses. Often this memo will start "TWO RECENT INCIDENTS HAVE UNCOVERED A PREVIOUSLY UNKNOWN PHENOMENON OF SERIOUS GRAVITY." There were no such two incidents, but the memo was often taken at face value, even by respected news outlets.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology has traced those rumors back as far as 1967, when a worker for Bethlehem Steel and a welder for United Parcel Service were said to be the victims.
Not only haven't such accidents happened, nearly every reputable medical and industrial source in the field says they couldn't happen.
Dr. Barry M. Weiner, a physician at the University of Maryland Hospital, responded to a local variant of the rumor: "It is a physical impossibility to dry up the fluid in your eyes. You'd have to stick your head in a blast furnace to do that. And removing your cornea would be like pulling off your ear."
Yet there may be a grain of truth in the welder story anyway, even if it has been distorted almost beyond recognition. According to the sci.chem FAQ:
... a Bethlehem Steel welder in Baltimore who, on theUnlike the legend, the worst of the man's injury came from his not seeking treatment in a timely manner, not the horrific
As for cautions against wearing contacts in a chemical lab environment, these have nothing to do with mysterious gasses bonding the lenses to the corneas (as suggested in one of the examples quoted above) but rather speak to the always-present danger of a chemical splash to the eyes. When such an accident occurs, it is imperative to rinse the substance from the eyes immediately. The presence of contact lenses will interfere with that, sometimes even trapping some of the chemical to the eye under the edge of the lens.
Sometimes our fear of contact lenses is expressed in a more direct, less technological form:
A drunk staggered into a Pennsylvania ER complaining of severe pain while trying to remove his contact lenses. He said that they would come out halfway, but they always popped back in. A nurse tried to help using a suction pump, but without success. Finally, a doctor examined him and discovered that the man did not have his contact lenses in at all. He had been trying to rip out the membrane of his cornea.Barbara "blind drunk" Mikkelson
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