Notes From a College Student: Special Spectacles


by By Amie Dahnke /

Posted on March 20, 2009 at 10:05 AM

Updated Thursday, Nov 12 at 1:53 PM

About the Author

Track star Amie Dahnke is an English major at the University of Portland. She also holds the fastest Crystal Springs course time in UP history, and she became the first freshman since 1990 and the first Portland runner since 2000 to win the women's WCC individual championship. Her fastest 5k is 16:51; her fastest mile is 4:51.

I never thought a mailbox would be the reason I wear glasses. Astigmatism, maybe. The far-sightedness that runs rampant in my genes, sure. But a mailbox? Not even in the wildest of dreams. Yet here I am typing on my laptop and wearing glasses with coke-bottle lenses thanks to a hot summer day, the world's scariest dog and a dang mailbox.

I was 6 years old, accompanying my 9-year-old sister and her best friend to the swimming pool for some relief from the July Spokane heat. Knowing that the session was going to start before we could actually walk there, the three of us decided to hop fences in an attempt to get there faster.

We quickly learned how much truth resides in that age-old saying that cheaters never prosper. After hopping four fences and tramping two yards (which easily took far more time than walking the three blocks), we entered the third yard with a well-earned confidence--

Only to be greeted by the scariest dog alive. Rabid slobber made the dog's teeth shine like a set of freshly sharpened chef knives, waiting to attack fresh meat. The dog's sheer size made the beast from "The Sandlot" look like a puppy. His bark ran its way through my bones, making me shake in my shoes.

When he started chasing us, I did what I do best: I ran--and ran and ran and ran. We raced, towels in hand and goggles on head, not even stopping for a left behind flip-flop. With fear in my little heart, I turned around to see if the monster was still chasing us; he wasn't. Slowing down, I turned my head forward to inform my sister and her friend of our safety. I never got the chance to tell them. Instead, I ran headlong into a mailbox.

Along with the immediate chipping and swallowing of my two front teeth, the mailbox incident caused problems for me later in my adolescence. When I was in eighth grade, my mom noticed that I closed my left eye while watching TV and that I titled my head ever-so-slightly to the left (as confirmed in class pictures from second to sixth grade). After I had an MRI, an eye doctor informed my parents that the impact of my head on the mailbox had severely weakened a muscle in my left eye. After that doctor fitted me with lenses so thick I couldn't see out of them, an ophthalmologist decided that I would need surgery.

In medical terms, the surgery entailed a right inferior oblique recession to incycloduct the right eye and a tenotomy of the left superior oblique on the nasal side with insertion of a retinal band to excycloduct the left eye. It's all Greek to me! In lay person's terms, it meant they had to weaken a muscle in my right eye to match the damaged muscle in my left eye. After stitches (this was no laser surgery) and a week-long swollen eye, my head tilt and eye strain ceased to exist.

For a while, that is. Once I started college I noticed the eye strain returned, bringing with it an onslaught of blinding migraines. My trusty eye doctor said that my right eye was focusing slightly above my left eye, as though I were reading two different lines in a book. Despite my 20/20 vision, I needed glasses.

The glasses, much to my chagrin, were thick. They have light-bending prisms that make my eyes focus on the same field. Although I get compliments on the frames, which have no bottom edge, mainly because the lenses are so thick, my friends tease me for the tiny rainbows that fly from the corners of my glasses when the sun hits them just right. I can't see far distances with them on, and every time I take them off (or put them back on) I have to wait four seconds while the world warps from prism-land to double-vision land--with such psychedelic motion that I could easily have been a Beatle.

Since my freshman year of college I've been through four pairs of glasses, each at $500 a pop. My doctor warned, back when I was the teeny eighth grader, that the surgery might last 10 to 20 years. After nine years and $2,000, I think he is right. Rather than buy a fifth or sixth pair, I think I'll follow my mother's orders and get the surgery, again.

And people wonder why I'm not a dog person.