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The Mundane Can Protect Us

The Mundane Can Protect Us


A lot of people probably think I work in a pretty mundane, ordinary, unexciting sector of health care. I check eyes and vision in a routine fashion. I prescribe glasses often. I do diagnose and treat eye diseases, but that is numerically a smaller part of my practice. My area of specialization is in binocularity – getting eyes to work together – simultaneous input from both eyes to the brain through time. 

No time off from one eye or the other (called suppression – we can discuss that another time). I have had my “wins” in working in binocularity, such as establishing good vision and binocularity in a girl who had a cataract removed early in life and making kids’ eyes work well enough together that they can read successfully. 

But, a lot of folks view making people see as kind of mundane. It’s not as exciting as removing a brain tumor or doing a heart transplant or some such heroic thing. Then one day as I was talking to a colleague/friend, it struck me that, maybe with the exception of antibiotics and perhaps the polio vaccines, very few medical things over the past, say, 200 years have changed broad swaths of peoples’ lives for the better as much as glasses. 

Still…mundane. Don’t get me wrong, I very much know this is my calling, but I’m pretty sure I won’t get invited to the same cocktail party as the heart transplant surgeons. I’m more of a sandwich and chips at the local hole-in-the-wall microbrewery guy anyway. Banter with the staff in a brewery has to be superior to trying to make jokes with heart surgeons: “What did the heart surgeon say to his wife after finishing a weekday breakfast? ‘I guess aorta go to work.’” 

Silence. Crickets. The good news is, when I’m in those kinds of events, just a little conversation and people usually give me a wide berth. The key is to not talk until I position myself next to the hors d’oeuvres that look best to me. Then I get as much finger food as I want just because everyone walks in the other direction.

If you are currently fairly nearsighted or farsighted, take off your glasses and imagine you are living in the time of, say, 300 BC. Chances are you would be a beggar – a “blind” beggar. You would have to do things that didn’t require seeing detail, which means no hunting, probably difficulty managing crops, and difficulty with many life skills such as walking on rough ground. 

Fortunately, nearsightedness is a more recent developmental malady, brought on by reading and accelerated by hours of computer work. Back in 300 BC people didn’t spend a lot of time in the library. But, you get the drift – you’d be considered blind.

If we move forward in time to just a couple of hundred years ago we encounter George Washington’s statement to frustrated, potentially mutinous soldiers at Newburgh Headquarters during the Revolution: “Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for, I have grown not only gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.” 

Apparently, the potentially rebellious situation ended with many wiping away tears as their commander spoke. A most mundane appliance – glasses – may have saved the revolution. You’re welcome.

But, the mundane gets lost. Think about football. In professional football, who do people recognize? If we use officially licensed products (jerseys, etc) as a proxy, thirteen of the top twenty in sales are quarterbacks. Why aren’t the right tackles the big sellers? It’s too mundane to just protect the highest-paid guy on the team from injury. That highest-paid guy, of course, would be the quarterback.

The antithesis of the mundane is the crisis. The crisis has people running around mindlessly, screaming and carrying signs, while a separate group hides under their beds. Often crisis produces unthinking, unchallenging bowing to authority. A very quick internet search shows that in the last fifty years, we’ve had at least 59 economic crises. 

The same fifty years has had at least seven major health crises. I tried to add in climate crises, but everything says we’re still in multiples of mid-crisis. The oceans were supposed to be dead about ten years ago, I think, and we’re supposed to be in mid-hockey stick on temperature. But, it’s hard to get a read on all the crises that didn’t turn into much because we are still, apparently, on the brink of a fiery death, except the sea levels are supposed to rise, so wouldn’t that put fire out? I’m sure I’m confused.

Medscape just added an “unprecedented crisis” in cancer medications. My family has lived that one, so that actually is frightening. And an email says the Wall Street Journal thinks California has a housing crisis. 

Locally, we’ve had a homeless crisis. Cost-of-rent crisis. Poison water crisis. Local colleges accreditation crisis. Local budget crisis. Local overdose health crisis. (Maybe that’s national, like the several refugee crises.) Housing cost crisis. Housing availability crisis. Food security crisis. I think I’ve missed a few. Should I include my personal energy and time crises? 

With the latest – but certainly not last – health crisis, Covid, the mundane was tossed in the dumpster in favor of anything and everything that was exceptional – everything NOT mundane. Sustaining crisis requires sort of hormonal responses, not logical, data-driven responses. Mundanity during Covid would have suggested you stay home if you feel sick. 

Make sure you take your vitamins. Drink fluids. Only call the doctor if you are really, really sick. And, don’t worry, your doctor is always available and will treat you according to his experience.

In the US and much of culturally Western nations, access to primary-level health care was trashed, and those doctors who dared to be open and thinking were threatened by authorities. Societal links between humans – at least three-dimensional links; you could always Zoom call – were broken. Supply lines were broken and remain to this day less able than they were before Covid.

People who had previously been considered sane were found to be stockpiling things like toilet paper, canned meat, and peanut butter. We know speech development has been interfered with. Very likely some areas of vision development were impaired. Human visual system neurology when developing requires input of accurate visual detail at exactly the right developmental time to make and strengthen proper neural connections. Think about infants trying to naturally develop the ability to detect face details when the faces they are surrounded by are covered to look like imperial stormtroopers from the eyes down.

And, let’s not forget the carnage in the small business community. In small businesses, business death is multi-generational. The owner of the business loses their business, savings, and income. If the current owner bought it from another owner, that selling former owner loses their expected retirement income. Many small businesses are family-financed, so family members can be out, probably producing some strained relationships. 

Employees are out. I just heard about a rental company in town that closed more than one branch store and consolidated to the central store. Employees are gone. Someone loses on the leases for the other locations. Instead of trickle-down economics, small business death is trickle-down devastation; devastation to the individuals who run – ran – the small businesses. The size of the business is such that people, politicians, and the local papers just…don’t…notice. About all that can be hoped for is when someone, sometime drives by the closed location, they’ll ask if anyone in the car remembers what business used to be there.

How did we get here? Whether real or manufactured for effect, those who should know enough to embrace the mundane instead jumped around like a hungry neurotic labradoodle puppy expecting dinner and projected that panic to the populace. The populace, in large part, responded in kind and with lockstep following of instructions, supported by proper wringing of hands. 

When mundane might well have handled things and certainly would have limited collateral damage, instead, wailing and gnashing of teeth was encouraged, facilitated, and promulgated as appropriate. Further, any other approach was denigrated and defined as dangerous enough to be reported to the authorities. 

Prior to Covid, I’m not sure we had “authorities” to report people to. That language is uncomfortable for someone steeped in the originalist view of America as an idea and an experiment in freedom. The Beatles sang “One thing I can tell you is you got to be free.” That line would get Paul and John reported to the “authorities” on the anonymous report line in my state. 

Maybe if the “authorities” had some mundane devices like glasses; maybe then they could see the damage to society, kids, and small businesses. Some parents in my town with school-age children saw wasted years of schooling. Those who have skin in the small business game see the damage there more easily than others might. To those who had income – wages or retirement – guaranteed in some fashion, seeing the damage as it was happening was difficult. Many of those with guaranteed incomes cheered the authoritarian moves as they jumped under their beds to ride out the crisis. Since they weren’t familiar with the struggle to make payroll or pay for rent and equipment, they had a sort of built-in psychic protection-by-ignorance.

A mundane response to what is being sold as a crisis would respect, “Leave me alone to live my life.” That would also describe individual liberty. Who would ever have thought we would need to fight to not lose mundanity? I tell my patients they can always find me because I’m a pretty dull guy. I am always around. 

Maybe if people had embraced mundanity, those dull little businesses would have survived, ordinary child neurological development would have progressed, schooling would have happened in normal, mundane fashion, and the world would have come through the latest crisis as…normal, mundane, ordinary. Maybe embrace isn’t a strong enough suggestion. Maybe we should actually celebrate the mundane. If we do, in the next crisis, we’ll be better off.

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  • Eric Hussey

    President of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation (an educational foundation), Chair of the organizing committee for the International Congress of Behavioral Optometry 2024, Chair of the Northwest Congress of Optometry, all under the umbrella of the Optometric Extension Program Foundation. Member of the American Optometric Association and Optometric Physicians of Washington.

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