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A close-up of a person's eye using a magnifying glass in the kitchen.

Low Vision in the Kitchen

Confession time.

I buy and eat processed foods. You know, the easy-to-microwave stuff that puts dinner on the table in 5 minutes. I buy them because I know there will come a night (usually a Thursday) when I can’t stand the prospect of figuring out what to cook, of prepping the veggies, or grilling that piece of eye-healthy salmon.

Difficulties with reading food packaging

What is supposedly a quick fix turns into a challenge when I try to read the instructions. They are printed in a type size usually reserved for a 1960s telephone directory. We are talking teeny tiny. It may be legible for someone with normal vision, but not for someone like me who has low vision.

Small containers are the worst. My husband brought home a carton of frozen shrimp fried rice that passed for lunch one day last week. A picture of the supposed product took up the front half of the box. One-third of the back had the nutritional information, another third the list of contents (all those multisyllablic additives) and half of the remaining space, 2 square inches, directions on how to prepare it.

My husband tries to make my life with AMD easier

“Honey, would you come read this for me, please?” is what I usually say. That time, I grabbed my favorite low-tech kitchen tool: a magnifying glass. This little beauty was a recent present from my husband. And it came to my rescue.

He bought it for several reasons. First, because he is a nice guy and wants to make life easier for me as I live with my age-related macular degeneration (AMD). (It has been 4 years since my diagnosis.) Second, he recognizes my tendency to want to tough out a problem rather than buy a solution — “But it is so expensive. I’ll make do.” I’m sure there’s a third one... He’s tired of getting up from the sofa to come into the kitchen to read a label? No, that one can’t be true.

The magnifier worked. Lunch was on the table in the suggested 4 minutes. A simple solution to one of those nagging little irritations that come with low vision.

Embracing the reality of my vision loss

It is the little reminders, like the size of type on a package, that my vision is no longer normal that can send me over the edge.

Another confession: For weeks, that magnifying glass sat in the kitchen among our collection of pens and pencils, jammed into a college beer mug. I’d occasionally pull it out, but mostly it sat waiting.

Acknowledging that I needed to use a magnifying glass kept me from pulling it out. Every cook needs a good knife, but only someone with low vision needs a magnifier. As much as I believed I had embraced the reality of my vision loss, I wasn’t quite there.

A symbol of my ability to adapt

Doctors and scientists talk about the progression of macular degeneration. The goal is to make that progression as slow as possible, helping us keep as much of our vision as possible. There’s also a psychological progression, at least for me. That involves acknowledging and accepting the changes in my sight and then adapting myself and my environment to reflect that new reality.

Sometimes I fight. Sometimes I accept and adapt. That magnifier has become a symbol of my ability to adapt.

Of course, that glass is not so low-tech. It required someone in the 16th century to figure out how to make glass of a quality that could be ground in such a way as to make things appear larger than they are. Then someone else developed the process to mass produce the lenses. There are magnifiers on my phone, but this one makes me feel a little like Sherlock Holmes tracking down the evidence of a crime.

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