“Ralph made a step forward and Jack smacked Piggy’s head. Piggy’s glasses flew off and tinkled on the rocks. Piggy cried out in terror: ‘My specs! One side’s broken.” – William Golding, Lord of the Flies , Chapter 4
In the classic dystopian novel “Lord of the Flies,” one of the main characters, Piggy, is virtually incapacitated when his spectacles are broken and stolen by the other boys stranded on the island. For those of us who wear glasses, Piggy’s plight is one that strikes close to home. If you are a glasses-wearer, you have no doubt included optometric equipment in your emergency inventory. Many of you may recall previous articles on SurvivalBlog that have addressed this issue at length, encouraging all wearers to look into Lasik and stockpile extra prescription glasses, contacts, and contact solution. These are excellent, practical strategies that we should all consider while optometric health care abounds around us.
However, the true worst-case-scenario would be a situation where, for whatever reason, you find yourself devoid of all the above preparations. If disaster were to strike this instant, how many of us have proactively invested in Lasik or some alternative, such as gentle cornea molding? And even if we have stockpiled plenty of optical supplies, there may come a fateful day when our supplies are used up, lost, stolen, or separated from us.
This article addresses the true worst case scenario for glasses-wearers: finding yourself in a blurry apocalypse with no optometrists for another hundred years. In the following pages, I will lay out a survival plan that goes beyond stockpiling and instead focuses on adaptation and coping strategies in case these preparations fail.
To provide my personal background, I am nearsighted/myopic/have-trouble-seeing-objects-at-a-distance person. Without disclosing my actual prescription, I cannot see the numbers on the standard-size wall clock a few feet away from my desk without my glasses. The information below mostly applies to people who share my particular vision difficulty of nearsightedness. However, those who are farsighted, or have other vision conditions, will be able to adapt the strategies below to their own personal situation. Even if you are not a glasses-wearer, there is likely someone in your group or family who can benefit from this information.
In this first section of this article, I will outline the three things I do right now to prepare for an optical worst-case-scenario. In the second half, I will explore the four methods I would rely on to regain my vision in a glasses-bereft world.
To begin, here are three things you can start doing today to prepare:
First, practice daily activities without your glasses on. This has a two-fold purpose. At once, it will condition you to learn to rely on vague shapes and colors instead of clear outlines. Secondly, this is a confidence building exercise. After you’ve successfully completed a task without your glasses, you will begin to see that you can and will cope with your natural vision. For me, personally, there have been times when I don’t remember what life looks like without glasses. My glasses are the first things I put on in the morning, and I don’t take them off until after dark, so it is very possible for me to forget what the world looks like without glasses. It is precisely this forgetfulness that I attempt to combat. I want to be comfortable without my glasses now, so that I can be confident if lose them in the future.
Some other suggested activities include cooking meals, cleaning the house and garage (a great exercise in trying to find small or misplaced objects without glasses), doing light work, taking walks, running, and working out. I work at a large company, and one activity I practice regularly is walking around my office building without my glasses, trying to see how quickly I can recognize people just from their dress, walk, height, and overall vibe, even though I can’t make out their faces until the last minute.
Please note that I would strongly discouraged practicing any dangerous tasks without glasses. It is not advised that you attempt driving, shooting, or operating any heavy machinery without your glasses.
Secondly, for those who are serious about overcoming any dependency on their glasses, I would advise taking things one step further– practice being blind, either by closing your eyes or blindfolding yourself for a period of time. This exercise will help you to appreciate the limited vision that you do have and also help you learn to rely on your other senses for support. Studies show that blindness increases your brain’s attention to the other senses, and you can begin to cultivate that awareness to sound, smell, and touch. For this exercise, it’s important to start small. Begin by trying to walk around your own house with your eyes shut or covered. Then try to do simple tasks. Work your way up.
I would also advise studying how other people have dealt with vision impairment. Read a biography of Stevie Wonder  or Louis Braille . Talk to friends and relatives you may know who are blind or vision impaired. You will be amazed and inspired by how these people have survived, and what they have been able to achieve.
Right now, before the good times are over, develop and embrace the appropriate psychology about your vision enhancements. For those of us who wear glasses, it can feel like glasses are everything! However, take some time to remind yourself of these truths: You CAN survive without your glasses. Many animals have poor vision but are wary through their other senses. You may need to become that kind of animal, and you can. Recall stories of people who have overcome physical limitations, injuries, and setbacks, and know that you share the same indomitable human spirit. Resolve that you will not let the absence of glasses hold you back.
For those who enjoy or benefit from reading post-apocalyptic fiction, I would strongly recommend that you read Blindness by José Saramago . This novel explores a world ravaged by an inexplicable epidemic of vision loss, and it provides a raw account of the collapse of society through the eyes of the last person with eyesight. This book pulls no punches in wallowing in the filth of the human condition and the misery surrounding an epidemic, but it also accurately details the struggles blind survivors would face as they attempt to find food, build a semblance of structure, and even engage in vicious fighting.
As an interesting literary device, the book is written without quotation marks. Initially disorienting to the reader, this lack of syntactic clues quickly mirrors the confusion felt by those who cannot see who is speaking or acting.
Third, practice some form of in-your-face close quarters combat. If the apocalypse finds you without your glasses, let’s face it, you may not be the world’s future long distance marksman. However, being visually impaired does not mean that you are defenseless. For you, any combat you engage in is going to have to be up close and personal. You will need to learn how to steal close to your opponent, how to choose a battleground where natural cover or darkness eliminates everyone’s ability to see a threat far off. You will need to learn how to stay very still to wait for your enemy or prey to come close, within your field of vision, for you to ambush them.
Regarding actual techniques, it doesn’t take good eyesight to be effective at grappling, wrestling, and ground fighting. Because these forms of combat are so tactile focused and indifferent to your one weak sense, you should work on mastering them. If you’re close enough to throw an elbow, the fact that you don’t have your glasses won’t matter. Remember, rattlesnakes have pathetic eyesight, but this is of no comfort to their victims.
I participate in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). Before I started wearing contacts, I had to take off my glasses to spar. I never felt disadvantaged as a result. There’s too much happening too fast in a sparring match for your brain to worry about specific details, and even if you have terrible vision, your brain will notice the movement that you need to respond to. All the MMA matches I’ve ever been in were a blur of motion, whether I was wearing contacts or not, and I have not noticed any personal improvement since I started doing MMA with contacts. The lack of overall detail you will observe during a sparring match will be all the more pronounced in an actual violent encounter. Take the time now to train in whatever martial art or combative sport you feel that you could comfortably do without your glasses.
In the next part of this article, I’d like to share four survival strategies for practical things to do when you’ve lost or been separated from your optical cache, did not get Lasik while the world was still working, and/or just broke your last pair of glasses. As stated before, these are strategies for a true worst-case scenario, not a partial worst-case scenario, where you might still have access to your five-year stockpile of Acuvue and Opti-Free.
The first thing you should do is salvage any remaining parts of any remaining glasses. Are the frames intact but the lenses cracked? Then, save the frames; you may be reunited with lenses at a later date. Is one lens unbroken? Wrap the edges in tape and attach a cord or wire to it, and convert it into a monocle. Remember, before Benjamin Franklin invented the spectacles, this was the norm. Even save the screws that hold the frames together, as these are highly unique. At a later date, you may be able to rebuild a pair of glasses from the pieces or find someone who can help you do so in exchange for some other good or service. If you come across discarded glasses, even reading glasses or sunglasses, take them with you.
Secondly, see if you can substitute any other optics, and designate them as your “eyewear.” Do you have anything else with lenses or magnification ability? If you have a rifle scope or binoculars, they can be adjusted to compensate for your poor distance vision. You may need to become “joined at the eye” with this piece of gear. Take your scope off your rifle, tie it around your neck, and develop a habit of frequently raising it to your eye as you walk around. I know, to many survivalists, what I just said is tantamount to saying “Tear out the pages of your bible and use them for kindling,” but while this is definitely not ideal, it may be the best you can do.
Cameras won’t work long after electricity has failed, but the viewfinder of most professional cameras can be focused manually to accommodate inferior eyesight. If the camera does not have a viewfinder that works without electricity, take the camera apart and see what you can do with the lenses inside. Have you taken apart your dead cellphone yet and harvested the lenses from your cellphone camera? Consider that, in the present environment, your role is that of an early scientist in the Renaissance age: one of your tasks of survival is to “invent” something that will help you see. Fortunately, in a post-consumer-electronics world, there will be many discarded devices that contain lenses and optics. Regardless of your vision restrictions, you may be able to find something that works for you.
Along the lines of the above point, building a telescope should be at the top of your to-do list. In its simplest form, a telescope captures an image on the “objective,” which is either a mirror or a lens (in a “refractor” or “reflector” telescope, respectively), and then uses another lens to enhance the captured image.
In our worst-case scenario, a telescope will be a valuable tool, enabling you to see objects in the distance clearly, and even scan middle distances routinely. If you are like me, you probably tried to build a telescope as a kid, with varying degrees of success. Below is a description of a simple reflecting telescope that I have been able to build many times. When properly focused, it has enabled me to see distant objects clearly without my glasses.
This crude telescope consists of only two things– a mirror that captures the image and a magnifying glass, which enlarges the image from the mirror. To build this telescope, direct the mirror towards the object you want to see, at an angle, so that it is partially facing the object and partially facing you. Mirrors will be plentiful in a post-apocalyptic world. Since every abandoned vehicle automatically carries three, you should have no trouble finding one that works for you. Once your mirror is in place, move your magnifying glass towards the mirror until the object comes into sharp focus as you look at the mirrored image through the magnifying glass. If you do not have a magnifying glass, try finding a curved piece of glass. If no glass is available, you can use a clear water container (a water bottle or clear bag of water) as a magnifying glass, although the performance will degrade or increase according to the quality of your materials.
You will need to do a lot of experimenting until you find the perfect distance and angle, but with a little work, you will soon be able to see an object in the distance clearly. The better your mirror and magnifying glass, the better this telescope will function. While not a mobile solution, this telescope set up could function at an observation post or for surveillance. It could be placed at a choke point leading to your retreat where you could stand sentry.
A more mobile solution would be a refracting telescope, consisting of parallel lenses in a tube. This is the stereotypical hand-held telescope that we are all familiar with. I have not successfully made one of these, so I will leave this up to the reader’s ingenuity. The essential point is that, if you can get your hands on a few lenses and mirrors, you will be able to make something to help you see better. Making a pair of glasses may be beyond your skill level, but making a telescope should be within everyone’s grasp.
Lastly, build yourself a pair of pinhole glasses. Wikipedia provides a concise explanation of pinhole glasses, reproduced below:
“Pinhole glasses, also known as stenopeic glasses, are eyeglasses with a series of pinhole-sized perforations filling an opaque sheet of plastic in place of each lens. Similar to the workings of a pinhole camera, each perforation allows only a very narrow beam of light to enter the eye which reduces the size of the circle of confusion on the retina and increases depth of field. In eyes with refractive error, the result is claimed to be a clearer image.” “Pinhole Glasses,” wikipedia.org, published on the World Wide Web
As a lay person, what I get from this description is that pinhole glasses reduce the amount of light entering your eye, and thus partially correct the fault in your eye’s mechanics. These makeshift glasses are incredibly easy to make. Simply fashion a piece of cardboard, plastic, or paper into the shape of a pair of glasses, and then poke one hole or several holes directly in front of where your eye would be. You will find that, while your vision is darkened and a lot of peripheral vision is lost, the image you see through the pinhole will be clear and in focus. I would advise experimenting with this a lot, until you’ve figured out what iteration of the pinhole glasses works best for you. You may find a single hole works best for you, a grouping of three, or an array of holes. The holes should actually be pin-pricks; if you make holes any larger, the effect will be lost. Please note that the perforated surface needs to be closer to your eyes than a glass lens would be, to prevent much light from reaching your eye at an angle.
While pinhole glasses are not as effective as traditional glasses, I cannot overstate their simplicity and usefulness in a pinch. I have made a pinhole monocle in two seconds with a sticky note and paper clip. I have even found that a perforated saltine cracker, when held up close to your eye, has the same vision improvement properties. This is definitely a tip you will want to share with anyone you know who wears glasses in your group.
These are the things you can do to prepare for life without glasses, and to survive if you find yourself in such a world. The plan outlined above is free and does not require you go purchase any additional gear or supplies. While those of us who wear glasses should either seek vision correction or stockpile against a shortage, if we are unable to do so, the end of the world as we know it does not need to be the end of the world, when it comes to our vision. Should you find yourself in a bad place, these strategies will help you, unlike Piggy, make it without your “specs” in a true worst-case scenario.