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My contact lens has gone to the Zonules of Zinn – I blame our throwaway culture

Accidentally exploring the recesses of your eyeball.

That’ll teach me to go around quoting from King Lear. Last week I thought I was losing my mind, so said “let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven” and heaven took the hint and is now assaulting my vile jelly, my eyes. Or rather, the left one.

At the suggestion of the dizzyingly attractive Iranian optometrist at Specsavers who examined me about three months ago, I started using daily contact lenses instead of the monthly ones, whose working life I would usually extend to about a year. I was assured that not only was this naughty but that it was very bad for my eyes.

I spy

Being told you are naughty by a gorgeous woman who is so close to you, you can feel her breath on your eyelashes is not, I admit, the most painful experience a man can undergo but I do take advice, eventually, where my eyes are concerned. For, as the optician’s poster reminds us, we only get one pair. (Looking at posters in opticians can be quite rewarding. Prolonged examination of one taught me that there is a part of the eyeball called the Zonules of Zinn, which sounds like one of the lost bands from Liverpool of the late 1970s – cf, the Teardrop Explodes and Echo & the Bunnymen. I once asked, in the pub quiz, where the Zonules of Zinn were, and was, as always happens when I set the pub quiz, roundly and fluently abused for my efforts.)

Anyway, I duly got a three-month supply of dailies and although there was a part of me that felt I was somehow being wasteful and contributing to a culture of disposability that I strongly disapprove of, I relished my new freedom from having to put them away in a little pot every night and suspend them in a lotion so expensive it might have been composed largely of unicorns’ tears.

There was one thing I really didn’t like, though, and that was that sometimes, at the end of the evening, after a night of convivial chat and smoking and drinking my head off, they would tend to get rather difficult to remove. Something in certain kinds of roll-ups conspires to make the surface of the eyeball more adhesive than it normally is, or dries it out, perhaps, and this combined with the small but perceptible decline in dexterity that can afflict one after a bottle and a bit of Shiraz can make for a frustrating pre-bedtime experience. But with disposables it’s even worse: they’re flimsier than the normal kind of lens and now I can be in the bathroom, fossicking around the cornea for ages and ages, while the Beloved waits for me and then dozes off.

This time I was at least on my own but it was worse than usual – the damned thing just wouldn’t come out. And then something went wrong and all I could think of by way of explanation was that my fiddling about had pushed the lens round the back, behind the eyelid – if not into the very Zonules of Zinn themselves, then at least somewhere deep and inaccessible.

When I first met the Beloved, one of her best friends had only one question about me (well, I imagine she had several, but this was the first): “is he good in a crisis?” I remember, when this was reported to me, breathing a large sigh of relief. There are all sorts of questions she could have asked that would have resulted in a much more negative or equivocal response, such as is he good with money, is he tidy, is he fundamentally a decent human being, does he lust after optometrists, etc, etc? But crises I am kind of OK with – for a start, I’ve learned that a surprising number of them go away, or resolve themselves, if you don’t do anything about them.

Blue period

This wasn’t one of those crises, though, but there was little I could do about it at two in the morning, so went to bed; and anyway, maybe it would resolve itself – I recalled something about the eye being very good at expelling foreign objects. But the next morning – a Sunday, when Specsavers is shut – I saw a tiny little square of transparent blue in the sink, which I could immediately tell was about one-third to one-half of a daily contact lens, which could only mean that one-half to two-thirds of a daily contact lens was lodged somewhere in my eye.

So there we go: a culture of disposability leads to suffering one way or the other. You would have thought that someone might have worked out that you don’t make contact lenses with the fragility of rice paper just in case this kind of thing happens, but no. And I didn’t even get the gorgeous optometrist when I went to get the eye checked out.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 September 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Who comes next?

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.