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There's a little pill shaking up our world

MAY 1, 1999 - American society has been turned upside down in recent weeks since the Food and Drug Administration gave its approval to a pill that cures nearsightedness.

This new miracle drug has been the talk in every office, on every street corner, on the talk shows, on every cable channel. Social scientists say the phenomenon clearly demonstrates America's insecurity about the subject of eyesight.

In thousands of doctor's offices around the nation, patients _ even those with reasonably normal vision _ are asking: "Do you think it would help me see better?"

Deluged doctors are trying to explain that the pill does nothing for normal eyes. It only makes it possible for the nearsighted to see better.

But they are fighting a losing battle. Everyone, after all, is insecure about his or her eyes, and secretly wonders whether the pill might give one the vision of Superman _ they fantasize, if not about having X-ray vision, then at least the next-best thing.

Naturally, controversy has followed.

Many clear-sighted critics have taken the nearsighted to task for being so enthusiastic about this new pill. It is typical of their shallowness, the critics say.

"This just goes to show our society's sick obsession with the subject," frowned columnist Morose Dowdy in the New York Times. She decried our "mass yearning for 20-20 vision.

"It's so typical of the nearsighted," Dowdy wrote. "I checked with most of my girlfriends and they said that they would much rather give nearsighted people a pill that would fix what's BEHIND their eyes."

A random survey of people on the street showed a similar lack of sympathy.

"I just don't understand the nearsighted," said Candy X., a patient at a breast-implant clinic, interviewed as she was leaving for a collagen injection, and planning to attend a pro-fen-phen rally later in the day. "They put all their emphasis on the wrong things."

The new drug has caused worry in many American households, where nearsightedness had been accepted as a way of life until now. Ironically, the prospect of a cure for the old malady has threatened to upset the apple cart in many families.

"They're worried that their husband or wife will want to look at them all the time now," one doctor explained. "We tell them the pill doesn't make anybody WANT to look at somebody else, it only ALLOWS them to look if they already wanted to."

In a related matter, insurance companies are cracking down on the new drug, saying they will refuse to pay for it unless (1) the nearsighted previously had stuck needles in their eyes and carried large signs around their neck, announcing to the world, "I AM NEARSIGHTED," and (2) they agree to use their new vision only six times a month.

"We intend to combat widespread insurance fraud," said Stin G. Gatekeeper, spokesman for Signut Healthcare, one of the nation's largest insurers. "We just want to make sure that every Tom, Richard and Harry who claims to be nearsighted doesn't get an easy prescription from a lazy doctor who's just trying to make a buck."

Gatekeeper declined comment on why Signut settled on the figure of six times a month, except to say the figure was based on "accepted statistical research methods." Patients who seek to use their vision more often should be prepared to meet the expense out of their own funds, he said.

If the new pill Viagra had been for nearsightedness instead of for what used to be known as impotence _ now called "erectile dysfunction" _ do you think we would be making as big a deal of it?

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