Operation 20/20: Replacing a Missing Contact Lens

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Why does this type of thing always happen to me?  The day my mother was scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires, I awoke to find the sky a shade of blue closer to navy than periwinkle.  Racing the clock, I hurried to get in a run before the weather turned.  But I was too late.  Already halfway through my workout when the rain began to fall, I was doomed to return home wet instead of merely sweaty.  Audibly cursing the dark clouds overhead, I began to battle with my headphones, which kept falling out.  Frustrated, I reached up and violently yanked them out of my ears.

To punish me for defying Mother Nature, my headphones instantaneously transformed into nunchucks, hitting me in the right eye and knocking out my contact lens.  I stopped in my tracks.  “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me!” I shouted.  Searching for a clear disc of plastic the size of a nickel in the mud when it’s raining is like, well, searching for a clear disc of plastic the size of a nickel in the mud when it’s raining, especially when it tends to bounce like a ping pong ball.  Still, I had to try, because instead of discardable soft contact lenses, I wear hard lenses designed and priced to last for years. “I certainly hope you find this funny,” I shouted while giving the heavens the evil one-eye.

Squatting, with my hand clasped over my useless eye, I set out on a search and rescue mission for the poor contact lens in distress, all the while trying to watch my step.  I looked like a soggy duck pirate walking a tightrope.  Needless to say, my mission was impossible.  I’m a big believer in all of the adages: “Everything happens for a reason,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” “Every cloud has a silver lining,” etc.  But some things just suck.  Period.

I called my mother in Michigan just before she left for the airport, and she phoned the family eye doctor to see if they had a lens in stock.  They didn’t.  All lenses are custom made.  In a display of heroic parenting, my mother ordered a lens, paying the lab extra to rush the order, and my dad covered the cost overnight shipping.  Turns out that in the world of international postal service, “overnight” actually means within 2-5 business days.

When I returned from Iguazú Falls, I found a package slip waiting for me.  This would have been good news, except that I was expecting the actual package to be delivered to my door.   Attached to the FedEx invoice was a ransom letter – Argentine customs was holding my contact lens hostage, and if I ever wanted to see it again, I had to bring a considerable amount of cash to the Ezeiza Airport.

Getting my contact lens was about as easy as assembling a desk with a Russian instruction manual.  The cheapest way to get to the airport is to take a shuttle, which departs from Manuel Tienda León’s private terminal near the bus station. Customs is located at the airport, in Terminal C.  But the bus driver instructed me to get off at the first stop, which was Terminal A.  I may not be an expert on the layout of the airport, but I know a little something about the alphabet.  Instead, I descended at Terminal B, only because there didn’t seem to be any signs indicating the existence of Terminal C.

Inside the airport, a security guard ushered me to the tax-free counter, where a woman kindly informed me, “Oh honey, I’m afraid you’re in the wrong place.  Did you see the windmill outside at the end of the long, white brick wall? Go past that.” And then, as an afterthought, she added, “It’s raining, isn’t it?”  I set off to follow the white brick wall.  After a series of twists and turns, I passed a gate and crossed a bridge where I had to lull a troll to sleep by playing a magic flute I arrived at the customs office.  It was closed for lunch.

When the office finally reopened, I began to dance the “package pickup tango.”  First, I went to Office 2, where a customs agent photocopied my passport before sending me to Office 1 for a stamp.  Then I made my way to Office 3 where, after knocking softly two times, I was allowed to enter, given a form, and escorted back to Office 2.  An old man searched for my package, opened it, showed me my contact lens, put the lens back in the package, resealed it with yellow tape, and stored it on the shelf.  Then it was back to Office 2 for a quick signature, and on to Office 1 where I paid both a storage fee and a fee for having a package that weighed less than 10 grams.  I shuffled over to Office 3 for the pure amusement of the staff, and then headed to Office 1 for the final step.  “Is that it?” I asked when I had my package in hand, both hopeful and skeptical.
“Yep, that’s it.” came the reply from the old man, followed by my sigh of relief.
“Except that you need to clear customs on your way out.”
“Excuse me?”
Before I could leave, I had to know.  “Why was my package held at customs?” I inquired.
“Because,” he explained, “all packages are held at customs.”

Five hours later, I was back at home, soaking my new contact lens in conditioning solution.  Now that I can see out of both eyes again, I just have one question: Does anyone know the name of a specialist in laser eye surgery?

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