Yesterday, as part of a physical exam, I was given a test to determine whether I had any issues in detecting different hues on the color spectrum — i.e., whether I was colorblind. It’s odd, but even though I’m 58 years old, am badly nearsighted, and have worn glasses since kindergarten, I don’t think I’ve ever taken a test for colorblindness.
The test involved looking through one of those devices you use at the optometrist’s office, where you peer into a kind of binocular unit, pictures are projected on the other end, and you identify letters or describe pictures. In this case, the pictures were of four circles filled with dots of different colors. The color patterns established by the different dots were each supposed to form distinguishable numbers.
I saw the number 11 in the first circle, but the other three just looked like totally random aggregations of differently colored dots to me. Try as I might, I couldn’t see any patterns or numbers — even to guess at — in the other three circles. Even when the nurse administering the test helpfully told me that there was a 26 in the second circle, I couldn’t see it. After the test was over, the nurse advised that my eyes were not correctly processing oranges and greens.
When I told Kish about these results, she nodded knowingly. She’s often commented on my inability to recognize the true colors of the outfits she’s wearing — and not just in discerning the subtle differences between similar colors like periwinkle and lavender, either. Sometimes I’ll call a color gray and she’ll say it’s brown, or vice versa. The test just confirms what she’s always suspected is the case.
It’s weird to have belated evidence that I am partially colorblind. It’s not going to affect my work — I’ll always be able to see black and white words on a page or computer screen — but it makes me wonder. When I look at a pumpkin, like the pumpkins in this photo I took last year, I see what I’ve always understood to be orange. If it’s not orange, what color am I seeing, really, and what does orange actually look like? And when I look at trees or grass and see what I perceive to be lush greens, am I just seeing pale echoes of the true verdant colors? I find myself wondering now: what have I been missing?