Lasers. They’re very cool. And very dangerous. And that’s apparently something people need to be reminded of.
When I was a kid, lasers were the stuff of TV. I remember watching Professor John Robinson battling rubbery-costumed aliens outside the Jupiter 2, his laser gun blazing. I’d have given anything for a laser pistol of my own back then. Fast forward forty years, and lasers are fairly common. While there are some capable of igniting paper, most are strictly of the low-wattage, pointer-variety. I can’t blast annoying varmints in the backyard with the average laser. Yet.
Today’s lasers come in a variety of colors, some small enough to fit on your keychain. They are for use as pointers during presentations, to aim digital thermometers or tapeless measuring systems, as levels for home improvement work, and even for tormenting your pets. All of these lasers share one very important feature: a prominent warning message on the side, advising you NOT to point them at anyone’s eyes, that you could risk blinding them.
I carry a laser with me all the time. It’s built into my flashlight. I carry a flashlight on my belt because I often have to retrieve files from the dimly lit, basement storage room at my day job. I didn’t order this flashlight off the internet solely because it had a laser. I was just looking for a super-bright, LED, AA-battery powered flashlight. The laser was just an unexpected benefit.
Having desperately desired a laser as a child, I of course have to use my laser flashlight as much as possible. It’s a sort of repressed childhood wish come true. My most common use of a laser at work is when I’m consulted as an advanced computer user.
“How do I change my wallpaper?” my co-workers will ask. “Where did my tool bar go?” they ask. “Why isn’t my document printing?” they ask. How people who use computers daily lack these simple, basic skills is beyond me. But I step in and try to help. Before my laser light, I would have to lean over their shoulders and extended a hammy hand to their screen, pointing out exactly where they needed to click on their tool bar. I’m a teach-a-man-to-fish kind of guy, and I insist on people learning how to solve the problem in the future, rather than keep bugging me about it. Now that I am armed with laser technology, I can stand back, all professor-like, and point at their screens from a safe distance.
On my most recent foray into teaching Windows Basics for Dummies, one of my co-workers was more interested in my laser flashlight than learning how to solve problems for herself. She asked if she could see my gadget. I handed it over after a brief explanation of how to alternate between LED light and laser emitter. I then turned back to the computer of another co-worker to solve the pressing computer problem.
And promptly got my eye lased.
You would think that a 60-something year old grandmother would know better than to shine a laser in someone’s eye. But no, like a small kid incapable of reading the laser warning, she was oblivious to the danger of lasers. She thought it would be funny to shine the laser around at people.
Some online resources may tell you that brief exposure to a laser-pointer device cannot cause permanent eye injury, that it takes several seconds of continuous staring to do significant damage. But do you really want to gamble with your vision?
Just last year I learned that not only can lasers damage your vision, they can trigger migraines.
There I was illuminating various objects around the house with a laser for my children’s amusement. It was an impromptu laser light show. The finale of the show was when I illuminated a crystal one of the kids had picked up at a museum gift shop. Instead of just hitting it with the laser from afar, I set the crystal on the laser. I’d already shown the kids how the crystal could diffuse light from a flashlight. The crystal glowed brilliantly, but didn’t produce a lightsaber or any cool multi-beam effect. But it did sparkle a little. I was hypnotized by the odd sparkling. I kept staring at it. For several moments. I then thought: should I really be staring at a laser?
About ten minutes after the light show, we all sat down to watch TV. I noticed a floater in my field of vision. It began to grow. Over the course of fifteen minutes, it went from the size of a quarter held at arm’s length, to the size of a dinner plate. The floater was surrounded by a dazzling, rainbow-hued line, surrounding an out of focus blob in the middle. This was accompanied by an excruciating headache. Panic set it.
Some ibuprofen and a multi-hour nap later, my vision came back. I paid my doctor a visit and learned that the symptoms I described indicated I had a migraine but no lasting eye damage. Lesson learned.
If you own, or find yourself using a laser, please be responsible and heed the safety warnings- they are put there for a reason. Don’t point them at your own, or other people’s eyes!