a small rant about saltwater

I got my first set of contact lenses in 7th grade — 1985 or thereabouts. They were “rigid gas-permeable” lenses, prescribed by my optometrist in the vain hope that they might slow down the inexorable progression of my myopia. They were also fucking agonizing to put in, wear, and take out, and after about two months of family-wide aggravation at having to listen to me bitch and moan about the things, I managed to accidentally (as far as I remember) drop one of them down the drain, and that was the end of that experiment: they’d cost money we hadn’t had in the first place, and I was informed in no uncertain terms that if I wanted to try lenses again, I could pay for them myself.

About seven years later, I had a rare moment of positive bank account balance due to a relatively lucrative summer temping job, and I noticed that I had enough money to afford an eye checkup and a pair of soft contacts at ‘s family eye doctor. This revolutionized my life, but that’s another story. This is a story about saltwater.

In Philadelphia, circa 1992 when I got that first pair of soft lenses, a 12-ounce bottle of CVS store-brand saline solution, otherwise known as “one and a half cups of distilled water with some salt and some ascorbic acid in it” was usually $1.25. Sometimes they would have them on sale for 99 cents. And every once in a while, I’d hit the jackpot and find a store that had the 16-ounce bottles for the same price.

The 16-ounce bottles disappeared off the market entirely around when I moved to Boston, but CVS would still pretty reliably have the 12oz bottles for $1.25, so that wasn’t too bad.

In New York, things got a little worse: the 12-oz store-brand (usually Duane Reade) bottles were $2 each! But for some reason, there were always 2-packs of Alcon brand saline for $3, so I held the line at $1.50 a bottle the entire time I lived there.

Then I moved to California, and things spun completely out of control. Alcon doesn’t seem to distribute out here, so it’s Walgreens or the actual Bausch & Lomb-brand stuff. You’ll notice that I’ve never mentioned B&L or any of the other major brands of saline wash so far in this entire rant? There’s a reason: their prices are insane, and not in a Crazy Eddie way. A 12-ounce bottle of Bausch & Lomb saline solution was somewhere between $2.50 and $3 at the beginning of this story in 1992; these days it’s four dollars at Walgreens. For, let us remember, saltwater. But that’s only marginally worse than the store brand, which is $2.80.

Over 14 years, the per-ounce cost of preserved saltwater has just about tripled. The mind boggles.

Luckily, this tale of woe has a happy ending… for now. Through the incredible power of whinging to my friends on the internet, I was led to this: $17.50 for a 10-pack of 12-ounce bottles. How many of them did I buy?

(Hat-tip to for leading me to that Amazon page.)

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