Putting the “Oh!” in Ophthalmology
I’ve long thought that a hundred years hence dentistry will be among our civilization’s more embarrassing moments. Nothing against the profession. Our teeth certainly are less mangled than they used to be. But I assume one day we will progress far enough as a race that scraping the inside of our mouths with metal picks and turbo-suction straws will eventually look like the barbarism it is. Medieval docs used a lot of leeches. We put drills in the back of our throats. Feels like there must be a better way.
After yesterday, I’m ready to put eye exams in the same category.
Again, lots of love for all the fine folks who keep me seeing year after year. Only the Lord knows where I’d be without the miracle of glasses. (Literally, I would be so lost somewhere only the Lord would know my whereabouts.) But for all the blessings eye doctors have bestowed on the watching world (a fuzzily watching though it be), it’s hard not to conclude that the eye appointment wasn’t crafted at some level of planning by one of the more sinister James Bond villains.
It starts with a line in front of a greeter who directs you to wait in another line where you can check in with a receptionist. Once checked in (at the real check in) you find a seat in the first of your three waiting areas. On the wall is a serious sign stating that no cell phones are allowed in the waiting area. After looking around for optometrists packing heat I conclude that enforcement of this particular statute is likely to be low. So I continue to check my email, hoping to enjoy a few more minutes of good vision before my pupils are the size of silver dollar pancakes.
In the first exam room I am asked a series of questions about my family history. These are more difficult than you might imagine. “Do you have a history of migraines.” Well, I dunno. My mom got headaches, but it wasn’t a bedtime story or anything. Not a part of our history per se. It’s not like we gathered round every Christmas to hear tall tales of the migraines of yesteryear. The DeYoungs have a penchant for living long and going gray at 30 but we haven’t passed down a lot of headache stories. I come prepared to tell my doctor if I smoke, drink, lick frogs, or sniff Sharpies, but I don’t have an oral history of cranial ailments.
Having failed this basic line of questioning, I had no other choice but to begin the first of 17,000 letter reading exercises. They all start with E. After that it’s anybody’s guess. All I know is that they don’t include a lot of easy letters. Not a lot of W’s or K’s or really wide H’s. What you can expect is a C that almost closes at the end and a D with very rounded corners. Pretty much every letter can be made to look like an O if you try. E’s and F’s are almost identical. So are Z’s and S’s. V’s and Us–hah, good luck. Don’t even try for the bottom row. You’ll only embarrass yourself
The second part of the exam is worse. This is where you get tested for rabies of the eye ball (or something like that). As I put my chin into the chin rest and my forehead against that metal strap I can’t decide if I should fear for my life or start whispering something about “Clarice.” As it turns out, I only had to spot a hot air balloon raising in the distance. Very calming. Like a lollipop before the guillotine. Because the next thing I hear is something about two sets of eye drops, the first of which are numbing drops. Hey, woah, hold on a minute. If the first set is to numb my eyes what are your doing with the second set? Setting them on fire? And if dropping foreign liquids from the sky weren’t enough, then they take some doohickey that pulses out and pushes against your eye ball. It’s too close to see what the thing looks like, but I imagine it’s similar to a rock em’ sock em’ robot. With an M.D. Anyway, the lady says laconically, “Try to keep your eyes open. It’s a lot harder when you keep closing your eyes.” Yeah, I bet it’s a lot harder. A lot harder to poke me in the eye! I don’t tug on Superman’s cape. I don’t spit into the wind. I don’t pull the mask off the ole Lone Ranger. And I don’t keep my eyes open when people stick things in them.
Well by now I’m on to my third waiting room anticipating seeing the real doctor for the first time. As I think wistfully about the dentist, I can tell the Secret Drops of Nimh are taking effect. I can’t see straight and I’m not sure I ever will again. I pound out every text as if it were my last. Who knows what those second drops are doing? And heaven forbid if the numbing drops wear off. All I know is that my pupils are dilating and every flicker of florescent shines like a thousand burning suns. I see old men called into the doctor’s room. I don’t see them return. But then again, I’m having a hard time seeing anything.
As I enter the doctor’s office she cheerfully asks me how I am doing. I tell her “okay.” Just okay, she says. “Well, I am having my eyes jammed out of their sockets” I think to myself. She really is a nice woman and a good doctor. But I can’t take any more eye charts or any more “Number One…or Number Two” tests. They all look the same. Number One is kind of meh and Number Two is pretty much the same meh. There’s a lot of pressure with this part of the exam. It comes at the end when they are trying to figure out your prescription. A wrong answer could doom you to partial blindness for the next year. You’ll be sitting befuddled at a stop sign thinking it says “Stoo” because you chose Number One instead of Number Two. For the first time I can recall, my doctor actually told me when I did well. She’d be silent as I picked three Number Ones in a row and then let out a “Good” when I finally tried Number Two. For all I know the ophthalmologists get together after work, put back a few shots of saline, and swap stories about all the yahoos who think Number One is actually clearer than Number Two. They must chortle themselves silly knowing that Number Three is just Number One recycled.
I try to pick out a new pair of glasses so I can have something to show for the morning gauntlet. But apparently my lens are going to be as thick as scones. That limits my options. As does the realization that I, as the woman at the desk puts it, have “narrow pupils,” which is the nice way of saying, “Your head is long and skinny and your eyes are too close together.” In the end, I can’t bring myself to spend a week’s salary on glasses that will make me look like one of the Traveling Wilburys. So I settle for paying my bill and getting a free RoboCop visor-shield to protect my dilated pupils from melting like a Gremlin in the sunlight. It’s all a small price to pay, I suppose, for having 20/20 vision the rest of year. A new pair of glasses sure beats a poke in the eye. I’m just waiting for the technological breakthrough that will allow for one without the other.