Saturday, January 19, 2008

Eyes Right

I can sit still with the best of them. I used to win stare-down contests when I was in elementary school. I am, or at least I have been told that I am, a good patient. That is why I knew that my Saturday morning appointment at the eye doctor would be a fairly low-stress affair.
Still, I had a twinge of anxiety as I walked up the street to the office. If it were up to me, I would keep the same doctor, dentist, parking space, breakfast food, address, furniture polish, and so on for all eternity. I'm not a huge fan of change. My wife doesn't share this same commitment to stability. She changes phone companies, insurance carriers, peanut butters, and even eye doctors to suit our family's changing needs. The fact that I could walk to my appointment did seem like an advance, to be sure, but it was still something new.
In my mind, I distracted myself by trying to remember the difference between ophthalmology and optometry. Optometrists are not medical doctors. Ophthalmologists are "real" doctors. It did not occur to me to ask my wife before I left which I was going to see. I tried not to let the nagging doubt cloud my mind.
When I arrived there was some relief in finding that I was the first appointment of the day, which meant that I didn't have to spend any time searching for a magazine from this decade to read. I was also spared the onerous chore of filling out a new medical history, one of my chief gripes about changing doctors. I would eventually have to answer all those questions, but I went straight back to the examination room by Doctor Thornton himself.
I sat back in the big chair and began my standard patient patter. I'm a teacher. I have worn glasses since I was five. I have a "lazy eye". I started wearing progressive lenses two and a half years ago. All of this pleasant interaction took place on the surface, and all the while I was wondering if there are people who try and cheat on their eye tests.
I have a certain amount of test anxiety, and it has only been somewhat recently that I was able to be completely open with my ever-changing optometrists. When the whole "number one, number two, which is better?" stuff begins, I used to get nervous. What if I got it wrong? What if I was stuck with a prescription that would eventually lead my eventual, and excruciatingly permanent, blindness? I found that confessing this to my health care professional allowed me to get even better care. But when the big black mask came down over my face, I had to consciously set aside my fears and read the line from left to right.
And then came the surprise: On the left eye, on the fourth or fifth trip through the E's and
Z's and L's, he asked me to read the line backward, "In case you've started to memorize them after all of this." He told me to relax and stare at the light as he put drops in my eyes, and I told him I could relax as long as he didn't start to play Beethoven. There was a pause, and I felt the need to explain my "Clockwork Orange" reference. "Oh, Kubrick," he said, "I love Kubrick." That's when I did start to loosen up.
When it was done, the lights came back up and I wiped the yellow residue of the eye drops from my eyes. I thanked the doctor for the exam and the conversation and headed to the lobby to pick out my new frames. By strange coincidence, my wife had arrived and was there to help me pick out a new set of frames. Another change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Optometrists are "real" doctors. They can use the same drugs to treat any eye disease that an Ophthalmologist can, they just don't do surgery. No, they aren't MDs, but then neither are dentists, podiatrists, etc. Many MD's treat a host of diseases without being surgeons, as well... family practitioners, etc.