Monday, January 4, 2016

Agony at the eye doctor

You’re sitting in the eye doctor’s office, your face up against the machine, the doctor clicking away and rotating assorted lenses. Then he says…

…and you brace yourself for the most traumatic question imaginable:

“Is it better with A … or B?”

Okay, maybe the question is nowhere near the trauma of Sophie’s Choice, but for the lifetime I have spent in assorted eye doctors’ offices, my stomach still clenches at the question. I once wrote a short story about that question. I know I’ll be going back again soon and facing the question.

There is such responsibility in answering. A prescription will be written, contact lenses ordered, eyeglass lenses ground – all based on the answer. And the answer is always so … fuzzy. Is that D-E-F-P-O-T-E-C any better than that other D-E-F-P-O-T-E-C? So maybe you say, “Can you do that again?”

“Is it better with A … or B?”
They look the same! And you blink, but then they look a little different. Is that just the tears in the blink or is that your vision? Okay, you take a stab: “A.”

More clicking, more rotating. All you’ve done is buy yourself a few seconds:

“Is it better with A … or B?”
“Can you do that again?”

“Is it better with A … or B?”

“I think B.” But then you listen for a groan; are you becoming too difficult? Is there some decision tree that you’ve just failed, some auto-cross-check that means your answer is impossible? Why does your vision have to hinge on YOU? Can’t they just measure your eyes?

Over the years, more and more machines have shown up in the doctor’s office so maybe they are in fact measuring my eyes. Which doesn’t help because – as one doctor put it by opening my file and circling my age – my eyes are in their Third Thirds, too.

I get that our ability to focus (presbyopia) changed a while back. That was when all those menus started being held miles away, as far as our arms could reach. But I wore contact lenses with a close-up region and a distance region and miraculously, they both worked!

I think I could have been happy forever. Until the manufacturer discontinued the brand.
That meant my trials moved from the doctor’s office to the contact lens station. I became that woman’s worst nightmare. We went the monovision route where one eye sees close up and the other sees far away … and your brain rattles around trying to make sense of it all. We tried every different manufacturer, and I was like Cinderella’s stepsisters trying to fit into the glass slipper. Nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, after months of experimentation, I said, “I’m going on vacation. Just give me these.”

So I’ve been kind of getting around. I can watch movies and read highway signs. On a good day, I can read the newspaper and a book, but I bought my first pair of Peepers so I can magnify if I need to read a label or a map. (I got them in bright red so I could still look outrageous and bold with reading glasses; but I’m not fooling myself.)
Lately, though, I’m losing depths. At the grocery store, I can’t see the products if they’re two feet away, which is exactly where they sit on shelves. Everything else is still there, and I can put on the Peepers to read labels, but I’m missing that crucial two-foot span.

If I have to paint or sew, I pull out my old trusty, probably expired eyeglasses. Eyeglasses that never went out in public during my vanity days. So when I make plans outside my home, I have to know what I’m doing: movie, I can wear contacts; conversation, contacts. Painting class; contacts to see the teacher or eyeglasses to see the paper? Book club; contacts to see friends or eyeglasses to refer to the book? This is getting ridiculous.

I didn’t get a reminder notice from my eye doctor this year. I think the contact lens woman probably got a vote on that. I made an appointment on my own. Already, I’m having alphabet nightmares:

“Is it better with A … or B?”


  1. I dislike going to the eye doctor as well. It seems like every time I go in, I find out that my eyesight has gotten worse than before. It seems like it's always nothing but bad news waiting for me.

    I am considering LASIK surgery as a possible solution. Have you ever thought about going through LASIK yourself?

    Jennifer Bell @ Clarity Vision - SmithField, NC

  2. I relate to your vision trauma! I have just gotten past the Costco reading glasses stage. It was great to find online sources for 3.25 and up online at very decent prices.

  3. I am definitely enjoying your website. You definitely have some great insight and great stories. Yaldo Eye Center


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