Seeing Clearly is Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

When I received my first pair of eyeglasses in the fourth grade, a vivid and surprisingly clear world unfolded before me. I could actually make out the facial features of the people across the street. Each leaf had a shape, a form, a color, and an outline. Birds in the sky were no longer blurry, flying blobs, but creatures with discernible wings and beaks. I was SO excited… until I walked into school the next day.

“HaHaHahaHahHa,” my “friends” jeered and pointed as I walked into the classroom. “Hey four-eyes!” they howled. “Whatcha’ got there? Coke bottles for glasses? HaHaHaHaHa.”

Message received: Eye glasses were for losers.


Within a split second, I decided that I could see just fine. I put those spectacles in my desk and squinted the rest of the year. If only my dad had allowed me to get those round, John Lennon-style, wire-rimmed glasses my 17-year old half-brother wore. But, there was “no way in hell” (his words)  his 9-year old daughter was going to look like a 17-year old hippie or rebel British pop music icon. I came home with very square and dorky tortoise plastic rims. I hated them. By fifth grade, I was wearing contacts.

Which do you prefer?

These?                                                                                            These?

glasses-wire     glasses

While my eyes were dilating in the ophthalmologist’s waiting room today, remnants of the past hit me right upside the head. I started to get a headache and put my sunglasses on to shield my brain from the light shining through the window of my extra-large induced pupils.

The first part of eye exams always stresses me out. First, the doctor puts the super-complicated, multi-lensed mechanical “glasses” in front of my face, directing me to look at an eye chart, one eye at a time. My ophthalmologist systematically flipped the lenses in front of my eye until the letters were more or less visible. “I see an A, then a G, no wait, that must be an O. Hold on. Is it a Q?”  I hesitate.  Instead of responding, he answers my question with another question (don’t you hate people who do that?).



A Phoropter is the name for the big, mechanical, multi-lensed monster.


Here is the conversation that ensued:

Doctor: Looking at that same line of letters, which is clearer, #1 or #2?

Me: Honestly, they looked about the same. If I have to choose, I’d say, ummmm, #2 is clearer.

Doctor: Okay, how about now, #1 or #2, as he flips the lens once more?

Me: Uhhhhhh, can you do that again? I think I heard him sigh.

Flip flop, flip, flop, clicks the lenses.

Doctor: #1 or #2?

Me: I don’t like either of them. Is there a #3?

Doctor: No, there is no #3. Look again, #1 or #2? Which is clearer?

Me thinking: OMG. #1 and #2 are so close. I can’t see a difference. I don’t know. I can’t decide. This is way too stressful.  Enough is enough.

I peeked around the machine and looked my doctor, quite appropriately, right in the eye and admitted, “This exam is making me anxious.  What if I choose #1 and the right answer is #2, and then my prescription comes out all wrong? I cannot be responsible for my vision mistakes. I’m here because I cannot see. You’re the eye expert, not me.”

He reassured me that this part was really only a matter of personal comfort, and tried to calm my fears. “Don’t worry, we’ll get it right.” Then he simply pushed on with the exam which makes me even more anxious.

The next device of torture is called a tonometer, measuring eye pressure.


As I placed my lower jaw on the chin rest, he told me to look at his ear while the miniature gun came closer and closer to my eyeball. The thoughts in my head became louder and louder, “How close is he going to get? What if he misjudges and pokes my eye out. What if I sneeze and poke my own eyeball out. Is he going to puff air into my eye?”

I mentally closed my eyes and waited for something to happen. Before I knew it, he was on the other eye and when he was done, both eyes were still intact. Just for effect, I did ask him if he’d ever poked someone’s eye out with that thing. He answered in the negative, “That would be bad for business.” Yeah, it would be bad for someone’s eye too!

I was not happy when he handed me my prescription: -8.00 in the right eye and -9.25 in the left, which translates to: you are still a loser and blind as a bat, to0.


Before I left, I asked if he did eyeball transplants. He looked at me as if he were thinking, “Why are you still in my office?” But he humored me and admitted that the eyeball transplant technology has not yet been invented. Then he warned, “In any case, if you do hear of doctors performing the procedure in the future, don’t be the first in line. That’s never a good idea.”

Fair enough.

Now I have to decide if I want bifocals, progressives, or two separate sets of glasses, one for distance and one for reading. Since I don’t like change, I probably will do nothing and continue to push my glasses to the end of my nose when I need to read. Who needs to see clearly anyway?


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