Number One or Number Two? : Life & Death Decisions at the Optometrist’s

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Three to four months ago, I made the startling discovery that I only had a single right contact left in my entire possession. All of its little boxmates? GONE. Nowhere to be seen. I have this theory that all of my left contacts killed them in the night, evidenced by the fact that I’ve got three boxes of brand new left contacts in my drawer and absolutely no sign of any right ones. Anyway, for three to four blasted months, that last, lonely right contact has been clinging to my eye, to dust particles, to bakery gunk, to bacteria, to disregarded who-knows-whats in the hopes that one day it can stop fighting the great fight and rest in that great cleansing solution in the sky.

Today, I pinched its decrepit body out of my eye and watched with glee as its flimsy, translucent form drifted into the eye doctor’s trash can. After two years and a semester of no visits to the doctor and teary eyes, today was the day I waved the white flag of surrender.

Going to the eye doctor is a necessary evil for people who are genetically impaired. It starts when you’re a shy little nine year-old who suddenly can’t see. Your mom takes you to the third floor of a somber brick building where a guy who looks like the young Bob Denver takes you to a room that smells like baby carrots. He hooks you up to all of this machinery that masks your face. It’s almost like you’re going to a masquerade ball, except for the fact that it’s actually the burial site of your last shred of dignity.

This is the sad smile of dignity destroyed. 

Gilligan none-too-subtly mentions how a lot of nine year-old girls like to come in and fake it through their exams just so they can get cool, stylish glasses. This is years before the hipster is invented, years before wannabe college students will purposely go out of their way to buy the ugliest, thick-rimmed, 1960s child molester glasses they can find, whether they need them or not. No, this is the early 2000s. No kid in the early 2000s and in his or her right mind would fake it to be called Four Eyes for eternity. You didn’t ask for this fate.

You walk out of that office crippled, a young child whose face will be immortalized in five years of yearbooks with reflection glares instead of pupils, a child whose every attempt at playing church volleyball will end with a ball to the face, bridge marks embedded in her skin, nose pads twisted out of whack, and a bunch of stupid questions like, “Oh, you’re crying! Don’t be sad.” Yes, thank you. I am crying because I am sad, not because I just got smashed in the eyes by a 90 mile per hour spike.

This is you until that blessed day when you can afford contacts. Then a whole new set of problems arise. Dryness, irritation, redness, but namely (or most namely): another round in the endless game of eye chart roulette.

Every single year, there’s a moment when you feel like your prescription has made a noticeable shift, and it bothers you. You think to yourself, I’m wearing contacts, and I still can’t read that sign two blocks away. Something in me is broken! Paranoia eats at you, corrodes you, until finally, you call the optometrist and ask to see him. You arrive a few weeks later, appointment-punctual. They take you back to baby carrots room and the games begin.

The nurse hands you a plastic thing that looks like this:

Classy business, I know. 

This is the cruel pop quiz before the final.

She sets you in a padded chair, turns out the lights, and flips on the eye chart. “What’s the last line you can read?” The nurse chirps.

You can’t read the last line, like, at all. I mean, you can see lines and guess what the letters say. If you stare hard enough, you can make them out, like shapes in the fog. Suddenly, this goes from eye exam to puzzle. You’re good at guessing games. You know you know what letters are up there. Suddenly, you’re defensive. That nurse isn’t going to pull the wool over your shoulders. Nosireebob.

“Err…I can read the last line but I can’t read the last line at the same time, if that makes sense,” you say. Good answer, your inner moron responds.

Silence. Typing. Judging. The process is repeated for your other eye with the same chart. “Err…I can read, like, the first three letters of the last line.” Silence. Typing. Judging. Why is she giving me the same chart? You think to yourself. Doesn’t she know that I’ll remember what letters were on the last line last time and just say those same letters again? She can’t win! You’ve lost all logic.

The nurse smiles, opens your files, stands and says, “The doctor will be right with you.” Then the door closes on your shrouded cell of carrot-reeking doom. You sit there in silence, convinced that your prescription has been compromised and that you’re going blind. You grip the rubber of the chair.

Boom. The door bangs open and in bounces Doctor Gilligan like he’s just built a flare gun out of coconuts, matches, and string. He’s chipper. Too chipper for a man who’s about to confirm that I am, indeed, going blind. 

He asks a few questions about your personal life, lets the office know you want contacts, and then he shines a flashlight into your retinas until they seem to catch fire. Then he pulls up the dreaded eye chart of death and puts the dignity-destroyer on you. Your heart pulses in your chest.

“Okay. Ready? Which one can you see clearer? Number one or two?”

He does nothing, then switches the dial. Does nothing, switches the dial. Your vision gets blurry. You panic. The chart looks the same both times. How are you supposed to know which one looks clearer? Your vision is on the line here and you’ve been given the mother of all decisions.You remember all of those TV shows you’ve watched and go into bomb diffuser mode. Red wire or green wire? You’re going to have to guess and hope it’s lucky. 

“Uh…uh…one!” You say louder than you want to. He nods.

“Okay. How about this one? Two or three?”

“Again,” you say. He switches back and forth. “Again,” you say. He must be getting impatient. Impatient people are dangerous, especially impatient optometrists with sharp objects. “Uh…three,” you say. It is maybe a little clearer.

They’re supposed to get sharper now, right? The options? Indicating that you’re on the right path? But no. The options get blurrier, smoggier. You pick four. Four leads you astray.

                  
Panicking. Panicking. Panicking. Gilligan flicks through options, his hands near your nose. You guess again and again, unsure of yourself — it’s like last year’s Climage Change final all over again. They’re blurry, then sharp, then blurry. You can’t tell if it’s your vision or the tears building up in your eyes or what. Maybe Gilligan’s got a bad case of halitosis that causes cataracts. You’re just too overwhelmed to be here right now.

Finally, the doctor pulls away the machine and says, “Well, you’re not going blind! Your right eye didn’t change at all. Left eye went down one. Yay!”

Your gut drops. No, that’s not true. THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE. I AM BLIND. I SWEAR. You mentally beg him to reconsider, but the deed is done, the test taken, paid for with the salty tears of embarrassment.

Gilligan puts a new machine on your face, drops yellow, questionable fluid into your eyes. He flashes blue lasers at you and turns on the lights, ushering you up front to buy contacts. Meanwhile, you feel defeated, broken. You pay for contacts, then slip to the back to put them in.

So this is it, then. The moment of truth. 

You are a sad little figure hunched over a mirror, tricked into thinking your eyes needed serious correction and therefore tricked into paying for a visit you didn’t need. That’s the worst tragedy of them all.

You know immediately when you put in your new contacts if you guessed correctly or not. You know it by the small degree off perfect that you can sense in your left eye, by the way you nearly trip and fall down three flights of stairs.

                                        you have chosen poorly
$49 for contacts that are STILL not accurately prescribed. Fruit loops.  

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