Can You Read This?


I took my son to Lens Crafters for an eye exam yesterday. His dog, Beaufort, chewed his glasses and he needed new ones. Oh, that Beaufort, he’s a playful little bugger. Unfortunately, the glasses were still on his face when Beaufort decided to use them for a chew toy, so he has a scratch on his nose, too.

He was irked that he had to have another eye exam just to get his prescription for the new glasses. I don’t blame him. Eye doctors will do anything to get more people in that chair and behind the periscope. Going to the eye doctor is lower on most people’s priority list than the dentist, a mammogram and even the prostate screening. Why is that? It’s not painful, it’s not embarrassing, and it doesn’t involve taking off any clothes.

I’ll tell you why people hate to go to the eye doctor. It’s not so much that air puff thing (which, admittedly is really bad, especially for people like me, who hate surprises. I let out a little shriek every time.). It’s not the dilating, which makes your eyeballs feel like they soaked up liquid steel and weigh 50 pounds each, not to mention you blow radioactive yellow snot out of your nose for 12 hours. And it’s not the fact that the eye doctor gets so close to your face that you get that weird tickley feeling in your esophagus (my sister Pam swears one optometrist was going to kiss her).

No, the reason people hate eye exams is the operative word “exam.” It’s test taking. The longer I’m out of school, the more I hate taking tests. When the eye doc tells me to “read the lowest line you can,” I get a surge of test-taking anxiety that floods through my veins. What if I read the next to the lowest line I can? What if I can only read a few letters from the line below, should I go ahead and try? Will I be penalized for not knowing more than half of the letters or should I just play it safe and go to the next line up? Will this be graded on a curve? Is there any extra credit? Can I do a poster at home?

I was almost rid of this anxiety after years of eye exams, when there was an incident in New Jersey.  I went to what was supposed to be a routine eye exam.  I got behind the periscope, the eye doctor lady started to flip those Vu-Master flippers and started the Clearer-Darker-Smaller-Brighter quiz and I did my best to be truthful, although, honestly, I felt like I had committed a felony and was being grilled by Lenny and Ed from Law & Order.  Then she started the One-Two-or-Three quiz section and I struggled. I was sweating and breathing hard and I just wanted to blurt out, “Just give me my old glasses back, for the love of God! I can’t do this!!! And can I please see 2 again?!”

I was answering all kinds of questions and then the eye doctor lady said, “Read this line.”

“I can’t see any letters in that line.”

“Try harder.”

What? Try harder? What did she say?  “Excuse me?” I said.  “Do you really want me to squint and strain to read that line? Do you want to know what my vision is or do you just really need to know what letters are on there and you’re too lazy to get up and go look?”

I squinted and said, “I still can’t read them.”

She tsked and said, “You just read that line a minute ago.”

Huh? Did she think I was faking it? Cheating so I’d get stronger glasses with lenses thicker and even more like Coke-bottles than I already have?”
She was breaking all the rules and threw me into state of such confusion. The mantra I chanted before entering the eye doctor’s office every time - Just do your best and tell the truth and you’ll do fine - blew out of my head with a loud explosion. Then I remembered that I was paying her to do this and I got a little bit mad.

“Well, I can’t read it now,” I told her. I tried to look as smug and superior as I could with 150 pounds of steel and glass up against my face.

I crossed my arms and tried to say with my posture, Deal with it. Finish the test and I better get an A or my extra credit project is going to be getting all up close in your face and blowing air into your eyes.