The assistant shuffled the papers and glanced at her watch. I would describe her as being in a distracted rush. “When did you say you were last in?” I cleared my throat and attempted a confident voice. “Ten years ago.” The words came out sounding almost nonchalant, but my brain was racing. I remembered back to my dental assisting days. When I would ask how long it had been since my patient had last seen a dentist, I usually got one of two responses:
1. Angry defensive patient, “It’s been ten years, okay? I don’t need any lectures from you. I have a life! I know I have problems but that’s my business, so lay off.”
2. Embarrassed please forgive me patient, “It’s been ten years? Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it. Are you sure? Ten years? I am so sorry. My mouth must be a mess, but I haven’t had any problems. Do you think the doctor will be upset with me? I feel like such an idiot.”
My standard and sincere response to my patients was something like, “What matters is that you are here now. How can we help?”
When I said it had been ten years since my last eye exam I was hoping for a similar response from the eye doctor’s assistant. She, however, remained silent and avoided eye contact. Hmmm…no eye contact at an eye doctor’s office. What the heck?
I like to think I have a measure of control over my health needs, so I was neither defensive nor embarrassed about the ten year gap between eye check-ups. My eyes looked, felt, and responded in a healthy way. An argument could be made for preventive care, and the possibility of catching problems early, but I felt comfortable with my decision.
The assistant took me through the usual visual screening tests and then told me she would dilate my eyes for further diagnosis. I had completely forgotten about that part of the exam and hadn’t brought along sunglasses. “Don’t worry,” she said. “We have some disposable glasses for you to use.” She handed me some black floppy things that looked they were made out of cardboard and garbage bag plastic. Seeing my reaction to the glasses she quickly added, “The sensitivity to light isn’t that bad anyway. Oh, another thing, you won’t be able to see things up close for about six hours. Here we go!” She cheerfully placed the drops in my eyes and life changed. There was a minor burning sensation and then things got blurry. Even the fluorescent likes felt and looked like the Las Vegas strip. She finished her pre-screening work and placed me in a brightly lit waiting room until the doctor was available. My tearing eyes squinted through a limp and crinkled magazine. I tried to avoid looking at anything bright and shiny, but the office was decorated for the holidays so I was in dilation hell. After a short while the doctor called me back into his office and glanced at my chart.
He arched an eyebrow at me. “It’s been ten years?”
I nodded. “Hey! It’s your own fault for doing such a good job with my laser surgery. I don’t need you as much as when I was wearing glasses and contacts.”
He grunted with a half smile and looked into my eyes with a zillion watt light, or so it felt. The doctor narrated as he tortured my dilated eyes.
“Unfortunately, you are getting older and it’s a good idea to track the changes.” He ignored my frowny-face and continued. “However, looking at your current testing, I would say that your eyes are very healthy for a woman of your age.” More frowns from me. “I don’t recommend that we do anything at this point. The lenses in your eyes have less flexibility than when you were younger so it takes them a bit longer to adjust between near and far. But really, yours are looking pretty good. If you feel your eyes are working too hard when you are reading, go to a drug store and get the lowest power reading glasses. Otherwise everything looks great.”
I asked if he knew why the lenses become stiffer and cloudier as the years go by. Are the changes due to a mineral build up, or hormones, or ??? He said he didn’t know.
As I started to leave he stopped me. “By the way, Gail, I would suggest a follow up visit in two years instead of ten.” Then he smiled. I think I smiled back at him but everything was blurry so I might have been smiling at the coat rack. Two years? Ten years? We’ll see.