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James R. Stout

Eye Didn't See It Coming

            I received a notification in the mail from my optometrist that I am overdue for a check-up. It seems that I’m past the once every two-year examination period. Getting this notification caused me to think back a quarter of a century ago. But first, let me tell you about my current pair of glasses. They took some getting used. They’re the kind with “graduated lenses”. I’m thinking they must have graduated from the school of “Let’s bug the heck out of this fool!” There’s nothing wrong with them except for there are times I have to move my head up and down to home in on what I’m trying to see. I probably look like I have the St. Vitus Dance. When I got them, I was so proud. Why? Because I finally got a Harley Davidson. Who knew that Harley Davidson makes glasses? They’re a whole heck of lot cheaper than their motorcycles!

            Anyway, when I turned 39-years-old I was urged by my then wife to go in for a yearly physical. Given I hadn’t had one of those for 7 years and it was more of a cursory exam, it probably wasn’t a bad idea. But I’m like every other guy out there that will do almost anything to avoid a physical examination. This changes quite a bit with age, I might add. But that’s another story. I called my doctor’s office and set the appointment. I figured if nothing else I had a great excuse for missing work for half a day. I got to the doctor’s office and filled out the necessary paperwork. I hadn’t seen him in at least three years and that was for a sinus infection. He had never done a physical exam on me. After waiting for a few minutes my name was called. When I stepped into the examining room the assistant, a not-unattractive young woman, handed me one of those hospital gowns that I had never worn and had been happy to avoid for my then entire life. I looked at the gown, then at the assistant, back at the gown, and then I said to the assistant, “But I’m just here for a physical examination. Why do I need to wear this?” She said it was necessary so that the doctor could properly exam me. Just what was he planning to examine! She then told me to remove all of my clothes including my underwear. If I could have run away, then I would have. But my wife would only drag me back down there. So, the “man” in me said, “Get tough, dude! You can do this!”

            I stripped down and put that gown on and discovered that it was very skimpy and very drafty. I am still convinced it was two sizes too small. And what’s with those string ties in the back. They do not hold tight and allow the gown to cover what it should. There I sat waiting for the doctor on a sheet of paper on the examining table. After a few moments the doctor came into the room and we exchanged pleasantries. Things started out innocent enough. He looked in my ears, tried to blind me with his little flashlight, probed my tongue and throat with a tongue depressor that had a taste that made me want a popsicle, listened to my heart while thumping my chest like a watermelon, and checking my reflexes with one of those little hammers. I’m thinking this was going pretty quickly. That’s when he told me to stand up. I did as I was told and dang if the doctor didn’t lift up that little gown and, uh, take hold of me and said, “Cough”. I coughed. “Again”. I coughed again. “One more time”. I coughed one more time. I figured this explained the gown. But no, it wasn’t the only reason.

            The doctor looked at me and asked me when the last time I had my prostate examined. I should have lied. I should have said anything but, “I’ve never had it examined.”

            “Well, I think it’s time then.” He says.

            I’m thinking, “Can’t we talk about this first?” Isn’t there an appeals process?” But I just stood there like a deer in the headlights on the side of the road that waits until you’re ten feet away and then jumps in front of your car. He walks over to the table with all the supplies and takes out a pair of latex gloves. In my head I’m screaming, “Please NO!”

            He calmly tells me to turn around and bend over onto the examining table. It lasted about 10 seconds and I felt completely violated. But then he said, “No problems there.”

            Meanwhile, if there had been something to crawl under in the room, then I would have been there. I’m thinking that the worst is definitely over and technically that was true. But there was one last bit of humiliation that I had to suffer. He said, “Let’s go have those eyes checked out.”

            I asked if I could put back on my clothes first. He’s already got the darn door open and says, “Naw, it’ll be quicker if he just walk down the hall to the room with the whatchamacallit.” I have no idea what the name for the machine is, so we’re stuck with that name. There I go following the doctor down the hall, tugging at the back of the gown and probably turning red from head to toe. We go in this little room and he tells me to look into this machine and he asks me questions about what I’m seeing. He finishes and says, “No problems there.”

            Finally, I’m allowed to go back and get dressed. I was a complete wreck. My nerves were shot, and I couldn’t make eye-contact with any of the staff or other patients for fear that they would burst out laughing and point at me like I was a little circus monkey that rides around on the back of an elephant. I paid the bill and slinked out of the office as quickly as I could. I got back in the car and decided two things. First, I needed a candy bar and a Dr. Pepper. Second, I was calling into work and taking off the rest of the day. I was just too traumatized to get anything done. I had 4 hours before the kids got home from school. Four hours to recover and soothe my nerves.

            Well, all that just to tell you that as of the age of 39 I had great eyes. No problems reading. No problems of any kind. But something went haywire over the next year. It all began one night when I was reading in bed and I asked my wife if she noticed that publishers were printing books in smaller print. I griped about them probably saving money by having to print less pages per book. But then I noticed that the print was getting smaller on everything. Then it hit me. I must need reading glasses. I began by buying some of those reading glasses that they sell at the grocery store pharmacy. Within a few months I finally went to the optometrist. He blew air in my eyes, made me looked into one of those machines again as well as a few other ones, and then dilated my eyes. He tried to blind me is what he did! The result? I needed some reading glasses. No kidding. Is that the problem, Doc?” They had all kinds of frames. It was an era when glasses were big. At least they had stopped with the thick black plastic frames. Clark Kent can have them!

            Well, it’s been downhill since then. The reading glasses became necessary. About every couple of years, I needed a little bit stronger pair. But then sometime in my early 50’s it wasn’t just a close-up problem anymore. I needed glasses for everything. It got to the point where when I saw a sign with red lettering, I indeed saw red, but didn’t have a clue what it said. This brings me back to today. I’m going to have to call and set an appointment. Without my glasses everything is a complete blur. Never mind reading. I can’t watch the TV without my glasses. I sure shouldn’t drive without my glasses. I couldn’t read street signs or warning signs without my glasses. I remember having to take a physical when I was 20 years-old for a job requirement. My eyesight was 20-17. Better than average. Everything was clear. Those were the days! But our deterioration of our eyes is only part of growing older. Look at it this way. You buy a new car and the headlights are clear, clean, unscratched and perfect. They stay that way for a long time as a general rule, but several years of harsh weather and the sun and road grime take their toll. And like cataracts, the lenses start to yellow. Headlights aren’t exactly cheap anymore either. There are some made for the better cars that will cost up to $2000 a headlight now. Guess what? You can get Lasek/Lasik surgery for less than that per eye. If you’re a candidate for that option I’m told it’s like getting new eyes. It was for my father. He was 93-years-old and could see better than I can.

            Whether or not that is in my future remains to be seen (pardon the pun). My point here is two-fold. First, we need to appreciate what we have while we have it. Chances are we’re going to lose some things along the way. I know that I have. Second and more importantly, we need to be patient with other people who no longer have perfectly working parts. Whether it be from age or misfortune. The old man who takes a little longer to count out his money in the grocery store line in front of you was once young and had perfect vision, his hands didn’t shake, and he didn’t shuffle when he walked. If you’re lucky, then that could be you someday. The elderly woman who is backing up foot traffic at the store entrance as she attempts to get through the doorway with her walker could be your mother. I would love to have my mother back, walker and hearing aids included. Have compassion for other people. Grow some patience. You’re likely going to need it when it takes you three times as long to get from your car to the grocery store entrance. See ya!

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