I am sitting in my optometrist’s chair, waiting for my mini-exam. It’s a mini because I had my annual just a few weeks ago, the result of which was a pair of $500 bifocals that I don’t need. I have worn the bifocals as instructed, I have given them my best try, but the fact is that I see better with my old glasses.
Now I am blind and mad.
My optometrist comes in quickly; he doesn’t want to make me wait today. He knows about the acid trip I’ve been on ever since he sold me the bifocals. He knows I’m not happy. When he closes the cheap hollow door behind him—a door I have disliked for 17 years, the length of time I have been seeing my optometrist—he says, “Hi Kathy,” even though my name isn’t Kathy, never was, and never will be.
“Hi,” I say. He gets on his swivel chair and slides over to his desk, opening my file.
“Let’s…see…here,” he says. “It seems that the bifocals are not quite helping the way we thought they would.” Without looking at me, he asks, “What are your main complaints?”
I’ve been waiting for this man to ask me that question for a very long time. I sit quietly in the chair and stare at the back of his head, his hair slicked back with too much product. He didn’t have any gray when we first met 17 years ago, but he does now. So do I.
My complaints, you ask? For one, this is the only place I come where I get treated like a child. I walk in here feeling like a grown-up and I leave feeling like I’m five. Do you get frustrated with kids, too, when they can’t read the chart? Do you force kids to spit out a letter—“ANY LETTER! JUST GUESS!”—like you do to me?
People like to get things right, ya know.
Also, I’ve noticed that you don’t like to explain your job. One time I asked, “Why do people have to get their eyes checked every year?” and you looked at me like I was questioning the validity of your very existence. You responded with a condensed World History of Optometry, then turned the lights out and waited for me to make a mistake.
Finally, you’re obviously ticked off every year when I ask for my prescription to go. You want me to buy the overpriced frames in your office, not the less expensive ones at Costco. Every year I ask you for a copy of my prescription to take with me, and every year you rip the prescription from the pad like it’s a hundred dollar bill you’re just giving away. You don’t even look me in the eye; you are that annoyed that I’m taking my business elsewhere.
So those are my complaints.
He hits the lights, and the mini-exam begins.
Ten minutes later, the lights come up. I have been my best eye-patient self, firing off L’s and E’s and O’s. My optometrist has been his best doctor-self, keeping his voice well-modulated throughout the exam even though he had to flip the little thingy eight or nine times before I could really say for sure which was darker, the 6 on the left or the 6 on the right.
After a few calculations and scribbles at his desk, my doctor swivels to face me again. “Well,” he says, “you were right.”
“You were right when you said you saw better with your old glasses than you do with these new ones.” There’s a strange tone to his voice, like he can’t decide if he’s talking to a child or an adult. “I over-corrected for a problem that wasn’t that bad of a problem,” he warbles on. “And I apologize.”
This is the first time in 17 years that my optometrist has admitted a mistake around me, let alone apologized. I can hardly believe it. It’s the “I’m sorry” I’m looking for from another man right now, but this one will do.
He walks me out to the front desk and the manager, Selena, calls after him before he leaves, “Doctor, are we going with office policy on this?”
I gather “office policy” will not be in my favor, that she will soon be telling me how much I won’t be getting back for my $500 fully refundable bifocals. My doctor interrupts these thoughts with, “No. I’ll take full responsibility.”
With that, he turns away and closes the hollow door behind him.