On May 1st in a rare show of creative scheduling I put both my eyes and my car in for a simultaneous service and MOT, creative, because with the tropicamide drops I wasn’t going to be able to drive for four hours anyway. The garage and the optician share certain common features. Both are kindly. They offer a “health check” and they run “diagnostics”. If there are problems, they both commiserate. I remember once when an old car of mine was nearing the end of its life, I was even ushered into a room specifically designed for the breaking of bad news, a Quiet Room with the atmosphere of a chapel. My memory is trying to tell me there was a Gideon’s Bible on the table, but that is preposterous. It was probably Ovlov, the Volvo glossy.
I started using reading glasses in my late forties. The secretary of Auckland Emergency Department saw me squinting at a document at arm’s length and without comment she lifted the phone and booked me into Optometry in the Med School across the road. Otherwise I might have been in denial for the next eighteen months. Now if I am a sedulous keeper of appointments it is because I keep sitting on my glasses.
The eye appointment started and finished with a check of ocular pressures. They repeat the test because of the tropicamide drops, in case the pupillary dilation precipitates acute glaucoma. So, a total of six puffs of air into each eye. I never get used to it and never cease to flinch. Still, not as bad as the dental hygienist going between the upper first incisors with a pickaxe. That really does bring a tear to the eye.
Then, still on the glaucoma theme, chronic this time, it’s visual fields. How many lights? Three! Or maybe four! Two and a half? -ish. Lights? What lights?
Then it’s the automated modified Snellen charts and another chance to uhm and agh. O, or maybe C… D, or maybe O… It’s as well I didn’t become an optometrist; I wouldn’t have had the patience. “For pity’s sake make up your mind!” But I was treated with the utmost courtesy. Ophthalmoscopy next, and a repeat picture of the optic fundi. In Days of Thunder, Nicole Kidman in her capacity as consultant neurologist remarks to Tom Cruise in his capacity as racing driver, post shunt, that the retina is a beautiful thing. Fundoscopy as a procedure is somewhat up-close and personal. GPs undertaking it are supposed, irrespective of the genders of doctor and patient, to offer a chaperon. Impractical and unworkable? You decide. Incidentally, Kidman and Cruise became an item, not just in real life, but in the film. The ethical issue of professional boundaries wasn’t raised. Is it okay if the doc’s a woman and the patient a man?
I sneaked a peak at my fundi on the computer screen. No change from previous. And indeed, no change of prescription. My eyes have “plateaued”. I was self-congratulatory, after the fashion of the man in the Bible who is smug about all the grain stored in his barns. In my family, “barns, barns” has become a kind of shorthand depicting the folly of reliance on the best laid schemes of mice and men. Thou fool… Twenty minutes later, my dilated pupils blinded by the glare, I nearly walked under a bus.
Back at the garage, the news was similarly good. No need to withdraw to the Chamber of Bad Tidings. I even, apparently, passed the emissions test. Three years ago, and for the first time, encouraged by her green credentials, HMG, and free Road Tax, I bought a diesel car. How far-sighted was that!