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In The Dark

Posted by Deborah Courtnell

     We had a lovely Sunday  lunch at the house of some friends in Stockbridge yesterday and I sat next to a man who works at Moorfields, the famous eye hospital in London.

     This got me thinking about vision and in particular about the sight test I had last week to check the health of my eyes for continued contact lens use and ensure my prescription hasn't changed.

     I've been short-sighted since I was 12 and so I've had a zillion eye tests. I always find a session at the optician distinctly whacky in tone;  a bit Heath Robinson,  what with all the gizmos and gadgetry they have in their dark little rooms.

     Most people nowadays have a fairly clear, better than rudimentary understanding of their bodies, of what goes where and why and how it all joins together be it an arm or knee or bladder. And we have a grasp of the procedures of medical diagnosis and repair whether through drugs or surgery or both.

     Thanks to Holby City I can say I am something of a medical expert.

      From the comfort of the sofa I can recommend people for CT scans and 'full bloods'. I can spot an ectopic pregnancy around a corner and I usually diagnose the weekly parade of ailments on Holby within seconds of their admission to AAU and the charms of consultant Michael Spence.

     In fact Shedley and I compete to be the first to make a diagnosis  but I'm confident that my surgical skills are more advanced than his and if, called upon, I'm reasonably certain I could intubate him in a flash, transplant his kidneys laparascopically and perform open heart by-pass surgery on him and fix a bleed.

     But his eyes and the esoteric science of optometry remain a complete mystery to me.

     Of course, if you ask, and I always ask a lot of questions which I think riles them a bit, the optician will tell you what test he or she is about to perform on your own eyeball but that still leaves you in the dark as to the how of the thing.

     And boy are you in the dark at the optician's.

     It's really a very odd concept. When you go and see your GP, you dash in for ten minutes, mostly sit politely on chairs across from each other and converse under bright lights or in broad daylight. You probably already know him or her but in any event you address them as 'doctor' thereby retaining a degree of formality and a slight and comforting distance.

     Whereas the optician, who will most likely be a complete stranger to you  (I haven't seen the same optician twice in ten years) will insist you call him Stan or Bert or Alison; will hang out with you in the dark for some 40 minutes during which time he will mostly loom over you, frequently getting so up close and personal he can smell the skinny cappuccino on your breath and you can count the hairs in his nose and worse. Really very weird.

     Last week I had a nice lady optician. She asked me to read the letters on the wall and, as we hadn’t met before, I read the very large  ones first to impress my intelligence and capacity upon her and demonstrate that, in an emergency, I can read very large letters very slowly out loud.

     She was noticeably  underwhelmed by that, so I had a go at some smaller ones and then some really titchy ones which I reeled off very fast so she wouldn't be embarrassed by my mistakes.

     I placed my chin on the white plastic chin-holding device and looked up, down and sideways till tears came and I stared for an eternity into a machine that looked like it had been invented on the set of Star Wars but was actually, she said,  measuring the curvature of my eyeball which made me feel like a planet.

     Then she came at me with orange stuff.

     I delayed her approach with a diversionary tactic involving a question about night-blindness in one eye but she persisted, saying the orange stuff was going to drip and stain her hand and her clothes so I generously allowed her to complete her advance and squirt it in my eyes.

     I always arrive at the opticians feeling together and breezy and leave feeling ragged and exhausted.

     I mean it's like sitting an exam – you're asked all these questions and you feel you have to give the right answers but sometimes it's genuinely hard to know if the left circle on the red square is actually sharper and clearer than the right circle on the green or is simply blacker and thicker and therefore only pretending to be clearer.

     Someone should write a really forensic Holby City about opticians with eye operations and enormous close-ups, so we can better get to grips with the machinery of optometry, gain an insight into the motivation and techniques of a typical optician and discover precisely how our eyeballs work.
15.04.2013
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