Last Saturday, I had a routine eye test, and of all the regular check-ups the average human being is expected to undergo (medical, dental etc.), this is surely the weirdest. True, I am not yet old enough to have had a prostate examination, but I’ll be sure to blog about that when the time comes.
Despite my experience at this very opticians a few years ago, when I ended up rushed to hospital in an ambulance with a suspected heart attack (see Blog #16 – ‘Ehh, What’s Up Blog?’ https://middlerageddad.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/ehh-whats-up-blog), I generally don’t mind going for an eye test.
Unlike going to the dentist (where there is the risk of suffering pain, at the hands of some demented barbarian), or a prostate exam (where there is, I believe, the high probability of a finger up your bottom), optical check-ups are unlikely to involve either. Ok, I suppose there is a small chance of suffering pain, if the optician accidentally pokes you in the eye with his finger, but if he then suggests placing that same finger up your rectum, it’s time to find yourself another optician. You might also want to contact the Police.
But, when you actually sit back (as is so often required at the opticians) and analyse the shit they put you through during an eye test, I’m amazed no one has questioned their methods before. Let me explain.
Here is a picture of my optician:
Ok, that’s actually a picture of comedian Romesh Ranganathan, but my optician looks very much like him (only younger, and without the lazy eye – which would be rather ironic) and, despite his attempts to kill me with some eye drops a few years ago (joke), he’s a thoroughly nice chap. I only mention this, so that you don’t think it is his personal methods I am calling into question, as this is not the case. Every eye test I have ever had, since I first got glasses around the age of 9, has employed more or less the same routine – it’s just that I have never thought to analyse it before. It’s amazing what you notice when you need some blog material.
Anyway, before we started, he placed some orange dye into my eyes (once I had satisfied myself that they weren’t the same drops which had nearly stopped my heart), but the vague explanation he gave for doing this, and the glint in his eye – not to mention the orange hue descending over mine – gave me a sudden trepidation that the dye served no real purpose.
Once my vision was sufficiently tangerine, he asked me to rest my chin and forehead on one of the many machines surrounding the chair, so that he could ‘examine’ my eyes. Since that was the entire purpose of my visit, I duly obliged.
He then shone a bright light into my peepers, one at a time, while asking me to stare at a variety of points around the room. It was ok at first, as I had to look up, then up and left, then just left, then down and left, and so on. But, just as I was becoming familiar with the anti-clockwise pattern, he suddenly asked me to stare at his right ear. “Why?” I thought to myself, “What’s it going to do?”
I’ll be honest, it threw me a little, and since I was still mentally questioning the orange dye, it took me a few seconds to realise I was staring at the wrong ear. I felt a right tit – which was not only inappropriate, but he’d clearly asked me to fondle the left one. I was getting everything wrong.
Next, he asked me to cross the room (without my glasses on, I might add – which was pretty reckless considering all the expensive equipment), to sit at a different chair. He told me that the apparatus I was now facing, was designed to give him an idea of the strength of my prescription.
Apparently, the best way to determine this, is for you to stare down a lens at a picture of a hot air balloon, as it hovers in the distance over the desert, and then slowly goes into and out of focus, while the machine adjusts to your eyes. Again, I’m sure there is a technical explanation for this, but if my glasses are exclusively designed for inflatable-gazing in the Mojave, I really won’t get the full benefit.
Then, adjacent to this equipment, was a specialised camera which he asked me to look into, so that he could take a close-up photograph of my eye. This also seemed to make sense, but what he didn’t warn me about, and what took me by surprise, was the bloody great flash that went off – directly into my exposed retina. Call me old-fashioned, but I was always under the impression that temporarily blinding someone with a sudden, intense beam of light, was considered detrimental to their vision. What did he want me to do next – go outside and see if I could stare directly at the sun without blinking?
Once my vision had mostly returned, I had to repeat the obstacle course back to the original seat, for his next attack on my rapidly diminishing eyesight.
“If you could just pop your chin onto that rest for me, and your head against the top, I’m just going to blast a quick puff of air into your eyes.”
“This chin-rest here?…. hang on, wait, what? A puff of air?”
“Directly into my eyes?”
“Well, one at a time, but yes.”
“Why? What does that test for?”
“Not sure, to be honest. It’s just what we’re taught at Opticians School. I assume it’s to see how your eyes react, should some vindictive bastard blast a jet of air into them.”
“Oh, well… ok then… I guess.”
Admittedly, I might have embellished the conversation slightly (and by ‘embellished’, I actually mean ‘completely made up’, since I was too in shock to question his methods, and instead I politely sat there while my eyes were subjected to another assault).
Thankfully, however, the remainder of the examination took a more traditional route. I was fitted with those ridiculous-looking spectacles, like a giant facial brace, and was asked to stare at the familiar screen of descending letters on the opposite side of the room.
Note: not actually me
Previously, I have always been asked to read the progressively-shrinking letters from top to bottom, often several times, as the precise level of my short-sightedness is determined via a series of different lenses. This always struck me as rather odd, however, since not only was the first letter so huge that only a blind person could confuse it, but the letters always stayed the same, so I would often cheat, and remember the sequence for the next attempt.
Quite why I would do this is a mystery, since it would be of no benefit to me whatsoever to try and disguise how poor my eyes were, as I would only end up with glasses that were too weak for me. I can only assume that my natural competitive streak – and hatred of being wrong – took over, as I would often try to guess some of the smaller letters, and then chastise myself when a stronger lens was inserted and I could see my mistakes.
“Fuck! I knew that was a ‘Q’ and not an ‘O’. Can we go back and do that last one again?”
Anyway, the Governing Body of British Opticians (I bet they were pissed off when Great British Bake Off nicked their acronym) must have realised there was an opportunity for cheating, as the letters are now not only computer-generated, but they change each time the screen is refreshed, so you can’t learn the sequence. The swines.
Next, came the ‘black circles on red and green backgrounds’ test (as I like to call it). Having covered my left eye, he inserted a lens into the right part of the spectacles, and asked which colour background had the bolder circles.
“Erm… they both look the same.”
This seemed to meet with his disapproval. He didn’t say anything, but the resigned sigh was enough: I’d got another one wrong. He then pretended to change something on the side of the glasses, making no discernible difference to my vision, and asked me again.
“How about now? Red or Green?”
“Sorry, they still look the same.”
“I didn’t give you that option, did I? I said ‘Red or Green’, not ‘Red, green, or [adopting whiny voice] they still look the same’. Again.”
“Oh. Sorry. Erm…. red?”
Ok, I’ve exaggerated the conversation again, but that’s honestly how it felt at the time. I just wanted to be right, but every response I gave him was met with the same disdain, like I was an imbecile for not knowing which colour had the bolder circles.
I could sense he didn’t trust me anymore (and, to be honest, after the blinding lights and blast of air, the feeling was rapidly becoming mutual), and I swear he began to try and trick me.
He asked me to stare at some dots on the screen and, leaving my left eye covered, he placed a small magnifying glass in front of my right eye, flipped it over, and then took it away again.
“Which is clearer – 1… 2…. or without?”
“Erm…. 1… I think.”
He paused, and then repeated the test without changing anything, to see if my answer would differ.
“How about now? 1… 2….. or without?”
“Well, 1 again. Obviously.”
“Sure? And now – 1…. 2….. or without?”
“Oh, I don’t know anymore. I’m tired and confused. 2?”
“What about now – 3….. 4…… or without?”
“3 or 4? Where did they come from? You’re taking the piss now.”
I was getting cranky, and I think he could sense that. Thankfully, the examination was apparently coming to an end, as he only had one final test:
“I just want to check under your eyelids.”
“Excuse me? I’d really rather you didn’t.”
“It’s part of the test. I just fold them back a bit and check under them.”
“Fold them back? Why, do you think I’m hiding something up there?”
But I just wanted to get out of the room by this point, so I reluctantly agreed. And, as I sat there, with my upper eyelids peeled over themselves, I remember thinking that at least it would be over soon, and the situation couldn’t possibly get any more awkward. Except, he then started leaning closer and closer towards me, until his face was less than an inch from my own. In hindsight, he was probably just checking my inner-eyelids thoroughly, but I panicked.
How was I to know he wasn’t leaning in for a kiss?