Spanish healthcare chronicles: the optometrist

Now that you know I have bad teeth and a bad back, you might as well know that I have bad eyes too. That’s why I waited until very recently to update my contacts and glasses. I was panicky and Spanishless when I entered the office down the street just to make the appointment. I forced myself to ask a few logical questions and then raced home to dread the day of my appointment. 

Well, the optometrist had accidentally put me down on a holiday. I dutifully wore my outdated and headache-inducing glasses for a full 24 hours before traipsing to the appointment where I fully expected to be told I was careening toward unpreventable blindness. Instead, the office was closed. I called the number on the sign. Oops, he had indeed scheduled me on a day they were closed. Could I come on Monday instead?

Grumpy, I went home and put in my contacts. At least the news of my impending blindness would wait for one more weekend. 

On Monday, he didn’t even gasp at my prescription, but gave the standard line that I could see well for how bad my eyes are. No blurriness. No floaters. Etc. Maybe that line isn’t so standard, but it has been in my experience. 

After the first few letters of the chart, he noted that my hesitancy was not due to my inability to see but my inability to rattle off Spanish letter names. “Just say them in English,” he suggested. “I’m learning English.”

We talked about glasses and contacts and I realized that, for the first time in my eye doctor history, I wasn’t ashamed of my poor eyesight. Was it due to my book worminess? The failure to catch astigmatism early enough when I was a kid? A stray gene from a nearly-blind ancestor? Whatever the case, that’s the way it was. Feeling unashamed helped me gather my wits and ask the questions that mattered to me. He was patient. Spaniards aren’t so concerned with calling people an anomaly. They’re pretty good at accepting the “weird” as normal. 

When I got home, something broke inside of me. Something so deep that I’m not sure yet what it was. But my tears were tears of gratefulness for the gift of sight that I still have. 

A week later, I had my sample contacts. I went in the next day to get them tested. Apparently, this verification is standard procedure here, and quite thorough. My one eye wasn’t focusing as well as it should have been. After verifying the prescription was correct, he squirted a yellow dye into my eye, made me flutter my eyelashes, and kept saying, “Good. Good.” while he shone a light in.  I went home and blew neon yellow snot out of my nose. 

A couple of days later, I was back. I ordered contacts and glasses in one shot. Less than a week later, they were ready. I tried them on and they told me to come back in a day or so to have them adjusted. So, the next day I trotted back down the street for yet another appointment. 

The glasses I chose had bright pink sides. Note: “had.” It’s amazing what a bit of nail polish can do!

Photo by Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

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