There is a truth:
You don’t know how bad your vision is until you get glasses.
I learned this truth when I went to the luxurious offices of Doctor Wu1 to get my eyes examined2. After a brief jaunt into The World of The Reader’s Digest Large Print Edition (in which I learned 75 Tips That Airlines Don’t Want You To Know and started to feel very nervous about my eyesight) and some eye tests (in which machines irritated my eyes), Dr. Wu called me into his inner sanctum.
I knew what the reading charts were supposed to look like:
But this one looked like this:
EarnestVision™ Snellen Chart. This is actually what it looked like.
I could see all the letters – except for the very bottom – when I walked into the room. But Dr. Wu sat me in a chair and had me look at blurry letters (which he conscientiously scrambled) while covering my left eye with a large and uncomfortable plastic machine.
I am nearly blind in my right eye. I confessed this to Doctor Wu.
"That is okay that is why you are here." Dr. Wu spoke without punctuation or contraction.
"But the last time I took a reading test I lied about the letters! I just guessed!"
"That is okay just try to read the letters for me and do not guess."
"But I can’t see them!" I wailed.
With a sigh, Dr. Wu made the letters bigger.
"I think the one on the top is a B," I said. Old habits die hard.
It was a K. I saw it when Dr. Wu uncovered my left eye.
"Okay so you have 20/500,000,000 vision in your right eye that is not to bad but we can really fix that easily with just a test I am going to scramble the letters and we will check the left eye my eyes are almost that bad when I am not wearing my contacts." Dr. Wu babbled while I blushed and made excuses for my eyes.
My left eye (now covered) didn’t need as many excuses; it could read everything except the very tiny line on the bottom of the chart.
"I could probably guess for the bottom line — if you wanted me to."
"No I do not need you to do that all just get ready to see if these are at all clearer." And then Dr. Henry Wu flipped a couple lenses in front of my left eye3.
"I can see! I can see!" I shouted. And I laughed with the joy of learning that bottom row of letters read JEUDOP.
And jubilant as my celebration was when my left eye – my good eye – was corrected, it was nothing compared to my rapture when Dr. Wu corrected my right eye. I was giggling like a little girl. I could read all the little letters! Before, I hadn’t even known there were letters there.
Now that he could no longer correct my vision (and because I had stopped hanging on his every word), Dr. Wu decided to up-sell me. It was rather abrupt.
"Do you need trifocals?"
"What are they?"
"They are something you don’t need." He never said that. But that was what he was saying.
"No." That was what I said to each of his offered features, although I did agree to some kind of special SPF lens because he didn’t have to explain why I needed it. In retrospect, I don’t remember why I bought the SPF lenses: glasses don’t get skin cancer.
That — the up-sell — is probably the disadvantage of buying your glasses at Costco: your optometrist is a part of the wholesale materialism.
The upside of the up-sell was that I paid $150 for the glasses – and got a shredder, too.
My glasses came a week later. In the meantime, I could only imagine the sights I would see. I had only that brief glimpse of clarity from Dr. Wu’s office to sustain me.
I was not disappointed. Once I was wearing my new glasses, I could read street signs and window signs and the hours at Jack in the Box. My wife and I went to the supermarket and I didn’t have to keep track of what she was wearing, because I could recognize her face from 50 feet away. I could read the complete preservative information on a can without having to smash the can into my face!
I was like a kid who had just learned to read. And my wife played the gracious parent.
"What does that say?" She asked, pointing at an aisle marker.
"Beans! Spices! Mexican Food!" I shouted.
"What does that say?" She pointed at the fine print on a can of soda.
"No preservatives!" I cried.
"What does that say?"
"Twenty-three-point-five cents an ounce!" I nearly wept. I could read even the little UPC numbers on the bottom of the barcode.
It was gratifying and exhilarating and sexy, like moving from the photo-realistic paintings of the 18th century to 19th century impressionism. But in reverse.
Go get glasses. It is worth it. Very much so.
1 Dr. Wu is not the doctor’s name. It has not been changed to protect his identity. I just can’t remember his name and lost the receipt.
2 My wife made me get my eyes examined when she realized that I kept getting lost at night because I couldn’t read street signs until I was past them. I wanted glasses that way I could see my golf ball land. And, yes, so I wouldn’t get lost at night.
3 Considering the revelation that followed, I expected slightly more fanfare.