Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Progressives

About two and a half years ago my pair of super-trendy unbreakable titanium rimless wireframes broke.  I went to the suburban mall eye exam and frames store to get a new pair.  Having been more than two years since an eye exam, I needed an exam to confirm my prescription.  If you wear eyeglasses or contacts you know the drill.  If you don’t it’s not really that different than any trip to any health care provider.

I filled out the forms, answered the questions, gave them my insurance cards to photocopy, and waited.  Not too long really, before I was called back to one of the pre-exam-rooms where a female technician performed a preliminary exam.  I rested my chin in a device that puffed air onto my eyeballs to check the pressure and if I had glaucoma.  Negative.  I looked into a set of binoculars attached to a giant machine that displayed different patterns and colors. Depth perception vision normal and no color blindness.  Then the technician led me into the examination room.
“Doctor Yang will be right with you”
I sat in the big chair in the middle of the room and gazed around.  In front of me sat another, larger binocular looking eye exam machine with all the many lenses.  A chart with different sized letter “Es” facing forwards and backwards hung on one wall.  And the doctor’s desk with some folders, a magazine, and a 3-D model of an eyeball.  All the normal doctor stuff.  After a few minutes a young man walked in.  Another technician? Shit, when will the real doctor finally come in?

He extended his arm and introduced himself.
“Hi, I’m Doctor Yang.  Nice to meet you, sir.”
Doctor? Sir?

It was one of those moments.  One of those coming of age moments.  My first time with a younger doctor.
“Uh, hi Doctor Yang,” I hesitated then quickly glanced for the diploma I failed to note earlier.
And the exam began.  I looked through the big binoculars and answered his questions.
“Left eye.  Is the number 1 lens better, or is number 2 better?” as he flipped levels and switches to dial in different lenses.
“Number two.”
“How about now. One? Or two?”
“How about now. One? Or two?”

And so on, until he dialed in a crystal clear combination of lenses to calculate my new prescription.

“So,” he continued, “do you leave your glasses on when you read?”
“Well, yes, I think,” and I went on about how sometimes I take them off, especially at night when I’m tired, but when I’m at a computer, it depends how close I sit, and so on.”
“How old are you now?”
“Forty-two,” I responded.
“You might be a candidate for bifocals,” he continued.
“Yes, you see at your age your eye muscles start to deteriorate and it is harder to focus on close objects.”
“Sure, you see at your age they can help with the near vision that your regular glasses can’t accommodate.”
“But don’t they call them Progressives?”
“Yeah, yeah, progressives, bifocals, they’re the same thing. But at your age, bifocals can really help”

And let’s be honest.  When we are talking glasses, progressives are to bifocals what adult contemporary is to easy listening.  Or smooth jazz is to muzak.  It sounds hipper, younger, trendier.  But it’s just a clever re-branding for an aging population.  They are bifocals.

But bifocals? Bi-focals!?!  I am NOT getting bifocals from some young doctor boy who thinks he knows what is what, especially at his age!

And I didn’t. I stayed with my single vision glasses albeit a new prescription and frames.  Maybe it was irrational.  But who wants a reminder of getting old?  Of body parts aching longer, of strength diminishing and eyesight weakening?  Of course, it is a component of the great mystery; it’s what comes with the unknowable time we are given and the question of what to do with it.  Pondering grand existential thoughts during that eye examine, I was not, but that was the essence of my resistance.  That fear of growing old. Of parts failing.  And what’s next - of dying.  And at 42 I wanted no reminders.

And so it was a couple weeks ago I was back at the same suburban mall eye doctor store with another pair of broken glasses.  And since more than two years had passed I was due for an exam.  And we went through the same routine of forms and insurance, and then there was the technician that puffed air into my eyes and checked for depth and color blindness.  All normal.  And I was led back into the main examination room and a few minutes later young Doctor Yang entered.

“Hi, John, good to see you again.  What brings you in today?”
“Hi Doctor Yang.  Well, my glasses broke and it was more than two years since my last exam.”  And so he started with the exam.  Left eye, then right eye, calibrating the lenses on the giant binoculars until we had the clearest set of lenses calibrated.  Then the questions:
“Do you read with your glasses on?”
“And how old are you now?”
“Okay. I’m 44, which isn’t ‘old,’ and you are going to try selling me bifocals aren’t you,” I sneered as I finger quoted in the air around the word “bifocals.”  Well, yes, he said and patiently explained the pros and the cons of bifocals.  And the truth is, I can’t read at all with my glasses, nor sit in front of the computer.  My glasses typically rest on top my head.  And the near/far threshold has gotten to the point when I lift up a forkful of food or a cup of water I have to start with my glasses on, then lift up the frames with one hand as my other hand approaches my mouth.  It’s pathetic really.

And so I got bifocals.  Except they are called progressives.