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Beth Underwood: It’s easy to see, the best part about an eye exam is that pair of stylish paper sunglasses


“Take a look at these lines,” the optometric assistant said, holding out a small sheet of paper on a clipboard. “Stare at the dot in the center, cover your left eye and tell me if the lines look straight, crooked, or wavy.”

Such was the first directives at my recent eye check-up.

“They look straight,” I replied. “Are they supposed to look straight?”

And so it began.

For the next 20 or so minutes, everything I saw or thought I saw, was questioned. Scrutinized. Brought to bear.

The goal was two-fold: leave with an updated prescription for my progressive lenses and remember to pick up a pair of paper sunglasses before I left the office. Sure, I had my own sunglasses. But I’ve learned one pair isn’t enough when you walk into the light of day after having your eyes dilated. This is a job that calls for layering. And who wouldn’t want a pair of paper sunglasses?

But I digress.

Anywho, after a few more tell-me-what-you-see activities, the assistant pulled out the big guns — the ol’ oversized owl eyes, or phoropter, in optometry-speak. This is the magic machine that holds every corrective lens combination known to man. I’d argue it’s the most important piece of equipment in the office.

As I peered through the small eye holes and onto a small chart of letters and numbers, the next line of questioning began.

“Tell me. What is the lowest line of type you can read?”

Was she serious? I couldn’t read anything below the second line. Just to make it look good, though, I squinted and took a stab at line three.

“That may be an 8 or a 6 on the far left… could be a 3, though… or is it a zero? And I think I see an X in the middle,” I mumbled.

With that, the next q-and-a series began in earnest — a badgering of sorts, if you ask me. The assistant rotated in and out of lenses with the expertise of a jewel thief cracking a combination lock.

“Ok, which is better. One or two?

She flipped the lenses back and forth. Click. Click.

“Can you switch it back again, please?”

“Here’s one.” Click. “And two.”

Inside my head, I’m wondering if there are other options because I’m not crazy about these first two choices. Yet, I’m compelled to throw out an answer.

“Probably two,” I respond.

Instead of taking my word for it, she switched the lenses again.

“One?” Click. “Or two?”

And now I’m questioning my original decision.

“Okay, maybe one,” I say.

At this point, my palms are starting to sweat and I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see clearly again because the truth of the matter is that none of these options are best-case scenarios. Not only that, but I fear I’ve memorized the letters and numbers. Am I seeing them as clearly as I think I’m seeing them? Or am I just guessing my way through? If so, will I be exposed as a fraud?

I wondered. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any tougher, I realized I still had another eye to go.

I gotta tell ya, by the time she’d figured out the magic numbers for my new progressive lens prescription I was almost happy to see the dilation drops in her hand.

You’d think this would be a good time to hand out a “great job” reward. Maybe a single-scoop ice cream cone. Some sort of consolation prize for reaching the end of the vision-based obstacle course.

Which is when I remembered I’d need to snag a pair of those paper sunglasses. And who wouldn’t want a pair of paper sunglasses?

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Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.


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