You Need to Get Your Eyes Examined

by Lisa Rosen on August 18, 2011

I have a deep-seated phobia of eye problems.  I think it started when I was in high school; my mother and my grandmother both had fairly complicated eye problems in those years, and I got stuck helping them both with their home care. It was kind of traumatic, and I’ve never quite gotten over it.  Now when I have to listen to a friend or acquaintance (or health reporter, or spouse) describe something like Lasik, or the treatment for a detached retina, I kind of freak out.  Eye problems make me feel sick to my stomach.

Ironically, I have dreadful eyesight, and have worn glasses and/or contacts since those same high school years.  So I’m weirdly comfortable with touching my own eyeballs–but I really, really hate it when anyone else touches them.

Especially the eye doctor.

So getting my annual eye exam (especially that horrible glaucoma test–*shudder*) is always a challenge*.  I put it off, and put it off, ignoring the reminders and phone calls, until finally I run out of contacts and my prescription expires.  With a stomach full of dread, I go for my appointment, and the rest of the day is a complete loss.  I manage to get myself home in one piece (always a challenge with dilated eyes), and then I lie around moaning for the rest of the day.  No reading, no computer, no knitting, no bright lights, and a brutal headache.  I’d vastly prefer a mammogram.

Anyway, last week, when this year’s appointment rolled around, I started wondering about something.  No doctor has ever asked me about my eye exams.  I’ve always gotten them, because of being blind as a bat.  But it’s not like my internist is reminding me to go get my eyes checked.  On the rare occasion that I go for a general physical, they always ask if I’m getting annual pap smears.  And I actually like having shiny clean teeth, so I’m motivated to go to the dentist.  But if I were lucky enough to have good vision, would anyone be paying attention to my eyes?

I checked in with a couple of folks whom I know to have good vision, asking them how often they get their eyes dilated.

Never.

Um, seriously??  I decided that maybe all this dilation business is a scam, and made up my mind to get to the bottom of it.**

So I go for my appointment.  The tech checks my vision, does the glaucoma test, and goes to put the dilating drops in my eyes.  I pose my question.  She flips out a little, and rants at me about how I have to have my eyes dilated because the doctor needs to be able to see the backs of my eyes to tell if I have high blood pressure (um, maybe they should just get a blood pressure cuff) or if I’ve had a stroke (I’m thinking my annual eye exam is not going to be the first indicator).  She seemed really wound up about it, so I just decided to behave and let her put the drops in.

Finally, after the agony of having my pupils chemically wrenched open in a not-nearly-dim-enough waiting room (where I waited for a long, miserable HOUR), I got my 3 minutes with the doctor.  So I asked him.

Turns out every other year would be just fine.  He’s totally comfortable with that.  Wow.  And why, exactly, has no one mentioned this before now?

He then went on to explain why they dilate eyes–so they can see into the corners–and what they’re looking for.  Apparently, wide-open pupils allow them to see early signs of a torn or detached retina.

Which, it turns out, is a thing I really, REALLY don’t want.  It’s way worse than having your eyes dilated.

The take-away lesson here is this:  eye doctors (real eye doctors–ophthalmologists) know way more about eyeballs than I do.  I should let them look at (and in) my eyes every year, so that they can (hopefully) catch the small problems before they turn into big problems.  *Sigh*  I guess I’ll go ahead and schedule next year’s appointment . . .

*Remember that machine that blew a puff of air into your eye?  They don’t use that any more.  Now they numb your eyeball, then touch it with a blue light.  The only problem with this system:  the first time they gave me the numbing agent, I had a tachycardia episode (whether it was a reaction to the drug, or just a panic response to not being able to feel my eyes, I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care.  It was awful, so they don’t numb me anymore, which makes things . . . complicated).

**Did you know that there is a drop they can use to reverse the dilation?  They never tell you it’s available, so no one knows it’s an option.  So my eye doctor stopped stocking it, because no one ever asked for it.  Does anyone else see the giant failure of logic here?

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