HUMOR – Test anxiety at the eye doctor’s

rosbySome people inherit money. Some people inherit land. I inherited glaucoma. Of all the ways I could have taken after my amazing mom, that’s the one I picked. Or rather, the one that picked me.

The bad thing about having glaucoma—besides that it can make you blind—is that you have to go to the eye doctor more often. My optometrist is a lovely person, so that’s not the problem. The problem is, I have test anxiety. Eye test anxiety.

I can tolerate those bright lights she shines in my eyes. I pass the color blindness part of the test with, well…flying colors. I can even deal with having my eyes dilated. I’m okay spending the rest of the day disoriented and looking like I’ve been taking illegal drugs when it’s for my own good.

It’s the phoropter that makes me nervous. Even the name sounds scary, like a camera-wielding dinosaur. The phoropter is that big machine with the dials, the one that looks like a cross between Google glasses and a high-tech washing machine. The minute the doctor pulls it toward me, my heart starts racing. When I’m tense, I’m indecisive. Actually, I’m indecisive when I’m relaxed too. But I’m even more indecisive when I’m tense. At least, I think am.

The doctor puts rows of letters on the wall in front of me and says, “Which one is clearer, one or two.” I say, “One. No—two. I don’t know. What do you think?” If she has an opinion, she keeps it to herself.

eye-test-chartThen she puts up a row of letters and says, “Can you read that?” And I say, “Yes, I can.” And then I wait, hoping she’ll believe me and the exam will be over. But she always wants proof. So I say, “P…E…something…F…something. Can I have a hint?”

I think the hardest part of being an optometrist would be refraining from coaching the patient. They must teach you that in eye doctor school. I’d want to help. “Really? You think number one is clearer. Is that your final answer?” Or “F? Are you sure? Maybe you should rethink that?”

My eye test anxiety was magnified in August—pun intended—because I had to renew my driver’s license. The stakes are high when you take the DMV’s eye test. They’re even higher if you fail it and keep on driving. In case you’re worried about traveling in my neighborhood, I did pass.

It’s possible my test anxiety comes from the first eye test I ever took. I believe I was in fourth grade and I failed the test with a big fat E. Not an F. An E—the big one at the top of the eye chart. Not only could I not read it, I didn’t even know it was there. Then the doctor put the phoropter in front of my face, spun a few dials and ta-da! I was mortified. How had I missed it?

On the bright side, I got glasses. Suddenly there were leaves on trees and words on signs. There were also pores on people’s faces and hairs in their noses. But it was worth it.

I wore thick glasses for years and contacts for decades. Then I experienced the miracle of laser eye surgery and I tossed them all away. Today I bravely face my test anxiety and visit my optometrist regularly. I continue to see the Big E at the top of the eye chart and I’d like to keep it that way.

(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact drosby@

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