Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

Illustration Credit: Dennis E. Powell

Blinded by the Eye Doctor

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 10:12 PM

My driver license was up for renewal soon, so a couple of weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea to have my eyes examined. In retrospection maybe I should have had my head examined first.

It had been a while — my sunglasses had the reddish tint that was added to make clouds stand out against the blue sky, useful when flying airplanes. I have not flown an airplane for a very long time.

So I made an appointment with a local optometrist business. I learned many things as a result, one being that it is now possible for a visit to the eye doctor to be as unpleasant as a visit to the dentist. Another is that the notion of “informed consent” has been flung down and danced upon.

It went as expected, at first. And the news was good: my eyesight has gotten better and my eyeglass prescription was now too strong. In fact (they didn’t tell me) I don’t really need glasses anymore at all. (The car dealer won’t tell you that you don’t need mudflaps and fuzzy dice, either.)

A new prescription was written and I was to go next door to arrange for a new pair of glasses. I had my own frames. I have worn Randolph Engineering Air Force-NASA pilot sunglasses for 40 years, and I’m not about to change now. Fortunately, I got a spare pair years ago — I see that they’re ten times as expensive now.

Before I was sent to the glasses part of the office, to order the glasses I hadn’t been told I don’t really need, the doctor checked me for cataracts. There were none to speak of, she said. She said she was surprised. But to be sure, she squirted some drops into my eyes to dilate my pupils. The eye drops stung for a bit. I had gone there to make sure that I could pass the eye test at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The extra tests — at extra cost — were thrown in because medicine seems now more about profit maximization than it is about delivering services to patients. (Now, I suspect, if you go to have a boil lanced they’ll hospitalize you, and while you’re there they’ll have your appendix out, too. The pandemic taught the medical community that it’s possible to get away with pretty much anything. Medical ethics, once a gold standard, is now a contradiction in terms.)

I went to order the lenses for my frames while my pupils dilated. Then I went back to the examination room for continued fruitless search for worrisome cataracts. What should have happened was for them to say, “You don’t really need glasses anymore. The test is covered by your insurance. Have a nice day.” But no.

If the optometrist had given me LSD instead of the eye drops the results could not have been more profound. The eye drops effectively blinded me, not in the room-going-dark sense but in reality no longer being entirely identifiable sense. I was offered, and did not accept, a little roll-up sunglass thing, like a strip of 35mm film that had been in the film can for years, that she said might help. (Wonder what I would have been billed for that useless thing. Actually, I should check — maybe I was.)

I was then sent on my way, and by the grace of God made it home after a harrowing ride. If you undergo any procedure, even local anesthetic, you’re usually told to bring along someone to drive you home. “You should make arrangements to have someone drive you after your appointment,” advises the American Academy of Opthalmology in its page on Dilating Eye Drops. I did not know this because I had no reason to expect that an eye examination would result in disability. And they optometrist office didn’t tell me ahead of time. Or warn me afterwards. (Can you say “reckless disregard”?)

Long into the night I noticed that my vision would come and go. It was not until the next day that I started to think I could now see reliably. It was as if she had said, “Your eyesight has gotten better. We’ll make short work of that!”

She said I should be checked for cataracts every year or so. Not there, it won’t. But that’s part of the marketing — they even billed me extra for the “medical” procedure I had not requested and didn’t want.

Last Friday I got a call that my glasses were ready. I stopped by to pick them up and mentioned my unhappy experience. “I’m so sorry,” said the person there, in a tone which told me that the instant the words had been said all thought about it wrong vanished forever from her mind.

The new glasses are wrong. The ground looks closer, depth perception is all messed up. The woman said no, they got the prescription right. I needed to get used to them. It never seemed to have crossed their mind that maybe the prescription was wrong.

I have had many eye exams in the course of my life. It was always straightforward, involving the optometrist turning rings next to each eye until the focus was sharpest. He would look at the measurements on the rings, write down the prescription, and that was that. And the resulting glasses were fine. The gadget this time was computerized and infallible. Except that it didn’t seem to work.

Being in town already after picking up the glasses that allegedly would take some getting used to, I thought I might as well go ahead and renew my driver license.

I was impressed by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles when I moved here. It was quick and efficient. If you live in New York, you know that this seems impossible, but it’s true.

(Well, okay, they did make a little mistake: they forgot to transfer my motorcycle qualification to my Ohio license, which a few weeks later would lead to a ticket. When I went to court, with proof of my motorcycle endorsement and therefore expecting the thing to be dismissed, I was told that yes, that often happens. The rule is to carefully examine your license before you leave the BMV office. The prosecutor — always remember, prosecutors are interested in win-loss records; the word “justice” is of no concern to them — changed the charge to “broken tail-light,” which wasn’t true, and I was fined $215 plus costs and license points anyway. But other than that, the BMV was aces two decades ago.)

Now the Ohio BMV, in an apparent search for government inefficiency so as to increase it, has added modern inconveniences. When I walked into the storefront BMV office Friday there were no other customers, just four women laughing among themselves behind the counter. I walked up to one window and one of the women, saying nothing, pointed vaguely toward the front of the room. Another customer, who had just walked in, sensed my puzzlement and pointed me to a machine where you are to register so as to be called in order. The machine wanted my cellular phone number. No, thanks, I do not give that out. I found a button that let me — you’ll be surprised — enter my name. Then I got called over to one of the windows.

The attendant seemed to be working there part time while pursuing an education in auctioneering or some other profession where high-speed mumbling is a required skill. I believe she will graduate with honors. After a longer-than-necessary process of her asking, then repeating, then repeating more slowly, a series of questions, it was time for the vision test. Because the new glasses were pretty obviously useless — it wasn’t even possible to walk without stumbling while wearing them — I took it with no glasses.

And I passed. Not even close.

The whole eye exam process had been a waste of time and money. I’d been temporarily blinded and had acquiesced to the destruction of a perfectly good, brand new pair of expensive sunglasses, at considerable expense, for nothing.

Monday I went back to the eye doctor’s shop. I got a receipt — they hadn’t given me one, or a copy of the optometrist’s report, which I now also got. It said that indeed I have 20/25 vision — not perfect, but good enough for anyone not selling eyeglasses. Even private pilots. Oh, and they said the insurance company had refused a previously unmentioned $35 charge, so I owed them for it. Guess what it was: the cataract nonsense. I agree with the insurance company and won’t be paying it, either. I took careful contemporaneous notes. If push comes to shove, I’m prepared to shove back. To top it off, the insurance company tells me they have no idea what the eye doctor’s people are talking about — they hadn’t refused anything except my $40 co-payment, which I had paid (and which if I had gotten the service I went there for wouldn’t have applied). Also: did they bill the insurance company for the co-pay I’d already paid?

I then went to the glasses part of the place and said the glasses were still no good. They had not returned the original lenses of the $320 sunglasses, so I asked for those and said they could put them back in the frames right now, actually.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I was not expecting it when they said the original lenses had been lost or thrown away. Huh? They were brand new. Never worn. This is like buying a new car in the autumn, taking it in to have snow tires mounted, and being told your brand new summer tires had been thrown away. Sorry. Did you want them?

You will need to replace them, I explained. We’ll see how that turns out. Also what will come to pass with the expensive new lenses that might be good for someone, but not me. The eye doctor shop will be putting it right or I shall have to make a fuss.

Yesterday afternoon the eye doctor’s shop phoned to say that they had been calling all day and “it’s hard to find lenses for discontinued sunglasses.” Fortunately, I have the original sales receipt and, armed with it I did a quick search and found that far from being discontinued they continue to be U.S. military issue and are readily available.

In the course of it all I may have become the first person to complain about having good vision, and yes, we should appreciate our blessings. But I learned a good lesson: things aren’t as they used to be. Trust, even of those who we traditionally trusted without question, can no longer be automatic. I should have asked them to go over with me ahead of time the things they intended to do. Remember, I just went there to find out if my eyes were good enough to pass the BMV eye test and, if not, if my eyeglasses prescription needed to be adjusted. That’s it. I was prepared to get new glasses if they were needed — turns out, they weren’t but the optometrist shop sold me some, anyway.

Looking back, if when I was told I had pretty good vision I had said thanks, see you around, and departed, none of this disaster would have been taken place.

Here’s some advice: Don’t be like me. Ask questions before you get sold stuff you don’t want and don’t need. If you can, get your eyes inspected by an optometrist who doesn’t also sell glasses.

These are things I learned. Maybe before all this is over the eye doctor people will have learned something, too.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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