Overwhelmed eyeball sitting in an exam chair with hands, glasses, needle, and chart around it

The Perils of an Eye Appointment

I miss the days when I only saw an eye doctor once a year to get an updated contact lens exam. Instead, I’ve seen my doctor anywhere from weekly to every 3 months over the past year and a half as we’ve tried to get my eye issues under control.

Recently I went in for a multi-purpose appointment: I was getting my annual Plaquenil eye exam to check for toxicity, replacing a punctal plug, and having my 3-month follow-up for inflammatory eye lesions. During that appointment, I reflected on the many uncomfortable things I may go through when visiting the eye doctor.

But first, glasses

I greatly dislike wearing glasses, and it’s not just because my baby likes to play snatch-and-grab with them. While people often report dry eye relief while wearing glasses instead of contacts, I have experienced the opposite.

I struggle with depth perception and poor peripheral vision while wearing glasses. My glasses are outdated; it doesn't help that my insurance will not cover both glasses and contacts (they don’t even cover half the cost of my contacts).

So, I drive to the appointment wearing my contacts and then go through an elaborate process of switching over to my glasses after I park. Thanks to my mask, they start fogging up right away. I then walk, a bit unsteady and disoriented, into my doctor's office.

No, I can't read the letters

As I said, my glasses are outdated. They leave me with somewhere around 20/60 vision, or worse if my inflammatory eye lesions or extremely dry eyes are causing blurry vision that day.

I feel so awkward when I can barely read the top line with the largest letters. The exam has just started (I’m still with an assistant at this point), and I already feel like I’m failing. I know it’s an essential part of my exam and helps to show the fluctuations in my vision over time, but it can set the whole appointment off on the wrong foot for me as I feel frustrated and uneasy.

Why is all of the machinery uncomfortable?

I have yet to find an apparatus at the eye doctor’s office that doesn't require me to hunch over. First for my visual field test, then for my retinal scan, then for the slit lamp exam by the doctor. This was even more pronounced when I was pregnant, at which point it became quite a spectacle to get my face in the equipment despite my growing belly.

During the doctor’s examination, their face is only inches from mine. This was stressful even before the pandemic that recommended staying as far apart as possible. And, while my doctor washes his hands and/or wears gloves, he’s inevitably touching other equipment in between touching my eyelids. I’m overall pretty comfortable with my doctor and his practices, but I still feel stressed about the possibility of germs getting into my already compromised eyes.

What should we do to your eye today?

Are we going to stain it with dye? Or put in numbing drops? Flip your eyelids for a closer look? How about some of those scratchy feeling Schirmer's test strips? Please, whatever you do, do not dilate me. (Thankfully, many doctors are opting for retinal scans instead of dilation these days.) Punctal plug insertion isn't comfortable either, but I don't mind it too much considering how beneficial it is for me.

However, I would like to thank (most of) the medical community for switching to gentler equipment for measuring eye pressure. After all the other uncomfortable moments, I'm not sure if I could handle stress of an air puff machine.

Going home

Finally, the perils are over. I just have to wash my hands thoroughly so that I can put my contacts back in before driving. Not only are my glasses out of date, but I have to be able to wear my oh-so-fancy motorcycle glasses to retain my eye moisture for the drive back home.

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