28 December 2015

A testing time

Every December I enter appointments for the upcoming year in my new hard copy diary. As I filled these in for 2016, one made my heart sink.

Based on your own experience, which of the following do you think it was?:

1. The doctor, to discuss an embarrassing problem.
2. The dentist, to have a filling.
3. The optician, to undergo a routine eye test.

I'd lay odds on most of you answering 1 or 2, but it's actually 3 - I find my biennial visit to the optician by far the most stressful of these events.

I've never been at all concerned about what I bring up with the doctor, or about having intimate examinations or tests. This probably harks back to my health anxiety: I'm happy to talk about anything, and endure any number of unpleasant procedures, in order to identify and address what's wrong with me. I much prefer knowledge and action to avoidance.

As for fillings, I don't understand why people say these are painful - unless, perhaps, they're using the dentist from Marathon Man? The injection only hurts for a few seconds and after that, for me, it's a case of 'lie back and think of England'.

No, it's the optician that really makes me nervous.

A contributory factor is that I had glasses from an early age and was the only one in my class who did. In the 1970s, there was just one kind of NHS frame for children and the only choice was the colour, ie blue or pink. The photo below shows a replica of mine. I hated them and used to stand books up on my desk to hide behind.

Museum image reproduced with 
permission of The College of Optometrists
More than that, though, I hated failing at the eye test. I was a perfectionist even then and wanted to do everything well, even when it was physically impossible.

And I really, really hated the optician's questions, because I could never be sure I was answering them correctly - a need for certainty is characteristic of OCD.

First he'd clamp on the heavy, metal test frames - they were like an instrument of torture, digging painfully into the bridge of my nose and the tops of my ears. Then he'd slot in a combination of lenses and tweak them again and again, asking in a monotone, 'Is this better? Or this?'. 

I was always anxious about giving the wrong answer. Was I contradicting what I'd just said? Would I end up with ineffective glasses because I hadn't directed him properly?

Now, at least, those metal frames have been replaced by a machine that swivels into place in front of your face. That may have eradicated the physical discomfort, but not the agonies of indecision. My eyes often water and blur with the effort, making it even harder to decide which lens provides a sharper image.

I begin every visit gibbering my apologies for my nerves at the optician; he must think I'm an absolute idiot. Dentists might be prepared with sedatives for nervous patients, but I doubt opticians are...

Mine tells me that, in recent years, children have been faking poor eyesight, in the hope of being prescribed glasses and emulating Harry Potter! Hopefully his popularity - and the great range of frames now available - means youngsters these days are less likely to end up with my strange hang-up, even if they aren't blessed with 20/20 vision.

 * * *

This is an interesting page about NHS glasses, from The College of Optometrists - the first and third-from-last paragraphs sum up my experience!

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