By Mordechai Schmutter

I’m pleased to say that I have some information that will take a lot of the stress off going for an eye exam. I’m not talking about all the stress. The doctor is still going to try to touch your eyeball when you’re looking away. This isn’t easy, because if you were actually looking away, he wouldn’t have access to your eyeball. So he tells you to put your chin on a shelf and look at his ear. Then, while you’re distracted, he very slowly uses his little machine to touch your eyeball.

If you don’t like that, for some reason, some doctors will blow a puff of air in your eye instead. He does this so he can gauge the pressure inside your eye, like you would gauge tire pressure, but unlike with tires, he can’t kick it. So he slowly touches it, the same way your kids would touch something that may or may not still be alive, and then he flat-out denies that he did it.

“No, I didn’t touch your eye, I just got really close.”

He’s not checking for air, though. He’s checking for a fluid called “aqueous humor,” which is one of the four humors, the other three being blood, pus, and people stepping on a rake and having it fly up and hit them in the face.

But the whole exam is not very relaxing in the first place. First he takes you into a little room and turns off the lights. “You don’t need overhead lights. We’re just checking your eyes. And I have a flashlight.”

Well, if you need light, why did you turn it off?

Then he leans in uncomfortably close to your face and stares you in the eyes. It’s very awkward. Anyone else in the world does this, and you punch them in the nose. Or at least back away. It’s like you’re having a staring contest. And then he suddenly blows a puff of air in your eyes.

“Ha! You blinked!”

“You cheated.”

Then he shows you an eye chart and tells you to read it.

I’m never sure how to respond. “Am I supposed to try to pronounce the word, or just tell you the letters? Because I don’t actually know how to pronounce that. Do you have one that’s maybe written in English?”

And the chart always has letters that look very similar from far away, and you have to squint and make educated guesses.

I don’t know; is that an F or a P? I’ll say F, because I have a 50—50 chance, and maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll fool him into thinking I can read it. And then giving me the wrong prescription.

Also, I was always a good student in school, and I have this pressure to get everything right. So I’m trying my hardest to impress him. Like I want him to say, “In all my years as a doctor, I have never had anyone do this well!”

But that’s why the letters don’t just spell out words (or at least English words)–because then people would be able to figure out the letters from context. Especially me. I’m a writer. I’m also a teacher, and I spend hours every night squinting at random marks my students made and trying to determine if any of them are letters.

I actually have this secret fear that the eye chart has the same letters on every line, and every time he shows me the line, I call out different letters.

After the eye chart, the doctor puts drops in your eyes, so he can determine whether you panic when people put in drops. He does this to dilate your eyes and make your pupils larger, so he can see into your brain. The drops do have a side effect, though: They make it very hard to read things up close. It’s like suddenly aging 30 years.

But it takes a while for the drops to kick in, so he tells you to go out to the waiting room and read pamphlets about what kind of scary things it can mean when your vision starts going, while your vision slowly fades and you can’t read the pamphlets anymore. Then he takes you back into the dark and looks at your brain.

Of course, there’s a reason for everything he does. He’s trying to determine the overall health of your eyes, and whether you need to wear glasses, or maybe a monocle. And at the end, he gives you a prescription, which you can then choose to fill while you’re there, in which case I suggest you bring along someone you trust very dearly to tell you whether the glasses you’re trying on make you look like someone who just arrived from whichever Eastern European nation is printing the eye charts. And it can’t be someone who just wants to get out of there. The best idea is to go with a spouse, unless that spouse is a husband.

I recently went for an eye exam, because it’s been a while since the last one, and I spend most days staring at white space on my computer screen and trying to fill it with black space. I went to Dr. Jacobowitz, because he fixes my kids’ glasses whenever they break, which is about six times a week. I’m not kidding. I tell my kids, “This is because you don’t keep them on your face,” and they look at the broken pieces and think, “Oh my goodness! Imagine if this had been on my FACE!”

But I must have pretty bad eyesight, because when I was finally able to read my prescription, it looked something like this:

OD 100+ SPF Allies 180º +2.00 ADHD 15% tip BH

OS 42 Reg. USA! USA! ADD 3 tbsp. 100% BRB

I have no idea what that means. I thought it was supposed to be like “20/20” or something. All I know is that “OD” is right and “OS” is left, and that they use that because if they say “right” and “left,” the doctors won’t know if they mean their right or the patient’s right.

But the biggest stress when going to the eye doctor has always been the pressure. No, not the pressure in your eyeball.

(Ha! A little bit of aqueous humor.)

It’s actually the test where, to fine-tune your prescription, he shows you two lines of letters and asks which is better.

No other kind of doctor does this.

“Does it hurt more if I hit this knee or that knee?”

“I don’t know. Can you hit them again?”

I always ask the optometrist to do it again.

“What do you think is clearer? A or B?”

“Can you show me again?”

“A or B? A? Or B?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t think I was paying enough attention to A. Can’t you hold them side by side?”

I can’t play “Spot the Difference” if I see only one picture at a time. Let’s put it this way: My wife wants to paint our boys’ room, and she knows she wants it to be green, but she can’t make a decision as to what shade. I wasn’t being very helpful, because I actually thought “green” was a decision. But she came home with several samples and hung them all over the boys’ room for several weeks, and it turns out there is more than one kind of green. I just had to see them side by side, so we could weed them out. I still don’t care, but at least now I know there’s a difference.

So can we do that here? Why do I have to decide which view is better right away? Can you print pictures of the letters both ways and give me a few days?

But I wonder: If it’s that hard to tell the difference, does it really matter which one I pick? They look the same. Surprise me.

Also, I always wondered why the doctor doesn’t get annoyed, doing this all day long, with every single person taking forever to decide what they can and can’t see. I figured that if I were an eye doctor, by the end of the first day I’d be mixing onion powder into the eye drops.

But I finally found out the secret. As Dr. Jacobowitz explained, neither is right. And the doctor knows it. Option A is something he thinks is too high a prescription, and option B is one he thinks is too low. Based on your answer, he shows you two more to narrow it down further. So when you honestly can’t decide which is better, he has his answer.

Anyway, that’s what my doctor told me. But why should I believe him? He also told me he didn’t touch my eye. v

Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to

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