Yesterday I went to the eye doctor for my yearly exam. I love the guy. He’s smart, cranky, old-fashioned, wildly energetic — not much older than me — and he won’t do surgery on a healthy eye for moral and ethical reasons.

He doesn’t believe in laser surgery to try to improve vision for profit. He teaches Ophthalmology. He’s been married for 34 years. He listened to John F. Kennedy speak in person at a New York City Union Square rally when he was in high school. He works with the United Nations by donating his time to doing free eye surgeries for children in underdeveloped countries.

He’s a man’s mensch and a great guy and he doesn’t have time to suffer fools… like me. Much.

My prescription correction lowered a bit and, to me, that meant even though I am getting older, my vision is improving, and when I asked my doctor how that could be he said: “I don’t think in terms of better or worse. I choose to think in terms of ‘different.'”

Now he had just returned from a long vacation and I was his first appointment of the morning. I had to get up super early to get to his New York City office by 7:30am so we both may have been a little wonky from traveling. I’ve known him for over 15 years and, for the first time — I had no idea what he was talking about… I asked him what he meant my eyes weren’t getting better if the correction needed to bring them up to 20/20 vision had dropped.

“Think of it this way,” he said in a volume that got louder with each spoken word , “If you gain 30 pounds or if you lose 30 pounds your clothes will get bigger or smaller but that doesn’t mean the quality of the clothes changes.”

I sat there, blinking blind without my glasses, pupils dilated and unresponsive, wondering if I should dare to ask him to explain it a different way.

His neck tightened and his eyes drew down as he saw I didn’t understand. “What’s the difference between a one dollar bill and a hundred dollar bill?”

Before I could say anything, he answered for me.

“The printing. That’s the only difference.”

I blurted out I wasn’t following how this discussion related to my eyes. “Look!” He was yelling now, “The curvature of your eye is always changing! That’s all! There’s no “good” or “bad” or “better” or “worse” to be had here!” and with that he did my least favorite thing and turned my upper eyelid inside out and told me my allergies were still there and to keep using my rewetting drops for my contacts each time I ate because “if you stop to eat you should also ‘stop to drops!'” and to continue on with the Optivar.

Then he was gone.

And then he came back and gave me a free sample of Optivar with a coupon for $25 off the $70 price.

Then he was really gone.

And I was left there wondering then and wondering now with you here, what that was all about and what the change in prescription really means in the scheme of variances in quality, clothing and dollar bills.


  1. Sounds like he doesn’t want you to think your eyes are getting better because you might need a stronger perscription the next time you go?
    The money and the clothes thing – ya got me! 🙂
    Perhaps you should just focus on the fact that for right now, your eyes aren’t as bad as they were.

  2. Hey Carla!
    It was a strange day with him. 🙂 That conversation took place over an hour as I was moved from the “vision test room” to the “dilation room” to “the deep examination room” so I had a lot of time in-between those conversations to try to figure out what he was saying but I could never really get my head around it.
    As I reflect on that experience this morning I think he thinks that as I get older I will need bifocals — right now I am fine with up-close reading — and that he will then reduce my far away prescription but then need to add bifocals support.
    That might explain his “not better, just different” argument but who knows? I’m not going to call him to find out! 🙂

  3. Is this doctor Tibetian by any chance? Sounds to me like he was giving you the schpel about how something only is the value we assign to it. He is right in that the $100 bill is only different form the $10 because of the different printing. It is the value we place on that that ultimately makes it different.
    But I agree odd for him to take this path and take it so hostilly with you. I wonder what he would have done if you tried that line of thinking when you went to pay your bill. “Hey doc, here’s $5, really its the same as $50….”

  4. Heya Michelle!
    Thanks for the fun comment. No, my doctor is not Tibetan. He’s a good Jewish boy. 🙂
    I’m thinking the “dollar difference is printing” thing somehow has to do with my eye exam where, even though the status of my eyes changed (lower prescription needed) there were other issues that didn’t mean that lowering was an “improvement.”
    So trying to assign a value of my eye examination that my eyes were “a better denomination” meant nothing because he could easily “print” a new “meaning” on the exam to lower the suggested “value” of the “improvement.”
    I’d write more but I’m still confused and running out of “quote marks!” 🙂
    Oh, and there was no hostility. Everyone in New York yells at each other. It’s called “conversation.”

  5. YEAH. PEOPLE IN NEW YORK TALK LIKE THIS, RIGHT DAVID?! And remember, you don’t do that on your blog, because it’s yelling. 🙂
    I must have a little bit of the ophthalmologist-Tibetan-good Jewish boy in me because I understood what he meant. Then again, I wasn’t wonky from traveling.

  6. If you could assign more quotation marks, maybe I could help out…that’s probably what it would take. or maybe a really good vocabulary. Or maybe I’m wrong and he just means your eyes are going to end up like Marty Feldman’s? He was a good Jewish boy!

  7. Hi Paula!
    You made me laugh this morning, thanks!
    You might want to check the validity of the URL you add to your comments. The address you use goes to a dead Juno web page so I keep editing your comments to get rid of that invalid URL. 🙂

  8. Thanks, David. you were right that it was wrong. I mixed my email with my blog site and got an old “B” movie. 🙂
    Now you have my blog, which is not a huge rabbit that rapidly reproduces and attacks a small town.

  9. Hey, thanks, David. But could you change the name to Listen In, please? That’s the real name of the blog. I’d appreciate it. Hope that’s not asking too much. I would have asked in an email instead of publicly, but couldn’t find your address.

  10. Hi Paula —
    I changed the name. I used the other name because when I loaded your website in a browser and looked at the title bar in your browser that is the name of the website you see.
    You might want to change that title tag so the name you want appears properly when people bookmark or Blogroll you! 🙂

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