Monday, October 24, 2011

A vision issue?

So on Thursday, September 23th, 2011 I went to see the ophthalmologist. My first impression of his office was that it looked like something straight out of a Swedish movie about unhappy people trapped in bland lives they didn’t want to live. The waiting room added to that effect by displaying several abstract paintings in murky blues and purples that seemed to be drawn by patients with deep psychological issues  

I was nervous, so I thumped my fingers on the finely rendered Naugahyde chair until my name was called. I was shown into a room that looked like a set from The Silence of the Lambs which a machine that appeared to be designed for three-eyed aliens, and tools that looked like they belonged in a dentist’s office.  This, of course, did nothing but put me at ease. 

I seem to remember that the doctor looked very professional, complete with lab coat, country-club tie, and an expensive pen. He was indeterminately middle-aged, which is a good thing in doctors: too old and you worry that they’ve forgotten things, too young, and you worry that they haven’t learned enough to forget.

He had me look into his shiny, hand-held, chrome-colored flashlight.  He peered from the sides and looked at my eyeballs. He squirted ointment in my eyes and asked me to read charts—my eyes, however, felt like they just signed up for “Hallucinations-R-Us.”
I guess at this time I should confess that I am squeamish about my eyes.  Watching my wife put in her contacts gives me the willies (the “willies” are a technical term for describing the feeling you get when your folks take you to a haunted house or scary ride about five years before you are emotionally ready to go). Her ability to touch her eyeball with her finger runs shivers up my spine.  I think she mostly does it to torment me.

I guess it’s no surprise, then, that I normally flunk the eye test where a technician touches your eye with a strange device that measures something important to keep you from developing some debilitating eye disease. Why do I flunk? Because I can’t keep my eye open long enough for the doctor (or strong, hairy orderly) to get a measurement.

Ensconced in his clean, tidy, and vaguely sinister office, the doctor told me that I needed to come back and see another doctor who specialized in a different but closely aligned field. (If you reread that sentence you’ll understand that I had no idea what he said or meant.)

So the next week (in my mind there was no hurry), I visited this new doctor in the same somehow disquieting office.  Here, a medical technician gave me a Visual Field test—essentially a fancy, and I suspect expensive, eye exam. In a Visual Field test, you look into a machine that makes you feel like you’re viewing a bad, old-time sci-fi movie.  Lights flash on and off in various areas, and you’re supposed to click a button every time you see a light.

Apparently I flunked the test, or at least an important part of the test. How did I know? Because the doctor recommended that I have an MRI.  For the uninitiated, MRI tests are normally scheduled for folks who have something lousy going on inside.

To take an MRI, you go to a lab hidden deep in some medical facility where they store the really high-powered medical equipment. Over in a corner you’ll probably see a lab technician peering at a backlit green screen that reminds you of the sonar technology they must use on a nuclear submarine. 

You are instructed to take off all your jewelry (this took about a nano-second) as the technician asks you questions like “do you have any metal in your body?” “Have you ever had a joint replacement using metal?” and “Does being enclosed in very small space and having abnormally loud sounds clang and bang around your head drive you berserk?”

While I may be wrong, I think that no matter what your answer is, you are then told to lie down on a cloth-covered surfboard at a perpendicular angle to the MRI. It’s so the technicians can easily slide you into the machine and bombard you with x-rays. I’m just guessing on the kind of rays - they could be beta rays for all I know. (Actually, I was hoping that they weren’t beta rays because as everybody who’s ever worked in software knows, the “beta” version is pretty iffy stuff.)   After lying down, the technicians strap you down and quickly run out of the room. No, it isn’t reassuring.

The cloth-covered surfboard glides you into the middle of the MRI. You are told to be still, ignore the upcoming “end-of-the-world” sounds, and relax.  This has the same effect as being told “relax, this won’t hurt at all,” when you know that it really will hurt.

The machine started and the vibrations reminded me of some large ship leaving port.   It began as a low hum that pulsed and shook. Abruptly, the promised clanging and banging commenced at erratic and irregular intervals. It felt as if something was really wrong with the machine—like maybe they forgot to add oil during the last seventy-five thousand mile overhaul or the thing needed new brake pads.

While I was half-expected the MRI to explode or shoot me out the front like a torpedo, it didn’t.  And I walked away thinking, “I’m glad that’s over with.” Little did I know that I should’ve quickly joined the MRI frequent scanner club for the “points”.

1 comment:

Carol Phillips said...

MRI frequent flyer points, why didn't anyone think of that before? This sounds like Conrad's heart of darkness. Can't wait for the next installment.