After surveying family about who would be a good eye doctor, I was ready to make a phone call. My sister had raved about her eye doctor, but noted that they usually teamed up with one optometrist and one ophthalmologist--with adult patients. With the kids, she'd told me that they usually just sent in the optometrist. So when I made the phone call, I specified that my daughter had something really weird going on and she absolutely must see the specialist.
I was reassure and double reassured that I would get the ophthalmologist. Imagine my disappointment when an optometrist walked in. I didn't know the doctor I was supposed to see, but I could read the name tag and this wasn't him. I asked about the other doctor, but the man said he would be seeing Emma today.
Even though it was some 9 years ago, thinking of this first traumatic appointment still makes me angry. Ultimately, it taught me to be a better mother. It taught me to decide what would happen in an appointment and what would not. But at the time, I was a 27-year-old mother of three with my oldest daughter in the patient chair for the first time.
The appointment began, as appointments usually do, with a standard eye exam. Even though Emma was only 4, she could read and had long known her alphabet. I encouraged the doctor to test her using letters. He insisted on the picture eye test.
First, Emma's left eye was tested. She could make out most of the pictures and it was essentially hunky-dory. But when he covered her left--through that little machine that you have to look through--and began to test her right eye, things went awry.
"What to you see?" the optometrist with slicked back hair asked.
"I can't see," Emma said.
"Of course you can," Slick Hair snapped. "What is it?"
Ever resourceful, my bright daughter said the name of last picture she had seen. "It's a birthday cake."
It wasn't a birthday cake; it was a hand. But partly satisfied Slick Hair flipped to a new screen.
"What's this one?"
"A birthday cake."
"How about this one?"
"A birthday cake."
"No, Emma," Slick Hair said sternly. "You're getting it wrong. You are just saying the last thing you saw. What do you see?"
"It's a duck," Slick Hair said with his voice beginning to rise.
"Perhaps," I cut in rather timidly, "she can't see it. Can you make it bigger?"
He did and it didn't help. Emma varied trying to tell him that she couldn't see and wildly guessing at the pictures based on any other information she could get. For every wrong answer, Slick Hair started giving her the right answer.
"No. It's a duck."
"No. It's a horse."
So Emma started copying him. Whatever he said last, she would say.
"No!" he said dripping in frustration and sarcasm. "You're just saying whatever I'm saying!"
There was a moment of silence. This part of the appointment had gone on excruciatingly long. Sitting in the dim room with an angry man behind her, she extended her four-year-old hand in my direction and called suddenly, "I'm scared! I can't see anything."
I rushed to her side and held her hand. My mother bear stepped in.
"I don't know what's going on, but she can't do this. We're done. When do we see Dr. Olsen?"
He flicked the lights on and pushed the machine out from in front of Emma. "You're not seeing Dr. Olsen today. You're just seeing me." He flicked a switch that would summon a young woman to give eye drops and stormed out of the room.
I stood by Emma who was scared and whimpering. I was worried about her eye. But I was livid at the doctor.
Once her eyes were dilated and she'd calmed down, Slick Hair came in again and held up a little tool and, with a light strapped to his head, looked at the back of her eye. He looked in her right eye, then left, then right.
"There's something in...her...eye..." he admitted.
Emma squirmed under the glare of the light, the closeness to the mean man, and exhaustion from the length of the appointment.
"Hold still!" he snapped with his voice rising.
"She's tired," I cut in. "Can we be done?"
"No. There's something wrong," his voice became...panicked. "Stay here. Let me make a phone call."
My mom had come to this appointment with me and was sitting with my one and two and a half-year-old sons. She'd been sitting in the waiting room a long time. I came out to check on them.
"My this is taking awhile," Mom observed in her extra chipper voice when she really wants to be done.
"There's something wrong," I informed her. "He's calling someone. I think he wants us to see someone else right away. Do you have time?"
A look crossed my mom's face. One of worry and forced calm. I could tell that she had mentally just cleared her schedule.
"Absolutely," she answered.