Up Front by Emma Hart


Also, The Rain Isn't Gone

Nobody's ever offered me the choice of cleaning the back seat of a Holden Kingswood with my tongue or going to the optometrist, but if they did I'd have to think about it. My deep-seated fear of optometry is a hang-over from childhood, when the eye test filled me with dread, the only test I could walk into knowing I was going to fail. The only thing that scared me more was going to the dentist.

As an adult, having grown and supposedly hardened up, I’ve tried to find ways to deal with those ridiculous fears. Combating the dentist-fear was easy: I just don't go. If I want to pay someone to cause me pain, there are much more interesting ways. The optometrist is a little more problematic, given that I need to see.

I know it's dumb. It's not like having my eyes tested hurts or anything, I just really hate it. As a kid, I cheated on the test. Here's a tip: if you want to assess a kid using one eye chart, don’t sit them in that room with the eye chart before the exam. For years I could recite the two standard charts (the one that starts with the big E, and the one that starts with the big A) off by heart.

And yes, I know it's an assessment and cheating at it is totally pointless. In my defence, they did punish me for failing. Optometry in the seventies was a disaster. I remember being offered the full choice of girls' frames when I was six: brown tortoise-shell, or pink tortoise-shell. I looked like a complete dork.

The normal bother and anxiety with testing was slightly aggravated this time, I have to admit. I had this sneaking suspicion that something wasn't quite right. For a couple of months now, my right eye has been giving me problems. It's not so much not being able to focus. It’s more as though that one eye is displaying the world 800 by 600, while the other eye is doing 1024 by 768. I find myself reading recto pages with my verso eye.

Eye exams are still a drag. For a start they involve taking off my glasses, something that makes me feel more naked and vulnerable than actually being naked and vulnerable. And they involve lots of conversations that go like this:

Clearer on the green or the red?


Clearer on the green or the red?


Clearer on the green or the red?



There must be other applications for optometric testing. "Alright, now I’m going to apply a Keynesian filter to your economy. Does that make it better… or worse? Better… or worse?"

By the time I'd been in the chair for an hour and a half, I had a splitting headache and I had no idea any more if it was better or worse or destroying Tokyo. At that point if you'd have suggested trying on a poll tax I'd have given it a go. It wasn't helping that the optometrist kept looking puzzled, hmming, trying things again and then writing furiously.

It turns out there's nothing wrong with my right eye. It's perfectly healthy. It just doesn't see. There's been a large deterioration in my sight in just that one eye in the last few months, and they want me back in another month to see if it's still getting worse. Once again, I am the type of interesting medical specimen that makes health professionals say 'hey, come and have a look at this!'.

When I was a kid, I used to walk around the house with my eyes closed, practicing for when I went blind. My mum once found me walking straight at a brick wall blindfolded, testing the theory that pressure on my pineal gland would tell me where the wall was. There are very few things I enjoy doing that aren’t sight-dependent. I'd really rather be deaf than blind, except for occasional moments when I'm, say, listening to Aretha Franklin sing.

Having spent thirty years preparing myself somehow hasn't made increasing my font sizes and wearing the kind of glasses that could stop bullets any easier. I can touch-type with frightening efficiency, though, so I’ll still be able to write, just not to read what anyone else says. I think that means I qualify for a Herald column. I'll let you all know when I start interviewing for an amanuensis. The first thing she can do is go to my optometry appointments for me.

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