THE OPTOMETRIST FROM HECK
Copyright © 1998, 2015 by Jim Hull
(Please cite the author if you quote from this work)
I've just about gotten over the humiliation of being tossed out of my optometrist's office. I don't have quite the axe to grind that I did when it first happened. Let bygones be bygones, right? But I'd promised myself that I'd write about it, shout it to the heavens, expose the arrogant so-and-so to public scorn. And a promise is a promise. So here it is, a public airing of my adventures in optometry, freely available for all to see.
One of the joys of working for yourself is you can do things your own way. You don't have to be nice to everyone, either. You can be opinionated, obstreperous, cantankerous, curmudgeonly, even sesquipedalian, if you like. Your only boss is the client.
One of the joys of being a client is you can
fire your vendors. Let's say they're opinionated, obstreperous,
and cantankerous: you don't have to put up with it. You can take
your money elsewhere.
In the late 1980s I searched for a good contact-lens expert and found one in L. Thomas Gabriel, O.D., who ran a busy practice - with a worldwide clientele - near Los Angeles. Dr. Gabriel quickly determined that my corneas were ill-suited for contacts of any kind. (They're too flat for hard lenses, and my "astigmatism" is vertical, which means soft lenses would tend to slip off to the sides of my eyeballs. Ouch.) I shrugged and said, "Fair enough." He wrote up my prescription, and I filled it at his office with some nice, shiny specs in gold frames. Gabriel's services and glasses are a little pricey, but I thought them worth it.
A few years later I returned, hoping there'd been changes in contact lenses that might work for me. Dr. Gabriel reported that there was nothing new and referred me to his wife, Dr. Lynne Gabriel, who was in charge of eyeglass exams. Lynne Gabriel, O.D. is nice-looking in a severe sort of way. She has that professional demeanor many doctors affect: brisk, competent, slightly condescending. She wears pants-suits that bring to mind the polyester 1970s. She did her work with dispatch but seemed a bit impatient with my many questions. (I'm a curious sort.) Once again I bought some nice, gold-framed glasses from their dispensary.
By 1998 I'd been wearing those glasses for five years. They'd long since fallen behind as my eyes marched relentlessly into middle-age. (Eyes keep changing, I'm told). It was high time I got into some lenses that would let me see leaves on the trees again. I headed back to Dr. Gabriel's office, but he was no longer there. His wife ran things now. What the heck; I made an appointment with Lynne Gabriel again. This time - as I sat in that darkened room on the high, vinyl chair and peered through that weird optical machine while she clicked through the lenses - I said, "I'm starting to have trouble reading, and when I look up it takes awhile for my eyes to refocus."
She said, "Your new lenses will be stronger, and you won't be able to read through them. But you can get bifocals."
Bifocals!? Ick! I have enough signs of aging on my person. I don't want "that telltale line that says you're over forty," as the commercial once put it.
I said, "Maybe I can try those 'progressive' lenses that don't show a line."
She nodded. "I'll add the reading prescription in case you decide to get them."
Before I left, I asked, "What happened to your husband, the other Doctor Gabriel?"
She said, matter-of-factly, "Oh, he moved to Washington."
I didn't pry further.
This time I took the prescription and shopped around: I was price-sensitive. (My accounts were making a sucking sound like a nearly-empty bathtub.) I ordered my glasses from Fedco, and chose a sexy little black frame. The lenses were made of polycarbonate, a high-impact plastic. But they had more distortion than I expected. So I had them reground in a different material, "Spectralite." The distortion improved, but still there was blurring around the edges. Apparently this is the nature of progressive lenses: the price for making that "telltale line" go away is that most of the viewing areas are slightly out of focus.
Gradually I learned to see through them and even got to like them, limitations and all. But something was wrong with the right lens: no matter how I looked through it, in dim light it was always a little out-of-focus. But the left lens, in its optical center, was always sharp and clear. Hmm.
I'm fairly picky, but I hate to waste a professonal's time. Still, something was wrong with the prescription, and I'm entitled to satisfaction. I bit the bullet and went back to the optometrist. At the reception window I said, "I think there may be an error in my prescription." They said they'd have to check the glasses first, and - since I had bought them elsewhere - if the lenses were wrong I'd be charged a $10 fee. I said, "Fair enough."
After a wait, I was ushered in to see the optician, a sweet young lady who whisked my glasses away for an inspection, then returned them all marked up with a felt pen. "They're filled correctly," she said, "but I took the liberty of making a few marks because I want to be sure the optical centers are properly aligned on your face." What the heck. We fussed with that project for a few minutes.
About this time Lynne Gabriel appeared in the hallway, looking over at us and whispering to office assistants. Finally she strode in. "This is something you need to do at your dispensing optician's," she said loudly. "You're taking up too much of my assistant's time. I'm going to take her away now" - and she pulled the optician up by the arm - "and we're finished here."
I was stunned. Very carefully I said, "With respect... what if the prescription's wrong?"
Dr. Gabriel said, "Then you make an appointment at the front desk to see me, and I'll re-refract you."
...But that's what I came in for in the first place! I was barely hanging onto this logical roller-coaster. "All right," I said suspiciously, "what will it cost me?"
"Nothing. There'll be no charge." Gabriel opened the door leading to the waiting room and stood by it. "Goodbye."
I still didn't understand what I had done to merit this public humiliation. I hesitated, then walked past her through the door. She closed it behind me.
I walked over to the receptionist. "Yes?" she asked.
I stood there a moment. "I'm... offended." I was still calm; the anger hadn't kicked in yet.
I recounted the incident with Dr. Gabriel and ended with, "I do want to hold her to her word, and I'd like to be retested. But I don't want to wait three weeks." I'd been warned earlier that Dr. Gabriel was booked solid into the next month.
She said, "Oh, here's an opening next week." Wow. This was just like in the movies where the hero leans on the hotel clerk until he "discovers" a spare room. I made the appointment.
In the car I got mad. What the hell did she think she was doing? She'd decided I was scamming her, when I was merely following her office's instructions. Then she dressed me down in public and tossed me out! I've never been booted from a business establishment in my life!
(Well... okay, there was that one time at Disneyland in 1970 just after the Yippies had trashed the place. My friend had long hair and an attitude, so we were denied entry. But we weren't exactly kicked out; we just never got in.)
I can imagine what happened: Dr. Gabriel must hate it when people buy their glasses somewhere else, then come to her office for free advice. (I don't blame her.) She walks in, asks, "What's he doing?" A worker replies, "He's getting his glasses checked," and Gabriel goes ballistic.
For hours I fumed. I thought of brilliant, razor-sharp remarks I'd make that'd cut her down to size. I wanted to sue. I wanted to write about it and publish it on the Web. (Hey, there's an idea...) I wanted to go down there and complain loudly in her waiting room, embarrassing everyone.
I returned to her office at the appointed hour and sat quietly in the test chair.
But I was alert, tense, just waiting for her to do something that would prove, once and for all, that she truly was the Optometrist from Hell.
Dr. Gabriel walked in. She looked at her notes and said, "All right, this is just a re-refract, then."
(Not so fast!) "Doctor, can you explain something for me? Last week I came here looking for a re-test. Your people said they'd have to check my glasses first, and because I'd bought them elsewhere you'd charge me if the lenses were wrong. I said, 'Fair enough.' While they were doing that, you came in and threw me out. I was publicly humiliated. Why did you do that?"
She said, "Well, you were taking up too much time--"
"I was following your office's instructions. I believe you owe me an apology."
She considered. "Well, all right, I apologize, but it was taking too much time."
(Come on, Lynnie, apologize to your little brother. "No!" Come on! "Oh.... all right... I apologize BUT HE WAS WRONG!!")
The re-test went smoothly. She announced, "Your prescription was fine. There's no difference."
I frowned. "I swear to God, it's fuzzy through the right lens."
She shrugged. "Both your eyes test at better than twenty-twenty. This is the best I can possibly do."
I thought a moment. "What if... what if the prescriptions were written in eighths of a diopter, instead of quarters? Is that something the industry might do someday?"
Gabriel shook her head. "They used to, but it was too expensive."
"So this is the best I can do?"
"I... I feel like I'm the Princess and the Pea."
"Yes, you are."
(Well, she didn't have to AGREE with me, for Pete's sake!)
We wrapped things up and she escorted me to the waiting room. (She's still getting rid of me!) She held open the door and said, brightly, "Goodbye, now." In front of the waiting clients she was suddenly all kindness. I said goodbye pleasantly, and walked away.
Earlier I'd asked my brother what he thought I should do. My brother's always sensible. He gets his adventures with airplanes and motorcycles and skis, while I persist in having embarrassing adventures with people in public places. I think he's having more fun.
He'd answered, "She's fired . . just walk and tell anybody who wanted to know about it, but I wouldn't make a big stink. She's fired. This isn't an oil change ... it's your peepers and you care profoundly about your eye care. You need a professional who's compatible with you. I'd go find someone else and simply vote with my feet and wallet. I wouldn't stay with it to get any satisfaction. She's fired."
Well, bro, I didn't quite follow your advice - especially the part about making a stink; I just gotta publish this - but I agree that from now on I'll go elsewhere for eyecare.
Dr. Lynne Gabriel didn't turn out to be the Optometrist from Hell. More like the Optometrist from Heck. But she's fired anyway.
I'd say that's fair enough.
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