How to Train for Your Eye Exam at Costco During the Pandemic
Ventriloquism, yoga breathing techniques, sign language, and flashcards
When I turned 50, my eyesight went flaccid
When I turned fifty years old, I realized I was squinting to read everything—especially the bills at restaurants. I dine out frequently. Way too frequently, in fact. How come at restaurants, they make the bill amount on those receipts tiny and impossible to read? Is it some psychological trick they are playing on us so that we don’t register how much money we just spent on a grilled scallop taco? ($14.50, by the way).
It got embarrassing always having to ask the wait staff to read the receipt to me. I was becoming my Granddad back at The Sizzler in the ’80s. Next thing you know, I’ll be packing the whole family in the car to eat dinner at 4:00 P.M. to get the “Early Bird Special.”
Things had to change.
So I called for an eye exam at Costco
Costco gave me a date for an eye exam, but it was weeks away.
In a pinch, I was using a cheap pair of “reader” glasses my wife Tracy had. But those readers are pink and black, so when I wore them I would look like this T.V. personality from England:
Arriving at the Costco appointment
The day for my 3:30 P.M. Costco eye exam finally arrived. I took a shower, the first in quite a while. I thought about what to wear to the exam. This was my first eye exam. Finally, I just decided to wear what I would to a haircut. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard. I also wore my more staid, dark blue Addidas Samoas rather than my new Snakeskin Addidas Stan Smiths.
Arriving at Costco, it was packed with people like it always is. It seems like it's even more crowded now. Like everyone is thinking, “if I’m gonna get a dread disease grocery shopping, at least let me be getting snow crab legs at Costco.” That’s what I’m thinking anyway.
I did not relish spending time in a warehouse full of people who had time to shop at 3:30 P.M. on a Tuesday. These days, you have to assume that everywhere you go, somebody there has COVID. Looking around the parking lot, to me, some of these people definitely looked like they already had the disease.
Showing my Costco membership card to the lady at the front entrance, I walked into the warehouse, holding my breath under my disposable blue mask. I kept six feet away from everyone in the electronics section looking at the big screen T.V.s and wireless waterproof boom boxes.
I know the layout of Costco like the back of my hand. Costco is one of my favorite places on Earth when there’s not a pandemic going on. I knew that to get to the desk in the front of the store where they sell the glasses, I had to run the gauntlet through the hundreds of people standing in long lines waiting to go through the checkout stands.
I held my breath again and speed-walked like I was on hot coals. When I felt like my head was going to explode, I picked up the pace and jogged through an unused check stand. I almost made it clean, but then I connected eyes with an employee who seemed to be looking at me disappointed. I slowed to a walk and felt a tinge of guilt. There’s just so much ambiguity. I wish they would post a sign about whether you’re allowed to go through the empty check stand or not. How else are you supposed to get to the front of the store?
The eyeglasses desk-busy
The eyeglasses desk was as busy as the floor of the stock exchange. There were packs of customers waving their arms up and down at a flustered team of employees behind the desk. They had one of those old-school red dispensers from which you pull a number out of it to get a place in line for service.
I approached the dispenser, and as I pulled the ticket, I thought, Damn, I wish I was at the deli pulling a ticket in the bakery section to get a Black and White cookie. That’s the only other place I could think of that still uses the ‘ole tickee tickee system.
An employee evidently saw me pull the ticket because he broke from the melee at the desk and spoke to me.
“What do you want?” said the employee, who looked like Steve Jobs. Young Steve Jobs. He had a real attitude, this guy.
I was back on my heels for a second because he really asked me just like that. It was kind of abrupt. I guess I would be pissed off too if I worked in this super spreader warehouse all day too.
“I’m here for an eye exam,” I said.
“You gotta go over there,” said the aggressive employee.
I followed his arm, down his hand to his finger, pointing to a tiny “medical office” where there looked to be about 8 to 10 people all crammed together behind a sliding glass door.
The optometry office looked like it had been set up as an experiment by the government to see how quickly a person could get COVID. Like a test for time, not distance.
I approached the optometry office and pressed my face against the glass to look inside at the guinea pigs. A woman in full medical scrubs, with a plastic shield over her face and double face masks over her mouth, poked her head out of the gerbil tank.
“May I help you?” she asked, her voice muffled under all the layers of protection.
“I’m here for an eye exam at 3:30 P.M.,” I said.
“Have a seat there,” she said, pointing at a plastic chair, which was outside of the terrarium, thank God.
She came back out of the contagion room and handed me a clipboard with a few forms to fill out.
Filling out the forms-tricky
Most of the questions on the form were easy to answer. The form asked me about my medical background.
Operations?- I wrote “No” even though I’ve had broken bones where they had to put me under.
Eye surgeries?- “No”
Serious medical conditions?-
Wait. Should I tell them I got exposed to TB by the host family I lived with during my Junior year of college in Spain in 1989?
That’s probably not necessary, I decided. “No,” I wrote.
Then there were questions that asked:
1) Why are you here? _____ Glasses _____ Contacts _____ Both _____Other _____
2) Have you had an eye exam before? ______Yes _______No
For the second question, I checked “No,” I had not had an eye exam before. But the first question caused me to pause. I checked the box “Glasses,” but then I had to think about “Other.”
I debated whether to write down that I have been experiencing tunnel vision. Over the last five years, I’ve experienced symptoms where my eyes sort of go hay-wire and succumb to kaleidoscopic fireworks show that lasts for a few minutes. When it first started happening, it was scary, but then I sort of got used to it. It only happened once every six months.
During the last year, however, and especially over the last 6 weeks, the kaleidoscope over my eyes was occurring much more frequently and staying for as long as 15 to 20 minutes. I became concerned and started researching things on the internet like “Macular degeneration,” “Pre-Diabetic Retinopathy,” and other exotic eye conditions.
I held the pen to the paper and ran through a parade of horribles in my mind.
If I write down that I have tunnel vision, will this one day be used against me? Like, to take my driver’s license away from me? What if I want to travel in space? Will this form come back to bite me in the ass me during the Space-X interview? Or what if they ask me to be on the Supreme Court? Will this come out during the confirmation hearing?
I decided to write down, “I’ve been having tunnel vision-like symptoms.” Better to give a qualified full disclosure to the doctors, so we don’t miss an important diagnosis.
A minute later, I thought about what a dummy I was. I could have just told the doctor about my “tunnel vision” without writing it down. Should I cross it out? Won’t that look worse? That’s my problem. I’m always too honest.
The lady in the Hazmat suit came back for the clipboard and the forms. She shot my forehead with a thermometer gun. My temperature was normal because she moved on to the next steps.
“Have you had COVID, or any symptoms like fever, or chills . . .” she asked.
“No, not really,” I said.
“Okay, come in here now,” said the woman, directing me into the E.T. The Extraterrestrial optometry office room.
Inside the small office, there were two other examination rooms. So counting the two (2) optometrists in those rooms, who were meeting with two (2) patients, combined with the employees working at desks(4–5)and other patients like me waiting to be seen in the outside area (2–3), there were about twelve (12)of us now in a space as big as one of those Subway Sandwiches they have inside gas stations sometimes.
It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs!
The nice female employee in the Chernobyl outfit gave me a series of tests, all of which were kinda fun, except one.
First, she had me look into a device that looked like the futuristic binoculars Luke Skywalker used to search for R2-D2 and C-3PO in the first Star Wars movie.
Inside these space-binoculars was a psychedelic desert landscape scene, where a stretch of road with broken yellow lines went off into the distance. At the end of the road was a hot air balloon lifting off. Sometimes the balloon was blurry. Other times it was sharp and crisp, depending on how the lady manipulated the buttons on her side of the binoculars. The whole exercise was so surreal that the Star Wars Disco song by Meco started playing in my head, and I couldn’t make it stop.
I should have asked her specifically what the binocular test was for because now I could explain it to you. I also regret not making a “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for” joke. I bet she’s never heard that before, and I would have gotten a big laugh.
Glamour shots-kinda painful
The Hazmat Lady next had me press my face against a big white piece of equipment where I had to put my eye up to a peephole and “look for the ‘X.’ I felt like I was pushing my head against a toilet bowl tank.
At first, I couldn’t see anything. It felt like I was staring into one of those science exhibits at the Rueben H. Fleet Space Museum, where you strain to see a fuzzy hologram of the planet Jupiter. You know, the museum where you have to go with your kids when they’re too small to take any place really fun.
“You have to put your chin on that groove, and your forehead on that pad,” said the Hazmat Lady.
I guess I have a misshapen head because it took me a lot of adjusting to finally see the “X” in the peephole. I felt like I was kissing the Blarney Stone.
I knew I’d got it right when the ‘X’ turned from red to green. It gave me a real sense of accomplishment when the light turned green, and I got really good at it. Little did I know the lady was setting me up for what came next.
“Okay, good. Now when the light turns green, there will be a bright flash because I’m taking a photo of your eye,” said the lady.
I made the “X” turn green, then suddenly a bright flash exploded into my eye so bright that I could see all the blood vessels and floaters in my eyeball. Although I would not call it painful, it was not a pleasant sensation. I’ve definitely felt better at other times in my life. The lady took about five photos of my right eye, then the left. It was my least favorite part of the exam so far.
Time for the Jeopardy “Daily Double”
The Chernobyl Lady moved me to a new machine.
“Now we’re going to test your peripheral vision,” she said.
She handed me a clicker device connected to the machine with a wire.
“Look into the scope, and use this clicker to click the button whenever you see a white dot. No matter where the white dot appears, click when you see it. Sometimes it will be straight ahead. Sometimes it’s off to the side,” she explained.
White dots started popping up all around the field of vision, up top, down below, to the left, to the right. I started clicking like mad. Then a vision of the Saturday Night Live comedian playing Sean Connery on Jeopard popped into my head, and I lost focus.
“Your Motha, Trebek,” I muttered under my breath as I clicked away on the clicker.
“Okay, you’re done. Good job,” said the lady.
I (can’t) see for miles, and miles, and miles
The examination room door opened.
“Are you, John,” said the new optometrist lady.
She was Asian, very petite, and equipped with all the same protective gear as Chernobyl Lady.
“Yes, yes I am,” I said.
“Well, come inside here. I’ve sanitized the chair,” she said.
I looked into the small room and saw a big Optometrist chair. This was my first time, and I was only used to dentist chairs.
“Have a seat,” she said, ushering me into the chair.
I sat down.
“Now it says here you are here for eyeglasses. Have you ever had glasses before?”
“No, this is my first eye examination.”
“Oh, okay. So what I’m going to do is have you look at the eye chart up there on the wall,” she said.
It was a digital eye chart on a small computer screen. It was not like the old eye charts I remember from the DMV and the Bugs Bunny cartoons of my youth.
“Can you read the bottom line?” she asked.
The bottom line was tiny. The only letter out of the five that I could really make out was “H.”
“D, K, H, L or B, K,” I said.
“Okay, not bad,” she said.
“Did I get ’em right? I was guessing on a few,” I said.
She did not tell me which ones I missed or got right.
There’s only you and me and we just disagree
“What I want to do next is have you look into this machine,” she said, pulling the machine in front of my face.
“You have astigmatism in your right eye that affects your ability to see long distance,” the optometrist said.
“Okay,” I said.
“But you’re really interested in being able to read up close, right?” she asked.
“And be able to use a computer, right?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “How did you know?”
“Just a guess,” she said. “How far away is your computer screen from your face?” she said, holding her hand out like it was my computer screen. Her hand seemed way too close to me.
“Um, it’s farther away than that,” I said.
“Like this?” she said.
She moved her hand farther away. But the way she said it made it seem like I was an idiot. Like there was no way the screen could be that far away from my face. Now I doubted myself.
What she did not know is that I use a laptop as my “home computer,” and I use a wireless keyboard. The screen is actually quite far away from my face. I tried to explain it to her.
“Well, is it like this ?” she said, moving her hand farther away.
“Like this,” I said, showing her with my own hand and indicating slightly closer to my face.
“Like that?!” she said, again emphasizing the words, such that I felt like an idiot and that I had to be wrong.
“Like this,” I said, slightly adjusting where my hand was, to a little bit farther away.
“I thought you said it was like this?” she said, putting her hand where my hand had been before.
Now I was totally confused and demoralized. Really, when I thought about it, the screen seemed much farther away from where either my hand or hers was.
“Like this?” she said, holding her hand flat, like a computer screen.
“Yes, yes. Like that,” I said, discouraged and resigned. I don’t think we had the distance right. But I wanted to move on.
Welcome to the machine
“Look at the eye chart again. Can you read the bottom line?” she said, with a tiny tinge of frustration in her voice.
The line of letters was really small. Again the only letter I could be certain of was the ‘H.’ I guessed the rest of the letters.
“Okay. Now we’re going to use the machine,” said the optometrist.
She swung the eye machine in front of me. The thing that looks like the binocular contraption you put coins in to look at the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty.
“I’m going to try different lenses, and I want you to tell me which ones you like better, okay?” she said.
She began sliding all these lenses over my eyes.
“Do you like 1 . . . or 3?” she asked.
“1,” I said.
“2, . . . . or 4?” she asked.
“4,” I answered.
“6, . . . . or 8? . . . 3, or 7? . . . 5, or 9?” she asked, more insistently.
It went on and on and on.
“Wait a second. Is the machine fogging up?” she asked.
It’s getting hot in herre
Both eye holes were filled with fog from my breath, coming up from the two masks over my mouth.
“Oh Boy, it is all fogged up!” she said, grabbing a wipe and reaching in to wipe the fog off the lenses.
“Have you just been calling out the number when the lens was less foggy?!” she asked.
“Yes. Yes, I think that’s what I was doing,” I answered, shamefully.
“Because none of your responses are making any sense,” she said.
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time for that, har-har,” I joked.
She did not laugh.
“Is there any way you can pinch the metal clip on your mask to prevent the machine from fogging up?”
I pinched the metal part of the mask, but the machine kept fogging up whenever I breathed. So I tried to hold my breath.
“I gotta tell you. I’m the kind of person who gives off a lot of heat. Like when I get in a car, I fog my side of the car right up,” I explained.
I guess it would have been easier to just say I was overweight.
She started asking me which number I liked best again. I was holding my breath, so I had to answer her like a ventriloquist, barely opening my mouth.
“2,” I said through my clenched teeth.
I started to get a headache after a minute or two.
That’s when I noticed that it looked like the optometrist only had one hand.
What am I complaining about?
I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t noticed earlier that the optometrist only had one hand. To be honest, she was covered in so much gear, I’m still not sure if she really did have just one hand. But just like the Star War Disco song in my head, I was distracted again.
With the flu mask fogging the lenses, the Star Wars song, and this one hand thing, I was a mess. It was impossible for me to focus on the questions she was asking me about my vision. This is at least as tough as a dental appointment, where he talks to you and expects you to talk back.
She resumed calling out the numbers of the lenses.
“2, . . . or 6?” she asked.
I wonder if she lost her hand in a traumatic accident or whether it was congenital.
“2,” I said, not really knowing if the 2 was better than the 6.
Like Austin Powers, when he can’t stop saying “mole” to the fellow with the mole on his face.
What am I even here complaining about? My vision is not that bad. This lady lost her hand. Or never had one.
She was asking me more questions.
I had to slap myself and get back into the examination.
Let’s go old school
She brought out a fancy device that looked like some futuristic steampunk set of eyeglasses.
“Let’s use the old-fashioned device,” she said.
This was the device they used when Abe Lincoln was getting glasses.
She told me to cover my left eye. I did.
“2, or 4?” she asked.
“5, or 8?”
I fogged up this new eyeglass device too, but I didn’t tell her because I did not want to make her mad. I really was trying my hardest not to screw up the prescription she was going to give me for glasses.
Damn Coronavirus and these masks! I’m definitely going to get the wrong prescription glasses.
My sunglasses always fog up. Like I told her, I’m famous for fogging up cars too. If I get in your car on a cold morning, all bundled up in a jacket or raincoat, my side of the car will fog up in no time.
The boy with kaleidoscope eyes
“I see here on the form you wrote that you’re experiencing ‘tunnel vision,’” she said.
“Yes, but I was thinking about taking that back if I could,” I said.
“Well, why don’t you explain what caused you to write that?” she said.
I explained it.
“Is it like a kaleidoscope sort of effect?” she asked.
“Yes, exactly!” I said, astonished. “Is it serious? Am I going to die?”
“Well, do you have diabetes?” she asked.
“No. Not yet. But look at me. I’m like the walking definition of pre-diabetes,” I admitted.
“Well, if you haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes yet, what you have is called ocular migraines. Do you get migraine headaches? she asked.
“No. I mean, Tracy and the kids drive me nuts, but no migraine headaches,” I said, wanting to be as truthful as possible.
“Yes, well, what you have is called ‘ocular migraines.’ You’re very lucky not to have the headaches that usually come with these,” she said.
So I don’t have tunnel vision. I have a kaleidoscopic vision. Interesting.
“What do I do to make my little eye headaches go away?” I asked.
“See if any food or activities set them off and avoid those. Like too much caffeine. Otherwise, you just have to sit back and enjoy them until they pass.”
Guess I’ll have to stop drinking 6 cups of coffee every morning. Sorry, Juan Valdez.
The eyes are the windows to the soul-scary
The optometrist lady showed me the photos of my eyeballs. They were huge. It looked like this:
She pointed to all these blotches on the films and explained what it all meant. I nodded and pretended I saw what she was saying, just like when Tracy showed me ultrasounds of the boys.
“You have no macular degeneration, no diabetic retinopathy, you just have astigmatism in your right eye where hard to see long-distance and age-related difficulty reading,” said the optometrist.
Whew. That sounds alright.
“How about that?! Sounds like my eyes are the healthiest part of my body,” I said.
Again, no laughs.
“I’m going to give you two prescriptions. This one is for a set of glasses you could walk around wearing, to see better far away and to read better up close. And this second prescription would just be for glasses to wear while using your computer. Any questions?” she asked.
Jesus. I’m gonna have to walk around like a harmonica player with suspenders holding all my glasses.
I can see clearly now
“Can I screw up my eyes up even more by just wearing off-the-rack reading glasses?” I asked her.
“The short answer is . . . no,” she said.
Good, I don’t have time to get the prescriptions filled now. I got more important things to do anyway.
I got up to leave. I reached out to shake her hand but pulled my hand back quick enough for her not to see.
I did not get the prescriptions for the glasses filled out right there at Costco. I didn’t want to deal with that MacIntosh era Steve Jobs dude. Plus, I was on a tight schedule.
Instead, I went and got a huge rotisserie chicken, a lasagna and the jumbo Caeser salad they sell at Costco.
I wanted to race home and eat the chicken before I had to pick up Son #1 and shuttle him over to one of his friend’s houses for a COVID “drive-by birthday party”- the ones where you honk your horns and piss off all the neighbors.
I went home with just enough time to devour half of the chicken like a circus geek. Good thing I got the food instead of the glasses because they made us wait half an hour around the corner from the kid’s house before they told us to drive by and honk. I would have been twice as pissed off if I wasn’t completely stuffed and satisfied while we sat.
When I finally got back to my desk in the Man Cave, I realized that the optometrist and I got all it all wrong, and the computer screen is much farther away than we estimated in her office.
My advice if you have an eye exam coming up
Before you got to Costco for an eye exam in this time of COVID, you better practice the following skills to get your prescription lenses right and avoid fogging up the optometrist’s machine:
-Measure how far away you sit from the computer you use the most
-Practice holding your breath for like, two or three minutes at a time;
-Take ventriloquist lessons; or
-Learn sign language; or
Make flashcards with the numbers 1–20 on them that you can hold up when she asks you which lens is best.
© Jack Clune 2020