Better or worse? These words are familiar to anyone who’s ever had a refraction or given a refraction. Yet having my vision tested fills me with anxiety. Perhaps because it is a test that I can’t study for and in fact, often fail.
I get a sinking feeling in my stomach as I read down through the Snellen chart, and each successive line gets more blurry. Is that an “n” or an “m”? An “o” or a “2”? At some point, I find myself guessing.
As I peer at the chart, I usually get too close to the photopter and fog up the lens with my breath. “Sorry,” I tell my doc. “That’s OK,” he reassures me while wiping the lens clean with a tissue. “That happens to everyone.” Somehow I doubt it.
But getting back to the question of better or worse. Sometimes I just can’t decide between A or B. They seem about the same. Yet one is supposed to let me see more clearly, isn’t it? The fact that I often can’t see the difference, though, makes me doubt myself. It also makes me distrust the test. What if A is really better than B, but I chose B? Now I’ll have a prescription based on that choice, and lenses that I’ll have to live with for a while. And that makes me anxious too.
When it’s all over, my doctor hands me my prescription, and I can see in black and white what I already knew: My vision is a little worse than it was a year ago. It’s not good news, but I have to accept it.
I suspect many people have similar feelings about getting their vision tested, but few discuss those feelings with their doctor, either out of politeness or because they believe it won’t matter. And I suspect that for some ODs, refractions have become so routinized that they aren’t thinking about how their patient might feel.
Maybe it’s time for optical professionals to find a way to make the refraction a better experience for the patient, one that the patient can feel good about and ultimately believe in.