I wrote this piece by shouting at my phone as I worked around the house. Forgive me if it makes little sense, it is what came out of my mouth and, believe me, what comes out of there is almost always utter nonsense…
I am of an age when my entire life is punctuated by routine medical appointments. Blood is syringed, its pressure measured, its health assessed. I am, myself, measured and weighed. At times, the piss is taken. It seems that when you pass sixty, you become something of a hobby for the medical profession. A case of, ‘Everything is ok at the moment, but let’s just keep an eye on him, because sooner or later, something is bound to go very very wrong indeed.’ I am prodded more often than a pregnant woman’s stomach in an old folk’s home. My blood pressure, faced with the knowledge that it is about to be measured, goes through the roof. One tiny pin-prick at such an inopportune moment could probably spread my entire contents over several miles. I am a pressure cooker, and what I am cooking is doom… Until I am told that everything is ok, and then I am sunshine, with the slight cloud of, ‘see you next year’ and the intermittent showers of, ‘by the way, do you take any form of formal exercise?’
I wear contact lenses, because my (proper) job is very difficult without them – I realise that it may come as something as a surprise to some of you to find that I am not a full-time failure. For eight hours a day, I am quite proficient at what I do, e.g. what I am told. Today was the day of my annual contact lens after-care appointment. Nothing problematic in that you are thinking, and how right you would be, if only I was somebody else, but I am not and so, sadly, it is indeed a big deal.
Let’s start at the beginning. I was early. I am always early. I was invited to take a seat while I waited. I sat and I waited. I’m good at waiting. I do a lot of it. After a while, the ophthalmologist appeared. ‘Mr McQueen?’ he enquired.
‘Yes,’ I replied.
‘Would you like to follow me?’
I stood and turned around to pick up my bag and coat and when I turned back, he was gone. Where? Manically I looked around for some indication, perhaps a giant illuminated arrow that I could follow. In a panic, not quite yet bordering on hysterical, I lurched into a corridor full of doors. Right, well, this had to be the right way, but which door was mine? An open one surely. I stood confused until, eventually an ophthalmic face appeared from a distant doorway. ‘Mr McQueen?’ he said. I followed him into the room. ‘Take a seat,’ he indicated a swivel chair parked back against the far wall. I took a seat. It was very high. ‘Ah yes,’ he said. ‘My last patient was six. I can adjust it easily. Just have a look in the mirror on the other wall. Can you see the chart?’ I could. ‘I think the height is fine then,’ he said. Great, my eye-level is the same as a six year old. Never mind, I could read a long way down the chart without problem, so that was cool. Then came the bit with the numbers on a half red, half green background. ‘Which are the clearest?’ he asked. So, come on, can anybody actually see which is clearer than the other? I muttered something about them both being the same. He dropped a lens in front of one eye. ‘Now?’ he asked. Still the same. ‘Oh,’ he said, sucking his teeth, ‘Right.’ He turned to the computer and began to type something that developed into a novella.
‘Right,’ he turned his chair towards me, ‘Let’s have a look at your eyes.’ Now, you might think me wrong, but as far as I’m concerned, at this stage the ophthalmologist has to get far closer than anybody should ever get unless they are going to kiss you. I am not comfortable with it. I concentrate on not breathing through my mouth. Anyway, we did the usual things: look up, look down, look left, look right, and I did my usual thing – I have absolutely no idea why, under pressure, I do not know my left from my right – but he was very patient, and then we did the dye in the eye bit – I do not have the faintest idea why I can’t keep my eyes open when I need to – forgive me, someone pokes a strip of paper into my eye and the lid slams shut like a buffed-up clam, I can’t stop it. Anyhow, we got there in the end and everything was fine. Eyes healthy, two of them, both where they should be, everything correct. With a sigh that sounded like a punctured bouncy castle I reached for my coat – too soon.
‘So, Mr McQueen, do you wear your lenses in the shower?’
‘No, never.’ (I do. Every day. If I shower first, the mirror is so misted up I can’t see to put them in.)
‘Do you ever swim in them?’
‘No, never.’ (I do. On holiday. If I don’t, I can’t even find the swimming pool.)
‘Excellent, that’s fine. We’ll see you in a year’s time.’
I made some kind of a joke about finding my own way out. He didn’t get it. Never mind, I’ll try again next year.