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    Did I choose optometry, or did optometry choose me?

    Sometimes people ask me, “How did you choose optometry?” Considering all of the close encounters I had with eyecare professionals in my youth, you’d think my career choice would have been as definitive as a Blake Griffith slam dunk. But that’s not the way it happened.

     

    My career as a patient

    In fourth grade, the school nurse conducting the vision screening looked at me and said, “You failed.” It was a poor choice of words. I’d never failed anything in my life, and she made me mad. But by the time I saw the young ophthalmologist my parents took me to, I’d settled down. He reassured me that soon I would be able to “see the leaves on the trees,” and he was right—even if I did look like a chubby Buddy Holly in a polyester leisure suit.

    More from Dr. Brown: The first doctor is often the smartest

    A few years and several diopters later, I’d taken up tennis. I blamed my weak second serve on the way my glasses fogged with sweat and slipped down my face. My idol Arthur Ashe had ditched his heavy plastic frames for contact lenses by then, so I begged my parents for a pair and promised them a cut of my future professional winnings.

    This time they took me to an optometrist. She was very nice, and she practiced in an office with a green sign on the outside that said, “Pearle Vision.” She told me that I had this disease called “astigmatism” and that the soft contact lenses I was dead set on wouldn’t cure it. “Everything will be blurrier than with your glasses,” she warned.

    But I didn’t care. The way I looked at it, I didn’t need to read the writing on the ball—I just needed to get it over the net and between the lines.

    By the time I was a freshman in college, I had graduated to hard, PMMA contact lenses. They felt like rocks at first, but once the oxygen deprivation kicked in, it wasn’t so bad. I saw great with them. I played tennis, ran, swam, and waterskied in them, all without losing a single one. But one day when I was coming out of chapel into the bright sunlight, I blinked a little too hard, and out popped one like a watermelon seed pinched between your fingers.

    The sidewalk was packed with students, so I screamed “EVERYBODY STOP! I’VE LOST MY CONTACT!” and held out my hands like Moses parting the Red Sea. To my amazement, it worked. Several people got down on their hands and knees to help me look. Despite the bad odds, a pretty coed in a nice-fitting pair of Calvin Kleins called out, “Found it!”

    She handed it to me, but I had hardly muttered “Thanks,” before she took off faster than Joan Jett (I think she was a senior). I “reconditioned” it with a little saliva, popped it in my eye, and off I went to microbiology.

    Next: A few referrals later 

    Michael Brown, OD, MHS-CL, FAAO
    Dr. Brown has practiced medical optometry in a comanagement center and with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in ...

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