Monday, May 11, 2015

Snellen, you magnificent B A S T...

Time to go to the eye doctor for a checkup!

I like my eye doctor, and my vision is healthy, and his office is pleasant, and I don't need new glasses so it's not very expensive, but I always go for an exam with a little trepidation. Could it be the terrifying brochures?


Could it be the horrifying Jack Kirbyesque exam equipment?


Or is it that puff of air for the glaucoma exam that you know is coming and you know is coming and this time you are NOT going to blink you're NOT you're AUGH I BLINKED

No, I think it's that I always feel like I'm failing when I get whipped by the Snellen Chart.

Herman Snellen of the Netherlands was not the first to come up with standardized charts to test visual acuity, but his (begun c. 1860) have been the most enduring. In America, we're used to seeing (or at least seeing part of!) this:


My doctor, like most these days, uses letters displayed on a screen at different sizes for the test, but it's still Snellen through and through.

This terror of mine goes back to my days as a student, when I was alternately smart and well-prepared or lazy and clueless---either way, I hated to fail a test.

At first the questions are easy: "E! F! P! Oh, this is a cinch! Gonna ace this one."

But then it gets tricky: "D... E... uh, F? P... O..."

And then you hit the rough sledding: "F... uh.... B? No, D! No, B! Wait--- DAMMIT! B! F, definitely F, unless it's P. (They wouldn't do an F again so quickly, would they?) L... T... um, O? C? O or C? Close enough? Are there any essay questions?"

Like a video game with ever-more-difficult boards, eventually you're going to fail. You just hope not to fail quickly. It's very discouraging, and leaves me feeling doomed.


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