Thursday, June 30, 2005

E D F C Z P 6

I guess I’ve been wearing eyeglasses now for about 30 years. For a while, it seemed like every time I went in for an eye exam, it resulted in a finding that my eyesight had gotten worse. The real problem was that I have such a general dislike for doctors and all things medical that I was putting off my “annual exams” for YEARS. Even though I knew that it was highly unlikely that an optometrist was going to give me a shot, draw blood, or force me to pee in a cup- the truth of the matter was that I was always capable of finding something more enjoyable to be doing.

The majority of my eye doctors have had practices in shopping malls. My goal was to get in, read as many letters correctly as I could, select the least offensive frames (honest), and get out as quickly as possible- making a beeline for the nearest video arcade. My impression of the doctors and staff in those joints was that they’d just as soon be doing something else as well.

Just more than a year ago, I stumbled into the office of an Albuquerque eye doctor that would change the way I viewed eye care forever. Arlene Sokola, OD has been practicing in New Mexico for over 20 years, having moved here immediately after graduating from college and passing her medical boards in Philadelphia. She has a wonderful personality, and is obviously a very caring and gentle person.

UltraVISION is contained within a small, unassuming turquoise structure at 2127 Menaul Blvd. NE. If forced to make a wager, I would bet that Mike Brady designed the building during one of the lost episodes of the Brady Bunch. The interior of the building is bright with light turquoise walls and interesting ceiling panels that transitions from dark blue near the entrance to a very pale blue as you approach the exam rooms.

The first thing that struck me about the office was the fact that classic rock tunes were pumping through the air in place of the standard elevator music one expects. Next, the entire staff consists of friendly people who seem practically overjoyed that you’ve chosen to spend part of your day with them. Robin, Lindsey, Vikki and Beverly are constantly joking with each other and the clients while going about their business. As I quickly discovered, none of them would hesitate for a second to inform you that you are trying on women’s frames by accident. It’s as if they enjoy working there. Oh yeah, they don’t allow cell phones either, so maybe that’s why they aren’t cranky by the middle of each day.

UltraVISION’s waiting area is tidy and roomy. A large selection of magazines is maintained for customers who require that sort of distraction. Of course, I’m quite content just eyeballing the place after I’ve completed the necessary paperwork. A funny green ceramic vessel sits on the counter in the reception area that reads “Ashes of Problem Patients.” I decided almost immediately that I didn’t want to end up there.

Sooner or later, you are led to a small area in the back where they test your eye movement, peripheral vision and determine whether or not you are colorblind. Then you are subjected to the test I dislike more than stepping on chewing gum on a hot summer day- the glaucoma test! This is where you willingly rest your face in this brace that allows them to move in real close to your eyes (one at a time), and blast them with a puff of air that helps evaluate the pressure within your cornea and front part of the eye. Try as I might to not blink, they’d have about the same reaction from me if they were trying to jab a red-hot poker into my eye. I simply cannot cope with the knowledge that the blast is coming. Wait… wait for it… wait… don’t blink… wait…wa…BAM! Thank god we only have two eyes. All I can say is that I’m very glad I’m not a fly (as the test would be 800 times worse).

Next you are led to one of the examination rooms. Unlike the sterile exam rooms of your average optometrist, at UltraVISION you enter the intriguing world as seen by Arlene Sokola. One of the rooms is decorated in honor of Janis Joplin, and the other in honor of B.B. King. The restroom is decorated following an extremely colorful Jimmy Buffett theme. I think I like the Joplin room the best. Yes, I’m sure of it. There are a couple of dozen framed photographs, concert posters, Rolling Stone magazines, and even a gold record of the Farewell Song hanging on the walls. The posters include gigs at Freedom Hall, Fillmore West, and of course, Woodstock. One particularly groovy poster is for a Joplin appearance at Winterland 68 with Big Brother and the Holding Company. A gigantic throw rug featuring the image of Janis sitting on top of a 1965 Porsche with a completely psychedelic paint job covers a 6 by 4 foot section of one wall. That image is based on an equally impressive Jim Marshall photograph taken of Joplin in 1968 at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

The rooms also contain a comfy chair for the patient, and a bunch of neat-o optical equipment. They have a totally kool plastic scale model of a human eyeball that opens up and is used to help explain how and why the eyes do what they do. A Snellen chart is employed to determine visual acuity in each eye. Then, if you are lucky enough to have eye problems like I do, a refraction test is performed. This is when the doctor places a number of lenses in front of your eyes and asks you to read lines of progressively smaller letter in order to determine the proper prescription. The amazing thing to wrap your brain around here is that they don’t force a time limit on you to complete any of the tests. The concept is that you need to be relaxed and comfortable when you have your eyes tested, not excited, agitated, or in any way irritated. What a novel idea!

And just when you think it is all over and you can prepare to leave, the kind doctor will put magical drops in your eyes to make your pupils dilate. She does this in order to use a light and a magnifier (this deal is called a ophthalmoscope) to take a real good look at your retinas, retinal vessels, the backs of the eyes, and the optic nerve heads. Although you are instructed to look away from the magnifier, the temptation to look directly at it is overpowering. The result is a very interesting view of your own eye. You don’t earn extra points for looking away, so go ahead and take a peek.

So the next time you are in the market for a new eye doctor, I highly recommend that you give the friendly folks at UltraVISION a call. If you currently don’t have an eye doctor, I would encourage you to call them today. You can tell them I sent you if that would make you feel better. No matter what, be sure you ask Arlene to tell you about the times she has met B.B. King- and enjoy watching her face light up as she tells her stories.

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