A Visit to the Optometrist


Optical Refractor for Optometrists

I’ve been wearing, getting tested for and buying claiming healthcare on glasses since I was two years of age and just a young toddler in ‘childcare’, or what others would call pre-school. Perhaps its a mark of these last 20 years for me to be so surprised today when I saw the new technology available to current and budding optometrists when I accompanied my boyfriend to his eye exam and to purchase his new pairs of glasses this evening.

The then...

All those years ago in a small optometrists’ in Burwood, a kind, young Chinese man tested the eyes of a young girl. It’s those days I still remember when I think of the optometrist, as he shone a light in my eyes while slowly twisting a dial for magnification, telling me to focus on the wall behind him. He would consult a large box of lenses, picking out correct ones to place into the refractor before doing the whole ‘Is 1 or 2 clearer?’ test with me.

As time went on and my optometrist moved to Mount Druitt with the rest of the small business, we went with them — it’s difficult to find a good optometrist who speaks good Cantonese these days. It became a yearly affair to get our eyes tested, as we would go out for lunch, get our eyes tested, then go shopping — not necessarily in that order.

They upgraded to a newer optical reflector, or phoropter, in those days. It was still very largely manual with the large arrays of cylinders covering the optometrist-facing front of the machine and non-descript on the patient-facing side as to not scare you presumedly as much as it was a practical matter. I always imagined myself as wearing a massive pair of extremely heavy, inflexible and awkward glasses whenever I was tested with this machine.

My patient, kind Chinese optometrist fiddled with dials and turned lenses into place, changing cylinders around with precision. Unlike my description here which certainly isn’t written with precision and simply written from what I can remember of that time, while sitting behind the machine — masked from a lot of what my dear optometrist was doing.

And the now...

Ever since we changed optometrists back to a local one just a few years ago however, although I’ve been tested several times I have not had the opportunity to watch a test in progress, which was what I was able to observe today, as I spectated the eye exam… pun intended.

The efficient way the optometrist simply pressed a few buttons on a touchscreen to switch over lenses in the ‘Smart Refractor’, a Nidek RT-5100 Refractor, and the way it automatically produced a measurement for the prescription spoke volumes.

No light was required to be switched off to plunge the room into darkness in order to better see the content reflected on a mirror screwed to the door, and the machine very quietly (comparitively) and efficiently switched lenses over. The optometrist was able to even multitask during the whole process, looking at photographs of the retina as she did the test while previously this would have been a very involved process requiring much more concentration.

It’s a mark of how far we can come in only 20 years, as the optometrist even explained several things from her iPad Mini loaded up with the images she had been looking at. We are even more curious than we have ever been, patients now being party to information that would have probably been left to the expertise of the optometrist before. Or perhaps I was simply too young to notice.

... killed the cat

I took note of the testing room full of instruments today, from the refractor, touchscreen as well as the other devices I don’t know the names of; noting that they were all of ‘Nidek’ branded, a Japanese sales and service company of ophthalmic, surgical and diagnostic devices. I have great respect for Japanese quality, so this greatly reassured me.

Looking through their product list however, it’s fascinating to see this new technology and amazing to see it in action today, my eyes were probably round as saucers as I watched, though neither of the other two people in the room would have noticed. I could swear I was still sitting down to a phoropter only 10 months ago when I received my current pair of glasses after the traditional yearly test. Would I have noticed this device earlier if I were still doing the six-monthly eye tests that I vaguely recall we used to do before my eyes stablised themselves in high school?

I find myself wandering this evening why I never pursued a career in optometry, given my interest in it and my genetic weaknesses which means a family of glasses-donners and a mountain of old frames and lenses. Of course, for one I’m always queasy when it comes to seeing the insides of living things, but the optometrists’ friendly manner and a chance to people is all too inviting. You never know though, it might not be too late.

Nonetheless, optometrists will always be friendly and warm people to me. It’s amazing what first impressions can do to colour someone’s impression of optometrists forever. They are a big part in my life, and I thank each and every one that has helped me throughout the years.

Featured image from the public domain.