Last week, as I was heading to bed, I glanced out the front window and saw what I thought was lightning off to the left. There did not seem to be a storm, but a couple of seconds later, more flashes of light. And again. I shook my head and completed my downstairs circuit of the house. More flashes as I walked into the family room to say goodnight to my partner and his son. A few more as I stood at the bathroom sink brushing my teeth.
Strange, I thought but, because I am generally a fairly optimistic person, I decided that whatever I was seeing would probably be fixed by a good night’s sleep. No such luck: I awoke to light flashes and what I have come to learn are called floaters in my left eye.
A faint bell of recognition started to ring at the back of my head: A close friend had had similar symptoms some months before, so I had a general sense of what might be up.
Off to my friend google for some early morning research, where I learned that light flashes and floaters are common symptoms of torn or detached retinas, which, google told me, should be treated as a medical emergency.
I am not a worrier about my health generally, but the thought of losing my sight terrified me, so I made an immediate trip to the emergency department at the hospital and emerged some hours later with an appointment at the urgent care ophthalmology clinic for the next afternoon. There, I learned that my retina was neither torn nor detached. Turns out, my eyes are getting old.
Obviously, the fact that my body is getting old did not come as a surprise to me. I turned 64 earlier this summer. Just in case I might have forgotten that I am well past middle age, shortly after my birthday I got a notice from the federal government letting me know that I will begin receiving my Old Age Security in a year. (I did think a year’s advance notice was unnecessarily cruel.)
My knees creak. Well, actually, my knees snap. Crackle and pop and sometimes just don’t want to work. I have insomnia. And on goes the list.
If you, too, are ageing, you know what happens. If you are not yet at that point in your life, you don’t need to hear my litany of complaints, which, thankfully, are pretty minor.
What I do want to complain about is how I was treated by the ever-so-young male resident who treated me at the ophthalmology clinic.
Anticipating the arrogance that too many medical professionals demonstrate, I tried to prepare well for my appointment.
First step: Dress up rather than down in order to be taken seriously and treated with respect. I abandoned my casual work-at-home-in-the-hot-summer attire in favour of a casual but somewhat professional looking ensemble, I put my hair up and I donned some jewellery.
Second step: Bring a notebook and pen for note-taking and looking serious.
Third step: Enter the examining room with a smile on my face and confidence in my step.
The old lady box
All to no avail. I am convinced that as soon as I walked into the room, the resident ticked off a mental box of “old lady” in his head and proceeded to treat me as a bit of a doddering old thing throughout my appointment.
I tried to put us on something of an equal footing during our introductions. I put out my hand, told him my name and asked him for his. He introduced himself as Dr. X, but I insisted, in the friendliest of ways, that since he knew my first name I should know his. He, reluctantly I think, shared it with me.
But an equal footing is hard to maintain when you are lying almost flat on your back, nearly blind from eye drops, so I abandoned my attempts in that direction and decided I would settle for some kindness. Sadly, that seemed to be in short supply.
My medical problem was a simple one; not life threatening, not even, as I eventually learned, vision threatening, but that is no excuse for being treated dismissively. I have no complaints about the quality of the medical treatment I received. The eye examination was thorough and the diagnosis clear. I am satisfied that I have accurate information about what is happening to my eye.
Is kindness too much to want?
It was the resident’s dismissiveness that left me troubled. It may well be that the problem with my eye is nothing more than part of the ageing process, but this was upsetting news to me nonetheless, so a little compassion would not have been out of order.
And, when I found myself standing in the hospital lobby, so blinded by eye drops that I could not see well enough to call a cab to take me home, I felt just like the doddering old lady the resident had taken me for a couple of hours earlier.
When I’m sixty-four, indeed.