Eye Doctor Without Eye Contact

Dec 16, 2010
*Special to asia!

Making eye contact isn't urging a threat. It's just human. So what's the challenge? Or perhaps the simpler but more difficult question is, why not?

"Keep your head straight." He instructed. "Head straight." He reiterated firmly. I suppose mom's head wasn't quite as straight as he liked. "Don't lean back." His eyes on the other end of the scope now, peering into mom's eyes. Then, "Don't lean back." He peered from around his scope, then stretched his hand out around the back of mom's head and pushed her forehead against a brace on the scope. He returned back to his end of the scope.

He looked around her eye for awhile. Made a few notes. Thought quietly to himself. All this while, mom waited on her stool for another fragment of instructions from the doctor who was probably so tired he didn't really want to see another patient. But this was his job. Not to work with eyes. But with people. A few more notes were made before he reached for some eye drops and as he walked towards mother and asked her to look up with her eyes open, he informed her that the eye drops were to make her pupils dialate and that her vision would be blurred for the next eight hours. As if the woman didn't have anything else to get uncomfortable about. But it couldn't be helped.

As we sat waiting outside the doctor's room, mom asked if the doctor was annoyed that I was present. It was good to know I wasn't the only one that picked up his brusque and impatient demeanour.

"I guess he's just tired." I said, then added, "He's probably wondering why he has to work with people when he went to school to study eyes."

Then mom suggested, "Maybe he feels stressed that you're sitting there not saying anything and watching him. Maybe he's uncomfortable."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"Maybe when we go in later I'll go in first, then call out to you from inside, so he knows that I'm the one that wants you in there so he won't feel so pressured."

"Yeah. Maybe we'll do that." It was good to know that mom managed some sense of humour despite the circumstances.

Four hours later, at 6 a.m. mom's pupils were finally sufficiently dilated. She was called back into the doctor's room.

Whether the questions came from me or my mom, the doctor answered them while keeping his eyes traced on some invisible critter that was crawling on his desk or on the floor. As we asked our questions, "What should we look out for?" He would nod at his desk and reply, "Like I just said. If the flashes get worse, go to a doctor immediately." Perhaps he could only contend with eyes if he was looking through a scope. Perhaps working on eyes for him was a form of therapy - to overcome his fear of making eye contact. Hey, after six hours in an Emergency ward I'm allowed to be a little cranky.

"All right. Thanks." That was all I could muster.

"Thank you very much doctor." My mom was trying to show some gratitude to make his day better. But he didn't have a thing to say as we thanked him and left his room.

My mom left the hospital just a little less stressed than when she went in. The doctor had made no attempt to ease her nerves, just left her with advice she could have picked up from the web - If the situation gets worse, go to a doctor.

I was not pleased. But I was also tired. So I gave it a rest for that night, or morning, rather.

I shared the incident with a friend who used to be a paramedic and who was often in and out of Emergency wards. I wondered if I was being too demanding of the doctor.

"May be he was just really tired from surgery." I was trying to me empathetic.

"Regardless. A doctor's bedside manners are important." My friend ressured me.

All mom has to do now and sit tight and wait for her eyes to act up again. Then we get to repeat all of the above one more time. With more adrenaline maybe. But the waiting bothered me less than the doctor who was unable to give some from of acknowledgement to his distressed patient.

A few days later, I was waiting at a bus stop. My bus arrived, but because there was already a bus in the bus bay, my bus pulled up just behind and outside of the bus bay. I decided to walk to the door. I got to the door. Stood there. Looked at the bus driver. I was wondering if perhaps he hadn't seen me, which would explain why the door were still closed. Then, as I continued to look toward him for some acknowledgement, he raised his hand, finger pointed, and made a huge, abrupt, and by very reasonable perception, rude, gesture toward the bus stop now one bus-length away from where I was standing. There was nothing much I could do if he didn't want to open the door, so I walked back to where the bus in the front was stopped and waited for my bus to pull up alongside me. When he finally did, and the door opened, I boarded the bus with my eyes on the bus driver. "C'mon, turn your head so I can smile at you." I thought to myself. I usually smile at the drivers as I board the bus. I think most of them appreciate it. But this one kept a game face on and his eyes dead ahead at the distant horizon. I felt a little agitated, but I also felt sorry for the situation. This man had a mission: To not like his job.

Perhaps in an island with 4.5 million people, you really don't want to look someone in the eye. Yet in many more populated nations, I found that people on the street could look me in the eye. It's not a threat, it's just human. Why this phenomenon here? And with people in industries that interact with other people? Perhaps the only way to find out is to sign up for a job I never really planned to sign up for.

debby ngDebby Ng forayed into journalism following failed attempts at becoming a world-class equestrian. A wildlife crime investigator, underwater photographer, dive master and founder of a marine conservation organisation, she spends what remains of her time writing about the environment, its wildlife, and its people.

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