Good enough vision

Agent L is very happy to be able to see properly again.

I’d also like to make a blanket statement, a really horrible generalization, actually, without offending anyone or starting an international crisis: Turkish optometrists suck.

When I came here I had a pair of glasses which I lost sometime last year, and the better part of a three months’ supply of contacts which I nursed for over two years. When I couldn’t put that last pair of monthlies in without wanting to scratch out my eyeballs I gave in and decided to get a new pair of glasses. Since it’d been oh, four years since I’d had my eyes examined, and since I was getting annoyed at the way letters on street signs were starting to get blurry at night, (always and forever my indication that things are going south, optically, for me) I figured I might as well get a Turkish or Turkish speaking pal to take me to the eye doctor.

It was when I was bouncing this idea around the lunch table a

t work that I had my first misgivings.

“Oh look!” I said, reading the sign on the refrigerator, ten feet away, “they’re giving teachers a discount on sandwiches now!”

“Where do you see that?” Semra, who was sitting next to me, asked.


“You can read that?!”


“I can’t read that and I just got new glasses.”

“Um, I can read that and my prescription is out of date. Actually, guys, how does one go about getting one’s eyes checked, here?”

“Oh! You should go to my eye doctor!” Semra said. “He’s really good! I’ll take you if you want.”

“Um, thanks.”

A week or so later Pinar and I went out during a break and she did all the talking for me at several glasses stores. Hints for living- Atasun is insanely expensive and they don’t have an in-house doctor. Lots of places, in fact, charged what I thought was a crazy amount for glasses, considering how cheap so much stuff is here- generic frames ran a couple hundred lira, and lenses a couple hundred more. But there’s an optik outlet right around the fish market in kadiköy that happened to be having a special on Armani frames at the time, and I got my glasses for 300TL, and lenses were only 40 on top of that. So 340TL for everything including the eye exam. Or rather, the “eye exam.”

The doctor had some kind of deal where he started working for the optik guys after six on weekdays, so I waited patiently until he was free, and then the very nice salesman walked me all of a block into an upstairs office. I know I’m showing my age, but you guys remember the dilating drops? Thank fuck those aren’t necessary anymore. He sat me down at the little machine and… it’s been 4 years, sure, but I’m pretty sure the little red house is supposed to come into focus at some point. It didn’t. The machine printed out a ticket and the doctor frowned at it.

“What did you say was your prescription?”

“-4.25, -3.5,” I said, pointing at the appropriate eyes.

“Too strong for your eyes. See?” He handed me the ticket. “You are “-2.75, 3.25.”

“No I’m not.”

“Maybe you forgot.” Shrug.

“I didn’t forget. I checked yesterday. And I need something stronger.”

“No you don’t. See?” He indicated the ticket again.

He put the little old fashioned lensey machine in front of me and made me read the lines on the wall. When I got to the littler lines I couldn’t tell, with what he insisted was my prescription, the difference between D’s and O’s or N’s and X’s, but that didn’t seem to bother the doctor. At my insistence he checked my eyes again on the machine again, and this time came up with -3.5, -3.25.  He slotted those lenses into the lensey machine and said, triumphantly, “See? Better? Your old prescription was too strong. Look around. Any problems?” We were in a dark room, with green walls with nothing on them, a sink, and the patients’ chair which I was sitting in. There was literally nothing to look at to tell if I could focus properly. I felt the old slow sucking feeling of defeat and as so often happens with me, just gave into the daft old man. Forty Lira lenses can be replaced. You had me a “avuncular.”

So I got the not strong enough glasses, threw out the tatty contact lenses and walked around in a weird half fog for several months.

Last paycheck, (which was a GOOD’un) I decided to just buy contact lenses with the old prescription. Spring’s coming- I’ll need to wear sunglasses soon. I miss peripheral vision, which you definitely need as a lady walking about in questionable hours wearing a sundress in Istanbul. (Put a pin in that. I want to write at some point about how Istanbul’s far less dangerous but far rapier than home.) Also, I admit now, that while I really liked my frames when I bought ’em, I’ve since come to believe that they are in fact, far too young and far too hip-three-years-ago for an aged lady like myself. And the beaut of this city is you can just walk into any old optik store and they’ll sell you a box of contacts, no questions asked. If only they had the same policy about xanax.

“Hey Pinar, if you got fifteen free minutes can you go to the optik outlet with me? I just need someone to translate.”

“Sure. I need to go too. But first I need to go to the doctor. It’s driving me crazy.”

“The wrong prescription thing?”

“Yes! He insists that I am 1.5, and I know that I’m 3.5 in both eyes- both eyes the same. It drives me crazy! I cannot see anything! I got dazzled yesterday, while I was grading papers.”


So I say again. Based on my extremely limited sample: Turkish optometrists suck.

But today I got contacts, in the old prescription. 60 TL for 3 months of monthlies, including a bottle of solution.

And sure, the street signs are blurry round the edges at night, but I forgot how many things there are to SEE in life. It reminds me of when I got my first pair of glasses. I was in 8th grade when that happened. I’d been agitating for glasses ever since I tried on Angel’s glasses in 4th grade and came to the earth shattering realization that one was supposed to be able to SEE what was on the black board, (if I’m smart at all it’s probably because I spent the first ten years of my schooling convinced that figuring out what what was ON the blackboard was half the problem.) My normally attentive and very awesome and lovely mama didn’t believe me. Neither would Mendel’ve- both my parents have/had perfect vision until middle age robbed them of the ability to read menus without trying to turn the white wine bottle into a magnifying glass. She thought I wanted to be more like my pal. Probably the request for glasses came at the end of a long list of requests for scrunchies and slap bracelets and glitter pens, and poor mama was tired. So it was my largely self absorbed and awful nana who barked, “Can you read that sign?” one day when she was driving me back from school or ballet or violin or something. I snorted and said “Of course not.” A week later I had glasses and when I walked out of the opticians I stopped dead and stood there- braces-adorned mouth agape.

It had never occurred to me that when artists painted individual leaves on trees it wasn’t artistic conceit.

So here I am, sitting in a coffee shop, drinking tea and smoking nargile and marvelling at the texture of the bricks on the opposite wall.

Street signs are still blurry around the edges at night, but hey. I’ll take it. My vision is good enough.

This entry was posted in Ex-pat, Istanbul, Yabancı life. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Good enough vision

  1. There’s nothing like that first pair of glasses. There are leaves on the trees! And bricks on the houses!

    I doubt you recall, but I had a hell of a time even getting that first pair too. Mrs. Menendez had to call my grandmother in for conference after conference and kept insisting that I needed to get my eyes checked. My grandmother kept telling her that I was making it up, and that she should ignore me, but Mrs. Menendez persisted. Wherever you are Mrs. Menendez, thank you!

    • agentlabroad says:

      Faintly remember that. Jeez- what was with our parents? Was all that holy water supposed to give us 20/20?

      • My mother’s vision is terrible, so I had frequently wondered why it would surprise my grandmother that my vision was also terrible. I always realized it was weird that my grandmother acted that way about my vision, but I didn’t realize HOW weird until recently.

        My grandmother also wore glasses, but when I was 10, my prescription was the same as hers, and she was 59 at the time. Because of that, I assumed that her vision had only gone south due to age. Then I recently recalled her telling me when I was very, very young about how the other girls she went to school with thought she was stuck up. She told me that she wasn’t stuck up at all, it was due to the fact that she didn’t wave to them or speak to them when she saw them outside of school. Why didn’t she wave to them? “I was really nearsighted already, but nobody knew it yet, and I just couldn’t see far enough to recognize them.”

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