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The Berkeley Repertory Theatre went through a period in the late eighties and early nineties where, if one or more of the actors onstage did not  appear nude, something must have gone wrong. 

My wife Sharon and I were season subscribers, and I often wondered what these actors were like in real life. I didn’t have long to wait. 

A few days after seeing one of those performances, a new patient came into my office for an eye exam. When I saw her occupation (“actor”) and her name, I put two and two together. 

After the exam, I mentioned I’d seen her in the current play at the at the Rep. 

She made a face. “Kind of boring, wasn’t it?” she muttered.

Frankly, I couldn’t say if it was any more or less boring than some of the other shows I’d seen. I mentioned the names of several actors at the Rep who were regular patients of mine, and we had a pretty normal conversation. The subject of gratuitous nudity never came up. 

A variation on this theme occurred a few years later when an actor who appeared (clothed) in a Berkeley Rep play we saw was cast in the movie “The Kinsey Report” where she portrayed an older (unclothed) woman having sex. 

Eventually, it got to a point where if the Berkeley Rep had some particular optical-related issue, they would refer the actor to my office for a solution. I prescribed glasses and contact lenses for a host of them, as well as dealing with the fitting of a monocle when they decided to produce Twelfth Night in 19th century costumes. I recall that the problem was that every time the actor scrunched up his eye to use his monocle, his contact lens would pop out. My brilliant (albeit professional) suggestion was that he not wear his contact lens in that eye during the show. “Yeah, I think I can do that,” was his response. When I later saw the show, his schtick with the monocle was my favorite part. 

Two of my favorite employees were Ann and Anne. When I called out, “Ann!” (or “Anne!”) I never knew which one would show up. They were fresh out of high school and close friends, and one always seemed to be consoling the other during a boyfriend breakup. I loved them both, and still do. 

I am not generally a prankster, but one April Fool’s Day the two Ann(e)s and I dreamed up an elaborate optometric sham. It coincided with a meeting that evening of ten optometrists in the network I was supervising. Ann volunteered to put it into effect. Here’s how it went:

She would call one of the optometric offices and say, “I have an unusual problem and hope the doctor can help me. My mother died a week ago…”

This was typically followed by a remark of condolence by the person who answered the phone. Ann would thank the receptionist and continue.

“My mom always wore colored contact lenses. In fact, her new husband, my step-dad, has never seen her without the contact lenses and doesn’t know that her eyes aren’t really blue. But now there’s going to be an open casket viewing and I’ve never put contact lenses in anyone else’s eyes. Is there some way I can get some instruction over the phone on how to do this?”

She called all ten doctors’ offices in our network, and not one said anything about her poor mother’s eyes being open during the funeral service—perhaps they’d never attended an open-casket viewing. To their credit, however, virtually every doctor got on the phone with Ann and attempted to help her with this bizarre endeavor. Ann was extremely grateful for their professional assistance, which cost nothing.

That evening, we had a doctors’ staff meeting, and the Northern California doctors were present in the room while the Southern California doctors called in on a conference call. When everyone was present, I planned to make the “reveal,” but before I had a chance, one of the doctors on the phone announced to the group, “I had the strangest phone call this morning.” I did my best not to show any emotion while one after another the doctors joined in.

While they realized they were the victims of a prank, they didn’t fully get it until I asked them, “Does anybody know what today is?” A group groan went up. That was the best April Fool’s Day ever.

When I practiced in Maryland, Rob—one of my optometry friends—and I were having dinner when the subject of providing eye care in prisons came up. I told him about the one day I’d been assigned to do exams at the Baltimore City Jail. It was both scary and pretty cool at the same time. 

There was one very large tattooed inmate who wanted his eyes examined who told me, “I already got my own eyeglass frame, Doc,” as he pulled a frame from his pocket and gave it to me. I looked at the frame, handed it back to him, and said matter-of-factly, “You can use this frame if you want, but you should know it’s a lady’s frame.” I swear the frame literally flew out of his hand into the air. He’d obviously lifted it from someplace—probably the previous prison optometrist.

Rob laughed and told me that when he was in optometry school in Philadelphia one of their clinic rotations was to go to a downtown jail. While in the exam room with a scary character, he felt quite nervous. So he decided to use some of the communication tools that he’d learned in a clinic class and tried to chat up the patient.

“So what are you in for?” Rob asked him.

The convict looked him in the eyes, and without missing a beat said, “I killed an optometrist.”

For many years, as part of my routine eye examination I would put dilating eye drops in patients’ eyes. (You’ve probably all heard the lie, “This might sting for a second.”) 

Before I knew much Spanish, I had a young Latina patient in the exam chair and needed to instill the drops. I showed her the bottle of drops and made it clear what I was going to do. She seemed comfortable.

But as the first drop touched her eye, she screamed loudly, “¡Molesto!”

More than once.

In that moment, I saw my whole career pass before my eyes, including the inevitable trial. 

The door to the exam room (which had been closed) flew open, and my assistant flew in. That was the day I learned the translation of the Spanish verb “molestar,” which is not necessarily what it sounds like.

I’ll never forget Ronnie Brown. During the case history he mentioned that he’d just recently gotten out of prison and needed some new glasses because his were broken in a fight. Over a couple of exams, I got to know and like this guy. 

Around this time it was fashionable, particularly among women, to have their initials applied to one of the lenses in their typically oversized eyeglass frames. This could be done the expensive way—by actual engraving, or the cheap way—using little stick-on letters. It was an optical fad, and if people wanted to spend five or ten dollars to have their initials put on their glasses, what did we care. 

We had a couple of books filled with these stick-on letters, which also included other familiar icons—a tennis racket, a golf club, a catcher’s mitt, cars, boats, an airplane, and so on. 

When Ronnie arrived to pick up his new glasses I asked him if he’d like to have his initials put on one of his lenses, no charge. 

“Sure.” He smiled. “That’d be great!”

I took his glasses and went into the other room, where I put RB  on the left side of the glasses. Easy-peasy. But then I had an idea. On the opposite lens, I pasted on a little icon of a man shooting a rifle. Ronnie was going to love this!

But then I had another  idea. Wherever an O  had been removed from the book of initials, the center of the O, a little dot, remained. I took three of the little dots and placed them so they looked like bullets coming out of the gun. 

When I showed Ronnie my artistic handiwork, he was gratefully speechless, and walked out of the office a happy man.

Two days later he returned, not as happy.

“Doc, there’s a problem,” he sadly reported.

“What’s wrong, man?” I asked, worried that there might be a problem with his prescription.

“The bullets came off the glasses.”

He was out of ammo. This was indeed a problem.

I sighed, told him this happens sometimes, and said I could replace them just this one time.

I didn’t see Ronnie for a few years. Then one day he returned and told me he’d been “away.” I knew what that meant. I checked him out and he placed an order for a new pair of glasses.

Before leaving, he told me, “Remember, Doc, if there’s anything I can ever do for you, you just call me.”

I thought about it, but never called him.

One time I was filling in for one of my colleagues in our company’s San Jose office, when an athletic-looking young man wearing a nice suit came in for an eye exam. When I reached out to shake his hand, he extended his left hand. That’s when I realized his right hand was missing. (I’m such a genius.)

James was an attorney and had many interests. We had a good conversation during the exam during which I updated his eyeglass prescription. As I finished, I asked him if there was anything else I could do for him. 

He paused. “I guess there’s no chance of me wearing soft contact lenses, is there?” 

I rechecked his patient form and history. “You didn’t mention this before.”

“No. I just assumed…”

“Why are you thinking about contacts?”

He paused again. “I play a lot of sports. Sometimes the glasses get in the way.”

I asked, “What makes you think you can’t wear soft contact lenses?” From his eyeglass prescription I predicted he’d probably be an excellent candidate.

“Well, having one hand and all…”

By this time, disposable soft contact lenses had become a commonplace thing, and I wore them myself. 

“What sports do you play?” I asked.

He laughed. “Basketball. Softball. Tennis. I jog. Recently I took up golf.”

I looked down at his shoes, which were shined and laced-up. 

“Who ties your shoes for you?”

He smiled. “I do. There’s a way of doing it with one hand.”

“Okay. You’re telling me you went to law school, you play softball, tennis, and even golf, and you can tie your own shoes. And you don’t think you can deal with contact lenses?”

Now it was show time. I went to the cabinet, took out a package containing a soft contact lens, and with my left hand in my pocket, I made a show of washing my right hand. 

I then opened the container, squirted some saline onto the lens, scooped it up on my right index finger, and told him to relax, which he did. 

“Look up.”

Fortunately for me, he was a great patient, and I easily inserted the contact lens onto his cornea and told him to blink. 

“That’s it,” I said.

“That’s it? You’re joking.” 

“Well, there’s the other eye.” I put the second lens in his left eye, again using one hand. He looked around the room.

“Wait! I can see!” 

“Yes, this is your prescription.”

This was followed by silence. He looked at me.

“Let’s do it!” 

The assistant gave him instructions for care and handling. Within a short time he was able to remove and reinsert the contacts. He was still amazed, grateful, and satisfied. 

Before he left we again shook—this time I extended my left hand.

All in a day’s work.

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