One of the most challenging aspects of living with cancer, particularly post-chemotherapy, is the frequent yet unpredictable anxiety that it generates within me. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, I can become extremely anxious at any given moment. And that anxiety can arise about virtually anything, no matter how trivial. A recent case in point will demonstrate this on-going internecine combat.
This past Friday, just a short three days after my “successful” follow-up visit with my oncologist, I found myself once again sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. Understandably, even for a doctor’s-waiting-room veteran like me, sitting in such a location can generate a justifiable amount of anxiety. A routine visit to any medical professional does entail a certain amount of poking, prodding, looking, listening, and general snooping. And, of course, there are all of the questions one is asked. It’s basically akin to any test-taking anxiety, a loathsome feeling all of us are accustomed to by the time we reach adolescence, courtesy of mandatory schooling.
What makes this doctor’s visit and its attendant anxiety so odd is that I was not the patient. Instead, it was my 9-year-old son’s turn to be examined. Now before anyone thinks I am putting Will’s sensitive medical information all over the Internet merely for my own selfish blogging purposes (which I am doing), I also must add that this was merely a visit to the optometrist. I mean no disrespect to eye doctors, but notwithstanding the salutation of “Doctor” and the white coats, they just do not inspire the same degree of apprehension in me that say a proctologist or urologist would. The worst that an eye doctor ever seems to throw at you is either eye drops that temporarily blind you or that infernal puff of air to test for glaucoma, which is made even worse by having to be repeated many times because you know it is coming and just can’t brace yourself long enough to voluntarily have your eyeball at the epi-center of a micro-tsunami.
Making my anxiety even more perplexing this day was that we were in the eye doctor’s office merely for a check-up, not because of something disconcerting like pink eye or a stye, which I think is really just a euphemism for eyelid zit. Besides for the fact that it had been almost a year since Will’s last go at the eye charts, we had noticed that he was squinting a bit here and there. As the observant dad that I am, I was most acutely aware of this squinting on the baseball diamond, where practically it matters little but in the big scheme of things even less. Melissa and I suspected he was going to need glasses as both she and I are bespectacled and have been since approximately his age. You just can’t fight your genes.
So none of this should be a cause for any consternation on my part. Sure, the cost of the glasses, if needed, might be significant (or substantial if I decided that he would not likely lose them), but that type of expense, a necessary health-related one, is not the type I allow to trouble me. And he does have beautiful blue eyes – Will did somehow win the genetic lottery on that one – so I would hate for them to be only visible through a sheen of scratch-resistant, blue-light repelling, transitioning plastic. But that does seem preferable to only being able to see a sliver of his baby blues through a set of squinting eyelids.
Nonetheless, as we sat there waiting, I became very uncomfortably anxious. I was fidgeting in my chair more than a four-year-old with a full bladder who keeps insisting he does not have to go to the bathroom when everyone knows full well that he does. (This is not, by the way, inspired by poor Will. And if my mother says this is at all autobiographical then I say she must be thinking of my sister.) Nothing I did would calm me down. I would look at my phone, refreshing my Inbox incessantly, but that just seemed to make matters worse, in part because no one was bothering to send me any emails. I then attempted to focus on something else, and that something else initially was the one other patient present, whom I overheard say to the receptionist that he believes he does in fact have pink eye, so I was keeping my non-pink eyes on him to make sure I did not have to come back in a few days for treatment. Clearly his presence was only compounding my problems even as we moved as far away from him as the tiny, glasses-and-brochure-filled room would allow. So I looked for another distraction, and found my generation’s favorite – the television. As in most doctor’s offices, the TV is set to a channel that is unlikely to offend, so there we were watching the “Today” show. And although I have no issue with Jenna Bush whatsoever (Hoda was conspicuously absent this particular day), every segment they went to was making me more and more fidgety. (I did, at one point, excuse myself to use the restroom, just to make sure I was not going to have a repeat of the experience I certainly did not have forty-two years earlier.)
Finally, they called us back. But the relief was premature. This was merely an optical assistant (an OA?) who did a couple of tests including temporarily blinding Will by taking a flash photo of his eyeballs, after which we were ushered back into the waiting room where by this point Jenna had moved on to summer wear that one can sport for both the beach and then, without changing more than a pair of shoes and some slight of hand, go dancing. I actually found this to be strangely comforting.
Finally (for real this time), the doctor was ready to see us. I had never taken a child to the eye doctor before, and I think this will be the last time. As Will sat in the chair reading the letters on the eye chart, I found myself in the uncomfortable position of wondering whether he was really becoming near-sighted like his old man or he just didn’t know his alphabet. At one point I almost yelled out, “Come on, Will! It’s a ‘G’ for crying out loud! How do you get a ‘Z’ out of that?!?” I felt like I was a terrible parent – either because I had not educated him properly or I should have had his eyes checked much earlier. But clearly my anxiety was making me not only uncomfortable but irrational – if I had a dime for every episode of Sesame Street that kid and I watched together . . . . Of course, he needed glasses, a fact about which he was not overly happy but it is what it is. I told him, in my so helpful way, that it would make him look “erudite,” to which he responded, “What is ‘erudite’?” As we tried on different frames, the optometrist walked by and reminded me that it would be prudent to have Melissa’s input. I took that as good advice, and I tried texting her photos of him sporting different frames but realized belatedly that I was not connected to the Wi-fi so none of the pics were getting through and consequently she had no idea what Will and I decided upon. I guess we will find out her reaction when the glasses come in. Now that I think of it, perhaps there was good reason to be anxious.