Angle of Rotation

I started wearing glasses a few years ago, and the first pair I got was a very mild prescription. Putting them on felt like, “Oh yeah - that stop sign two blocks away looks slightly crisper now.” Not a big deal, but it was a nice toe in the water of glasses-wearing.

During that first appointment, my eye doctor mentioned progressive lenses. I’d heard the term but didn’t know what it was, so he explained that when I was younger, I probably remember people wearing bifocals (how did he know that?). But over time, lens makers figured out how to get the same effect but without that obvious change in the glass, so people would no longer feel ashamed and old, as they apparently did when wearing bifocals. I said, “I guess I might need progressives some day, if my eyesight keeps getting worse.” My eye doctor chuckled and said, “Oh, it’ll definitely get worse!” Then he laughed more. So that was comforting - the guy didn’t take himself too seriously. Or maybe he just didn’t take his patients too seriously.

I went back to the eye doctor for another appointment two years later, and when I did the eye exam that time, the doctor found out I had an astigmatism. As he wrote out the new prescription, he told me not to be surprised if things seemed a little funny for a while after I got the new glasses. “Because of the astigmatism, one lens will be stronger than the other, so it may take your eyes a little while to adjust.” He said to give it a couple weeks, and if the new glasses didn’t feel right by then, I should call to make another appointment to check things out - but he made this sound very unlikely.

It took two weeks for the new glasses to come in, and when I tried them on everything looked totally bonkers. Things at the bottom of my vision were pulled forward, and everything on the left was pulled forward even more, so I had crazy trapezoidial vision. I didn’t want that at all, but because my eye doctor set me up expect weirdness, I just accepted it.

When I got in my car to drive, I was scared to turn my head because the distortion field would move with me, so I just kept looking straight forward. “It’ll adjust on its own,” I kept thinking. “Doctors know best... or something...”

There’s a bagel shop right next to the eye doctor’s and I went there to get lunch right after I got my new glasses. They have this black and white tile pattern all over the walls, so it looked like Alice in Wonderland when I walked in. I almost knocked over my iced tea just reaching for it. I found myself tilting my head at odd angles so I could look above and below my new lenses to really gauge where things were. That seemed to go against the whole point of wearing glasses, though.

When I got in my car to drive, I was scared to turn my head because the distortion field would move with me, so I just kept looking straight forward. “It’ll adjust on its own,” I kept thinking. “Doctors know best... or something...”

I put up with the crazy vision for two weeks, but no adjustment was happening. It was hard to work on a computer, and I resorted to driving with my old glasses so as not to cause an accident. But once the two week time period had ended, I started thinking, “Something might actually be wrong here.”

So I called up they eye doctor and made another appointment. When I got there, the first thing my eye doctor did was to use a machine that check my actual lenses, to make sure they were made correctly according to the original prescription. They were. He gave me another eye exam, and the results were the same as the first one.

And then he started checking out that original prescription. He got a funny look on his face - like he’d just heard a great joke. He started chuckling to himself and said, “Ah, now I see what happened! You see, Steven, there’s something called an ‘Angle of Rotation’ in a prescription for eyeglasses, and yours was supposed to be 90° - but it looks like when I went to write it down, I transposed the numbers and wrote down ‘zero nine’ instead! You were off by 81°! Oh, that’s so funny - everything must have looked crazy to you for the past couple weeks!”

I gave him a sympathy laugh, hoping he’d at least throw in a token apology. But he didn’t. He was just delighted that he’d figured out the solution to the problem, and didn’t bother him at all that the problem came from a mistake that he caused. It must be nice to be so comfortable in your chosen profession that you can be so confident.

It took me another two weeks to get the new glasses, and even though I was anticipating a problem when I tried them on, everything was fine. It’s been almost two years since the screwy appointment, so when I go back this time, I’m going to ask the guy to read the Angle of Rotation out loud, so I can compare it to what he writes. And if he gets insulted, I’ll just punch him in the head a little, because I kind of want to.