Article Date: 1/1/2005

lessons learned
Any Birdbrain Can?
These readers' responses prove that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

"Your column in the September issue reminded me of my experience that I have wanted to share for a long time," read an e-mail I received from Dr. Adi D. Adins. Here's Dr. Adins' story:

In India, from my grandmother's verandah, on one of Bombay's busiest streets, one would see thousands of people walk by each day. Whenever I visited her as a child, I would watch all the people and vendors go by. One vendor in particular always interested me.

The eye exam

He laid out a large square white cloth on the pavement. On each side, he placed a significant number of eyeglass lenses in two rows. He had a sparrow on a string, who pranced about the cloth.

Soon a person would come and explain his or her visual condition. The trained sparrow would then hop up and down the cloth and pick out the lenses with its beak. The vendor would insert them in a trial frame.

If the customer was satisfied, the lenses would be transferred to a basic frame. If not, a few more questions, another run by the sparrow and a new lens. People usually waited to be the next customer and often a crowd would gather to see this remarkable bird perform.


Magic power

Because many in India believe in the mystic powers of animals and birds, this worked out just fine. Of course, you and I know that the vendor had the plus lenses on one side and the minus lenses on the other. He most probably asked questions similar to those of your great-grandfather-in-law. Then the "trained" sparrow was induced to stop near the lens, and voila.

I hope this doesn't show that any birdbrain can prescribe glasses.

The wrong one

Dr. Don Mitchell also sent me a childhood experience involving glasses that occurred a good bit before he became an optometrist:

When I was 12 years old I was awaiting my appointment in the local optometrist's office. The reception room was full, and the optometrist called for a Mrs. Wilson as he held a new pair of glasses in his hand.

A woman happened to stand up at the same time. The optometrist approached the lady and placed the glasses on her face and proceeded to make some minor adjustments. He then stepped back, admiring his handiwork, and asked the patient how she was seeing.

"I can't see a thing!" she responded. The doctor, somewhat startled, abruptly snatched the glasses from the woman's face, exclaiming, "You're not Mrs. Wilson!"

It was hilarious and yet no one laughed, which for me made the situation even more humorous. Somehow this story must be tied to an early seeding of my optometric career. It was almost 49 years ago and it still makes me chuckle whenever I think about it.

Me too

I enjoyed hearing this story from Dr. Mitchell because I was relieved to learn that I was not the only goofball to screw up like this. Many years ago, hesitant to ask the name of a patient who had come to get his glasses, I just guessed at who he was, and adjusted to him what I thought were his new glasses.

The next day he phoned, not too happy with his single vision cylinder with vertical prism prescription, because what he required was spherical bifocals.


Optometric Management, Issue: January 2005