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December 31, 2010

Ever since the world got launched into cyberspace, receiving a letter that's neither a bill nor a hustle has been as rare as finding an honest politician.

So when I got a letter a few weeks ago from my old pal Neil Miller, you might think I was delighted. And if you did, you thought wrong.

The letter announced Neil's retirement and office closing.

As I said, I was not delighted. In fact, I was downright sad.

Sure, on the one hand I was glad for Neil and his wife Barb, who after over 35 years of working ceaselessly and scrupulously, can finally kick back and have gobs of time to do whatever their little hearts desire.

But on the other hand

- what about me?

OK, so I know there are other competent optometrists, even excellent ones. But why should I have to shlep to them? I mean, don't my wants and needs count for anything?

Actually, to label Neil "competent" is low-balling it. In my book, he is outstanding, perhaps even incomparable. And I'm not alone in my praise - just talk to anyone who's gone to him and they'll say the same.

What's always impressed me about Neil is how thorough and meticulous he is.

And let's get real: Today, most medical exams are so rushed, they seem to be modeled after carwashes more than anything of a Hippocratic nature.


Everything you never wanted to know about eye exams

Now, I don't know if you've got an ultimate Neil Miller story, but I do, and here it is.

I first started wearing glasses when I was 12. I was told I was myopic, was given glasses, and whoop-dee-doo, everything in my world suddenly became crystal-clearas long as I had my peepers on.

Now we fast-forward 17 years. My eyes seemed to have gone bug-snot on me. Even with my glasses on, I couldn't see doodly. Couldn't see at a distance; couldn't see up close; couldn't see in between.

It turned out I'd been correcting so many papers that I'd developed a world-class case of eyestrain. But that wasn't the most important discovery during my appointment.

Neil went through all the usual ocular rigamarole: "Look up, look down, look all around. Good, great. Now follow the little light. Now do this, now do that "

Finally, it was over.

He took my glasses, put them on some weird machine, moved a little wheel forward, then backward, then handed me back my glasses and said, "You don't need to wear glasses."

I couldn't have been more shocked if he'd told me he'd just come back from the Waterhole, where he'd been stiff-wristing shots with Amelia Earhart and Judge Crater.

I recovered from my shock, and exercising my legendary self-control said, "Huh? Wha?"

"That's right," he said. "You could have 20-20 vision."

"How could I?" I asked. "I can't even read the print on those diplomas on the wall."

'Neither can I," he said. "Look, having 20-20 vision doesn't mean you can see everything perfectly, no matter how small or how far away. It just means you can have normal eyesight without glasses."

And then he explained what was going on with my eyes - or as I prefer to call it, The Strange Case of Focus Gone Mokus."

Loosely retold, it goes as follows:

Two related functions of vision are focus and convergence. Focus is how clearly each eye sees an object. Convergence is a bit trickier. Since your eyes are set apart, each one sees the world from a different angle. In order to see an object clearly, your eyes have to superimpose the image from each eye smack dab on top of the other.

Focus and convergence work together, and as it turned out, my focus was fine in each eye, but my convergence wasn't working perfectly, hence my vision was blurred. My glasses actually made me over-focus, thus making the images converge. In short, for almost two decades my glasses wasted a whole lot of my precious energy so I could see straight.

The cure for this? Pay close heed, because it's as weird as it gets.


and more

Neil gave me a card, on which were four pairs of circles, one above the other, the farther up the card, the farther apart the circles. The circles on the left were red; the ones on the right were green. And there was white lettering on each one which said, "clear these letters

Basically, I was told to take the card home and had to stare at those circles until a third one formed in the middle, which I did. I practiced and practiced and the third circle formed, but when I tried to look at it, it disappeared. Finally, I was able to look at the circle and it stayed there. It was brown and on it in white letters was written "clear these letters."

Now catch this: That circle didn't exist anywhere except in my mind!

But it meant I'd trained my eyes to converge, without having to over-focus.

I started going without my glasses for tiny periods of time. I still needed my glasses, but only because I'd become so dependent on them.

Then I started going without glasses for longer and longer periods of time, and within a month or so - Voila - I quit wearing them altogether.

Keep in mind that over the years I'd had my eyes examined lots of times, but none of the optometrists ever even hinted I might be able to live without glasses. That, combined with Neil's working to not sell me glasses, makes him aces in my book.

That was 1976. Now I need glasses for reading fine print and for close-up work, but my distance vision is 20-30 and I can pass the Dept. of Motor Vehicles eye test without glasses.

So over the past 35 years, my looking has become a whole better - thanks to Neil.

Unfortunately, I haven't become any better looking.

Can't blame him, though, since he's an optometrist, not a plastic surgeon.



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