Last year, just as I was preparing to head to Florida for the winter season, I was diagnosed by my highly competent ophthalmologist as needing cataract surgery in both eyes. My impulse was to hold off on the operation until returning to Buffalo. However, the headlight glare from oncoming cars on the way down became troublesome enough that I decided to have the operation in Florida.
A recommended ophthalmologist there confirmed that I needed surgery in both eyes. He set a date for presurgery measurements in preparation for the procedure the next week. Upon returning, I told him I had a few questions about the operation. He informed me that he would rather tell me all about the procedure before entertaining my questions, since based upon his experience, my questions would be covered. For the sake of efficiency, he then offered a 20-minute lecture with a pointer and charts telling me about the basic parts of the eyeball, its deterioration over time, why I needed the operation and how he would perform it.
My efforts to interrupt his lecture were in vain. Finally when it was finished, I asked my question, which was: "I have plans to leave the country three weeks after the operation and will be gone for several weeks. Would that create a problem?"
His answer: "Why didn't you tell me? Yes, that would be a problem! I require all my patients to remain close by for at least two months after the procedure in the event of an emergency, even though it is a low-probability event. We will have to postpone this operation until you return."
Well, you can imagine that, given his style of communication, I had no intention of seeing him again. Talk about salt in an open wound – I subsequently received a bill for "services rendered."
When I returned to my interpersonally sensitive ophthalmologist in Buffalo several months later, I was delighted to have him do the surgery. He told me that as a result of the surgery, I would see colors more vividly than I might have imagined. I looked forward to that happening with much anticipation, but after two days, there was no such change.
On the third day, my wife and I went out for lunch. She was wearing a raspberry-colored blouse and suggested that I test out the potential for renewed contrast. It worked! I was so excited that I walked all around the restaurant and experimented further with pictures on the wall, the rug and dishes on the tables. As we were paying the bill, I saw two women sitting on a bench about 15 feet away. I started to test the effect of the operation on them. As I had done earlier, I alternated between opening and closing my right eye and left eye several times in succession. Once more the vivid colors appeared.
After a few minutes, the two of them rushed to the ladies room. I was distracted for a protracted period of time to negotiate the bill. I never saw them again. It seemed obvious that they interpreted my experiment less as an attempt to verify or falsify a theory, and more as an effort to pick them up!
So poor communication in the case of the Florida ophthalmologist and poor judgment on my part in the restaurant episode led me to appreciate anew that faulty "vision" comes in many varieties, each having its potential to create unanticipated side effects. One's "vision" can be impaired in many ways.
Stephen Brown is an emeritus professor of philosophy of education and mathematics education at the University at Buffalo.