Wednesday, January 19, 2005


I hate having my eyes dilated. "Three drops in each eye" of a substance that seems to have the viscosity of Karo syrup. And I almost always get a headache afterwards. But there I was at the eye doctor having the dreaded drops applied. Ceremoniously walked into a waiting room to sit in my discomfort while the medication works on my pupils.

The good news was that they remainder of the appointment went well, and in the two years since my last examination my vision was essentially unchanged (quite an accomplishment at my age). I was provided with a new prescription, which was only slightly stronger than what I currently have to allow my to get by until my next appointment in two years.

So there I am walking in to the retail section of the medical complex with my dark glasses and slightly fuzzy vision. The woman behind the counter was very courteous and had me sign in and took my information. She suggested that, while I was waiting, I might want to walk around and look at the frames.

This was a nearly comical experience as I stood at the various racks of glasses squinting to see the price, the maker and even the color. After several minutes I realized that I did have my current glasses in my pocket, so on they went, and the process became much simpler.

It was about then that I first became aware of Lily. My back was to her, but I could tell by the conversation that she was at the front counter talking to the same courteous lady who had helped me. Apparently she had experienced some confusion over her medical coverage, was it MediCal or MediCare?, and was being given the bad news that the one she actually had (she was able to produce an insurance card) did not cover glasses except following a cataract operation.

"Oh, please, honey ..." the desperation in her words pierced my heart and and no doubt the heart of the courteous woman at the counter, for her demeanor began to soften even more and she began - as best she could - to comfort the lady and lead her to an alternative.

I was now fully involved in the art of eavesdropping to to point of no longer focusing on my choice of frames. I turned to glance at the counter and saw that Lily was an elderly lady of 80 or more, who was short of stature but resolved to take care of herself as best she could. The courteous woman explained that Lily would need to pay for the glasses herself, but that they could probably put new lenses in her frame for about $60.

"Oh I can't pay that all at once. Can I pay you some now and some later?" Yes, she could, and Lily quietly moved to the waiting area.

It was at about that time that my name was called, so I sat down at one of the little "fitting" stations with another very friendly woman. We talked about the frames I selected and the problems I had been having with my current frames. At one point she even took my current glasses into the back to replace the screws so the frame would fit better.

While she was gone, Lily was called to the fitting station just behind me. The man working there was nice, but seemed unaware of the conversation at the counter and worked up a price for her that I imagine must have been devastating. But the courteous woman at the counter interceded and the price was brought down more in line with what Lily had been originally told.

Realizing that this woman was suffering over a balance of about $40, I had an impulse that I should take care of that part of her bill for her, and decided to do so. But wanting to remain anonymous in this charity I would wait until after she had left and then speak with the sales person.

The best laid plans .... my bill ended up being much more than I thought it would (it turns out MY insurance does not cover as much as I originally thought), and adding her $40 on top of what I was already spending came to a bit of money. So I paid for my bill and left.

And found myself pacing back and forth outside the room. Torn between what I felt was right, but inflicted with a sudden fear of == what? == some unidentifiable concern that brought second thoughts exploding in my mind. "People just don't do this" I heard myself say. "Set the example. Live the example." came the reply.

It occurred to me as I stood there battling with this dilemma that, literally, my eyes were open the fullest they had been in years and yet my heart was quickly closing to the plight of this elderly woman. I had stepped into the light for a moment, but was now receding back into the shadows.

I paced for quite some time and, in a moment of weakness, I decided that it was up to someone else to set the example, and I went to my car.

But I could not get Lily out of my mind.

Copyright©2005 J.D. Warrick

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