TESTING 1, 2, 3...

I can't help it—I cheat on medical tests.

I don't mean the kind they give in Med school—I couldn't be a doctor because I get nauseous easily—even by things as minor as the wrong kind of tuna.

I mean the kind where they poke and prod and probe you in every existing orifice, and some new ones they create just for the occasion.

There are some medical tests you simply can't cheat on. I've yet to figure out how to lie on a blood test. Or look at the blood of the person next to me and copy it. Can't be done as far as I know, and my friend Karen, who is one of the world's most accomplished liars and considers it a sport, couldn't figure out a way, either, so other than giving them someone else's blood, I'm pretty sure it can't be done.

The reason I cheat is because I find many of these tests annoying, if not downright rude. A few weeks ago I'd taken a normal eye exam of the "which looks better, this way... or this way? This way... or this way?" kind. This test is simple and they didn't have to stick anything into me, so it almost got my seal of approval.

The problem was the typeface they use on the eye chart, which, frankly, is a poorly designed face where the "O" looks nearly identical to the "D" so it's all too easy to make mistakes on that test. It's not my eyes, it's poor typography. I don't think it's fair to give people poorly designed tests. I felt that about the SAT test, and I feel that about eye exams.

Today I took a "field of vision" eye exam. It's designed to tell the doctor how good my peripheral vision is. My peripheral vision is just fine, but I don't take chances with my eyes, so if the doctor says, "you should take this test," I start sweating and wheeze, "Why, what's wrong?" and agree to anything. If I take it and then have eye problems can I sue you?" No, I don't really say that, I say "yes," and I never sue doctors, even the one who almost let me die. I lived so I have better things to do than sue.

This test is one more of those things where you have to put your chin on this holder thing apparently designed for orangutans. It doesn't fit any human chin, except perhaps Jay Leno's. Then you put your forehead against a rubber bar that countless other people have put theirs against and it has no protective paper of the kind you put over toilet seats and right there I'm finding this unacceptable because I don't know where other people's foreheads have been—and I'm getting queasy just thinking about it.

Once in position you must look into this blank white half sphere—like one of those giant Imax movie screens, only re-sized as if to show movies to mice. Looking at this thing is like having temporary snow-blindness. I can't focus on anything, which makes me dizzy right off the bat, and then it's so blank my brain starts making up stuff to see so I don't go insane.

In the middle of this unnatural orb is a small dark circle containing a yellow light glowing mysteriously like a HAL 8000. As I stare at this, tiny almost imperceptibly faint dots of light jump around the screen. Each time I "see the light" I press on this little buzzer thing that looks like someone stole it from the set of Jeopardy.

And, oh—did I mention they've covered one eye with a black leather patch apparently ripped from the face of Blackbeard the pirate? And the room is like 90 degrees.

So I'm already annoyed when the tests begins—and it's hard not to cheat. Every time the light flashes there's a faint click of the projector moving. It moves once every two seconds. The clicking seems to have a kind of like a Samba beat, so I want to press the button in time to the rhythm. So maybe it's a good hearing test, or a reflex test, but it seems like a poor excuse for an eye exam.

I'm sorry—white dots on a white background? With one eye closed and the other staring into endless whiteness I start seeing things that look like ghosts with unruly hair. I finally realize that it's my bushy eyebrow which is sticking down in front of my eye, pushed there by the black elastic of the eye patch.

I ask the nice woman to stop the test, which she does. I explain I am seeing things and she says everybody does, but then I point to my eyebrow and she goes, "Oh, that." I say "Does everybody hate this test as much as I do?" and she says, "Usually more."

So it's back to the test. It's really hard to see the dots because my brain is so busy creating non-existent patterns on the whiteness so I have something to look at. I have to blink a lot otherwise the lack of motion makes everything kind of twinkle, then disappear. I'm sure this means I have some kind of personality disorder where my eyes must constantly be entertained because my ancestors were hunters. This is news, as I thought they were jewelers.

It's so annoying I find myself clicking the button even if I'm not sure I've seen any light. Each time I press the button I it makes a loud click, though sometimes it makes two which makes me wonder if the machine knows I haven't really seen anything and am just mercy clicking.

Now I become unsure as to whether I'm seeing spots in front of my eyes, or seeing the little bitty flashes. It can't tell the difference, so it's not really cheating, it's more like an inability to distinguish between imagination and reality and I didn't need a test for that, I know it's always been a problem.

Then there's one horrifically long span of time where I hear the clicking but see no light and so I imagine I must have a blind spot the size of Drew Cary. (In reality, everyone has a blind spot where the optic nerve attaches to the eye, so I guess if I'd cheated too badly the blind spot wouldn't have shown up and they would have thought I was either a liar or an alien).

Now I take to imagining that I'm in a sci-fi movie and I have to click the button to fire a laser at nearly invisible intruders to the space station. This helps a little bit, though I begin to resent the space station designers who'd come up with something like this to begin with.

After eight torturous minutes I hear a buzz that sounds like a smoke detector has gone off adjacent to my forehead, and the test is over.

For that eye.

Now it's time to do the other eye.

As I pull my head away I notice that there's a glare off a piece of metal on the right side, which explains one of the white lights I saw constantly. How can they expect me to see nearly invisible lights when something that I'm not supposed to be seeing is glaring like the sun off the back window of a car? I show it to the woman running the test and she says, "Oh—someone else mentioned a glare but I could never see it." I think I should get extra credit on my peripheral vision test for this.

The test on the left eye is easier because there's no glare, and I've given up trying to see the light. If I think I see a flash I press the button. I assume that I'm actually seeing something, and if not, my imagination is sufficiently vivid, and that is a good enough substitute for reality—at least it has been all my life.

The first eight-minute test seemed to take 80 minutes, and this one seems to breeze by in a mere 40. The woman running the tests says the results look fine. I ask the woman running the test if my eyes are OK, and she shows me a printout that looks like a bunch of even dots which she says is fine, even though she's really not allowed to tell me that, only the doctor is.

I find it hard to stand, but I am eager to leave the little room, even if I'm madly squinting and blinking.

I stumble into the waiting room and my wife looks at me and says, "You're not going to drive like that, are you?" I say, "I'm fine just as long as it isn't snowing."

Daniel Will-Harris

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Oh no—I'm seeing spots! Oh, wait, they're polka dots.




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