Do you know that hurricane speed air, that gets shot into your eye at the optometrist? The one where you have to sit calmly with your eyes wide open and anticipate the puff of air?
Dr. Orb Peeper, an anxious optometrist, hates giving his patients the air puff.“It’s the worse part of my job,” he said.“When I look at their scared little faces, I squeeze my eyes shut and press puff. I can’t watch. My colleagues say, ‘What’s the big deal!? Just puff’m. They probably deserve it.’”
“I’ve tried everything to calm my patients down,” Dr. Peeper continued. “I’ve played meditation music while I’m puffing. I’ve rubbed their feet while they anticipate the puff. Nothing works, but then I asked my assistant, Holly Blow Lightly, what she thought. She’s a genius.”
“It’s not really about the puff, is it?” she said, blowing out a mouthful of vape smoke. “The puff represents something bigger. You’re waiting for someone to poke you in the eye. That ain’t right. Nothing prepares you for that. Not even being poked in the eye repeatedly as a child, as I was. Six brothers and a dog with an opposable thumb.”
Ms. Blow Lightly did seem wise about the puff, and I could sense something deeper brewed between her and Dr. Peeper.
“Look, honey,” she said to Dr. Peeper, her pupils shrinking, as if she couldn’t stand the sight of his philosophical blindness regarding the puff. “In the old country, my grandparents had her eyeballs yanked from their sockets while the optomotrist squeezed each eyeball looking for glaucoma. That was the air puff of the old days. After they manhandled my oma’s and opa’s eyeballs, the doctor jammed themback into the socket. All the while, they had to watch with the other eye that was still stuck in their head. Did they complain? No. My grandparents could handle shit. But people today are like contact lenses, fragile and easily lost.”
Dr. Peeper nodded. He knew what Ms. Blow Lightly meant. He was fragile too, and he wouldn’t be able to find his way to work in the morning without Google Maps.
“On the flip side,” Dr. Peeper told me, “I have these patients who love the air puff.They go all over the city telling eye doctors their eyes feel funny and not in a haha way. They claim they’ve got a genetic predisposition for glaucoma. They get like 7–10 air puffs a week.”
“Of course,” said Ms. Blow Lightly, “we flag these people, but if they want the puff badly enough, they can find some crackpot who’ll give’m the puff. It’s a fucking tragedy. When I think about all that wasted puff, my eyes water. I have to get Dr. Peeper to dry off my eye balls with the puff.”
“When we suspect a new patient is trying to get the puff for free,” Dr. Peeper continued, “We offer them the poke. Do you know the poke? It’s this great little invention where we stab you gently in the eye, and if your eye is mushy, you gotta come back for the puff monthly.”
“I’ve seen grown adults fall out of their chairs awaiting the puff,” said Ms. Blow Lightly. “Though, I’ve seen children fall asleep during the puff. I have to hold their eyes open while Dr. Peeper gives them the puff. They’re relaxed, though, like drunks.”
“It’s not about the puff, not really,” Ms. Blow lightly continued. “It’s about everything that led up to the puff. It’s life. And kids-they haven’t dealt with anticipation like we have. They haven’t waited in lines or spent hours on hold. They haven’t circled the sky 20,000 feet above a landing strip, never knowing if and when their plane will land. They haven’t waited ten years for a proposal while someone finished medical school. Life all leads to the anticipation of the puff.”
“It’s called a tonometer, by the way—the air puff,” said Dr. Peeper. “When I was in optometry doctor school, I practiced on my wife. She had her heart set on marrying an eye doctor. I had my heart set on marrying a guinea pig. I guess that’s love. I thank God that I wasn’t studying to be a surgeon. Blech. That wouldn’t have ended well.”
“Spoiler alert, I’m his wife,” said Ms. Blow Lightly. “I kept my old name in case he ever left me, and I had to go back to the biz. I blew out candles for centenarians.”
“The great poet, Samuel Coolridge, wrote a poem about the air puff,” Dr. Peeper said, batting his eyes at his wife. “I keep it above my tonometer. It’s very long, but here’s the first stanza.
“The air puff was set to hurricane blast, I wouldn't be the first. I wouldn’t be the last. It seemed like penance for something in my past. At last agast super blast.”
“Can you see why I married an optometrist now?” said Ms. Blow Lightly, with fully dilated love pupils. “I love the way he sees the world.”