Bless me, Doctor Optometrist, for I can’t see. It’s only been three years since my last prescription. I scratched those lenses almost immediately and then they made me crazy, so I wore my old glasses instead most of the time except for close work when I wore none at all and now I can’t see well with or without glasses.
I had forgotten that trees were not just shapes made of varying shades of green, but had actual leaves.
What was my problem? For starters, eye glasses are no cheaper here in Panama than in the States, although in many places an eye exam is free if you buy glasses. And then there is the language barrier. But I have enough Spanish now to both make my needs known and understand most of what is said to me. Not to mention I also have several English speaking Panamanian friends willing to translate for me. So what was the hangup? Why didn’t I just get myself to the optometrist and do the deed?
Who knows? Bottom line, I finally did. But first, apparently, I had to push myself over the edge of crazy, become just a bit tipsy-seeming as I lurched down the street fighting the borderline dizziness my old glasses inspired. Probably a depth perception issue. I had to become cranky enough from the frustration of not being able to see well. Headachy from the eyestrain.
Only then did I finally have my own permission to ask friends who had gotten glasses here who to see. I settled on a lady doctor in Chitre who doesn’t speak a word of the English her many expat patients use to praise her.
You don’t make an appointment with doctors of any kind here, you just go. Often this means you will sit and wait for medical attention for several hours. But, to my great good fortune, Dra. Sandra Monroy of Opticas Metro just happened to be available at the time I walked into her clinic. Dra. Monroy took me into the expected tiny, dark room, sat me in front of the expected giant piece of machinery with the built-in ‘binoculars,’ and proceeded to give me a thorough and excellent eye exam.
The exam, of course, was in Spanish. The thing was, because the eye chart and the items I had to read for her were not the familiar English set, I probably gave more honest answers. What do I mean? Well, because the chart was in Spanish, I was able to ‘hallucinate’ the words and letters quite as readily as if they had been English. That was a definite plus and probably contributed to why this is such a good prescription.
It took about a week for my glasses to be made. I already had the frames I wanted to use, so I left them with her. When I picked up my new glasses and tried them on for the first time I was thrilled. Not only could I see once more, the fit was perfect. I love them. I love being able to see and now I can’t remember what kept me from doing this sooner. And they were only $140, total. If I had chosen from her selection of frames, I might have paid as little as $160, total.
Dra. Monroy’s assistant graciously provided me with enough of those special cleaning cloths that I can keep one in each handbag, at my desk and in the medicine cabinet. Now I won’t be tempted to wipe the new glasses on my shirttail and scratch them.
Friends corroborate the pricing, and the experience. Some have told me their glasses order was sent to California for processing. That would explain why glasses are no cheaper here than in the States. But no one needs to hesitate about getting a pair while they are here, because the quality of care is equal to what you might receive in your home town.
I’m very pleased to be able to see once more. (And I’ve stopped lurching when I walk.)
For a wider look at eye care in Central America, here is an interesting article: Sect 5, Optometry in the Americas by Leasher and Pike. Note that it is available for .pdf download only.
Other articles about medical experiences here in Panama include: