Julianne Kos, OD
Many years ago after graduating optometry school, I worked in a welfare clinic on the west side of Chicago. One day I met a patient I will never forget.
He was tall, black, and frightening to look at. On his face were several large deep scars. He wore a black leather biker’s jacket with chains hanging down from one shoulder. As he looked at me, his eyes were full of hate and my first inclination was to refuse to examine him. However, I quickly noticed his hands were handcuffed together and walking along side him was a police officer.
The officer explained to me that this young man of 16 was recently sentenced to serve time in a maximum security prison for hardened criminals. Due to some administrative problem, his physical and eye exam had to be completed before he could be sent. Seeing the grim face on the police officer, as well as his gun strapped to his side, I consented to the exam provided the officer remained in the room. The police officer laughed at my suggestion and commented that he was not to let the man out of his sight, and that of course, he would sit in on the exam.
As I should have expected, he was hostile and uncooperative. Case history indicated no previous eye exams or glasses. His distance and near vision acuities were 20/20.
When I began some visual skills tests, I realized what had happened. I stopped the exam, handed him a reading card and asked him to read it out loud. He began reading smoothly for about 2-3 minutes and then he began to strain to read the words, missing easy words he had read with such fluency before. I could see he was becoming increasingly frustrated and embarrassed.
At this point, when he was no longer able to read with any effectiveness, I placed in front of his eyes two handheld lenses that equaled the prescription glasses I felt he needed. Immediately, he began to read again like he did when he first started! His reading was clear, smooth, and accurate.
He read for a moment longer and then looked up at me in wonder. Shaking my head, I said to him, “You know, you never really had a chance at all.”
With that, the young man began to cry. In fact, he began to cry so hard that he lost his breath and began weeping like a little child. Large tears ran streaming down his leather jacket as he crumpled up into a little ball.
Forgetting he was a “hardened criminal,” I placed my arm around his shoulder to comfort him. Remarkably, the officer, moved by pity, did the same.
Through his tears this young man kept saying, “I tried to tell my mother and my teachers, but they always said that there was nothing wrong with my eyes. I tried to tell them I couldn’t see to read. I tried to tell them. But they kept telling me that I had passed the school screenings. I tried to tell them. I tried to tell them.” With that, he would start crying again.
As I looked on, I no longer saw a big thug ready to mug me but a small boy who had been mistreated and neglected. As he got up to leave, the officer gave me the address to the prison where I was to mail the glasses.
The boy paused as he walked out the door. This time he looked at me not with eyes of hate, but with eyes of sadness…and hope lost.
Reprinted with permission from Dr. Julianne Kos by Vision First Foundation. Copyright © 2007 Julianne Kos, OD. All rights reserved.