Note to readers: This is installment three. You should start with the first if you have not already read it.
So the question of day was, is it actually possible for a special contact lens to restore eye sight. We would soon find out as Akhtar and I made our way to one of the satellite offices of Johns Hopkins Medical System, located in the Washington suburbs. I was surprised at how big the Wilmer Eye Clinic was there, not as big as the one in the huge Baltimore Johns Hopkins Hospital, but still very impressive. There were several receptionists, a large waiting area buzzing with activity, 25 or 30 people patiently waiting, and a wide screen TV showing something about buying fine homes at low prices.
After checking in and waiting for about 20 minutes, we were escorted to another waiting room, jammed with about 20 people. After only a few minutes Akhtar’s name was called out, and we were met by a somewhat frazzled lady wearing a long white coat, and who appeared to me to be approaching sixty, maybe older. The exam room looked about the same as the one in Baltimore, and the testing got underway as soon as the Farsi translator got on the line.
It did not get off to a good start.
Akhtar waived his arms in his typical fashion and spoke with intensity, which was translated by the Farsi-speaker on the phone as, “He says he is not interested in a contact lens and wants a new eye.”
I had to give the guy credit. He simply would not, as they say, take no for an answer. But isn’t this the kind of attitude that so many immigrants have had as they faced overwhelming odds against them? If they had given up, they never would have made it.
The doctor was not pleased. She abruptly stopped, stared for at moment at Akhtar, then at me, and exploded, speaking directly to the translator on the phone, “Does he know who I am? I am a contact lens specialist. This is the Wilmer Eye Clinic of Johns Hopkins Hospital. If he does not want a contact lens, tell him to get out of my exam room and get out now. We can’t help him at Hopkins. He needs to find someone else, just tell him to get out. I am very busy. I am an expert in this field, some say the best, and I do not have time for people like him.”
The translator translated to Akhtar, who frowned and remained silent.
It occurred to me that the doctor must not be having a good day.
As she started to leave the room, I blurted out, “No, please. Do not leave. We have a referral from the Hopkins eye doctors in Baltimore. He needs a contact lens. He is desperate.”
“And who are you?” she snarled.
I paused, then stuttered, “Uh, I am his sponsor. He is a refugee from Afghanistan. He does not understand the U.S. medical system. He was told that he could get a new eye in the U.S. but now we know that is not possible. He really did not mean he didn’t want a contact lens. He did not want to insult anyone.”
She was not impressed, muttering something about how she had heard with her own ears what the translator had said and never had heard of “sponsors.” I clarified that actually my church sponsored refugee families, and I was representing my church. This, of course, was not true. My church was sponsoring a refugee family, but not this one, and I had no formal role other than being a friend. For some reason the refugee agency that assigns sponsors to people like Akhtar never assigned one to him and his family. Fortunately, however, my feeble explanation seemed to calm her. She pulled herself together, sighed and continued the testing.
The procedures lasted about 30 minutes. After the initial encounter with the contact lens doctor, Akhtar seemed to finally realize that he was on thin ice and kept quiet for the rest of the time except to answer which number he saw on the screen. I think it was finally getting through to him that a new eye was not in the cards.
The doctor spoke again to the Farsi-translator on the phone, “Tell him that I will give him a prescription for a contact lens. It may or may not work, but he should try it and come back and we will test him.”
The translator then replied that Mr. Akhtar said that he would like to thank the doctor.
We made two more visits to the eye clinic. The second visit was more catastrophic than the first. When asked how the contact lens was doing, Akhtar complained that for a long time he was seeing double and he was not happy. I knew that myself, but I also knew that he was slowly getting adjusted and that he could actually see something in that eye. The doctor did not wait for him to finish and practically shouted at him, “Well, if you don’t like the lens I prescribed, then I want it back. You are on your own. If you think you can do better somewhere else, then go, and good luck!” She slammed the door behind her, storming out of the room, leaving Akhtar and me alone with our Farsi-speaking translator, a middle-aged woman wearing Muslim clothes. The translator turned to me and replied that in 20 years of translating in doctor’s offices she had never seen anything like this.
We three sat there for about ten minutes, not knowing what to do when the door suddenly opened, and the doctor reappeared having regained her composure. She then started the testing, and concluded that the lens was actually doing what it was supposed to do. She went on to explain that he would need a new, more advanced lens once he got accustomed fully to the first lens. We returned home uplifted and hopeful. Bravo, I thought. A true miracle.
The third visit went more smoothly. The doctor was in better spirits and concluded not only that the contact lens was working but that with the next prescription he could achieve a vision of 20-40, but this would be the best that could be achieved.
But there was a catch. The catch was that Akhtar’s insurance would not cover the next lens. No insurance, no lens. Not to be intimidated after having had a similar experience at Meddstar, I cheerfully replied as I had done at the Medstar eye doctor’s office, “No problem. I will pay out of pocket.”
“Not possible. If he has insurance, we can’t accept cash.”
“It is not his cash. It is my cash.”
“Makes no difference. No exceptions.”
I asked her if she could provide a list of manufacturers or suppliers who could provide the lens. She replied that the Wilmer Eye Clinic was way ahead of the rest of the health care providers and that there were probably no other providers that could provide the lens. She suggested I could try by calling around to optometrists but not to expect much.
“If you are able to find the lens, be sure to make an appointment so I can test Mr. Akhtar’s eyes,” she said.
“Does this mean he is doomed? That you can fix his eye, but won’t and probably no one else can?”
She turned her back without answering and walked away. I did not even have time to give her my outrage speech. I saved that for the finance people when we checked out.
“Yes,” the patient person behind the counter replied after I finished ranting and raving. “We are sorry but that is just the way it is. Maybe you will get lucky and find someone who can fill the prescription.’’
Akhtar was following all this with a quizzical look on his face. I was not sure how much he understood. What was pretty clear, however, was that he was not going to get from the Wilmer Eye Clinic the lens that would restore his vision to 20-40.
Reset and start over: At least I had in hand a prescription for a lens that would do the trick. But how to get it? Was such a lens even available outside the Hopkins system? Find out in the last and final installment.