So while one could wonder why in our health care system today a treatment, device or procedure would be withheld because of lack of or insufficient insurance, that did not stop Akhtar and me from moving forward to the next step: getting an optometrist to place an order for a prescription written by a doctor from the world’s greatest eye clinic. How hard could that be?
Turns out the answer is, very.
I started with my own neighborhood optometrist. He is friendly, engaged with his patients, and I knew that he would be helpful. After studying the prescription and making a couple of calls, he scratched his head and suggested that it would really be easier to get the lens from Wilmer. He doubted it was commercially available anywhere else. Or I could also search the internet, though he did not know exactly how I might do that.
On to the next optometrist, then the next, then another. I admit I did not do this scientifically since I was randomly dropping by various stores that I happened across. The same result happened each time. Initially they were cordial and volunteered to help me out; but after trying to figure out the exact prescription, concluded that I really needed to see an eye expert. Two suggested the Wilmer Eye Clinic. After a couple of weeks of this, I was about to give up.
Then Embry observed that I really was not going to the right places. I was haphazardly visiting optometrists who probably were small, mom and pop outfits. What I needed to do was visit one of the big boys, who were really tied into the health care system and had their own experts. She suggested a company called Voorthuis, which had numerous locations around Washington, and which she had heard good things about. If they could not get the lens, she admitted we were probably doomed, but it was surely worth a try. I immediately looked up the closest Voorthuis location and headed out the next morning on the Metro to arrive at the opening time of ten o’clock.
The store was located in one of Washington’s fanciest retail malls and surely looked impressive. A middle age man with a kind expression had just opened the doors and I burst in, threw myself at his feet and begged for mercy, weeping as I told my sad story. Okay, this is a bit of an exaggeration, but I did go into some detail and concluded my remarks with something like, you are my last hope.
He gave me the once over with a slightly amused look on his face and said three things:
“Look, you can relax. There is no prescription that we can’t fill. We will get you the lens that your refugee from Afghanistan needs.”
When he said this, my jaw dropped in disbelief, and it was all I could do to keep from hugging him.
“Second. My former associate happens to be from Afghanistan. We help refugees and immigrants all the time. And third, these specialty lenses can be pretty pricy. For your refugee we will sell it to you at factory cost with no markup.”
I stood there for a brief moment, muttering under my breath, “Thank you, Jesus!”
Gaining my composure, I smiled and replied, “Well, it looks like I am in the right place.”
The rest was easy and routine. The lens arrived in two weeks. The price to me was $70, a substantial discount from what it normally would have been. The kind manager grumbled that the actual cost of producing one contact lens was something like $1.60. I thanked him profusely and once back on the sidewalk outside the mall raised my arms the way a referee does when a touchdown is scored. Today Embry is hand delivering the lens to the Akhtar family on her routine visit to take the kids to the library and the local pool.
But the refugee saga will continue. As a matter of default, we and our daughter’s family are really the only support system they have, and life is hard and full of daily surprises. It has now been just over a year, and hardly a week goes by without some kind of crisis, most but not all, minor. To say that the Akhtar family is grateful for our role in their lives is an understatement. After every doctor’s visit, Akhtar would repeat over and over, “Thank you, Baba Joe. Thank you, Baba Joe.” We rarely escape from his wife feeding us a delicious mid day feast when we visit. Life goes on. But, as our granddaughter pointed out when we first met them, “they are a handful!” More refugee stories will probably follow….