There were A LOT of great quotes from season 7 episode 3 of Game of Thrones. Sam explaining HOW he figured out how to treat grey scale. Sansa trying to understand what the fuck Bran was talking about. And Tyrion pressing Jon Snow, only to hear, “I know it’s a good question. I’m looking for an answer!” (Side note: I want to live on Dragonstone.)
It’s perfect for what I was thinking about after the ophthalmologist today. I’m used to feeling like a freak most places I go, but the technicians today took it to new levels. In a practice of at least 15 eye doctors, I mistakenly assumed the techs and nurses had seem someone with Albinism before. Not so for the many technicians whose minds I blew when they tried to use any of the machines to get a read of my vision. I haven’t had a checkup in over a decade, so I know some technology has changed. There was more computerized stuff than I remember, but therein was the problem. Because my eyes move constantly (nystagmus) the readings probably aren’t accurate. I tried to explain that to two technicians at the first set of machines. They were too busy speaking Spanish to each other about how weird my results were. (NB: I speak enough Spanish to understand everything they said.) I was then sent to a machine that was intended to take some sort of image of my eyes while I looked at a blue light and a red line. A third technician began the test and got frustrated. A fourth, this one an Asian dude with a rockin’ man bun, helped. He doesn’t even work there regularly I learned later in the appointment, so why is he the only one who didn’t seem to freak the fuck out that these fancy machines aren’t cutting the mustard when it comes to measuring my peepers? Ugh. One of the confused technicians then tried to have me read a vision chart. That was a laugh. Next came a peripheral vision test, which I failed and cheated on by moving my head. Short cuts! I told her before all of that that I’m legally blind, blowing her mind a second time.
“How you get around?”
Well, as I’ve mentioned, ma’am, I’ve been this way since birth and I’ve been adapting that long too. “You’re 35 now.” Yes, that’s what the chart says. “When your vision problems start?” When I was born. It hasn’t gotten any worse. I just need a checkup.
The doctor popped his head in at that point because I assume the other technicians had alerted him to the “alarming” results the machine tests spit out. Thank God he knew what he was doing. Tech One told him I couldn’t do the peripheral vision test and launched into something else. He cut her off, “no, she wouldn’t be able to do that. She has Oculocutaneous Albinism.” (Words the tech had a great deal of difficulty finding in the computer when she was trying to enter my info). So, my ocular muscles suck as does my peripheral vision. I knew that. Can we get on with it?
“Can I give her drops?” Because apparently my eyes are so out of the ordinary to this woman who works in an eye doctors’ office that she wasn’t sure if she could perform the basic exam requirement of dilating my pupils. Y’know what? I wish I had answered for her and escaped without the dreaded drops, but the doctor set her straight.
I got the drops and waited for the doctor. Like I said, thankfully he and his guest doctor (from Chile, so of course I mentioned Neruda) knew their shit. My eyes are great, exactly in the middle of the range of expectations for someone with OCA. The doctor is especially interested in it as a research topic and personally because he has a first cousin with albinism. He wanted to get some residents to look because it would’ve been a great teaching moment. They were all at lunch, which is where I wanted to be.
With a great report, I wanted to find a dark room and lay down until the drops wore off, but I had to get baseline images. A third machine. Three technicians trying to figure out the best way to make the machine work with the freak show, uh, I mean me. Again, Asian man bun was the only one who acted like he had any idea what he was doing. If I didn’t like the doctor so much, I might have had a hissy fit at that point.
With a massive headache and worse vision than usual thanks to the drops of death, I made my way home thinking about the question “how?”
In teaching, we talk about developing thought-provoking, open-ended questions and whatnot. We tend to say WHY questions are the most difficult. I’m not so convinced when it comes to life outside of teaching. Why is often completely inexplicable in life. Why does shit happen? Philosophers have been asking that forever. I get into that sometimes, and it’s fun. But HOW. How is a tricky sucker because people ask all the time and science tries to answer.
There are some HOW questions that I’m sure someone can answer but would be impossible for the layperson to understand, like how does wifi work?
More often people ask me HOW questions that I can’t begin to answer.
“How do you get around?” I don’t know, with my feet. To the best of my ability. The way every other human being “gets around” in that my brain sends a message to a certain part of my body to MOVE and my body does… It’s not like I was given a choice about my vision, so it never occurred to me to do anything differently than the way I perceived other people “get around.”
“How do you teach high school?” Like I was born to do it. I listen to my students. I give a shit about them as human beings. I know that they are probably smarter than I am in tons of ways, so I respect them for that while keeping my place of authority by being an expert in my subject area. How do YOU work in a cubicle? Oh right, you get your ass up and there on time and do what your boss asks because you want/need a paycheck. Next dumb question.
“How did you not have a nervous breakdown?” or “How do you deal with the stress?” or any other HOW questions about depression and anxiety…. It’s so hard to answer. But I think it’s like my vision… It’s not like I have a choice. Yeah, do I feel like it takes everything in me to get out of bed some days? YES YES YES. How do I do it? Because I know staying in bed more than one day isn’t an option. How do I keep it together when something horrible happens, how do I stay calm in crisis situations, how to I put up with this or that? Because it’s not an option to lay face down, pounding my fists into the ground and screaming, so that’s how. I know there’s no choice, so I do what I can.
“How do you know that?” When I know something about a friend’s life that s/he hasn’t told me directly. Intuition. Empathy. I pay attention. I might be a little psychic?
It’s funny because we think HOW can be broken down into steps that are transferable to anyone. But we all know that’s not true. If it were that simple, we could all do things that some people are clearly better at than others. HOW do you hit a home run? Science tells us about speed and force and angles and steroids, which is only part of the answer. Think about it. It’s a process question. That means you have to understand the process and be able to articulate it in a way that makes sense to someone else. That’s a lot harder than the three letters H-O-W lead you to believe.
So, HOW do I do anything? It’s the hardest question.