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“A… E… Z…” The Eye Doctor Experience in Santiago

At one point, I remember noticing there were many blind people in Santiago. Of course, in a city of 5.15 million, there’s bound to be a certain percentage of the population living with a disability, immediately apparent or hidden. But in Chile’s capital, the one most commonly seen is blindness or a degree of visual impairment, severe enough to require the use of a white cane (side note, guide dogs aren’t common).

I don’t have an explanation for this large blind population. Is there a genetic factor? The sun is strong in Santiago, does exposure cause damages? Do blind people from all over the country tend to settle in the capital for help and support, medical and practical?

So there are blind people in Santiago, and then there is us.

Feng lost his glasses in Foz do Iguaçu. Don’t ask us how, we have no idea. He took them off after being sprayed at the Iguazu Falls and it was pretty crowded, so they must have fell out of his pocket. When he came back to the hotel, the case was empty.

Last year, Feng lost a tee-shirt in Balneário Camboriú. He took it off on Avenida Atlântica because it was hot and he put it on the hood of the stroller. In the evening, we suddenly realized Feng no longer had a shirt on the stroller. I actually have the last known picture of the poor tee-shirt, accidentally framed when Mark took a shot of us on the beach.

Secretly, I suspect Feng wants to leave a little piece of him behind in Brazil.

“I’ll get you new glasses in Santiago!” I promised, half because I knew exactly where to go, and half because I really didn’t want to see a Brazilian optometrist with my limited proficiency in Portuguese.

But seriously, what better place to get glasses than Santiago? I clearly remembered walking in two streets dedicated to eyeglasses stores and optometrists with touts standing in front of them with placards. “Yeah, sure,” I joked the first time I saw this unique block. “How many people on their lunch break walk around the neighbourhood, hesitating between a sandwich and a hot dog, and go ‘screw it, I’ll have my eyes checked instead!’”

Now the joke was on us.

And advertising works—thousands of kilometres from Chile, I remembered that street.

The “eye district” is both on Calle Agustinas and Calle Mac Iver—feel free to nickname it “MacGyver” if you grew up in the 1980s. You can’t miss it, even if you can’t see well. “¡Consultas Oftalmológica!” the captadores call out, which is pretty impressive because it’s a mouthful to say once, let alone twenty thousand times a day.

If you slow down, you’ll be taken to the shop. And if you don’t have a prescription, you’ll be taken to a doctor in one of the buildings on Agustinas.

On Saturday morning, we tried a first doctor, because, of course, Feng doesn’t travel with a five-year-old prescription. The waiting room was packed, with nine patients ahead of us.

Back to the street, where we enlisted the help of a tout. She took us to another building. Third floor? Packed waiting room. Ninth floor? Same. Twelfth floor? Bad new, packed.

“Er… is it like that every day?” I asked, slightly puzzled.

“Mostly Saturdays,” the tout explained. “Doctors only work until 2 p.m.”

Right. And nothing says, “yippee, it’s weekend!” more than a morning spent at the optometrist. Apparently, this was a popular activity in Santiago.

“We’ll come back on Monday,” I told her.

On Monday, there were only three patients in the waiting room. We paid 5,000 pesos (US$8.30) and waited for about half an hour before seeing the optometrist on duty, who even spoke some basic English and use all the regular equipment you see in Canada or elsewhere. Fifteen minutes later, Feng had a prescription.

We walked across the street and brought the receta (prescription) to one of the eyeglasses stores. For about $150, Feng chose a new pair of glasses, to be picked up the upcoming Friday.

After a clinic in Salvador for a dog bite, various hospitals in Canada for spine surgery, the ER in France for a scratched cornea, and the dentist in France, I can now add Chile to the list of countries I took Feng to the doctor.

The eyeglasses street, Mac Iver
Mac Iver and Agustinas
Calle Mac Iver
Calle Mac Iver
Calle Mac Iver
Calle Mac Iver
Calle Mac Iver
The optometrist's waiting room, Agustinas 681
The optometrist’s waiting room, Agustinas 681
The prescription after the eye exam

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