Even though three highly respected eye doctors told us we needed to operate on our seven-year-old daughter's eyes immediately or they'd be crossed forever, my (and my husband's) guts told us this was wrong. So we kept searching for a doctor with a different solution.
Somehow I wrangled an appointment for Jackie with Dr. Joseph Demer, the chief of pediatric ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. When we met him, he was accompanied by not one, or two but three doctors - not interns, but full-fledged working ophthalmologists who followed him around noting his every word and gesture. Had I not been there for my child, I'd have found it amusing.
He put her through a battery of tests. Then, he suggested we get some lunch while he reviewed a DVD of her MRI. When we returned, he was ready with his diagnosis.
He looked at me and my husband. "Tell me a bit about your vision - when you were her age."
Larry described his lazy eye. This doctor agreed that it was most certainly a genetic disorder."Well," he began. I braced myself for the word, surgery. Instead, he prescribed another radical treatment: glasses.
"Three eye doctors we saw said that it was not genetic and insisted the only fix was surgery," I said. "They said if we didn't do it immediately, her eyes would be permanently crossed."
This doctor chuckled. "If your daughter's eyes become permanently crossed, I can un-cross them with surgery. But why on earth would we do that until we had exhausted easier, and less risky solutions?"
My relief at these words was mixed with fury - at the previous three doctors who had spoken with utter certainty and urgency - without surgery my daughters vision was at risk. Were they incompetent, or greedy liars?
I scanned the walls of his office, my eyes darting from one diploma to another. What was not on the wall, but every bit as apparent as an eye chart was his most important sheepskin, from a venerable institution that seems to have closed down long ago: Old School.
We got Jackie her corrective lenses. Once on her face, I watched - like a flower opening - as her eyes straightened. A month later, there has been no double vision, no crossing, and no surgery with murky success rates.
And it gets better. A few weeks later she was invited back to the university hospital to be a case study — of how a relatively low-tech, 19th century technology can still work on 21st century eyes.
I hope her experience saves other children from unnecessary eye surgeries. And causes trouble for cut-happy doctors.