Article Date: 6/1/2009

Pirates of the Corneal Abrasion: Curse of the Black Patch
Patient's Perspective

Pirates of the Corneal Abrasion: Curse of the Black Patch

A doctor offers no reassurance or education, leading one patient to fear the worst.

By Emily Sayers, as told to Erin Murphy, Contributing Editor

ONE DAY after work, my husband James was in the kitchen. “Hi,” he sighed, turning to face me. “I had a not-so-great day.” A large, black, pirate-style eye patch covered his left eye.

I burst out laughing. It sounds terrible. Here's my husband, telling me about his “not-so-great day” that apparently resulted in his transformation from accountant to pirate. Wiping tears from my eyes, I said, “Yeah, I guess it wasn't so great.”

I knew James hadn't been to a hospital or had a major accident, so I assumed there was no horrible medical reason behind the patch. He was shocked by my response, because he was certain he'd suffered a terrible, life-altering eye injury. James was wrong.

“Yar” Gonna Be OK

That morning, James had ducked under a tree branch, and a twig smacked him in the eye. It bothered him all day, so he went to the optometrist after work and learned he had a corneal abrasion.

“I can't believe you laughed!” he said, looking like the saddest pirate ever. “I hurt my eye, and now my sight is probably ruined forever.”

I realized James thought he'd done serious permanent damage. I explained that a scratched cornea is quite common, and generally heals just fine, with vision returning to normal after a short healing period.

James was very relieved. He said the doctor looked miserable and spoke in monosyllables. He'd examined the injured eye, then told James, “You scratched your cornea,” and handed him a prescription.

James, always proudly 20/20, asked, “Is this going to affect my vision?”

The distracted doctor shrugged off the question and told him to buy an eye patch. James didn't ask any additional questions because, he said, “It seemed like the doctor wanted to get me out of there.” But James didn't have a terrible injury. He just had an optometrist with a terrible disposition.

Blimey, What a Relief!

My husband's eye healed just fine, and years later we can both laugh about the pirate incident. I wear eyeglasses now, and James may need them, too. Needless to say, we haven't returned to the optometrist with the patchy interpersonal skills. nOD

Tips for Sailing the C's of Corneal Abrasion Education

The first step in educating patients about corneal abrasion is to recognize that getting an eye injury is very scary. The last thing patients want to do is to harm their eyes and damage their vision. That's why these steps are so important.

Comfort. When patients are scared, they look to you for reassurance. if the corneal abrasion is serious, get serious, but if it's a common scratch that will heal in a few days, offer patients reassurance. Because patients receive your nonverbal messages, too, be sure to project your confidence and optimism.

Clarify. “Scratched cornea” may be a no-brainer to you, but most patients don't know what it means, and it sounds awfully serious to a layman. Explain the physical injury, as well as what to expect in terms of short- and long-term effects and healing time.

Confirm. You'll see corneal abrasions somewhat regularly, so keep a printed education sheet on hand. Worried patients can review the sheet at home to learn more about their injury and boost their confidence in the healing process.

Editor's note: Periodically, new OD will explore eye care from the patient's perspective. Whether you have a special interest in contact lenses, low vision or pediatric care, you'll find out from real patients what attracts them to a practice and keeps them coming back.

Optometric Management, Issue: June 2009