Article Date: 8/1/2001

Getting Back to Basics
A doctor's special talent made him the apple of these patients' eyes.

Dressed in an outfit that resembled a plaid toga, my patient Lillia was squat, talkative . . . and crazy. Not eccentric, hysterical, emotional, unique or original -- no, Lillia was crazy.

As words poured from her mouth, I measured Lillia's pupils. Then I measured her extraocular muscle motilities. I interrupted her flow of words briefly to have her read the visual acuity chart, all the while interjecting quips that provoked more of the filibuster. Her talking clearly made her feel better and wasn't interfering with my exam. Besides, I was actually enjoying listening to her.

Getting to know Lillia

Between her mood swings from happiness to despair, from tears to laughter, amidst the musings about her health, her former job as a secretary and her defunct marriage, I realized I liked her. I wasn't afraid, angry, rushed or preoccupied with office business. Instead, I was fascinated by Lillia.

The examination lasted 45 minutes, a little longer than usual. Lillia didn't need ocular medication and her near-vision-only spectacles were adequate. She was a patient with healthy eyes who needed, on this day, someone to listen to her. She told me I had dispensed good care, which I appreciated.

Another memorable patient

A little later that day, my receptionist interrupted me to tell me I had a phone call from a previous patient. When she told me the patient's name, I recognized it immediately.

Jen was only 13 when she first came to see me in my private practice 10 years ago. She and her mother were among the first patients in my "open cold" private office. She had brown hair and brown irides. I diagnosed her with cavernous hemangioma of the retina OS -- the first case I'd seen that wasn't in a textbook.

On the phone, she asked me if I remembered her. I explained that I did and offered proof by describing her features and those of her mother.

She said that her husband had chronic, blurry vision in his left eye and that the doctors at the eye hospital hadn't communicated clearly about the condition. They wanted to start him on acetazolamide and she wanted to know if I could provide her with information about the medicine and about what her husband's problem might be.

Of course I could and I did, giving the best advice I could over the phone. I was flattered that 6 years since I had sold my previous office, she thought enough of me to call.

What's the attraction?

For some optometrists, the attraction of our profession involves money. For others, it's the opportunity to control work time and create a flexible lifestyle. For far fewer, although we all recited the mantra during our job interviews, it's to help people.

At the end of the day, the desire to help and the ability to care are basic skills for this job. When you use them, the rest of the necessary tools (empathy, clinical skills, knowledge base) almost automatically fall into place.

Not long ago, my receptionist caught me in the hallway to tell me that Lillia had stopped by the office. Out of the blue, my lovable, crazy patient had brought me an apple. All I could do was smile. 

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? Contact Larisa Hubbs at (215) 643-8141 or, so we can talk about getting your story published.

Optometric Management, Issue: August 2001