THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Finding a Purpose
How one O.D. realized the impact he'd been making
just by practicing optometry.
BY ROGER NOMURA, O.D.
Although the tragedy of September 11 occurred months ago, the memories still linger, as does the burning question, "What can I do to help?"
When I tried to answer it not long ago, I thought of a time when I considered participating in a vision care mission because I wondered if I was really making a difference in my daily practice -- especially given recent comments I'd heard in my office:
"I don't need new frames, just lenses. Yes, I did just get my nails done. Do you like how they match my new shoes?"
"I tore my soft contact lens after I tried to take it out when I fell from my new mountain bike. Can you give me a trial for now? I need to fix my bike and get a new helmet."
With these phrases ringing in my ears, I debated trading my slit lamp and phoropter for stocks of nail polish and sunscreen instead. But my next two patient encounters made me think again.
ILLUSTRATION BY CAM WILSON
Helping some unsung heroes
Mrs. Gomez, who spoke only Spanish, was in our country from El Salvador visiting two of her children whom she had sent to this land of opportunity by selling baked goods. Now her family wanted her to have a vision exam because she'd never had her eyes checked before. She was 20/200 OU and had a prescription of -2.50 -2.00 x 180 OU.
When I first put the lenses in the phoropter, she said that her eyes hurt and that objects were too bright (probably because she was seeing better). When I had her wear a trial frame and lenses, she saw her family members clearly -- perhaps for the first time in her life. This woman had raised eight children without seeing the details of their faces. She smiled broadly and tears rolled down her face.
I got choked up when I heard a loud, gruff voice from the optical area say, "I just need new glasses."
Not again, I thought.
Mr. Johnson's daughter explained apologetically that he'd broken his glasses. He spoke loudly because he'd lost some of his hearing while fighting in Europe during WWII and had lost even more with advanced age. The VA clinic was too far and the wait was too long for his tired body. So here they were.
Mr. Johnson had age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, but his glasses helped and he had a current prescription. Although he couldn't hear his great-grandchildren clearly, he loved playing with them and seeing their smiles.
I listened to Mr. Johnson's harrowing war stories as he and Mrs. Gomez picked out their frames. I felt honored to help these proud individuals. One was a war hero who had protected our freedom, the other a family hero who had helped give two of her children a better life. Now both of them can enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices by seeing the happy faces of their family members.
Finding a mission
After these encounters, I realized that my mission after September 11 takes place not on a remote battlefield or on a warship, but in my office. I can provide eye care to the everyday heroes who walk into my practice -- firefighters, police officers, teachers and parents. I can help them do their jobs so we all can continue to enjoy the freedom we cherish.
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Optometric Management, Issue: February 2002