THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
It's All How You Look At It
Sometimes the patients who require the most
of your time can teach you a thing or two.
BY HEIDI M. MAYER, O.D., CLEVELAND, OHIO
Patients come to a doctor expecting answers to their questions, but I have found answers and inspiration from patients. Some patients will forever remain in my memory. For example, at a VA hospital I had a 36-year-old quadriplegic patient who couldn't speak because of a traumatic injury. With the help of his talking computer, he told me that he had prism in his glasses and even cracked a joke. Sometimes we need a reminder of how fortunate we are and how much we take for granted.
ILLUSTRATION BY PAINE
She told me!
Geriatric patients occasionally require more time, patience and often a good sense of humor, but I've learned from them because they've lived longer and they often have so many stories to tell.
On September 11, a 65-year-old woman came in wearing a red, white and blue scarf. She had immigrated from Italy and spoke with a heavy accent, but I gleaned something important by listening carefully to her.
Maybe she sensed a dark mood or pessimism in me that day, because as I was placing the phoropter in front of her, she suddenly gave me a preaching. Now normally placing a phoropter in front of a patient abruptly signals an end to the conversation, but she said, "You are a doctor and you have a job, so count your blessings."
She puts her money where her mouth is
She told me that she had survived breast cancer and that her sister had battled it as well, but instead of complaining like her sister and feeling like a victim, she stayed optimistic. I attribute her survival, at least in part, to this healthy attitude.
Recently, after cataract surgery, she had radiated enthusiasm because of a drastic improvement in her vision, but she laughed at how mortified she was to discover that she had missed seeing all the dust and dirt in her house for years. The only problem with these optimistic patients is that they're hard to refract because to them, "one is good and two is good" too!
Get a sense of humor
I have had patients in their mid-80s and early 90s who retain good health and mental alertness. These patients often explain that the secret of a long, healthy life is swimming laps two or three times each week. Does swimming two or three laps over a lifetime count?
A good sense of humor is necessary in practice, especially when dealing with geriatric patients. They often struggle to remember, yet don't want to admit it. Patients have told me lengthy jokes only to forget the punch lines. I would state one here, but I can't remember them either, so I sympathize with them!
Patience pays off
Patients have told so many stories that I might even have enough material for a stand-up comedy routine. Sometimes patients need a few seconds to tell you something not related to their eyes -- especially if they live alone and you're the only person they talk to all day. And on the bright side, you just may learn something valuable from the experience.
DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH RENÉ LUTHE, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8132 OR
LUTHER@BOUCHER1.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR
Optometric Management, Issue: December 2003