Article Date: 7/1/2004

lessons learned
All-Time Favorites
Priceless stories contribute to making our profession enjoyable.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

Do your eyes matter?" I once asked a patient who complained of eye irritation. Misinterpreting the word "matter," she replied emphatically and with a hurt expression on her face, "Well, they matter to me!"

When you've been in practice for as long as I was, you experience, or hear about, many interesting and often humorous patient responses. In addition to the one above, my all-time favorites (some of which I've probably told before), include:

The danger of dual meanings

Dr. Jerry Park tells of a time he was concerned about whether patients were waiting too long in his reception room. So he asked a lady, "What's your usual wait when you come to our office?"

"About 150 pounds," she finally replied with a confused look of "What's how much I weigh got to do with my eyesight?" look on her face.

Another optometrist shared his example of the problem with the dual meanings of some words:

"What method of sterilization are you using?" he asked a lady contact lens patient.

"I had my tubes tied," was her hesitant and confused reply.


Better or badder?

Of course, there have also been instances in which the optometrist doesn't understand the patient. This often occurs with patients who speak with a foreign accent.

"Is this better or worse?" asked the O.D. of a recent immigrant as he added a plus 0.25 sphere to his final subjective.

"Better," said the patient. So the doctor added another 0.25, with again a response of "Better." He kept adding more plus, with the patient always responding "Better."

"Do you mean that each lens change makes what you see better?" asked the exasperated O.D.

"No!" shouted the patient. "I'm telling you it's getting badder!"

Mistaken identities

An optometrist told me of the time he was examining an elderly gentleman and found that he had blepharitis. While instructing him on the necessity of lid scrubs and demonstrating how to go about it, he noticed that the gentleman wasn't paying much attention. Thus he was certain he would probably not follow through.

So he went out to the reception area and asked the man's wife to come back to the exam room. He demonstrated again how she could help him do the lid scrubs.

"Do you have any questions?" he asked her when he'd finished.

"Just one," replied the lady. "Who is he?" (The O.D. had summoned the wrong wife.)

They don't suffer fools

Some great responses also come from juvenile patients:

"When is your birthday?" an optometrist asked a first grader.

"July 8," replied the child.

"What year?"

"Every year!" said the youngster with a look of, "How could you ask such a stupid question?"

Closely allied to this response is the one reported to me in which the optometrist asked the youngster, "How old are you?"

"Five," said the young man.

"And when will you be six?"

"On my next birthday!"

Want to share?

Well, I've run out of space before running out of examples. Thus I shall continue next month. If you've had similar humorous experiences and would like to share them, then e-mail me (at the address below). 

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM. Contact him at


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2004