reflections - THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
How Lucky We Are!
experiences showed this practitioner the many advantages to being an O.D. in the
am thankful for the many blessings of my life. One of the greatest of these is having
become an American citizen after moving here from Vietnam and working as an American
O.D. In my short five-year career, I have worked on Indian reservations, on military
bases and ships, in third-world countries, in prison facilities, in private practice
and in corporate chains. All this was possible because of the many opportunities
this country has to offer.
Been around the world
Several years ago, I provided eye exams to villagers
in rural Guatemala as a member of Student Optometric Services to Humanity. It was
obvious that they needed much more than an eye exam: They needed shelter, running
water, education and a stable government. I remember seeing a group of children
running around bare foot in tattered clothes outside the tents they called home.
They had been displaced by Guatemala's civil war. Though that ended in the mid 1990s,
many were still living in shelters. Even just outside the outdoor market in Antigua,
I saw giant mounds of garbage that spilled on to the street. It looked like it was
the designated local landfill, but I knew this landfill didn't have government regulations.
While I felt good about helping the poor, I felt guilty about returning to my comfortable
life in the United States.
On a trip to the Czech Republic, I
discovered the differences between optometry in Europe and the United States. I
had heard from my international patients that many European countries sold contact
lenses over the counter and priced them more cheaply than they do here. I did some
investigation and found it was true. It was culture shock, optometry style.
The road not taken
More recently, I embarked on a journey to my native
country, Vietnam. There, I took my father to the local optician in Saigon for a
new eyeglass prescription. After the optician performed a quick autorefraction and
he tried on several frames, he purchased a pair of spectacles. The total cost of
the visit: 1,500 Vietnamese dong ($0.10) for the exam and 1.5 million dong ($100)
for a designer frame and lenses.
I couldn't believe my refraction services
would amount to so little. Obviously, it would not be cost-effective to do refractions
here as part of an eyecare mission. I would be better off just giving money to the
poor. The cost of the airplane ticket alone ($1,000) could provide 10,000 refractions.
Count your blessings
We are lucky and privileged not just to
be Americans, but American O.D.s. We are fortunate to make a living providing refractions
and contact lens fits, and sometimes diagnosing and treating ocular disease. We
are lucky that we have control over the dispensing of contacts and spectacles. We
are fortunate that we have electricity that feeds our computers, lights and telephones
in our office and water that runs in our sinks.
Though $3.00 for a gallon of gas is
high, it is not as high as the $6.00 charged in some third-world countries
or worse yet, not having a car to drive at all.
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@LWWVISIONCARE.COM.
OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.
Optometric Management, Issue: August 2006