Article Date: 1/1/2007

reflections - THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Doc's Best Crusade
My travel adventures don't mean nearly as much as my adventures in helping those less fortunate.

BY SOL TANNEBAUM, O.D., F.A.A.O.

Through my 13 trips thus far as a volunteer for Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity (VOSH) International, I've had adventures that could rival those of Tom Brokaw.

Some examples:

• On a mission trip to Bangladesh, I had to be transported by ambulance to the local eye hospital, due to political upheaval. Apparently, the party that lost an election was so angry about the outcome, many of them scorched neighborhoods and riddled buildings with bullets. 

• To celebrate our mission work in Santiago Papasquiaro, Mexico, the two wealthiest landowners tried to outdo one another by throwing us their own lavish parties complete with steaks, tequila and mariachi music.

• The room in which I stayed in Bolivia was so small, I could take a shower and use the washroom at once.

Although these experiences have been amazing, they cannot compare with the ones I've had as an O.D. in helping those who do not have access to vision care. Here is some information about my work and my most memorable patient encounter.

Dr. Tannebaum has been on 13 trips thus far as a VOSH volunteer.

The panache of VOSH

I am part of a group that is invited by a governmental party, medical mission, health organization or social workers to provide vision care to those less fortunate. My fellow volunteers (eyecare practitioners, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and others) and I bring our own exam equipment, ocular drugs (provided by the various pharmaceutical companies) and used spectacles (sometimes in the thousands). Usually, the Lions Club neutralizes the glasses.

Once we arrive at the mission destination, we set up our own examination stations. These can be

located in the rooms of schools, a community center or an existing clinic.

We examine foreign patients in the same way we examine patients in our own practices, only we utilize translators in non-English speaking countries to help us obtain the patient's case history and test his visual acuity. Then, we use the automated refractor to determine the eye's error, look into the back of the eye for evidence of disease (frequently with dilation), write the necessary prescription (if any) and dispense the appropriate spectacles and/or medication. These steps require many volunteer personnel, as we typically see 300 to 400 patients per day.

Nice to see you

My most memorable patient encounter thus far occurred on a mission trip to Poland. A woman in her 30s presented physically carried by one of her family members, as she has been blind since birth. Retinoscopy, however, revealed a light reflex. The patient displayed such severe myopia in both eyes, she could only view objects placed closer than her nose.

I placed a -30.00D lens over her eyes, and she screamed, "I can see! I can see!" A -30.00D prescription was not available, so my fellow volunteer eyecare practitioners and I placed three -10.00D lenses together in a makeshift frame.

When I placed the spectacles on this patient, she gleamed with a smile and asked for a mirror. When she saw herself, she asked, "don't you have a better-looking frame?"

I guess you can't please everyone.

DO YOU HAVE A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE? DISCUSS YOUR STORY WITH JENNIFER KIRBY, SENIOR ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF OPTOMETRIC MANAGEMENT, AT (215) 643-8139 OR KIRBYJ@LWWVISIONCARE.COM. OM OFFERS AN HONORARIUM FOR PUBLISHED SUBMISSIONS.



Optometric Management, Issue: January 2007