THE HUMAN SIDE OF OPTOMETRY
Letter To a Mysterious Benefactor
An optometrist thanks the stranger who long ago intervened to save her vision and incidentally introduced her to her profession.
BY MARGARET PLACENTRA JOHNSTON, O.D.
The year was about 1956. I was a small child playing outside my parents' Philadelphia home. You were a young man who came to our door and astonished my mother with a comment that went something like this: "Look, I came here to try and sell you an encyclopedia. But I am really an eye doctor who just graduated from school -- I am only selling encyclopedias temporarily while waiting to go into the Army. I couldn't help but notice your child out here. See how much her eye turns out? She really needs eye surgery!"
Only the beginning
I was quickly carted off to the surgeon and the "eye turn" was corrected. That was only the beginning of a long series of eye appointments for me, with vision training (or orthoptics), glasses, contact lenses, etc. It may interest you to know that I now have full stereopsis and am nearly orthophoric at near, with a very manageable exophoria at distance. It must have been something about all that exposure to eye doctors of various sorts that later (much later, after a brief initial career in the teaching field) inspired me to actually follow in your footsteps.
You are not forgotten
All these years later, as I realize how fortunate I am in my choice of career (not to mention to have such excellent vision functioning), I occasionally think of that kind young man who was my first encounter with the eyecare profession. You of course no longer remember the incident. I "remember" it only anecdotally. I will never know if you were an O.D. or an M.D. I will never know your name, or even if you ever got the chance to help others as you helped me. And all these years later, it is doubtful that you are even alive, much less would I even dare to hope that you would ever read this page.
But for your generosity (surely you realized that parents in a middle class neighborhood, suddenly faced with the prospect of eye surgery for their child in the days before managed care, definitely would not be buying any encyclopedia from you that day!), I thank you. For being willing to share your expertise with no thought of any possible reimbursement or of how seemingly absurd the setting, for a lifetime of excellent vision functioning, and for being the steppingstone for an extremely fulfilling career, whoever you are -- or were -- I thank you!
I will never know if you got the chance to help others as you helped me.
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.