A marketing professional who has been collaborating with the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) for the past several years recently shared the following story with ASCO staff. She would like everyone to know how invaluable the accessibility, compassion and expertise of an optometrist were to her recently when she experienced a retinal detachment.
Why Everyone Should Have an Optometrist
Having served as a consultant for ASCO, I’ve been very aware of the importance of optometrists in the healthcare system. I know how they serve as primary eyecare providers, not only fitting patients with glasses and contact lenses so they can thrive in their daily lives but also diagnosing and treating eye diseases and detecting systemic health conditions that manifest in the eyes. I also know how satisfied optometrists tend to be with their careers. They can choose to practice in just about any healthcare setting, including academia and government, they have manageable family-friendly hours, earn a good income, and they’re passionate about the care they provide. However, what I didn’t know was just how important all of this would be to me personally.
It all started one evening this fall when I noticed what seemed like a gray thumbprint obstructing part of the vision in my right eye. I thought maybe it was the beginning of a migraine because I’d had a stressful day. But in the back of my mind I was remembering being told by an eye doctor following both cataract surgery and an unrelated repair of a retinal tear that I should immediately call a doctor if I ever saw a “black curtain coming over my eye.” This, he said, was a sign of a retinal detachment, which could progress quickly and lead to vision loss if not treated promptly. Even though what I was currently seeing wasn’t a black curtain, I became increasingly nervous that something serious might be wrong with my eye.
First thing the next morning I called my optometrist’s office and explained my situation. The doctor of optometry I’d been seeing for years for my glasses prescription and who was familiar with my previous eye issues wasn’t available to see me until the next day, so I made an appointment. A few minutes later my phone rang. It was the person I had just spoken to, saying she explained my symptom to the optometrist in the office who said I shouldn’t wait until tomorrow, I should come in immediately. An hour later I arrived at the office to find that the optometrist who was there to see me looked very young. For a second, I wondered whether it would’ve been better to wait the day to see my more experienced doctor, but before I knew it, I was in the exam chair. The optometrist performed a thorough examination and concluded I had a retinal detachment, which an ophthalmic surgeon, a retina specialist specifically, would need to see and most likely treat as soon as possible. She contacted two retina specialists for me, and one was able to see me that afternoon.
The retina specialist confirmed the optometrist’s diagnosis — retinal detachment — and said I should have surgery within 24 hours to ensure I didn’t lose vision, which he explained is a definite risk with a detachment. Later that day, he learned that an operating room slot wouldn’t be available sooner than three days, so he made arrangements for me to have surgery at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. Finding out that I’d have to travel from home in New Hampshire to Boston the next morning was an unexpected twist in what was already a tense scenario for me, but I was thankful the doctor was able to set it up, especially because Mass Eye and Ear is a nationally known and respected healthcare facility, and the obstruction in my vision was getting worse.
Eye Surgery Day
I made it to Boston, and in a 90-minute procedure during which I was under general anesthesia, the surgeon re-attached the retina with a laser and injected an air bubble into the eye to help keep the delicate retina in place while it healed. My ride and I stayed in a hotel overnight so I could be at my first follow-up appointment the next morning. After the appointment, I was cleared to go home, and the surgery was a success, but not fully until I complied with the recovery instructions, which included not being able to read or travel and to put myself in a head-down position for at least 50% of each day for several weeks so that the air bubble could do its work. After several more follow-up appointments, and when the air bubble was absorbed by my body as expected, my life returned to normal.
Thank You, Doctor of Optometry!
As I think back on this experience, I couldn’t be more appreciative of the healthcare team and what they did for me. While it was an ophthalmic surgeon who performed my retinal surgery, the optometrist set the whole plan in motion, insisting that I come to the office right away, expertly diagnosing the condition and referring me to the retina specialist, all the while being as reassuring as could be. Even in the absence of the optometrist I usually see, her office took great care of me. The young optometrist I did see that first day is a tribute to the schools and colleges of optometry, who obviously do a fantastic job training doctors of optometry who are ready to provide top-notch eye care.
My experience showed me like nothing else ever had how important it is to have optometrists in our communities and what a difference they can make in our lives as they safeguard our precious gift of sight. Everyone should have their own doctor of optometry. As I learned firsthand, it’s as important as having a primary care physician. It’s not a luxury, it’s a real necessity!