Last Friday I had an appointment with the eye doctor. Since I am having to go through the public healthcare system, I ended up at Indiana University’s School of Optometry. I do not have a problem being a learning experience for med students, whatever their specialty. My medical history is interesting enough to give even the most experienced med student an opportunity to learn something new. My biggest problem is with med school students who think they know their field, and either refuse to answer my questions, or just dismiss me out of hand because I’m not a member of the MDiety.
Friday, however was not the case. I was fortunate to have Dr. Tonya Smith as the intern that did my exam. First off, I am one to criticize and complain if I feel that the doctor(s) are not taking the time or the interest that I feel is required with my medical problems. Dr. Smith was a prime example of what a doctor, no matter the specialty, should be. She was conscientious, patient, extremely thorough, and had a wonder “chair-side” manner. She listened to me as I explained my medical history, and current problems. She asked questions, something that other doctors have not done. She explained things to me, and why she was doing certain procedures. This was by far the most complete eye exam I have had in thirty plus years.
Poets and lovers write and talk about how the eyes are the windows to the soul, or heart. But they are also a window that doctors can use to see many medical problems. In 1968 when I had my brain tumor (I was eight years old at the time) I can remember my mother taking me to her boss’ ophthalmologist, Theodore Zekman, MD. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dr. Zekman was the eye doctor to many of the élite and powerful in Chicago. His patients included Mayor Richard J. Daley, White Sox players, Cook County Commissioner Dan Ryan, and me, at the time a skinny, scared eight year old who was having headaches, blurred and double vision.
Dr. Zekman took one look into my eyes and immediately called a colleague of his, Dr. Benjamin Boshes at the old Wesley Memorial (now Northwestern Memorial) Hospital. This ultimately led to my having surgery for a brain tumor and Dr. Paul Bucy’s steady hand and talents saved my life. At the time I did not know or realize that I was being treated by three lions in their respective fields. Men who helped to shape and mold their specialties.
Many of the things we remember from our childhood are often mis-remembered. We filter and reinterpret things, and what was remembered as “A” was actually “B.” But, as I grew up, I learned that the eyes truly are gateways to more than just the soul or heart. They are a diagnostic tool for discovering all manner of illnesses. I suppose that is why I have been so frustrated with the Neurology Department at the local public hospital. The resident that had been treating me never once took the time to look into my eyes. And yet it was an eye exam 44 years ago that led to the discovery of my tumor.
But back to Friday. Dr. Smith, after spending the time to learn my history and current problems, did the normal eye exam. The one where they stick the giant lens machine in front of your face and ask, “Which is better? One or two?” She stuck the little card in front of the machine and asked which line I could read. She clicked all kinds of dials and flipped all kinds of lenses to see if there was an astigmatism. She took my current glasses and checked their prescription, turns out that either my eyes have improved in the past three years, or my current glasses were made too strong. Then she told that I still needed bifocals. When I was in my late thirties I was told that I needed bifocals, but vanity would not allow for them. By the time I was 45, my arms had gotten way to short, and I acquiesced to the dreaded bifocal. Now, at 52, I don’t care! I just want to be able to read without having to wear two pairs of glasses.
Dr. Smith then took me to a variety of rooms. Rooms filled with equipment and computers that would test other ocular functions. Seems that I still have good peripheral vision, except in the left eye from above. My retinal nerves are still good, but there is some asymmetrical blood vessels in the right eye. I am developing cataracts, but for now they are simply around the edges. She did say that it is something to be aware of and monitor. She did the eye drop thing where your eyes end up dilated and the world looks painfully brighter and blurry.
She was not like some doctors who disdain talking about themselves. I asked her about her schooling, background, and experience. She was candid, polite, and confident. It was her own personal confidence that made me feel confident in her examining me. It has been my experience that many residents and interns have not the personal confidence needed to be in the medical profession, or perhaps in any profession where your decisions affect the lives of others. Having worked in professions where my decisions, sometimes split second decisions, determined whether myself or someone else might live or die, I appreciate it when I am being treated by a doctor who believes in themselves. It is not “cockiness” but rather knowing that you know what you know.
During the time we spent together I learned that Dr. Smith will be going to Virginia after she is hooded. It is there that she will hang her shingle, and begin her life as an optometrist. She will do well!