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Connecting with People

For years, I have seen patients for their annual eye exams and had the privilege of hearing about their lives. Some days, patients are anxious to come in and discuss an upcoming vacation and their excitement surrounding the selection of new sunglasses. Some days, parents bring in their children for their annual ‘back to school’ check and I get to hear about their amazing summer adventures. Some days, I hear about the recent death of a loved one and the exasperation of constant crying and wondering how it will affect their eye health. Other days, I listen to a man describe his recent divorce and the humility around not being able to get new glasses because of his current financial situation. One would not necessarily think that these conversations would happen every day in an eye care office but they do. It is these conversations that continue to reinforce how much I love what I do. I meet new people every day. I get to see old friends every day. I get to witness a child putting on a pair of glasses for the first time and see the awe in their face when they discover that trees have leaves. But recently, I had a very unique experience. The tables were turned. I was seeing a patient I had seen for years, an older man in his late 70s. The exam was uneventful, no vision threatening eye disease, no aggressive eye infections, in fact, everything was just status quo. I felt very happy reporting to the patient that he had done an amazing job caring for his eyes and he should just ‘continue doing what he was doing’ as it was serving him well. I thanked him for continuing to trust us with his eye care and for referring his family and friends. He stood up to leave the exam room and as he crossed the door’s threshold he simply turned and said, “Over the years you have protected my vision. You have given me the gift of being able to see everything I’ve wanted to see, my children, grandchildren, the sunrise and sunset.” Simply hearing that from a patient was enough to bring me to my knees. But then he said a bit more. “You have allowed me to see when someone is happy and when someone is sad. You have made it so I can see when someone is not having a good day. I am not sure I am so grateful for this last gift as I can see Dr. that today…today you are not having a good day. Something is happening inside you that has stolen your spirit. Know that I see it and I am sorry. I will be thinking of you.” He was so right, I was having an awful day with many changes happening in my personal life that I felt obligated to block out to be able to get through the work day with a smile. Now, if you have ever been having a bad day and someone says you look tired, you get angry right? This wasn’t that experience at all. This was the most humbling experience I have had in my entire life. This was a man who took the time to thank me for what I had done for him and at the same time acknowledged that this gift allowed him to see in me that I was struggling. He didn’t say anything more but simply strolled out the door with my staff member. I am sure he could tell by the look on my face that he had hit the nail on the head. I suppose the ability to read people comes more naturally to those that have lived on this planet for 70+ years. If you asked me 3 months ago about this man, I could have told you I would never forget him. I would have shared wonderful stories about his family, his sense of humor and described the crazy shorts he wears every year. If you asked me about this man now, I would just smile. Over the years I have become truly grateful for the ability to connect with people but have never appreciated how much they have connected with me. – Dr . M