By Annika Konrad
Thank you so much for all the work that you do. I know you’re very busy, so I truly appreciate you taking the time to learn about what it’s like for me to visit the ophthalmologist. My hope is that this information will help you treat those of us with blinding diseases.
The fifteen-minute ophthalmology appointment is of great significance to me. Since it only comes once a year, I have a long time to mull over the possible outcomes and revisit the events of the past appointment. In anticipation, I feel hopeful yet fearful—hopeful that the appointment will bring good news and fearful that the appointment will bring bad news. Sometimes I am overcome with anxiety by the time I arrive at the appointment. While I understand that you cannot control the type of news you need to deliver, here are some ways you can recognize and acknowledge how much importance the short fifteen minutes has in my life.
- Think carefully about the words you use. If you use words I don’t understand, I will look them up when I get home. My family members might look them up too. Depending on what we find, we might begin to think about my future—will I go totally blind? If so, when? What will I do? Will I be able to do my job? Will I be able to raise children? How will I get around? I know that your job doesn’t require you to have answers to these questions, and I know that there are other trained and capable professionals who can help me with these challenges. But I want you to know that your words influence how I think, feel, and experience my life and my future.
- Remember that the physiology is only one of many dimensions of my experience. Most of the time, my top priority is to figure out how to live with my blindness. Hearing about the latest research can be interesting and exciting, but I hesitate to fixate on the idea of a cure. What I’m more interested in receiving from you is hope. Although you might not want to instill false hope that I will receive treatment someday, you can help me feel hopeful that I will live a full life. I won’t hold a grudge if I never receive treatment, but if you instill hope in me, I will be thankful that you created the space for me to continue living my life without worry.
- Even if there is no new news, please take time to read and interpret to me all the tests I’ve completed. It’s no secret that some vision tests are not so fun. I don’t blame you for having to run tests, but I want you to put time and care into reading those tests and relaying the information to me, even if the results are not surprising or new to you. I want you to bring the care and effort toward me that I put toward completing the exams.
- Ask me if you can help connect me with resources and access to services. It often takes a lot of time and effort to remain aware of all the resources and services that are available to me, so you can help by reminding me of what’s available and where. I often need your documentation for various applications, so it is helpful when you ask if I need anything from you in the way of documentation or referrals.
- I’m sure this goes without saying, but most of all, remember that I am a person with a full, rich life and I want you to ask about it. I want you to see me as more than a set of eyes because even though your job is to understand my physiology, my physiology is not what propels me through life. You carry an immense amount of authority as a doctor, and you can use it to help people build positive self-images, even when parts of our bodies aren’t working right.
Once again, thank you so much for all the work that you do. I look forward to more opportunities to build connections between health care providers and those of us in the blind and low vision communities.
Annika Konrad lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
Featured image is a photo of a woman and her eye doctor interacting during an exam. In the background you can see the eye doctor’s office. Credit: Lighthouse International. Relations is licensed under CC BY 2.0