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Sharing My Eyes

Posted by on Jul 28, 2015 in Blogs

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This summer, I was lucky enough to have one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life, literally. I worked with a summer camp program for teens who have lost all or part of their vision. Although the program is only a few months long, it has definitely been one of the most inspiring things I have ever done and continues to reassure me that I am following the right career path.

Each time I leave work, I am amazed. The students in this program do not dwell on what they have lost. They continue to challenge themselves and work hard to regain their independence. During the day, they each have classes to learn crucial skills such as using the subway or doing laundry. At night, they are able to connect with each other and share their stories. Boy, do they have interesting stories!

These students are from all over the United States, and many of them are the only visually impaired student at their school. They share what it is like being treated differently because of a disability. Yet, from where I stand, they each seem to push past that and maintain a positive outlook on life. These teens do not let their lack of sight limit them.

Part of what I do for the program is helping out with field trips. I am there to share my eyes. When I first started the job, I figured we would take trips to a park every once in a while or something along those lines. I could not have been further off target.

With this students I have: gone all over Boston (using the subway to do so,) explored the woods on hikes, embraced the chilly Massachusetts waters at the beach, traveled through historic forts, taken on a ropes course 25 feet in the trees, fished (I was in charge of the worms,) gone for horseback rides, and so much more! Next week, we plan to go to an amusement park!

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To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much independence they had when the program started. I figured I would be running around lending my eyesight to help lead them everywhere. Although I am happy to do that, I only have to do it occasionally. Almost every one of the campers asks me if they can try whatever task they are facing alone before I help them. They take the time to learn as opposed to relying on my vision. That is something that leaves me in awe- they fight for their independence in a world that is so reliant on sight.

I have gotten to know each student very well- their likes and dislikes, their future plans, some of their past. I will miss them when the program is over, but I am confident that they will go on to live their lives fully. Each of these teens sees the world a little differently, but they don’t let that stop them- despite the doubts of others. Aside from their eye sight, they are just like any other teen and I am thankful for the lessons they have taught me.

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Don’t Panic…

Posted by on Jul 23, 2015 in Blogs

It has been almost a year since I started ICO, and boy, has a lot happened! Am I happy to be at ICO? Incredibly. I have met some of the best people here, I have learned so much about myself (and about the eyes,) and I have found something that I really enjoy.

However, if you would have asked me during the first week of classes if I had made the right decision, I probably wouldn’t have said all this. In fact, I actually told Beth Karmis that I thought I had made a huge mistake coming to ICO, that I didn’t want to be an eye doctor, that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and that I applied to optometry school because I didn’t want to apply to medical school. Oh, and I was saying all this while bawling my eyes out (I hate crying in front of people!)

Was it true what I was saying? No. So, why was I saying these things? I was saying these things because, for the last 18 hours, I had been having my first major panic attack. When you have one of these attacks, you seem to say anything that could help you get away from the “dangerous” situation.

Lets back up- 18 hours prior to this moment. It was the second day of classes, and we still had two more classes to go. I was fine… until I wasn’t. My heart started to hurt, I had a lump in my throat that made it impossible to breathe or talk, and my eyes were filling with tears. I excused myself and ran back to my room. I cried from three until midnight, and 2AM, I called my mom and said she had to come get me. She and my grandpa arrived 8 hours later, and had no idea what to do.

After a long talk between Beth, my mom, and I, we had a few options: try to get through classes until White Coat, go home for the week, or quit. My mom was afraid that if I went home for a week, I would never return. Round and round we went, until my grandpa said, “Jesus Christ, Melissa!” He decided he and my mom were going to leave me and return for White Coat in two weeks. As they were leaving, my second major panic attack began, and it didn’t stop until I fell asleep at home in my mom’s bed 8 hours later.

My mom had assumed that, as soon as I was in the car heading for Minnesota, it would all stop. It didn’t. I started to panic because I knew I wanted to be at ICO, and I wanted to be studying to become an eye doctor. I ultimately felt lost.

Fortunately, my grandma has a great relationship with her doctors. The next day, I had two doctor appointments. One was to a psychiatrist, and the other to a family doctor. Both said the same thing: Panic disorder. The psychiatrist said that my panic attacks were the kind that didn’t tire my body out, and therefore they lasted longer than the usual attack. The family doctor said that everyone has a battery- a reservoir- and unfortunately, I had gone into optometry school with both empty. I was exhausted.

I ended up being medicated, and I decided to head back to ICO. Unfortunately/fortunately, while I was getting used to the new medication, it would actually cause more panic attacks for the next three weeks. Family members had to take turns staying in Chicago for the time being. Therefore, I was struggling to stop panicking, stay atop my studies, hang out with family members everyday, and try to make friends.

I failed my first exam (biochemistry.) My mom said it was OK, Beth said it was OK, and Dr. Z said it was OK. I had a panic attack and bawled again while looking over the exam in her office. However, I did laugh after this because I was so embarrassed, and guess what? It was OK. Now, I’m preparing to start my second year, and kicking it off by helping with Orientation (who would have guessed?)

So, to incoming first years: It will be ok. They say first year is the hardest. While I have nothing to compare it to as of yet, you can get through it, no matter the bumps along the way. I found out that people are willing to help; just ask. Talk to your roommate, or Beth Karmis, your teacher, or someone from the year above (like me.) Everyone wants to help you in the difficult times, even if it has nothing to do with optometry.

As Rob Schneider said in The Waterboy: 

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Fortune Cookies Know Best

Posted by on Jul 16, 2015 in Blogs

image1 (4)image1 (5)Morning Coffee

This morning for breakfast I had a rather hefty cup of espresso with exactly one sugar cube and two splashes of skim milk; typically it’s only one splash but I was extremely tired and my hand slipped. To accompany this brain booster, I had a fortune cookie from last week’s takeout. I’m glad I saved it instead of devouring it post egg drop soup. I always knew these crisp, golden treats had an eerie way of predicting the future (after all, they are fortune cookies) but this morning made me a true believer.

It read: “You are soon going to change your present line of work”

This got me thinking about how true this statement really is. In exactly two weeks I’ll be leaving my job as a LensCrafters technician and I’ll be starting my transition into becoming an ICO optometrist. Soon, I’ll be stepping onto campus and calling the RC my home. In between sips of coffee I let that sink in.

Although I’ll still be in the eye care profession, I consider my line of work to be changing drastically. I am going to become someone that others look up to. I am going to have the power to help people, maybe even change their lives. Wow, what a cool thing to think about. I hear from students and faculty that the ICO process gives you a complete mind, body, and spirit makeover to shape you into a successful optometrist… kind of like what a fortune cookie must go through in the manufacturing process, right?

Please enjoy the following cheesy analogy:

Per YouTube, fortune cookies start out as a bag of sugar, flour, and other extraneous ingredients that are thrown into a huge vat for mixing. I’d like to think that I have all the necessary “ingredients” to become an optometrist, and the ICO curriculum is the mixing vessel that is prepping me to become a professional clinician. As first year progresses, I imagine as students we will become more robust versions of ourselves and will be ready for the next step: the oven. Or, if you prefer, we can call this second year. Here, we will come out steaming hot from first year and be ready to take form as a more experienced student. We are no longer a one dimensional hotcake, but we have some grooves and indentations and are eager to be folded into a pretty little cookie… errr, I mean optometrist.

During the fortune cookie manufacturing process, one batch of cookies can have as many as 5,000 different fortunes in their lot. I think as ICO students we will be no different; I anticipate our education here to encourage our diversity and embrace our range of purposes for wanting to pursue an education in optometry. Once ICO helps fold and mold us into the right shape, we will be neatly packaged, boxed up, and shipped out, excited to become someone else’s morning espresso accompaniment. Or, if you want to be all technical about it, excited to make an impression on someone else’s life.

I’d be lying if I said this little cookie today didn’t cause me to think about my future and consider the metamorphosis I’ll soon undergo. I’m feeling pretty fortunate to be where I’m at in life. Hey, maybe I should take my lucky numbers and go play the lottery 😉

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Neighbors to the North

Posted by on Jul 9, 2015 in Blogs

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One of the great things about going to school at the Illinois College of Optometry is that you meet people from a variety of places. From the East to the West coast, from the South to the very coldest North, students are from everywhere- including Canada.

There are a few differences between The United States and Canada. While visiting my boyfriend (a fellow student) in Windsor, we started a list of things that are different between our two countries:

1. Alcohol, but mostly beer. Apparently, American beer is too light and watered down. Americans also like their IPAs and craft brews, which some Canadians do not like. Also, alcohol is cheaper in the States. A case of Budweiser was $40 in Windsor this summer!

2. Official Languages. My boyfriend’s first language was French, and then he learned English; both are official languages of Canada. While I speak English and Spanish, the States do not have an official language. However, Spanish is much more common than French in most places.

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3. Guns. I actually noticed Canadian reactions to guns when my roommate saw an officer in a restaurant still wearing his gun. Growing up in the States, we get used to the idea of guns way too easily.

4. Fast Food. First off, fast food is cheaper in the States than in Canada, so Canadians, eat your hearts out! However, we do not have “fries supreme” in the States. This is a travesty, because I just had them for the first time this summer and I already miss them (to any Canadians, please bring some back for me.)

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5. Toque. A toque is what Americans call a winter hat. Do not make the mistake of calling it a beanie because beanies are those knit hats that are baggy in the back. According to Danny, a beanie is a subgroup of a toque.

6. Volleyball. Volleyball is a boys’ sport in Canada. Obviously we had co-ed volleyball at my University, but it was not normal to have a grade school/high school boys’ volleyball team. Volleyball in Minnesota was mostly a girls’ sport. The main point of number 6 is, if you want to make an intramural volleyball team at ICO, make sure you get some Canadian men on the team.

7. Take/Write an Exam. In Canada you say “write an exam,” whereas in the States you say “take an exam.” There have been many debates over these two at the Cafeteria table, but neither side has won. How can you “write an exam” when it’s all multiple choice? However, we do pick up our exams and then “take the exam(s)” into the lecture halls…

These examples are not all the funny things you will hear fellow students say, but they give you an idea. At ICO, you are surrounded by different cultures and you should try to absorb it all. Even the differences between two states are prominent! For example, ask a Minnesotan to say “bag” (I’ve been told we say it funny.) You might even expand your vocabulary by hearing new words at the bubbler (a.k.a. water-fountain.)

 

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Tick Tock

Posted by on Jul 7, 2015 in Blogs

Summer time in Chicago always seems to move quickly (time becomes less noticeable when every second outside doesn’t hurt your face.) This year is no exception. Friends, family, work, and prep for school have been pulling me in all sorts of directions lately, but I have no complaints; my life is about to dramatically change!

They say you don’t value what you have until it’s not there anymore. Time- precious, lovely, lazy, free time is what I am attempting to cherish as the clock rages forward to the beginning of first year. A year ago, binge-watching Netflix would have caused me some severe guilt and a violent need to re-evaluate my life, but for now, I just stretch and happily click forward to the next episode. I will most definitely miss this kind of care-free luxury once school starts, but I would not trade anything in this world for the opportunity that lies ahead.

When I’m not being shamelessly lazy, you can usually find me working. I have been at LensCrafters for the past several years. Through this experience, I’ve gotten to meet a wide range of ICO alumni. I am so happy to say that I have never met a doctor, young or old, who did not like ICO. When asking for advice on how to navigate through my studies, the nature of the responses vary. “Make sure to watch your diet and make time to exercise! It’s easy to eat unhealthy when you’re stressed” is probably the one that stuck with me the most (future friends-PLEASE tell me if I get fat, I really need to know.) Some of my other favorites include, “Get help right away if you get behind,” and “Buy pepper spray.” Throughout all of my conversations with these lovely ODs, the take-home message always stays consistent: the next four years are bound to be some of the most influential and transformative of my life.

A lot of my friends have been asking me how I feel about starting school. They know that eye care is my passion, and that I have been wanting to pursue optometry for a while. It’s hard to put my emotions into words, so forgive me for using this cliche analogy. Sitting on the cusp of an adventure of a lifetime feels a lot like standing in line for a giant roller coaster. I am excited, yet slightly terrified. Still, it is usually when this feeling creeps up that I know that I am moving in the right direction. A little healthy fear can do a lot to propel you forward. I, for one, am ready.

For now, I find myself day dreaming about what life in the RC will be like, and just how awesome it will feel to be able to call myself an official ICO student come August 17th. In the meantime, as I keep checking my watch, I plan on cherishing these moments that I have by hanging out with loved ones, watching House of Cards, reading some books, and enjoying all that the warm summer months have to offer… along with waiting in line for an actual roller coaster or two!

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