You know it’s going to happen. As soon as your family and friends learn that you’re even beginning to consider a career as an eye doctor, the questions will come rolling in–if they haven’t already. It comes from a good place–a place of pride for your accomplishments and genuine curiosity–but eventually, I promise you, you will hear about every last ocular ailment of everyone in your life. So I think you’d be wise to begin preparing your answers now. Here’s a head start on how to handle some of the most common discussions you’re likely to be forced into over the winter break.
Cataracts (acquired lens opacification)
Also known as “Cadillacs,” this is a common condition almost everyone has heard of, and people are generally more scared about it than they need to be. Keep your emphasis on the good things here: Cataracts usually progress very slowly, so there’s no rush to do anything. We normally wait until the vision is blurred to the point it interferes with everyday activities, then refer for an outpatient surgery with a very low rate of complications. In the mean time, put on some UV-blocking sunglasses to try and slow down progression.
I feel like about 50-60 percent of my close friends are “legally blind without [their] glasses.” Don’t bother getting into the definition of legal blindness here. Acknowledge that their vision is blurry, make sure they’re not abusing their contacts, and let this one go.
Glaucoma (progressive optic nerve disease)
Although we know statistically that this condition is much more likely to affect your grandparents, this question is probably going to come from your college-aged cousin Steve, particularly if he attends a university in a state that has recently approved medical marijuana. Sure enough, glaucoma is indeed on the list of medical conditions approved for use of this medication, but there is still a lot of research (and a lot of legislation) to be done before it ever becomes a realistic mainstream treatment. Current research shows the intraocular pressure-lowering efficacy to be transient and inconsistent compared to existing treatments. Let Steve have his laugh, then remind him he doesn’t have glaucoma (and you’re certainly not going to pretend he does!).
Presbyopia (age-related decline in accommodation ability)
Be very careful when your Aunt Margaret starts complaining about difficulty reading Steve’s texts and Snapchats. Do NOT start off your response with the phrase, “well, as we get older….” Margaret still remembers when you and Steve were potty training; she doesn’t need a reminder that she’s aging, and definitely doesn’t need you to be the one calling her “old.” Instead, focus on the optics of the condition, leaving the age out (until she asks why it wasn’t always like this). Simply put, she requires different focusing powers to have clear images at different distances. The good news is there are a lot of options to help compensate, ranging from simple over-the-counter “cheaters” to the newest state-of-the-art lens designs in progressive addition spectacles and multifocal contacts.
All in all, it’s not so bad being asked to talk shop every once in a while at a holiday dinner. The conversations are fairly straightforward and it’s a good opportunity to show off what you know as well as practice for what you’ll say to your actual patients one day! Maybe even bring a stack of business cards for your grandmother to pass out to her friends? Just sayin’. Have a great winter break!