when the love light shines…
All of our patients are special. They all have special lives with unique circumstances and for most of us, helping them becomes more than just our job, it becomes our mission. A great many of my friends and colleagues openly make this admission. As a profession, we are bound together by a selfless energy, an energy that does not fit within the confines of simple descriptors. It’s an energy that one must experience to appreciate, and one that is certainly unique both in character and intensity.
Not long after moving to Austin and beginning to see patients at my current post, a frustrated young lady came to see us whose profile was one we’ve all seen before. Third grade was challenging, learning was overwhelming, frustration was building and as a result, tensions within her family were fluctuating with her every success and failure. Her life was something beyond defeating. Many of her early Vision Therapy sessions involved tears and feelings of inadequacy, ideas questioning her own intelligence, a self deprecating approach and resistance to attempting new activities.
About six weeks into her program she seemed to hit bottom, as some patients do. Although somewhat uncomfortable, this bottoming out seems to be an important step for some as the barriers to progress begin to disintegrate. As an interesting aside, these situations used to make me uncomfortable, but since having children of my own my skills for managing them have improved. We sat and talked about her sadness and frustration, and in the end, she decided trusting me wasn’t beyond her limits, so we pressed on. A few sessions later she cracked a smile, then a giggle, and by the end of her program our office was filled with her laughter. As a practitioner, managing her case was not difficult. As a human being, managing her emotions became paramount. The only words I could put to describe my plan for managing her are love and support. She became a living, breathing version of Teddy Roosevelt’s line:
Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care…
At the end of last summer her VT program concluded. Again she shed tears, but this time they were of joy. School was easier, reading was easier, life was good – and, oh yeah, she admitted she was going to miss me.
Last week my young friend was due for her six month follow up visit. The morning of, I received the following email from her mother:
Hi Robert. XXXX is really looking forward to her visit to the Austin Eye Gym today, and she especially wants to see you. I don’t know if her visit is just with the doc or not, but we hope you will be there so that she can at least say hi.
When she arrived there were big smiles, bug hugs, and pure jubilation as she shared her many achievements since graduating Vision Therapy. Her life is good and she is well on her way to many levels of success. She even asked if we could do an activity together which she really enjoyed during her program. How could I say no?
If I’ve learned nothing else in the last 14 years, I do understand with great clarity the importance of identifying with a patient, validating their concerns, and even loving them a little. Certainly it’s not every patient that is reduced to tears in the VT room, nor should we expect every patient to be happy to see us 6 months later, but some do. And when one of those wonderful connections occurs, it reminds me that my best work is done with a fastidious approach to my craft, and a compassionate approach with my patients.
Keep your love light shining…