I Care About Eye Care

Like most people with diabetes, I see an ophthalmologist (essentially an eye health specialist) once a year. This is because diabetes can affect vision and overall eye wellness, so an ophthalmologist will look for things like cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration within my eyes to make sure they’re healthy.

These appointments have all followed a similar pattern for me in the last couple dozen years that I’ve had diabetes. I’m brought into an exam room, my vision is tested with an eye chart, and then my eyes are dilated and examined with extremely bright lights. And I’ve been very fortunate to hear the same verdict from the ophthalmologist year after year: There’s no evidence of diabetes in my eyes, which translates to my eyes look healthy and normal.

This lack of diagnosis has always reassured me, and this year it was no exception. The only thing that actually changed for me was that it dawned on me that this appointment really means a lot to me. It was relatively quick, completely painless, and, dare I say, pleasant because of my doctor’s deep personal connection to diabetes (her son is around my age and also has T1D). She truly gets what it’s like, and didn’t make a big deal whatsoever when my Dexcom interrupted our appointment with a high alarm.

My annual appointment with my ophthalmologist is like performing a maintenance check on a car – it’s my chance to make sure everything is operating smoothly.

I’ve come to realize that even though it’s a blip on the radar compared to all the other doctors and healthcare specialists I see throughout the year, it’s still significant to me because I don’t take my vision for granted. Sure, I can’t see much without the aid of my contacts or glasses, but I can still see without pain, blurriness, or any other general eye discomfort. That makes me lucky and also motivates me to continue doing all the right things for my eyes, such as replacing my contact lenses on schedule and taking care to use high-quality cosmetic products. I can’t say that those two factors alone have contributed to my eye health (in fact, I can say with certainty that it’s my diabetes management more than anything else), but even so…I recognize that eye health is not to be taken lightly.

I care about eye care, and I definitely see the connection that doing my best for my ‘betes benefits it, my eyes, and well…all of me.

An Enjoyable Eye Exam

I think I just had the best doctor’s appointment of my life (so far).

And the most incredible part about that statement? This was my very first appointment with this particular doctor and she absolutely nailed it. I’m almost bummed that I only have to see her annually…

Let me back up a bit. This doctor is my new ophthalmologist (eye care specialist). I switched to her because I’d seen my previous one for just about my entire life, and while he was unquestionably an excellent and knowledgeable doctor, we had some…personality clashes that made my yearly visits with him not so great. It wasn’t like we had a breaking point or anything during my last appointment with him, I just decided that now was the time to make the switch to someone else.

So I did. In August, I contacted the new doctor’s office and set up an appointment. I also wrote to my old doctor and requested the last few years’ worth of notes to be faxed to the new doctor. I’d never written a formal letter like that before, but I kept it short, sweet, and professional by informing him that I’d be seeing a new doctor, providing him with her location and fax number, and thanking him for taking great care of me over the years.

An Enjoyable eye exam
I totally snagged this picture of the exam equipment during the few minutes I was in the room alone. 

Making the switch was as simple as those steps – I had nothing else to do but show up for my appointment on September 1.

When I arrived to the office, I took note of all the social distancing protocol in place. There were only a dozen or so chairs spread out throughout the waiting room. There were dividers in place and stickers on the floor to mark six or more feet apart from the next person in line. The receptionist took my temperature with a contact-less thermometer and of course, nobody was allowed into the area without a mask.

Pleased with the careful measurements the office had taken, I waited for a few minutes before being called into an exam room. A nurse gave me a brief exam and had me read an eye chart using my current glasses prescription, then she dilated my eyes before leaving to go get the doctor.

Within a couple minutes, the doctor entered…and it was nonstop chatter from the moment she came in to the moment I left the practice. Her bubbly energy was infectious and it was obvious I was speaking to someone who truly loves her job. She let me know straightaway that her son is also a T1D right around my age, so she’s more than familiar with every facet of caring for it (with, of course, a special focus on eye health).

We talked a little about everything from insulin pumps, careers, CGMs, my broken bone (she was rocking a brace on her foot, so we shared a laugh over our injuries), and our studies in college. And yes, eventually we did get to the eye exam component, which took barely 60 seconds. She exclaimed with enthusiasm over my “gorgeous” eye health and told me that she is a T1D cheerleader, meaning she recognizes how hard we work to take the best possible care of ourselves.

Absolutely amazing, right?!

The appointment ended with me mentioning my appearance in Dexcom G6 advertisements, and she requested that I send her a clip via email. I did so shortly after I got home, and received the loveliest response back:

“You are spectacular. See you next year!”

I swear, I’ve never left a doctor’s appointment feeling so wonderful about myself. It’s a credit to all physicians like this one, who are passionate about what they do, happy to really engage with patients, and demonstrate in-depth knowledge of medicine and the human body.

What Went Wrong During my Recent Visit to the Eye Doctor

You want to know what went wrong during my annual eye doctor’s appointment last week? Just about everything, that’s what went wrong!

Okay, that’s being over-the-top dramatic. Nothing life altering happened, thank goodness. But the appointment started out on the wrong foot when I had to wait more than an hour to be seen by the doctor. Let me tell you, there is nothing pleasant about waiting in a room that hasn’t been updated since about 1982, with ancient stacks of National Geographic as the sole source of entertainment.

Anyways, after an agonizingly long hour and change, I was finally called in to see the doctor. He started the appointment asking the usual slew of questions: How are you? How are your eyes? (My answer to both was a short, but still polite, “good”.) Then he asked the annoying question: Is your diabetes under control?

I hate that – the “under control”. It makes it seem as though diabetes can be tamed 100% of the time, like it’s a savage beast that just requires domesticating in order to live a normal life. But I answered it anyways, knowing he wouldn’t care to hear why his word choice was bothersome. “I’m doing well,” I said, my eyes wandering over to the doorway. I couldn’t understand why he’d chosen to leave the door open – the hallway to the waiting room was very short, and based on what I’d heard when other patients went in to see the doctor, everyone in the waiting room would be able to hear the entire doctor-patient interaction. Definitely not cool in my book, but instead of confronting the doctor about it, I opted to speak in a much quieter tone of voice than normal. At this point, I just wanted the appointment to be over.

BE183505-1A74-4C0D-B051-C3E9BAC9BED7
QUIZ TIME! Is this A) a medieval torture device OR B) a phoropter? (It’s B, which is the legitimate name of this piece of ocular equipment. Who knew?)

He spent 15 minutes running the standard eye tests (read the chart in front of you, does this setting make it better or worse, etc.), then dilated my eyes. I was sent back to that horrid waiting room for another 20 minute while the dilation took effect. When he called me back in to give my dilated pupils a final inspection, the following exchange happened:

Doctor: You know, I saw a patient the other day who was diagnosed with diabetes at birth.

Me: Yeah, I know a couple of people who were diagnosed as babies. It’s awful.

Doctor: Even though he’s had it his entire life, he doesn’t take very good care of it. He’s got diabetic retinopathy now. *shuffles paperwork*

Me: *Fidgeting uncomfortably in the chair, waiting for him to add to that. A long 20 seconds elapses before he finally says…*

Doctor: Fortunately, that’s not the case for you.

Um, WTF, Doc?! What’s up with that weird dramatic pause? Were you TRYING to freak me out? Mission accomplished, dude. But my oh my, such a sweet relief to hear that there is no diabetes in my eyes.

As I walked out of the building a few moments later, I couldn’t help but think about how this was a textbook example of how an appointment shouldn’t go. I left feeling an odd mix of emotions: disappointment with my doctor’s behavior as well as relief with his assessment that my eyes, at least, were proof of my well-managed (NOT under control) diabetes.