Thursday, June 9, 2011

25 Years As A Doctor!

Dr. White is off to his 25th Reunion at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. Wow...25 years! He looks pretty good for an old guy, huh?! Here's what he once wrote about why he became an ophthalmologist:

“What made you want to be an ophthalmologist, Dr. White?”

Not a day goes by that at least one of my patients doesn’t ask me this question. Today it was a new patient, 75 years old or so, and a young man in for his first glasses at age 12. Sometimes it’s “why did you want to become an eye doctor?” I have a quick answer for the office of course, but I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to go back in time and “watch” myself make the decision all over again. It was a good decision then, and it’s been a good decision ever since.

I originally thought I would be an orthopedic surgeon. After all, I’m a washed up, blockhead, brain-damaged ex-football player. Orthopedic surgery just seemed to be a really good fit. I loved my Ortho rotation during my 3rd year rotations at UVM. Loved everything about it. The work, the patients, the clinical problems we encountered. I loved the surgeons–heck, they were all basically ME 10 or 15 years older. Loved it all.

Then I met Peter Linton, Chairman of the Division of Plastic Surgery at UVM, and Peter very quickly became my mentor. He and his wife Pam “adopted” my wife-to-be and me, feeding us and giving us a safe place to bring the problems that arise in a young physician and in a young marriage. And what cool surgery! Putting broken pieces/parts back together. Rebuilding a self-image through a combination of technical skill, vision, and artistry. I was smitten, and Peter lobbied day and night, enthusiastically pushing me to follow his career path.

There were a couple of problems, though, with each of these specialties. In the first place people die, and the broken patients in these two surgical specialties are no exceptions. I struggle with death; always have. How would I handle this? Also, I was deeply in love with my bride-to-be and committed to doing whatever it might take to be the very best husband and eventually father I could be. We talked for hours about the impact of residency on our new family, about the killer hours in Ortho and about the 7-9 YEARS of training that most Plastic Surgeons undergo. I can still remember, as if it was last night: “I love you dearly, but I’m not sure if I can love you 9 years of residency.”

My Dad spent his entire working career in ophthalmic manufacturing, running companies that made all kinds of things associated with eye care and vision. At about this time I took a “flier” on an elective in Ophthalmology to see what the medical part of Dad’s world was like. Two weeks of cataract surgery, glaucoma checks and new glasses for nearsighted kids. I followed this up with rotations visiting the academic programs at Georgetown, Wills in Philadephia, and Pacific in San Francisco. A local surgeon in Burlington took me in for a month and showed me what the real life of an Ophthalmologist felt like. What a cool world! What cool gadgets! High frequency ultrasound to dissolve cataracts. Lasers–all kinds of lasers that did all kinds of cool stuff. This was it!

To top it off the residency programs were a total of 4 years long, and most of the Ophthalmologists I met were home for dinner with their families. Score! Although my choice DID come as somewhat of a surprise to the rest of the faculty. When the residency Match results were published the Chair of the Department of Family Medicine cornered me, a concerned and sympathetic look on her face. “What happened, Darrell? You matched in Ophthalmology?” To which I replied “I know, Marga, isn’t it great?” “Hmm…we were all sure that you would be an Orthopedic Surgeon; you were just the right amount of malignant!”

Well, Marga, this Ophthalmology thing has turned out pretty well for me so far. I married that girl, My Beautiful Bride and Better 95%, and we are married to this day. I’ve been home for dinner most nights with her and the kids since then. For the most part my patients don’t die, at least not from anything that I’M treating. Ophthalmology patients get better, and because vision is such an integral part of the human experience, both physically and emotionally, the gratification that one gets from returning someone to the sighted world is simply immeasurable. Oh yeah, we still have the coolest gadgets in all of medicine, and we get new ones to play with every year! And for whatever it’s worth, most of my best friends in medicine are also washed up blockhead ex-jocks, most of whom are slightly less brain-damaged than I.

Except, that is, my Orthopedic Surgery buddies…"

Congratulations from all of us at Skyvision Centers to Dr. White and all of his UVM classmates on 25 years of being doctors!

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