Hanging with the Seniors at the Retina Specialist’s Office

on Aug 03, 2011 by Michael Rupured

I was diagnosed with advanced macular degeneration in my left eye back in October. I have a milder case in my right eye. Macular degeneration is a swelling between the layers of the retina that eventually leads to blindness. There is no cure, but it’s treatable–with injections of one of several drugs to the eye.  Though still no picnic in the park, the eye injections sound worse than they are.

My Augusta-based retina specialist travels to Athens once a week to see patients here. Normally someone unlocks his office before he arrives. The patients come in, sign-in on a clipboard, then take a seat in one of the waiting rooms. The doctor and his staff arrive en masse, dragging equipment and several bags of supplies, just in time for the first appointment.

Apparently, retina problems are uncommon in people much younger than seventy. The vast majority of his patients are senior citizens. Without checking IDs to be sure, other than the family members who drive their parents or grandparents to the appointments, I’m always the youngest person in the waiting room.

Today when I arrived for my 9:30 appointment, the office was locked. The hall was full of elderly people with walkers, wheelchairs, and canes waiting to get in. Highly agitated about the disruption in the normal routine, the senior citizens speculated wildly about the likely cause.

The doctor and his team arrived around 9:40 and unlocked the door. I hung back to give the anxious seniors time to shuffle from the hall to one of two waiting rooms. Inside, they queued up to sign-in on the clipboard, leaning on one another for support as needed. I waited until the line went away to sign in and took the last chair in the waiting room.

No good deed goes unpunished. Rather than by appointment time, patients were called back in the order in which they signed in. People who had 10:00 appointments got called back before me. Next time I don’t care who gets hurt, I’m going to push my way through to the front of the line.

Because the doctor will be out of town next week, he booked nearly twice as many patients for today as he normally sees. To make matters worse, he was short a technician, and the two he brought along were fairly new. Like that wasn’t enough, the air conditioning in the office wasn’t working properly, either.

Things only got worse. My vision had deteriorated since my last visit. The scan showed an increase in fluid build-up in my retina, too. The $2000 per dose drug they started me on after the first drug quit working isn’t working either. A new drug that showed great promise in the trials will be available after September 1–hopefully it will work where the others have failed.

A fellow patient told me she had participated in the trial of the new drug, and after an injection every month for three months, didn’t need another for two years. She swears by the AREDS eye vitamins, too, which I’m afraid to take because the high levels of beta carotene they contain have been known to cause cancer in former smokers. She turned me on to a new kind that are free of the beta carotene.

I’m usually in and out in sixty to ninety minutes. Not today. I didn’t get out until after noon. I spent most of that two and a half hours in a dark waiting room with a bunch of increasingly disgruntled senior citizens.  The closer it got to lunch, the more surly they became.

At first I was amused. Listening to folks who are very hard of hearing carry on a conversation has a surprising amount of entertainment value. Consider this exchange:

“You been here before?”

“No honey, I live over in Elberton. Where do you live?”

“I’ve been coming for years. Used to go to Augusta but Athens is closer.”

“I reckon my grandson lives the closest. He’s up in Hartwell.”

They smiled and nodded, clearly not hearing what the other had said. Another remarked that her diabetes doctor was proud of her for all the weight she’d lost. When someone asked how she’d lost the weight, she went into great detail about being hit with a two-by-four by a black man, causing her to spend three weeks in intensive care–back in 1979.  I couldn’t figure out if she lost the weight in intensive care or didn’t hear the question.

I’m not thrilled about having to get eye injections, especially since they don’t appear to be working. Hopefully the new drug will make a difference. But things could always be worse. At least I can hear…for now…most of what’s happening in…

My Glass House

3 Comments

  1. southgrove says:

    I am in your shoes, but for another “older people ailment” (I just turned 52). The only people my age are sons/daughters or caregivers who have brought in their mothers/fathers or charges. It’s all part of the journey :).

    • Thanks for reading. Hope your “older people ailment” isn’t something serious. At least we’re still on our journeys which definitely beats the alternative!