On Weds. Sep, 3 I woke up with my eyes a little gunky and irritated. The next day it was worse and I went to my optometrist, who diagnosed me with conjunctivitis, and prescribed antibiotic eyedrops. By Sunday it was much worse, and I called in the artillery: I went to the ER at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.
MEEI is one of the world's leading centers of research in ophthalmology, and is a teaching hospital of the Harvard Medical School. I've been treated there before, and I've mentioned them here before, when I was diagnosed with a detaching vitreous a couple of weeks before this. (It never rains but it pours: The first time I was treated there (which, come to think of it, was also for something that had been misdiagnosed as bacterial conjunctivitis elsewhere), I was also being treated for cancer next door at Mass General. This time, I have two completely unrelated eye disorders.)
Anyway, Sunday morning comes and I can't focus well enough to read. At the best of times I can only see well enough to read with my right eye, and it's by far the worse: all swollen and red, almost looking like I had a black eye, and with a feeling of pressure behind it. Driving didn't seem like a good idea, so I asked alierak to drive me to MEEI.
Once there, I'm seen in the ER by a young resident. She and I exchange nerd tribal recognition signs, she stares deeply into my eyes in the most unromantic way imaginable, and she starts to get excited. She calls in another, more senior resident, who also gets excited. They call in the senior resident on duty, who also gets excited. They tell me I have severe viral conjunctivitis, and that they want me to be followed up by Dr. Dohlman. All three speak of Dr. Dohlman in tones I recognize: the tones you hear, though all too rarely, from grad students working under the tutelage of a renowned leader in their field who nonetheless treat them like human beings. "When you call to make the appointment, make sure they understand that the emergency room wanted him to see you. If there's any trouble, get in touch with us here. Dr. Dohlman will want to see you."
The next day I saw Dr. Dohlman. A charming white haired gentleman in his 60s (I thought) with a nordic accent and the best bedside manner of any doctor I've ever known, he was the first person there to offer me a handshake in two days. As he did so, I said "you may not want to do that" (viral conjunctivitis is highly contagious, which is why nobody else had shaken my hand). He said "I've been doing this for fifty years and haven't caught anything from a patient yet. But you're right." And washed his hands. He examined me, had the resident with him examine me too, and asked her what she saw, helping her recognize what she was seeing. The guy's a natural teacher, and in the half-dozen times I've seen him since, I've never seen him without a resident at his side. I'm a pretty interactive patient, and ask probing questions. And I felt every bit as much a warm glow whenever he said "That's a good point" as I ever did in college when one of my favorite teachers would say the same thing. One amusing thing: he'll listen to one of my questions, say "That's a good point", and then turn and answer the question to the resident. It's clearly not meant to be dismissive, it's just that the resident is his student and teaching matters to him.
After that initial appointment, I came home and googled Dr. Dohlman. I had taken his remark about "doing this for fifty years" as hyperbole, but I was wrong: Claes Dohlman received his MD in 1948 and later got a second doctorate in medical research. He founded the corneal care specialty at MEEI in 1959, and in 1989 retired as Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Harvard Medical School and Chief of Ophthalmology at MEEI in order to go back to teaching, research, and clinical work. He's 81, and living proof that staying intellectually active and engaged with young minds will keep a person young.
I'm better now, and I almost regret it. Dr. Dohlman has made being "the worst case of EKC I've seen in several years" a privilege.