30 April 2020

COVID-19: Diary of an optometrist - part two

The second part of Dr Deacon Harle's experiences of providing urgent and essential care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My mother

“I call my mother. She lives in the West Country in a little flat. She’s a cancer survivor and a tough cookie. We talk about how brilliantly she is doing with isolation. She is making scrub washing bags on her sewing machine for the local hospital. A lady down the road picks them up and delivers them. Her neighbours get her food shopping for her, but she is a bit grumpy that they got the wrong brand of coffee and that the eggs were more expensive than she thought they ought to be. A lady from down the road is going to come round to cut her hair. My mother tells me that this is OK because they will do it outside.

“I wonder if any other optometrists are seeing cases like we are in Kent, and decide to do a Survey Monkey. I’ve never done one before and spend ages trying to get a simple questionnaire set up. I make great plans to show NHS England how valuable the optometry profession was during the crisis. Hours later and it’s done; shared via Facebook and Twitter. I post to the College, the AOP, FODO and anyone else I think might share the survey.

“My mother calls me; the survey post has a typo.

“I get 33 responses.”

Last week

“Clinics are booking on a day-by-day basis. I am short with a lady who called her local optometrist to complain of sudden onset eye pain and arrives in my chair complaining of asthenopia with her computer now she is working more from home. 

“A lady from Sheerness works in a supermarket. She is sorry she is late, but her husband was working in the loft and she couldn’t get him to drive her in to see me immediately. I’ve waited an hour after clinic, organised by Manish on triage who has been in telephone consultation with the patient. I take out the plastic foreign body from her cornea - a bit of wrapping from the supermarket perhaps? She tells me how valued she is as a key worker.

“A patient with sudden onset vertical diplopia is a retired English teacher from a local school. He is 85, has multiple myeloma, and comes with his wife who fusses over him wonderfully. He remembers teaching one of my friends. The mass to the superior aspect of the orbit is large and obvious, about two centimetres in size and displacing his globe downwards.

“At the end of the day, the ophthalmologist from a local private clinic phones me. The line is bad and I can’t catch everything he is saying. I don’t think he is very busy at the moment, and he wants to let me know what services they can still offer. He’ll pop an email over to me.”


“We close on Saturday afternoons. Always have. It makes no commercial sense, obviously, but I quite like it that way. At 3pm I get a call on my mobile from one of the team who is on triage today; a patient with a red sticky eye and can I see her please? Limited details but I agree and jump in the car.

“My wife says we need some food for tonight (we failed on the COVID-19 stockpiling) so she comes too and can pop to the butchers up the road, while I open the practice and see the patient. The patient is ambulance crew; she couldn’t use her glasses behind her PPE as they kept steaming up, so she had been using her contacts. Tired after a long shift last night, a contact lens had broken in her right eye. A nurse practitioner friend had told her to see a pharmacist, who sent her to A&E, where she was promptly turned our way.

“It doesn’t take long to remove the sub tarsal piece of contact lens and patch her up. She is grateful and back on shift tonight. 

“Back home and looking forward to steak and chips, I scroll through Twitter. Some news is being announced with a fanfare; a COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service has been developed, and will be delivered up and down the country.” 

Dr Deacon Harle FCOptom DipOC DipTp(AS) DipTp(IP) is an optometrist and director at Osborne Harle

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