27 July 2020

Reiss Jhamat: Life in lockdown

Optometrist, Reiss Jhamat MCOptom, recounts his experience working during the pandemic, and the introduction of the local Leicester lockdown.

“At the start of lockdown, little did I think the disruption caused by coronavirus would reach the testing room, let alone change the way my entire job was performed. What started out as offering patients hand sanitiser and keeping 2m social distance, became the constant wearing of PPE, wiping down all equipment and surfaces between appointments, and turning away routine patients to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

“After being furloughed for two months, the transition on my return was tough. Not only were my clinical skills a little rusty, I also had to accept that PPE would now be a way of life to protect the team and our patients. I hadn’t anticipated how much my routine would change due to PPE. The constant steaming up of goggles and face shields, difficulty breathing with masks, the sheer discomfort and unbearable heat!

“Aside from the physical aspect, it’s difficult to make a personal connection when your face is hidden by PPE. It’s hard not to seem scary to children (or people with a dentist phobia) when your face and expressions are masked. As lockdown and social distancing continues, being dressed in PPE will continue to be the norm for primary care optometrists. Our patients understand and are grateful for the precautions carried out to meet their needs. 

“My role and responsibilities as an optometrist also evolved. I’ve found myself carrying out tasks I wouldn’t normally do, such as dispensing and working in the lab. Triaging and telephone consultations became the norm. Despite feeling anxious about starting these new tasks, I realised that I was motivated by the job enrichment. It meant that I could sharpen and learn new skills that I can’t always do in a testing room. 

“Although it has been challenging, being an optometrist during the pandemic has been greatly rewarding. Seeing patients for emergency care only emphasised how invaluable our role is within the community. During this time, I have seen a variety of pathology including a retinal detachment, valsalva retinopathy, proliferative diabetic retinopathy and other ocular abnormalities. This highlights how important it is for our skills and knowledge to be improving constantly.

“During the recovery phase, primary care optometrists will need to take on more responsibility to reduce the strain on the HES. Shared care schemes are expanding with the introduction of CUES, and I feel that there is no better time to invest in higher education. I have recently started the Professional Certificate in Medical Retina; I believe it will be a great asset in the future as our roles within the community continue to grow. Throughout lockdown there have been many valuable resources available on the College website, including a great series of training videos, like ‘How to practise safely during the COVID-19 pandemic’.

“After 14 weeks in lockdown, we all experienced a step forward and were now allowed to carry out routine examinations. This was short lived for me as Leicester entered its second lockdown. Whilst the rest of the nation looked forward to lockdown restrictions easing, we reverted to seeing patients for essential eye care only. The sudden change in circumstance reflects how fragile the situation is. Now more than ever it is imperative to stay at home and stay safe. 

“Despite the challenges, lockdown has brought our emergency care team closer together during the pandemic as we continue to provide essential care in Leicester. We look forward to a COVID-19 free future and hope to continue our combined efforts with helping the community.”

Reiss Jhamat MCOptom is an optometrist based in Leicester. 

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