29 June 2020

Josie Evans: Life in lockdown

Join Josie Evans MCOptom, Optometrist at Linklater & Warren Opticians, as she reflects on her experiences and challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My sense of time feels so warped. The last three months have swept by in a blur, although, at the same time, the beginning of lockdown feels like an eternity ago. When the news gradually unfolded and we were beginning to understand the extent to which COVID-19 would affect our lives, profession and patients, I had a constant sense of unease. I was glued to my phone hoping to discover new guidance to share with colleagues, and I spent my evenings listening to webinars to try and understand the ‘new normal’.

“Our practices remained open, providing urgent and essential eye care to the community, and we moved forward with a skeleton team. I settled into one of our three practices with only one other colleague: a dispensing optician who is also the practice manager, and is now an amazing friend. 

“Triaging patients was the first personal hurdle; I am so used to examining patients in person before making a diagnosis, and I also had an irrational awkwardness for phone calls. Fortunately, the latter was soon overcome by the sheer quantity of telephone consultations we have had, and this type of communication certainly has its advantages for follow-up appointments. Patients often email photos of their affected eye(s) too, which helps with the diagnosis, and the increased communication with our local eye department offers another pillar of support. 

“There was one week in the midst of lockdown when I felt completely deflated as a clinician. A large proportion of the emergency face-to-face appointments that week needed onward referral for conditions including retinal tears, microbial keratitis and vitritis. I spent my days on the phone to hospitals and although it was an exceptional week, I was disappointed that I couldn’t do more to help these patients in practice. On balance, however, most cases can be managed in primary care; it feels good to reduce the burden on the HES and see the relief on patients’ faces.

“I faced the biggest challenge when my colleague needed to self-isolate for a week and I manned the practice alone. Oh, how I wished I had remembered all my dispensing knowledge from pre-reg! Fortunately, our two other branches and my directors were just a phone call away, and I had virtual lessons on how to cash up, order contact lenses, and take payment over the phone. I am pleased to say I finished that week unscathed, apart from a nervous twitch every time the phone rings.

“I hope, after what I anticipate will be a challenging recovery phase for optometry, this experience will set the foundations to develop further shared care schemes and expand the role of primary care optometrists. The IP qualification would have been invaluable during this time and I hope to start the training as soon as I can. In the meantime, I have been using the College’s CET courses to become more familiar with the drugs and dosages available to treat different conditions

“As a silver lining, lockdown has offered the opportunity to further appreciate colleagues in dispensing and reception roles. We really do all make a team whose sum is greater than the parts.”  

Josie Evans MCOptom is an optometrist working as part of a skeleton team at Linklater & Warren Opticians in Kent.

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