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    Hollow victory: Why our glaucoma victory felt meaningless


    Goodbye and Godspeed

    When I entered the room, I drew in a sharp breath at how “The Emperor of Maladies,” as Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee coins cancer in his book of the same title, had conscripted another subject and reduced him to a shell. Paul’s tall, robust frame had shrunk, his erect spine now bent into a small “c,” and his legs were drawn sideways against his swollen abdomen. I had read enough of his recent chart entries to know that his doctors had drained his ascites several times but had now stopped, relying only on palliative measures to address the pain.

    Those clearly were no longer working. His eyes were closed and his face scrunched in what appeared to be deep concentration. His niece stood at his side, one hand on his shoulder, the other stroking the hair he had left.

    More from Dr. Brown: Did I choose optometry, or did optometry choose me?

    I sat, rolled my stool in close, took his hand, and said, “I’m so sorry.”

    Then I pulled back a bit and addressed both of them. “Is there anything I can do for you, and what questions do you have?”

    His niece took the lead. “Does he still need to use his eye drops?”


    “If he doesn’t, will he go blind before he dies?”


    “Will his eyes hurt more if he stops?”

    “No. The pressure will go up some, but not high enough to cause any significant discomfort.”

    I then looked at Paul. “Don’t worry about your drops. You did a great job when it counted, and you kept your vision. Spend your time on more important things.”

    When it was time to go, his niece reached for the handles of his wheelchair, but I held out my hand and said, “Allow me.” She walked beside him, her hand never leaving his shoulder, as I wheeled him down the hall, the spokes of his chair spinning like sweep second hands.

    When we reached the waiting room door, I leaned and whispered into his ear, “Goodbye and Godspeed” and let him go for good.

    I turned toward the hall, filled with rooms, in turn filled with patients; the afternoon schedule, like “Ol’ Man River,” would “just keep rolling along.” For a moment, I held Paul’s and my “triumph” over glaucoma to the light and discovered that there was no iridescence or solidity. Only shades of gray, and a vague, but nagging, sense of hollowness.

    Click here to check out more Optometry Times blogs

    Michael Brown, OD, MHS-CL, FAAO
    Dr. Brown has practiced medical optometry in a comanagement center and with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in ...

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    • Thank you Dr Brown for your article. It was filled with compassion for those experiencing the end of their life. I have also dealt with similar situations and have found them to be so meaningful. Your article allowed me the opportunity to reflect on them, and here I sit with tears in my eyes.

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