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  • Life in Retirement: Perry S. Binder, MD, Adjusting to Shifting Goals

    Editor's note: Finding, keeping and sometimes recapturing fulfillment in retirement can be challenging. It is not uncommon for our goals, aspirations, interests, hobbies, recreation, and dreams to change several years after retirement.

    An article in the spring edition of Scope introduced my goal to assist members who are planning to retire and members seeking greater joy in retirement. I have interviewed several ophthalmologists who retired about 10 years ago. Here are Dr. Perry S. Binder’s answers to these questions. 

    Once I decided to retire, I had planned to continue my career just as it was prior to selling my practice.

    Since I considered myself of sound mind and body, I assumed that I would continue as a medical director or adviser for several ophthalmic companies. I would continue writing scientific manuscripts, serve on the same editorial manuscript review boards and continue to accept invitations to speak at scientific meetings as I had during my career. But it didn’t turn out as planned.

    The last invitation to speak at a formal in-person meeting took place five years later. The companies with whom I had served so well slowly began to depend less and less on my recommendations and opinions even though I remained just as active performing basic science and clinical research for them.

    Today I consult for just one company, Aleyegn Inc. Slowly and steadily my involvement in the scientific social media decreased so that by 2015 the only individuals who sought my opinions were my ex-fellows. The number of submitted journal manuscripts I was asked to review decreased dramatically. It was almost as if the ophthalmology world considered my brain to have died the day I left my practice. I had to make some changes.

    Perry S. Binder, MD

    My first satisfying life modification was to begin writing coffee table books. During my career I was blessed with many invitations to speak all over the world. I had sufficient personal experience and photographs to document these travels. My first book covered the Aegean Cornea meetings from inception in 1992 through 2017. I have now published over 17 books. The one I am most proud of is my historical review of the “Columbian World Exposition 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and The White City Amusement Park”.

    I decided to move from San Diego, where I had practiced from 1974 to 2009, to my Hailey, Idaho home most of the year. I had purchased the house in 1992 but began living there eight to nine months a year, which afforded me time to improve a nondescript golf game and to develop gardening and landscaping skills for two acres.

    Physically I was becoming more active than I had been in the last 20 years of my life, but I was still lacking something. I missed the practice of ophthalmology and the camaraderie of staff and fellow ophthalmologists. Although I continued to regularly read ophthalmology journals while updating my ophthalmology reference database using End Notes, I still needed something more.

    My first and only grandson was born in 2014. His mother is from Mexico and his father is also fluent in Spanish. I had previously failed miserably in using the software program Rosetta Stone to learn Spanish to keep up with my grandson. Luckily, I found Babble and have used it about an hour a day three to four days a week. I received the greatest compliment this summer from my grandson: He said, “Poppo, your Spanish is improving.”

    In spite of many mistakes made during my lifetime, the only one I really regret was not learning a musical instrument. In 2019, I decided this would change. After searching the Internet for programs to learn jazz piano I finally settled on the program, Piano in a Flash. I purchased a keyboard along with the program, and now I'm learning how to read music and actually play songs that almost anyone can identify. I also play with my drone photographing the areas around my home in Idaho.

    It is difficult for me to believe that I have not performed surgery or treated a patient in 12 years! Hardly a month will go by where I do not have a dream of performing surgery; sometimes these turn into nightmares: whenever I ask the nurse for an instrument, she either tells me she has no idea what I'm talking about or that the instrument is not available. Perhaps I could have volunteered for ORBIS or a similar project.

    I miss my staff. I have maintained contact with many of them through Facebook, but I really miss the day-to-day communication and sharing of fun experiences. I do look back on my career with satisfaction at the individuals with whom I have worked; several have subsequently been highly successful in the ophthalmology industry. The only thing I might have done differently would have been to physically invite these individuals out for drinks or dinner and to maintain closer contact.

    In my ophthalmology career I was always very active at the annual meetings of the AAO, American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery (ASCRS), European Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgeons (ESCRS) and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO).

    Not having new material to present and not receiving invitations to provide summaries or retrospective views of individual subjects, I withdrew from participation which I view as a personal loss. To make up for this deficit, I have shifted my focus to assisting younger, talented ophthalmologists in their clinical and basic science careers and in manuscript editing. This has been a great outlet and a very satisfying modification to my life.

    I would strongly recommend that anyone contemplating retirement consider their health in the planning.

    Here are some tips:

    Do not wait until you must retire. It may be too late to give you time to do things you have been putting off, be it travel, visiting friends or learning something new. I know several ophthalmologists who are afraid to retire and consequently are working with no real future.

    Document your patient stories. I wish someone would write a book about individual patient stories. I have heard many of these anecdotes, some are hilarious and others sad. But each of us can easily remember the “special” patients and their stories. My best advice to those practicing is to remember to ask each patient about themselves. Take time to learn about them as an individual. Some of my favorite experiences came after I placed my pen down and asked the patient about themselves. I remind myself of these stories very often as it provides happiness and satisfaction.

    I have two stories in particular to share. The first took place about 10 years after I had been following an elderly lady for a progressive cataract in her only eye. After recommending surgery and its risks and benefits, she rolled up her sleeve and showed me her tattoo from Auschwitz. She told me I would be the first doctor to physically touch her since World War II.

    At her final post cataract visit she gave me three videotapes as a present. These were the outtake B rolls from an interview she had for the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Her story began on Sept. 1, 1939 as she watched German planes begin bombing Warsaw and ended in 1948 when she and her husband escaped from a Russian prison camp and finally made it to New York. I was lucky enough to have shared this life experience with a patient I had seen annually for 10 years, but never took the time to ask about her life.

    One day I had finished recommending LASIK surgery to a woman in her late 50s. A man sat in the back of the room whom I had assumed was her husband. I put down my pen and asked, “how long have the two of you been married?” The response was three weeks. She proceeded to tell me that they had dated in high school for three years, but her family had moved to Texas in her senior year while her boyfriend stayed in California.

    Many decades later she was divorced, and her husband's wife had died of cancer. As luck would have it, both of their mothers found themselves in the same nursing home. One day they reminisced and remembered that both of their children had dated in high school, so they decided to give each of them their respective phone numbers. At this point the gentleman in the back of the room spoke up. “Dr. Binder, I dialed her number, and when I heard her speak even after three or four words all of my feelings for her returned instantaneously!” He flew to Texas that week and they were married one week later!

    Editor’s closing note: Many times, retirement, like life, does not go as you expected. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s view of change in 500 B.C. was, “The only thing that is constant is change”.

    It is clear in 2021, that change is happening at an even more accelerated pace each year. Retirement cannot halt change. So, don’t retire to slow down. Instead, when you retire try to move faster to stay ahead of change!

    My role models that are beyond 60 years of age, are much like Dr. Binder, in that they have not been overwhelmed by change but instead sought new opportunities in retirement. They have kept an open mind. My wife and I have the most delightful dinners with our children’s former and now retired pediatrician and his wife. They are 90 years old, but he tells us about what is happening with the school board, how they are leading a community arts center, what he’s doing to be an advocate for children’s health and how much fun they have visiting Napa, Calif. as part of a wine club.

    As Dr. Alfredo A. Sadun did in our first article on retirement. I also recommend to you the book “Retire Right” by Frederick Fraunfelder, MD. He describes a fourth of four phases of retirement as the most difficult of the periods because we encounter adversities, sometimes in waves. His book shows that we can succeed in all phases of retirement if we work now to master the traits that he describes in these eight chapters: Plan, Accentuate the Positive, Accept Change, Allow Family and Friends to Help, Enjoy Leisure Time, Stay Healthy, Seek Purpose and Have Faith. 

    Would you like the Academy to make more resources (nonfinancial) available that may help you in your retirement? Have you found resources that have helped you in retirement? We are seeking your assistance in continuing this discussion, so please respond to these questions and email us at