As the sun rises in the east, I ease into wakefulness. Between sleepy blinks, I start my day with thoughts of gratitude — thankful for another day, another opportunity.
Deep breaths and stretching follow as part of my wakeup routine as these allow me to be grounded and prepare for the day ahead. I do this for a few minutes until my husband, also an ophthalmologist, is ready to leave for work. I make it a habit to send him off to work by walking him to the car no matter how sleepy I am or how late I slept the previous night. I think in our busy lives where we are always in a rush, these small gestures of affection make a huge difference.
I dive into paperwork. A lot of things to do on my desk compete for my attention: write program proposals, review reports, and tackle follow-up updates for projects. I find that I work faster in the early morning probably because the cobwebs and clouds that accumulated from the previous day have been washed off by a restful night. I start with a clear mind and fresh energy. The most urgent items get the most of my time, but the low-lying fruit is completed first. Simpler tasks such as checking email and SMS, editing articles, or reviewing research proposals can be finished in one sitting.
More difficult ones like writing program proposals and research protocols, on the other hand, can be broken into micro-tasks. Being able to cross off more items on my to-do list feels great!
Try to squeeze in exercise: bike, calisthenics, household chores or Zumba at the community center … anything just to start the body moving. But the household chores are a MUST! Even just a 10-minute stationary bike exercise can ease the tension from a pending hectic day. When I have a busy day ahead, this is relegated to the end of the day.
On this day, we have a department conference. Thank goodness for Zoom! I think this is one of the silver linings of the pandemic … videoconferencing on steroids!
The conference ends, but the real adventure begins. Armed with my trusty water tumbler, I get ready for the hospital and brave the Manila traffic.
Working at a children’s hospital, we get referrals for diagnostic procedures. Today, we have a 1-year-old patient who needs fluorescein angiography (FA). He was born premature and received anti-VEGF injection for retinopathy of prematurity during his neonatal period.
The pediatric ophthalmologist noticed that his retinal vessels have not reached the ora serrata prompting referral for FA and laser through indirect ophthalmoscopy. As a retina specialist, I always work with pediatric ophthalmologists on these cases. I find that teamwork makes processes more efficient and life so much easier.
I rush to the next hospital where I am a faculty member supervising vitreo-retina fellows. Today’s case is a difficult one: plain buckle or vitrectomy; do lensectomy or spare the lens, oil vs. gas?
Our patient is an 11-year-old boy with bilateral retinal detachment, also born premature. He hadn't been seen by an ophthalmologist until he developed symptoms a few months back. What tugged my heart is that his parents, who are farmers, had to sell their house and land just to be able to seek consultation. They have sought consultations in several government hospitals in their province but were told that there is a long line of backlogs.
At the clinic, the parents cried as they recounted their story. They tried to have a child for 15 years before they were blessed with a son, and they didn’t want him to spend the rest of his life blind. Our team shares the same sentiment for every child. That’s why pediatric retinal detachments are always considered urgent. He was immediately admitted after the initial consult and was scheduled for surgery. So we come to this day and the fellow is doing a great job repairing the retinal detachment. He will be scheduled for the surgery of the other eye.
With this case, the love of the parents for their child reminds me of how we also care for our mentees. Like a parent teaching a toddler to walk, we root for our trainee to succeed but, at the same time, ready to step in when needed. We trust that we have equipped them with the knowledge and skills they need, and allow them to make their own decisions. We rejoice when finally they can run without falling. Seeing the fellow on this case, I think he is ready to graduate.
As the surgery is at its tail end, I am called to the clinic to see patients for a consultant’s opinion. Residents and fellows usually refer new patients and patients with diagnostic or management dilemmas. It is unfortunate that about half of our patients suffer from diabetic retinopathy. I believe we must do something as a society to prevent these avoidable causes of blindness.
These rounds are opportunities to interact with fellows and residents. Each trainee has their own style of learning, but I have realized that, generally, they retain more information in the clinic setting. Especially for the younger generations who were born in the digital age, they prefer discussions and immediate feedback. If I chance upon my mentee, we also share a brief huddle to check on her progress.
Upon arriving home, I take a quick bite. On slow days, I make sure to take a 20-minute walk around the neighborhood. But on hectic days, I jump into paperwork again or attend online meetings. Some days are more chaotic than others, pulling me in different directions. But overall, this day is ending, and a quiet time at home with the family is relished.
Every day is a building block for the life we want to live. For this reason, we have to be mindful of how we harmonize our passion, profession and purpose each day. Knowing one’s priorities is the key to this pursuit of balance.
||About the author: Jubaida M. Aquino, MD, is a Quezon City ophthalmologist and a member of the Vitreo-Retina Society of the Philippines. Dr. Aquino will join the Academy’s YO International Subcommittee beginning Jan. 1, 2024.