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Age is but a number


How does an ophthalmologist know when he or she is old?

For us ophthalmologists, these twelve months of 2018 represent the ante penultimate year before the all-so significant (to eye doctors) 2020.

As 2018 comes to an end, the wise ophthalmologist will no doubt take a minute to reflect on this year’s accomplishments and what triumphs and challenges may be ahead. For this medical editor, 2018 was a mixed blessing because it included one of those birthdays that people refer to as a “milestone.”

Please don’t feel badly if you were too busy to send me a card. Truth be told, I don’t celebrate birthdays anymore because I don’t want to attach significance to arbitrary numbers.

Though inside I still feel like one of those youthful, wild-and-crazy 18-year-olds who will one day be appointed to the Supreme Court, the birthdate on my driver’s license makes it clear that I am officially old enough to know better. Which begs the question: How does an ophthalmologist know when he or she has become old?

Counting the ways

There are ten reasons why I know I am an old ophthalmologist:

  •  I remember a time when doctors were called “doctors” instead of “providers.”
  •  I remember when smoking cigarettes was allowed and smoking marijuana was considered naughty.
  • To maintain my medical licensure, I have been required to take state legislature-mandated courses on prescribing powerful opioids for pain control because of a belief that doctors were not adequately treating the pain of their patients. A decade or so later, I now have my state legislature mandating that I, in order to maintain my licensure, take courses on how to avoid prescribing opioids for pain. (The fact that I am an ophthalmologist and have not needed to prescribe anything stronger than Tylenol in the past three decades, of course, means nothing to the regulators.)
  • I sometimes buy broccoli rabe to sauté with garlic as a side dish for dinner and get excited because of the eye-healthy nutrients.
  •  I have stopped complaining about my presbyopia and find myself admiring how my reading glasses make me look like one of the protagonists in the “Revenge of the Nerds” films.
  •  Getting lucky means I find my car in the hospital parking structure at the end of a long day.
  •  I enjoy hearing about other people’s operations.
  •  I now know all the answers, but my kids never call to ask me any questions.
  •  I remember a time before every eye disease was curable with an injection of bevacizumab. And the number one reason I know I am getting old?
  •  In 2019, my youngest child will become a card-carrying ophthalmologist. 

The ophthalmologists in my family wish you and your families a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2019!


Peter J. McDonnell, MD
Dr. McDonnell is the director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times. He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu

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