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Editorial: Education can change lives

Digital EditionOphthalmology Times: October 2023
Volume 48
Issue 10

Peter J. McDonnell's, MD, Chief medical editor of Ophthalmology times, editorial from the October 2023 issue.

Peter J. Mcdonnell, MD

Peter J. Mcdonnell, MD

My friend, who is a physician and loyal reader of Ophthalmology Times—despite the fact that she is not an ophthalmologist—recently shared with me an experience she had with a patient. Her patient was an immigrant who was approximately 30 years old and wasn’t a native English speaker. She had a medical problem that required her to be hospitalized for an extended period of time (something that is fortunately not a frequent issue for patients of ophthalmologists).

An offer of words

Knowing the patient would be in the hospital for quite some time, my bilingual friend offered to provide her with some books in her native language. The patient responded to my friend by saying that she could neither read nor write in any language.

“Is there something you would like to do that I could help you with?” my friend inquired.

“Yes,” her patient responded. “I would like to know how to write my name.”

My friend obtained a tablet and, sitting with the patient in her hospital room, wrote out her name, address, and telephone number. During lessons, my friend taught her patient the sounds of each of the letters and numbers.

Under my friend's instruction, the patient focused intently as the symbols were written out and thoroughly explained to her. She thanked my friend for doing this for her.

The next time my friend visited this patient, she saw the tablet in her room. The patient had copied her name, address, and phone number over and over.

My friend then obtained a children’s book that was written in both English and the patient’s native language and gave it to the patient. I think with this gift she hoped to be able to expose the patient, who was a mother of young children, to the joys of reading.

Ultimately, the patient’s hospitalization came to an end and my friend, who had been only a consultant, lost contact with the patient.

Going above and beyond

I hope that by doing something that was not part of her job description—taking the time to teach this woman how to write her name and introduce her to books—my friend opened the door to a new world to this patient who was in the hospital for reasons that had nothing to do with literacy. My friend was credited with no relative value units for her time and effort, and no hospital administrators were aware of what she was doing.

Grateful for education

My friend’s story reminded me of how grateful I should be that my grandfather emigrated from a country where education was not available to him to the United States where, thanks to our Founding Fathers, education is compulsory.

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