Pandemic proves our mettle

Ophthalmologists continue to rise to the challenge amid myriad hurdles.

“You’re Marines. You improvise.

You adapt. You overcome.”

—Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge

Like most males of my generation, I am a fan of Clint Eastwood movies. A common element in his films is his portrayal of heroic, seemingly fearless, admirable characters (which presumably is only fair considering that he is often the lead actor and director as well as the one putting up funding for the movie).

In Heartbreak Ridge, Eastwood’s role is that of a Marine gunnery sergeant who whips a group of dysfunctional misfits into a professional fighting force. He emphasizes repeatedly to his befuddled pupils that they will certainly encounter obstacles and that, as Marines, they will be expected to quickly improvise, adapt to the unanticipated circumstances, and prevail. His young fighters are soon deployed and comport themselves admirably and with the utmost professionalism.

Two years into our pandemic, I see a strong analogy between Eastwood’s young Marines and American ophthalmologists (in terms of them being professionals adapting to and successfully overcoming adversity rather than being dysfunctional misfits).

When we look back on how this all started 2 years ago, it was a little scary. Among the first physicians to report the disease and die from it was an ophthalmologist. We learned that the pathogen was spreading rapidly, and our country did not have sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect ourselves, our staff members, and our patients in our clinics. We read about hospitals filled to overflowing with seriously ill patients and ophthalmology residents being among the top 3 groups of specialists to become infected (along with emergency medicine and anesthesiology). Apparently, many hospitals did not have enough ventilators and, in many of those that did, subspecialists like ophthalmologists and dermatologists (many of whom probably cannot recall which end of the ventilator gets connected to the patient) were asked to work in intensive care units to care for these patients.

What did ophthalmologists do? They improvised (getting PPE from construction firms, making face shields and sneeze guards for our slit lamps), they adapted (changing patient flows, minimizing patients in waiting rooms, using telemedicine to the degree possible) and they overcame (with busy ophthalmology practices and surgery centers now providing world-class care to volumes of patients equal to or surpassing prepandemic levels while protecting themselves, their patients, and their staffs). We did what needed to be done, and we are continuing to improve.