Kate’s Final (?) Appointment with her Ophthalmologist

We may be reaching a point at which we no longer schedule routine medical appointments for Kate except for her primary care physician. It is becoming a matter of assessing the risks vs. the benefits.

Yesterday she had a routine appointment with her ophthalmologist. This is one in which I had a special interest. I have commented many times on her eyesight problems. Kate is unable to recognize that she has a problem, but she seems to see some things and not others. For example, she may not see a large object on a counter but notice a small spec of dirt on our carpet or small particles of food on a restaurant table. Until recently, I had attributed her vision issues to her Alzheimer’s rather than a physical problem with her eyes. Two particular issues, however, have made me wonder if it could be something like macular degeneration. In a phone conversation with her ophthalmologist I confirmed that at the time of her last check up in February, there were no signs of a physical problem and that it was unlikely that it would have developed since then. Nonetheless, I wanted to know for sure. Yesterday’s visit provided the answer. It was just what I thought. Her eyes are fine. Her vision problem must be related to her Alzheimer’s.

There is more to report, however. Appointments themselves are becoming a problem. Kate has little patience, and waiting is a normal process in most health-related professions. The notable exception is her primary care physician who is associated with a gerontological practice. The wait time in the lobby is not usually more than 5-10 minutes. The appointments are not scheduled as closely together. Her doctor, and the others we have seen, always take a lot of time with their patients, many of whom have dementia. They know how to relate to patients like Kate.

I don’t mean to suggest Kate’s eye doctor and/or staff are insensitive to the needs of patients with Alzheimer’s. They aren’t, but the system is set up for non-dementia patients. That means waiting times exceed Kate’s patience. Her appointment was at 1:15. She didn’t see her doctor until 2:15. To be fair, she was only in the waiting room about fifteen minutes. She spent another 15-20 minutes with the doctor’s assistant who was getting information, checking her vision, and giving her the necessary drops before the doctor arrived. That left about thirty minutes before she saw the doctor. Kate has trouble understanding the instructions anyone gives her, so that complicates every portion of the examination. Neither does she understand why she needs the exam in the first place. Yesterday’s exam was particularly difficult for both Kate and the assistant.

The good part is that she took it somewhat good-naturedly. She joked a lot, and both the assistant and the doctor got a kick out of her comments. Sometimes she was quite serious. When the assistant checked her eye pressure, Kate was startled, pulled herself away, and told the assistant to stop. Then she did something that surprised me. She looked at the assistant and spoke to her  as though she were a teacher. She said, “Talk slowly. Go one step at a time, and give me clear instructions.” That is exactly what she needs. Of course, not even that will insure that she understands. At the end of the visit, the doctor looked at Kate and said, “Well, I have good news for you. You don’t need to come back for a year.”

When we checked out, it was a challenge finding an afternoon appointment at our preferred location. We finally found one at 11:55 on August 28 of next year. I can’t imagine that Kate will be up to another visit when the time comes around. I feel sure her doctor felt the same way, but, like so many other things, we will see.

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