When I heard Review of Optometry was dedicating an issue to how old it is, I wondered: Why would anyone ever want to dedicate anything to how old they are? After further inquiry, I found out they even wanted me to participate, since I was at least the second longest-running writer for the magazine. I must be pretty old. 

(For the record, Dr. Joe Shovlin has been editing the contact lens stuff for longer than I’ve been here, which means online contact lens sales started under his watch. Way to go, Joe.)

In the Beginning, There was Me

So, somewhere around 125 years ago (seems like) I started writing this Chairside column. At that time, as I recall, the profession of optometry was just emerging from the primordial muck, sprouting small prehensile tails and various vestigial organ systems, such as retinoscopes. You can Google those. 

I had thoughtfully planned my full frontal assault on the stone tablets they once called Chilton’s Review of Optometry because I had realized that, if nothing changed, we were all doomed—DOOMED, I SAY!—to read only boring physiological optics formulae that, after three hours of pencil to paper, would help us prescribe +2.50 Kryptok bifocals for 57-year-olds. Nothing personal, Dr. Donder, but your table is a yawner. 

Against all odds, and thanks to the benevolence of industry giants like Review’s legendary publisher Mr. Rick Bay, I persevered and eventually added some critically important optometric concepts to the academic literature, such as “I used to dress up like Thor, God of Thunder” and the seminal word “narwhal,” which had never before, and has never since, been part of a medical magazine, unless you count that unusual surgical case I saw in The Colon Observer back in ’94. 

Please allow me to take a moment to thank the amazing late Mr. Bay, all of my editors (many suffering with PTSD) and you, my readers. I like to think it has given us a chance to take time each month to put aside our many responsibilities so we can concentrate on what really matters: Dr. Montgomery Vickers’ multitude of neuroses. As one reader put it, “Chairside is a breath of fresh air, except when it stinks.” 

OK, I wrote that, but I knew what you were thinking. 

Chairside has afforded me some blessed moments, like when my then-young children witnessed a random colleague ask for my autograph 

in New York City on our way to Vision Expo. My son asked me if I was famous. I was embarrassed that, at age 10, he did not know that already. We immediately sent him to boarding school. 

This graphic from a 1934 issue predates Dr. Vickers—barely. 

I once even met my idol, uber-humor columnist Dave Barry, and I will never forget the kind words he shared with me: “You splashed my shoes, man!” I knew just what he meant and have since tried to live my life accordingly.

I have also had the honor of hobnobbing with the finest minds in optometry such as Drs. Paul Ajamian, Paul Karpecki, Paul Kabat…What? His name is Al? Well, I don’t actually know these people, so whatever.

A couple of times I got to lecture at THE Ohio State University College of Optometry to the soon-to-be-graduating fourth-year students. My understanding is that only a few quit to become dental techs. 

I have spoken all around the world at optometry meetings. OK… all around Birmingham, Alabama, anyway. The audience was captivated in utter silence, absorbing every word. Unfortunately, I was doing optometric standup at the time. 

According to the Book of Vickers

What a run! When Review of Optometry first rolled out in 1891, thanks to founding editor Frederick “The Bogerman” Boger, no one could know we would still be reading it. Looking back, I thought I should share some excerpts from my very favorite Chairside columns, but since none of those were ever published, I let the staff pick a few tidbits. So don’t blame me.

On Chairside 
Most of the optometric articles we read are written by someone on a different wavelength than we are … How about an optometric author who talks about how it feels to be out there dealing with optometry, as we Regular Joes and Joannes know it, on the front line? That’s where I think I come in. I am, I believe, a “street” optometrist. I am, I believe, one of you. (January 1991)

On ODs’ Inferiority Complex
Optometrists can have an inferiority complex. We sometimes feel disrespected by our ophthalmologist colleagues and by our legislators. We feel we have no power. This may be because our receptionists tell us to shut up when we start telling that same old story about some guy’s glasses for the 100th time. (October 2004)

Luckily, this photo was taken before I decided to get my first and only perm. I thought it would make me look as cool as New Kids On The Block. The bad news is it worked; I was officially as cool as New Kids On The Block. Yuck.

On No-Shows
As you may know, there is a direct relationship between weather and no-shows. If it’s pretty outside, nobody can make it. If it’s snowing a foot or two, one of my patients is standing hip deep outside my office because a screw came out of his glasses two weeks earlier. (December 2004)

Last week I had eight no-shows. EIGHT! My plan is to reschedule these fine patients just as soon as possible. I think we’ll let them have any Friday appointment. By the way, we’re not open on Fridays. (September 2005)

On Patient Loyalty 
And then there’s the loyal patient who wanted only me to check her eyes. But could I come and do it at another local doctor’s office, because they accept her vision plan and I don’t? (By the way, this call was made by the other doctor’s receptionist!) (March 2005)

On Smoking and Eyesight 
We all know about the health issues that smoking causes, even in the eyes. One lady, with tears in her eyes, spent 20 minutes describing the utter turmoil in her family due to her mother’s macular degeneration and loss of vision. She begged me for information. “Quit smoking,” I said. She said, “Can I get a second opinion?” (April 2005)

On the Origin of the Species
The first single-celled organisms developed a tiny little organelle that sensed light, and these rudimentary creatures began to move to the light—what we now call Florida. This is when the first State Board was created to keep all the other single-celled organisms from moving to Florida to practice. (September 2004)

On Family 
I know. Your kids are wonderful. Well, not as wonderful as mine. Better luck next time! Yes, my kids are brilliant. They are physically and spiritually beautiful, and I often wonder who their father might be. (January 2006)

The next time a long-lost cousin comes up at the family barbecue and asks you about his eyes, just smile and “remind him” that you’re a dentist. And don’t forget to tell him you moved your office to Canada. (April 2015)

On the Proper Equipment 
When I was starting out in the late 70s, I could not afford an ophthalmoscope and retinoscope. At that time, my understanding was that these tools were actually needed if you were going to do an eye examination. Of course, this has since been shown to be totally false. (August 2007)

Ten years in. I had finally mastered the obviously fake smile that all celebrities must have. You can tell I had been in practice for a while since I had lost my eye model’s cornea.

On Optometric Income 
My plumber did 45 minutes of work and then handed me a bill for $376. I told him I was a doctor and I didn’t make $376 for 45 minutes. He said, “When I was a doctor, neither did I.” (October 2012)

On Ophthalmologists 
They may have butlers to help them do it, but ophthalmologists put their pants on one leg at a time—just like optometrists. In fact, they’re busy trying to become optometrists, learning contact lenses and optics at their meetings. (September 1991)

On Humility 
Quit beating yourself up for the stupid thing you said yesterday. There will be a new stupid thing you say today to take its place. (February 2008)

On the Value of Eye Care
Always presume your best, most loyal contact lens patient will slit your throat to save a dollar a multipack. (July 1998)

If you go to the proctologist for a colonoscopy, you’ll see a $49,000 car in his parking lot—and he’ll be wearing a $3 pair of glasses as he analyzes your life as we know it. (June 2004)

Some patients will spend any amount of money on important stuff, like pet chickens. But something frivolous like eye care? Forget it. (November 2005)

On Optometry
Two of the 55 best things about being an optometrist: 12. The eye is definitely the second most awesome organ; and 22. Most people have eyes. (July 1997)

Headaches are just a part of your life, which can only be avoided if you just choose a profession where you never deal with any human beings. Or if you avoid their sensory organs at least, as patients can be quite demanding when you mess with those. (May 2012)

On Practice Management
I will buy every book on managed care that I can find. I always enjoy a good fire and marshmallows. (April 2000)

Now you see the real me. This photo was taken with me in a Speedo at the bottom of the ocean. Nice job Photoshopping, eh?

On Technology 
There’s this app that allows you to take a picture of someone and then bend it to make it look really weird. I use this to demonstrate astigmatism and also to show patients what they look like when they buy glasses at the mall. (September 2010)

To think this $500 paperweight (i.e., smartphone) can replace my need to refract? I have died and gone to heaven! Now the world won’t come to an end because opticians won’t have any reason to politick to refract. Heck, any idiot with an app can refract now, right? And, lazy ophthalmologists will finally stop using Donders’ Table to decide what seg power a patient needs! The phone will decide! Sweet! (July 2014)

Quit pushing buttons and ask the patient exactly what they need to see. You can use your fancy doodads to figure stuff out, but at the end of the day, it comes down to whether they can read the hymnbook on Sunday. (December 2015)

As esteemed oral surgeon Brian Alpert, DDS, said, we are all “just two axons held together by a spirochete.” I like to think Chairside is our shared bacteria. Thanks for reading.