He was very sad. His eyes were watery and soft, lids loose and sagging. As this 60-year-old patient I had never met admitted his life had been dissolving ever since he lost his mother a year ago, it was as if his whole face was slowly melting away. Having been there multiple times as my wife and I went through the losses of our parents through the years, I understood all too well.
I especially felt this lovely fellow’s journey in the shadow of the recent loss of several notable optometrists, all of whom I respected so very much.
Dr. Art Epstein was, to me, a courageous genius. He never shied away from his brilliant decisions. He exemplified what we each could be if we never stopped learning and growing in optometry.
I would communicate with Art, mostly through emails, whenever I had a question about nearly every topic in our profession. Art was eternally kind to me no matter how stupid I must have sounded to him sometimes. He guided me, not for any reward, but because he was a giver. I’ll bet there are doctors reading this who never took the time to learn that about Art but, if you did take the time to listen, Art’s gentle truth would poke holes in any preconception you may have had about him.
He was funny, too. One time he interrupted one of my dumb dry eye questions and said, “Monty, will you please retire?” I thought he was serious—he could have that aura at times—and then he just laughed, “Nah! What else could you do anyway?”
I miss Dr. Epstein. The profession was better because he was part of it.
Then, we lost Dr. Stuart Richer. I met Stuart many, many years ago when I spent a few years traveling around the country doing what I called “optometric stand-up comedy” at optometry meetings. We were both speakers for the Minnesota Optometric Association. I’d run into him at various conferences where he would work very hard to help us learn about nutrition and the eye, a topic that was often ignored in optometry school curricula. He changed that, nearly single-handedly.
Whenever I saw him, I always made sure to loudly announce so all around us would hear that Dr. Richer and I shared a hotel room one time. Okay, so it was a two-room suite, but I conveniently always left that part out, of course.
What I forgot to tell Stuart was this: ever since I met him, I’ve mentioned his name almost every day as I make nutritional recommendations based on what I learned from him, whether through CE classes or his wonderful articles in our various journals. No joke, my techs will tell you that I say the words “Dr. Stuart Richer” on a regular basis. That won’t change with his passing. I really wish I had told him that while I still could.
Dr. Al Angle, “Big Al,” was famous to anyone who met him. He was the first person I met as a freshman at PCO. He was my roommate and CEO of good times. He was big and strong and hilarious. I don’t have the space to tell you of our adventures, and even if I did, this may not be the most appropriate platform to share them. Let’s just say thank goodness no one had cell phones back then. I hate that he’s no longer here, but I promise you he’s cracking them up, up there.
After completing an eye exam on the gentle fellow mentioned at the start of this column, I asked for both his hands and reminded him of what a wonderful gift his mother was to him and how proud she must have always been of him. She knew he was strong enough now for her to go. We both teared up, nodded and smiled.
Looking into a patient’s eyes is such a gift. Never take that for granted; life happens fast.
Dr. Vickers received his optometry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Optometry in 1979 and was clinical director at Vision Associates in St. Albans, WV, for 36 years. He is now in private practice in Dallas, where he continues to practice full-scope optometry. He has no financial interests to disclose.