On March 26, I was supposed to be in New York City, walking into the Jacob Javits Center for the first day of Vision Expo East. Instead, I was ‘sheltering at home’ and reading news stories about Javits being turned into a field hospital for COVID-19 patients. It was eerie to see the familiar environs of the cavernous hall filled not with extravagant eyewear displays but instead with hospital beds and stark white makeshift walls. The set-up has a 3,000-bed capacity. Sadly, it’ll be no surprise if they all end up occupied.

The amount of suffering that’s already occurred in just a matter of weeks, with more to come, is incalculable. But I believe it’s been matched by an equal amount of courage, kindness and kinship. We’ve all read or watched stories about heroic hospital workers risking, and in some cases losing, their lives to save ours. 

On a smaller scale, our personal and family connections may have been warped by a sudden reliance on glitchy conference calls and messaging apps, but these exchanges feel a little more empathetic right now. 

I’m encouraged to find that same spirit strong within optometry, too. By now, the majority of eye care practices have closed to routine exams and are only seeing emergency cases, but ODs are looking out for each other. Online discussions show an eagerness to help colleagues work through their clinical and logistical problems. Doctors are even calling our offices offering to write articles because they have time on their hands and knowledge to share. And practice management guru Gary Gerber, OD, recently hosted a roundtable with over a dozen corporate executives, who put aside their competitive instincts and shared ideas on how to help ODs get through the crisis. A few interesting ideas from that:

  1. Use this downtime to retrain, retool and rethink. Lots of doctors are trying to implement telehealth out of necessity right now, but maybe it can become a part of your practice for the long-term. Now would also be an opportunity to delve into an area of care you’ve wanted to add but never had time to research. 
  2. Stay in touch with staff during the furlough to keep them from moving on. If you want them to come back when you reopen, remind them they matter to you even when you don’t need them. Offer them new training, too, so you all come out of this stronger and ready to rebound.
  3. Get comfortable with ambiguity. Which patients need to be seen now? When should you reopen? How can you prevent transmission of the virus in your office? What will happen to your practice’s finances? Learning how to make decisions with incomplete and rapidly changing information is a great skill to have under any circumstances. There’s nothing like an existential crisis for sharpening your wits.

I wish you, your families and your patients the best in these troubled times. Next March, when I walk into the Javits Center for Vision Expo East 2021, I’ll stop and marvel at the surreal year that had just passed. Let’s all hope the pain and anxiety will have dissipated by then, and left us with more growth and fewer scars.