There are some great Italian sayings out there. But I have a special place in my heart for a line or two from one of the first patients I saw in Fair Lawn, Maria Safes. Each of us who has been caring for patients for many years has “favorites”. Doctors are human, and we tend to appreciate the patients with whom, for whatever reasons, we have forged special bonds. Maria, now in her late 80s, is one of them. I saw her the other day in the office early in the afternoon, and when I asked her how things were going she gave me her usual, understated reply, “Okay, dear”. The correct pronunciation, by the way is “Oh [slight hesitation] kay dear”. Whenever anything challenging surfaces, Maria accepts her circumstances with a sigh and stoically says: “Eh, whadayagonna do?”. Not that such sentiment is exclusive to diminutive women of Italian lineage. One of my dear mentors, Dr. Irwin Suchoff, when faced with moments of resignation, would say “Azoy gait es” (that’s the way it goes). That Yiddish phrase became such a fixture in my household that to this day my kids refer lovingly to the wise Dr. Suchoff as “Azoy Gait Es Irwin”.
The other day, as we walked by our wall of success stories in the hallway, it occurred to me that I had no photo of Maria. The walls are covered with the pictures of many of our patients who have contributed to our practice becoming more specialized in vision therapy. But Maria is a holdover from when we did a lot of primary at the outset, close to 30 years ago.
Way back then, in the 1980s, there was a hit song by Joe Dolce called “Shaddap You Face”. The lyrics began: “When I was a boy, just about-a eighth-a grade, Mama used to say, don’t-a stay out late with the bad-a boys, Giuseppe — or to shoot-a pool, gonna flunk-a school … ”
The role model for Giuseppe has to be Anthony Dittmar. This is the young man every eighth grader should emulate. Anthony is a superb student about to enter high school in Fair Lawn. He came to me as a little boy, wearing glasses with no power in front of one eye, and a +3.00 prescription for the other eye. Anthony had an optometrist in the family in Pennsylvania who suggested to the Dittmars that they consult with me. When I met with his very caring mom and dad they had two principal goals:
1) Help Anthony develop equal vision in both eyes
2) Do this without the need for him to wear glasses
I was quite confident that we could accomplish goal #1, but more cautious about goal #2. Though I had been successful in reducing hyperopic anisometropia before, my experience had been that at least until age 18, any residual aniso would cause the patient to regress if he didn’t wear an Rx. Nor was I sure that getting Anthony to emmetropia in both eyes was possible. He still scoped +3.00 in one eye when he first came to see me. I thought about this on the same day that Maria came in, because Anthony was in my chair for his annual exam shortly after Maria left. Anthony is up on my wall because he is the most complete success story that we have of hyperopic aniso. He pre-dated the use of VEPs in my office that we published, but served as the inspiration for our approach to the reverse engineering of hyperopia. We titrated his power down in the hyperopic eye until it was eventually gone. I don’t mean lessened; I mean gone. It’s such a pleasure to see what a stellar student he is, and that his retinoscopy has remained at plano in both eyes without any trace of amblyopia.