Thanks to our colleague, Dr. Beth Ballinger, for sharing this heartfelt letter she received from a grateful former vision therapy patient.
Dear Dr. Ballinger,
Now that I have graduated from medical school and am a physician of Internal Medicine, I want to take a moment to say thank you. I would not have become a doctor without your care and the benefits of vision therapy. As I started having double vision in my grueling first year of medical school, I was caught off guard with the realization that I was seeing double when I would read. This made the hours of studying difficult, and I was getting headaches and nausea toward the end of the day when my eyes were especially tired. Despite knowing I had surgery for strabismus as a child, up until this point, I only had the slight difficulty with hand-eye coordination or the occasional awareness of my eye turn when I was more tired than usual. But the demands and stresses of studying took a toll on my eyes and caused me to seek medical advice from my pediatric ophthalmologist as well as another ophthalmologist at a renowned University institution. Although they adeptly diagnosed my vision issues as being related to my strabismus, my treatment instructions were as follows: surgery is not an option, so keep your eyes moist, update your prescription, and rest. This was a disappointing treatment plan, and it left me wondering, could I continue in medical school and succeed during a time when frequent rest was not the most viable option? Could I even ethically practice medicine with less-than-optimal vision? While I was struggling with these questions and doing my best to follow the doctor’s instructions, I stumbled across vision therapy.
At vision therapy, my eyes were challenged through exercises involving 3-D images at different distances, scanning and tracking, and depth perception. I started with two to three sessions per week and completed daily home exercises to help train my eyes. As I continued therapy, I noticed that my eyes and brain were learning to work together, such that I felt like I could voluntarily adjust my eyes to focus near and far without double vision. I noticed that my eyes were strengthening and were working for longer periods of time. I tapered down to weekly sessions and later to biweekly sessions throughout second year, and I was able to do at least monthly visits during third year. While I was aware of my limits and made it a priority to sleep well and take frequent breaks, vision therapy gave me the extra skills and endurance to complete my studies and maintain adequate vision during my clinical clerkships. I was amazed at what my eyes could do with dedicated training and care.
It has been humbling to recognize that as I was studying medicine and seeking to become a healthcare provider, I also needed to become the health care recipient. I recognized the difficulty of living with a chronic condition, the care and commitment it takes to be a patient, the discouraging moments of feeling weak, yet the encouraging lessons of recognizing my resilience. It was amazing that God made my eyes to be resilient and to become strong with the training of vision therapy. I learned that medicine and surgery cannot always provide the best solution. It turns out that vision therapy is a helpful tool for patients with a variety of medical problems, from autism and learning disorders, to stroke, trauma, and concussion. As a doctor and patient, I highly recommend that all ophthalmologists consider vision therapy as a means to support and strengthen the abilities of those with vision impairments (and more!). And as a primary care physician, I now have one more tool in my belt for quality patient care. So thank you, Dr. Ballinger, for enhancing my physical vision, but also for expanding my vision of illness, medicine, and the multidisciplinary approach to patient care.
Kelly Nishikawa, MD