When I was young, I needed glasses. But I didn’t know I needed glasses. I had gotten used to not being able to see very well. I spent second and third grade squinting at the chalkboard during class. I would try to sit close so I could see what was written on the wall. Amidst my struggles with vision, one night as we watched television, an episode of Little House on the Prairie aired. In this episode, the character Mary was squinting and pulling at her eyes. She needed glasses. I turned to my Mother and told her, I needed glasses just like Mary. She said, surely not, as I was only in fourth grade at the time. I told her I was doing everything Mary was doing within the episode. A couple of weeks later my Mother got me an appointment to see an eye doctor.
I had never seen an eye doctor before. I was truly an “eye-opening” experience. Every time I went to my family doctor, the Doctor spent most of his time talking with my mother. He would give me a quick look over and tell my mother what he was prescribing to make me better. The eye doctor was very different. He had me sit straight up in an odd chair and rest my chin in a special chin cup. Then he slid circular panes of glass before my eyes. Then he began the calming repetitive litany familiar to all of those who suffer from bad eyesight. “Is this better, or this one? The second one or the first?” Again and again the glass panes slid in place and the litany continued. Again and again, I was forced to choose between this form of blurry and that form of blurry. I was amazed at a dawning realization that came over me. Through it all, I was in charge. These glass plates would change, would flip, and would slide into place because of the nimble fingers of a doctor who listened patiently to a ten year old. After countless queries of “this… now this,” the glass panes slid into place with a pleasant metallic click and I could see.
One week later my glasses arrived. I was so happy when I went outside and I saw the trees. The trees had leaves again. For many years, distant trees had only been crowned with a glory of impressionistic green. Now the leaves were back, because I had new eyes. These eyes saw things crisp and clear. These eyes were open and joyous and everything was new.
I had not thought of those first glasses and my “new” eyes for many years. When Fred was ill and hospitalized, I thought of those eyes again. Before Fred’s sickness, I had never lived within a hospital. Oh, I had visited hospitals and gave birth to two sons within two very different hospital facilities, but I had never spent day after day in a hospital. When Fred was sick and I was his caregiver, that is exactly what I did. Caregiving in a medical institution was a novel experience. And I saw the danger all around us as crisp and clear as my ten-year-old self saw those fluttering spring leaves. So when people wonder, "What could patients possibly add to the dialog about better medical care? How can a patient or caregiver's limited experience help shift the paradigm?" I simply reply, “We bring new eyes.”