Eye to eye . . .
Bonnie Weil still doesn’t know why she ended up with glaucoma after what should have been routine cataract surgery. Thanks to a referral, however, she does know that she’s now at the right place, and in the right medical hands: those of Paul Pruett, a glaucoma specialist at Emory Eye.
Pruett fills in some of the “why” behind Weil’s condition: “After cataract surgery from an outside provider, she developed inflammation in the eye. To treat the inflammation, she needed steroids – and one side effect is that steroids can raise the pressure inside the eye. It became a vicious cycle. When the outside doctors tried to lower the steroids, the inflammation would come back.”
“I needed a doctor who would answer my questions and be very open,” Weil says, “and Dr. Pruett fit the bill. His demeanor – confident, patient, matter-of-fact – is comforting. He is calm even when I’m not. Any doctor can tell you, ‘I’m going to give you these drops,’ but Dr. Pruett goes beyond that. He adds, ‘Here’s why.’”
This way of talking with patients, Pruett explains, is intentional: “Especially when treating patients with glaucoma, I give them the why at every step. Glaucoma typically has no symptoms, so a patient may not be feeling any discomfort. The why can help a patient see the need to use drops or undergo surgery.”
Weil, recently retired from teaching gifted elementary students in North Georgia, recognizes Pruett’s skill and can vouch for its effectiveness: “When I hear the why,” she says, “I feel I’ve been answered well.” Long before learning that he directs Emory Eye’s residency program, she pegged Pruett as a master teacher.
She recalls that residents were present at some of her examinations, and she heard them interacting with Pruett: “With them, too, he was matter-of-fact and kind. He’s their advocate; I can tell.”
Pruett says, “I tell residents, ‘Put yourself in the patient’s shoes: How would you best accept or understand this knowledge, if you had never been to medical school?’ We also have role-play sessions with the residents, to help them learn to communicate with patients sensitively and clearly.” For Weil, communication with Dr. Pruett is on equal ground, person to person. “He includes me in the medical process, using the word ‘we’ a lot. He’ll say, ‘Let’s just go do this retina scan,’ or ‘We can figure this out; if we can’t, we’ll ask somebody else.’ And he has a way of sitting back and listening, looking me in the eye. That gives me confidence.”
With a laugh, Weil continues, “I feel like my eyeball could fall out on the floor, and he would say, ‘Oh, let’s just dust it off and put it back in again.’”
Perhaps Weil’s laughter tells the story best: This is a doctor she is comfortable with, someone she trusts. After a year and a half of working with Pruett, she recently told him, “You’re a lot younger than I am, so I rest assured that you’ll still be functioning for a long time and will take care of my vision the rest of my life.”
In case Pruett doesn’t live up to that expectation, though, Weil is glad to know that he’s training people to carry on his good work.
Her glaucoma and her interaction with Pruett, Weil says, “have helped me grow spiritually. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll always have glaucoma. It would be easy to just keep asking why. But a better question is ‘Am I going to give up, or appreciate the good things and go on?’ I believe that for every problem, there’s a solution you can live with and be at peace.”
Weil feels honored to share her experience, in hopes that it will help others. To anyone in an Emory waiting room who’s reading this story, she wants to say, “You’re in the right place!”
And Bonnie Weil knows why.