I just had the ninth injection in my right eye to help save my sight from aging macular degeneration and once again I realize how very fortunate I am and how skilled and understanding my ophthalmologist is.
I was diagnosed in December with wet AMD which had occurred literally overnight. That concerned me, but did not completely frighten, certainly not enough to demand, as I should have, an immediate appointment with an eye specialist. It was Covid time and appointments with any physicians were difficult to come by.
When I did get an appointment and was immediately directed to the doctor who specializes in AMD, he told me at my first appointment it was so severe he had no hope of doing much with it. I smiled and prayed when he said he would try to halt it from getting any worse and completely blinding me. But, he cautioned right from the beginning, that was all he thought he could do. Nevertheless, he definitely recommended I proceed with the injections. He also told me to start taking AREDS 2, an OTC capsule recommended for twice a day.
I left his office confused, a bit frightened, rather angry, but grateful I had a doctor who was honest and upfront.
I was confused and angry because nobody, in spite of regular visits to eye doctors, had ever said to take AREDs. Why? I wondered? It’s not really expensive, easy to get and didn’t seem to an easy medicine to take with few side effects, if any. Later research showed me AREDS is great for counteracting all AMD, wet and dry, the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. Wouldn’t you think my general practitioner, or certainly the eye doctor I saw regularly, would have the same information it took me five minutes to find on a computer. Wouldn’t you think some medical professional would have suggested I start taking it long before I was ever diagnosed with a sudden loss of vision overnight at age 84?
I was frightened because this doctor I was seeing for the first time told me he didn’t hold out much hope for improvement or even much stability. It was a sizeable degeneration.
But then gratitude overwhelmed the other feelings. I had a doctor who was honest, upfront, direct, did not believe in false promises, or false hope. I had researched his background as well and found his overwhelming educational and experience history superb, and his nearly four decades of specializing highly regarded and full of acclaim.
During our once a month visits, the doctor and I talked little other than exchanging pleasantries as he inspected my eyes, cleansed then, numbed my right eye, left the room while waiting for it to work, inserted needles, completed the procedure, and I was on my way to make my next appointment for the following month.
But he always answered all my questions. As a newspaper reporter, I always had some. He did not talk in highly professional terms or use all the proper words; rather, he talked at my level, gave examples of what he meant, then watched to see if I was comprehending.
And I learned more about him. I learned he is in medicine because he feels a strong need within himself to help others. “Isn’t it good to be able to help someone?” he asked me with a slight smile one day. I thought it was very humbling when he added, “I think that’s pretty much why all doctors go into medicine.” I learned he is conscientious and reviews every record carefully. I learned that in addition to the office in Holmdel, NJ where I see him, he sees patients in lots of other offices in the tri-state area. He is licensed to practice in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut where he lives.
I saw his happiness every month when, contrary to all expectations, I began to show slight improvement. After six injections of Avastin, he told me he was thinking of trying Eylea for the seventh. It was almost like he was asking me if that would be okay with me. I was grateful he was giving me advance notice and was thinking ahead.
But my very favorite visit was when I had my eighth injection, the second with Eylea. My AMD had improved so much he was visibly stunned and re-checked and re-checked the screen before he shared the news with me. “I didn’t think in a million years I would ever see this,” he said. For a doctor who is always so well composed, so sure of himself, so confident in his ability and the power of medicine, and so calming, it came as a shock when I thanked him for the visit and he said, “ When I’m driving home on the thruway tonight, I’ll be smiling the whole way. And that’s because I’ll be thinking of you and what I saw happen today.” I am awed by a doctor who can take so much pleasure and happiness from seeing someone he doesn’t even know be well on the road to better vision when eight months earlier it didn’t seem possible at all.
So yes, I might not be grateful for AMD, but I am grateful for a doctor who truly cares, a doctor who wanted to proceed even when he didn’t think he could improve vision, but hoped he could prevent it from getting any worse. A doctor who could smile his way all the way from New Jersey to Connecticut because he had given an 84 year old woman literally a new look on life.
My doctor is Dr. Paul Guerriero, a board-certified Ophthalmic Surgeon specializing in Retina and Vitreous diseases and Uveitis. A doctor who earned his medical degree from Downstate Medical Center, completed has extensive clinical and surgical experience and residency in ophthalmology with the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, was only a third year resident when he won the prestigious Louis Girard Award reserved for a graduating senior who has made a significant contribution to ophthalmic research, did more training in the field of retina in Atlanta, Georgia, all before he started his own practice….not in one city or state, but the tri-state area. He is one of a fleet of doctors and physicians with Atlantic Eye in Monmouth County, New Jersey.