In the not so distant past (2005), Harvard President Dr. Lawrence Summers suggested that “innate differences” between men and women might be one reason fewer women succeed in science and math careers. As a member of Penn Women Biomedical Society, I am keenly interested in encouraging women to pursue their passion for medicine and science despite the continued stereotypes. I am so lucky to have met many smart and ambitious women who are going to become leaders in the medical field. I also love hearing the stories of established and highly successful female doctors, and I hope to one day join their ranks. That’s one of the reasons I chose to shadow Dr. Usha Kim, the head of the Orbit, Oculoplasty, and Ocular Oncology Clinic at Aravind.
My original interest in medicine stemmed to a great extent from my appreciation of the patient-doctor relationship. In fields such as oncology, the doctor plays such a crucial role in helping the patient overcome the most daunting and terrifying obstacle of his or her life. It’s a great privilege to have the knowledge to help people in their darkest hour and to have the compassion to guide them through the pain and fear. That being said, the field of medicine fits a variety of interests and skill sets, and recent exposure to the operating room has made me reconsider my trajectory in medicine. I love the feel of an operating room. Quiet. Cold. Organized. Exacting. Sterile. With each individual knowing the role they have to play, the process is executed efficiently and without fanfare. And in India, you get to wear flip flops!! 🙂
Shadowing Dr. Usha in the operating room, I have had the opportunity to better understand the Orbit and Oculoplasty subspecialty of ophthalmology. In previously shadowing doctors and in thinking about what specialty I would be interested in pursuing, ophthalmology never crossed my mind, and I had never even heard of Orbit and Oculoplasty. “Orbit, Oculoplasty and Ocular Oncology handles anomalies of lids, lacrimal system, extra ocular structures, bony orbit and other ocular adnexa…Patients are seen in the Oculoplasty clinic with a variety of eyelid disorders including malpositions (Ptosis, entropion, ectropion), benign and malignant eyelid tumors, facial dystonias etc. Surgical corrections for ptosis, entropion, ectropion, and eyelid reconstructions post tumor removal are performed.”
Watching Dr. Usha masterfully reconstruct the eyelids of a child, I was struck by the beauty and the artistry involved in her branch of medicine. This artistry in the Orbit Clinic extends beyond the operating room. In the out-patient branch of the Orbit clinic, I observed the work of Sister Devarani. Like many of the sisters (nurses), her only formal training has been at Aravind (in her case a 10 day training course from a visiting American doctor), and she has been an ocularist for the last 8 years. The strict definition of an ocularist is someone who makes prosthetic eyes. In my definition, an ocularist is an artist. She is not an artist that “art aficionados” will discuss over Sunday brunch. Her name is never going to be in a textbook. Her work will never be displayed in a cosmopolitan art gallery. But her art has a purpose beyond the amusement of the viewer. Her art heals. It was staggering to see the difference that a custom made prosthetic eye makes to the entire face, the entire appearance of an individual. A few patients came in with mass produced prosthetic eyes. They don’t fit well within the eye socket of the patient, leading to immense discomfort, and they look, well, fake. While in the clinic, Sister Devarani patiently explained to me the entire process of making a prosthetic eye. First, an impression of the patient’s eye socket needs to be made. Then after many steps of fabricating, processing, and polishing, the patient tries on the prosthetic. Next, Sister Devarani sits with the patient and paints the prosthetic eye to match the patient’s other eye. During this painting session, Sister Devarani does her best to keep up a conversation with the patient and make them laugh. The warmth and compassion of the people who work at Aravind continues to stand out and has made a strong impression on me. Staying true to Aravind efficiency, the entire process of creating a prosthetic eye takes 24 hours. The patient came in one day for the fitting and the next for the painting and walked away with a renewed sense of self. And I walked away thinking that coming to Aravind is the best decision I have ever made.
“When you grow in spiritual consciousness, we identify with all that is in the world so there is no exploitation. It is ourselves we are helping. It is ourselves we are healing.” – Dr. V