An underappreciated aspect of the eyecare profession is that we handle our share of emergencies. A practice might see anything from a swollen eye courtesy of a soccer ball to a mosquito bite on the eyelid to a visible curtain overtaking the patient’s vision.
And then there are the patients who take the whole thing too far, demanding urgent attention for situations that could, in fact, wait.
Below, we bring you 12 stories of patients whose supposed "emergencies" turned out not to be emergencies at all.
1. “A lady comes in saying she is seeing bubbles bursting all over her vision. We thought ‘flashing lights possibly?’ Fit her into the clinic [schedule], holding the rest of the day back by 40 minutes. Turns out her new glasses had an AR coating and she’d simply smudged the lens.” — Christine Mckeown, optical assistant, Belfast, Ireland
2. “I work in a hospital setting and am on call one week a month. I once had to go in on a Sunday morning because a kid felt like there was an ‘ice pick’ stabbing him in the eye and the ER doctor couldn't figure out why. Turned out to just be a bit of dry eye/irritation in the nasal canthus.” — Anonymous
3. “Long-time customer comes into the store in absolute panic that her vision was compromised in both eyes and that her contact lenses were making no difference. Fit her into an already full clinic, resulting in the rest of the day running behind, where the optometrist finds she’s inserted two contacts into one eye and none in the other.” — Kerryn Roberts, optical dispenser, Lake Haven, Australia
4. “6-year-old girl's mum insisting on an eye test (diary was completely booked out) as the girl was complaining of 'sudden onset' diplopia, headaches and blurry vision after school. Turns out she'd forgotten to take her glasses to school that day, Rx was about +3.00/-4.50x180 in both eyes.” — Flora Lo, optometrist, Sydney, Australia
5. “A young woman called hysterically because she had suddenly lost her vision. Even with her contact lenses on, everything was terribly blurred. She had to find a ride to the clinic. It turned out she had switched her R/L contacts. Since her Rx was OD -0.50 and OS -4.00, switching them made her pretty blurry. She was quite embarrassed that she hadn’t thought of that.” — Susan Haney, optometrist, Anaheim, CA
6. “Had a new patient come in insisting that she was in pain due to a foreign body sensation. Called her back early (because she said she was in pain), and she kept saying, ‘This is an emergency! I have an appointment in an hour, I need to see the doctor NOW!’ After determining that she was not, in fact, in pain, I set about documenting her medical history which she complained endlessly about because this was an ‘emergency’. The doctor had two patients in front of this one, so she probably waited about 10-15 minutes. She got impatient, came out of the room, grabbed the doctor as she was going into another room, and declared that she was having an emergency and needed to be seen right away! The doctor calmly told her to return to her room. When she did [examine] her, she found a mild case of dry eye.” — Hannah Leigh Jenkins, optometric technician, North Carolina
7. “Monday, I had a patient come in needing to be seen as an emergency. ... On her new patient paperwork she stated ‘poked my eye, think there may be a cut in eye.’ In the exam room I ask, ‘When did you poke your eye?’ She replied, ‘6 months ago.’” — Vanessa Michelle Findley, optometric technician, Hart Family Eyecare, West Plains, MO
8. “Patient calls with a decrease in vision with painful eyes. We squeeze him in. Every time I would try to check his vision he would tell me to put the occluder down. I will never forget him because right before the exam started he said ‘Are you ready for the most stressful exam of your life?’ All he wanted was for us to look at a bump on his arm since dermatology was booked for 2 weeks.” —Danielle E. Mercer, certified ophthalmic assistant, Tulane Medical Center, New Orleans, LA
9. “One of our [optometrists] was telling us about a patient who said he'd eaten a piece of fruit that had some kind of parasitic worm in it that somehow made its way into his eye and was causing his vision loss ... He had cataracts.” — Dylan Shield, optical assistant, Dunedin, New Zealand
10. “Someone booked an emergency patient in for flasher and floaters. When they got to the office I started testing on them and asked them ‘So you’ve been experiencing flashing lights and floaters?’ Their response was, ‘Oh. Yeah, last night when I turned the light off to go to bed I thought I saw a flash for a second. I mostly just want to update my prescription so is all this testing necessary?” — Brooklyn, optometric technician, Vancouver Island, Canada
11. “When I was on an extern rotation during fourth year, we got a call that a patient would be walking in after stabbing himself in the eye with a screwdriver. After winning the rock/paper/scissors with the other intern, I prepared to see my patient. The man walked in and did not appear to be in excruciating pain, but reported to the tech that he could ‘see a muscle popping out.’ After carefully examining him, he had a small abrasion on his superior lid but missed the globe altogether. The ‘pink muscle’ turned out to be his caruncle, and he was shocked when I pointed out the one on the other eye.” — Lindsay Rose, optometrist
12. “I once triaged someone who came in complaining of sudden, painless loss of vision in one eye when they were at work, [saying] they couldn’t see anything. I was worried about a CRAO. When they came in they told me it had happened when they were looking at a VDU, and it was still blurred now. Vision was 6/6 N5 right and left, answer normal, colour vision normal, full threshold fields normal, fundus healthy, no pathology to be seen. Rx was 0.00 one eye and 0.00/-0.25x180 the other eye. Turns out he had just never noticed the fraction of a prescription in one eye and refused point blank to believe me when I told him he had perfect vision.” — Sarah Tickell, England
ELVIRA DERHOVSEPIAN is an ophthalmic scribe applying for optometry school for fall 2018. She is the creator of the social media platform @overheardoptometry, a community of people who share their unique (and sometimes so very common) stories in eyecare. Derhovsepian recently published the first volume of the Overheard Optometry book, now available at Amazon.com, and enjoys freelance writing and editing in her free time.