My 10-year-old son Jack has been wearing prescription eyeglasses since he was 5, and so I have been bringing him and his younger sister Juno to an eye doctor annually.
Having had a year of online distance learning (ODL) and yet another year of ODL to go means more screen exposure for the kids, so I set an appointment with the only pediatric ophthalmologist in our area.
Last year, I took them just before the lockdown, so it was pretty much the same as always. But in the “new normal,” arranging an appointment is not enough.
The kids’ eyes get scanned by a machine, then the doctor has them dictate what they see projected on a screen. When Juno was still too young to read, she was shown pictures instead, until she was big enough to recite letters.
Cycloplegic refraction is usually performed as part of the comprehensive eye exam. This means applying eye drops that will make their near vision blurred, as the focusing muscles of the eyes are suspended. The children may complain of light sensitivity because their pupils will dilate. These side effects usually last for 24 hours, but my kids never seemed bothered by them.
The drops have to be applied on each eye every 10 minutes, thrice, before we could repeat the vision exam. The drops sting; having been to both a regular ophthalmologist and a pediatric one was no different, as neither was equipped to effectively handle kids for this ordeal. Some kids can do eye drops just fine; mine don’t.
Googling led me to a helpful YouTube video by Doctor Janina on an easier way to give children eye drops (I do this on myself as well, as I’m just as intolerant with eye drops!): Have the child lie flat on her back and close her eyes in a relaxed manner (not squeezed shut), put a drop in the inner corner of each eye and have her blink at least three times. Only ⅙ of a drop needs to be absorbed by the eye, so there is apparently no need for the full drop; the rest is excess.
The rules are different during COVID. You still set an appointment, but while my 10-year-old has been deemed old enough, my 5-year-old required a teleconsult for screening.
We had to download a free app called Eye Handbook, and administered some tests such as identifying figures in a blob of dots. We sent screenshots of Juno’s answers to the doctor. We also had to install another app called Now Serving that collated and tracked our appointments and documents like prescriptions.
During the teleconsult, the doctor explained why the prescreening was needed: to be able to dispense a prescription for the eye drops, which we had to buy ourselves at a drugstore. She added that data privacy laws wouldn’t allow for her clinic staff to access patient files and write up said prescription. So we had to tack on the cost of the eye drops and teleconsult on top of the eye exam expense.
Preparing for the eye exam was the stressful part. Pre-COVID, in a clinic, the lying down part of the eye drop administration can somehow be done, even though there are other patients in the waiting area. You just try to be calm despite your child screaming about the pain, the pain, oh, the pain!
During COVID, the hardest part was still administering the eye drops to a wriggly child in the backseat of your car. Patients are only allowed in the clinic one at a time and we had to keep an eye on the clock. Our appointment was at 1:15 p.m. We had to wait in the car and put drops there first at 12:15 p.m. and then at 12:25 p.m. We were at hospital triage by 12:30 p.m. and we applied the last of the eye drops at 12:35 p.m. At 1 p.m., triage allowed us to proceed to our 1:15 p.m. appointment.
The night before, we had emailed our health declaration forms to the clinic, and they emailed us our appointment slips. The hospital guard didn’t ask for the slips but had me fill out three health declaration forms even when I showed him that we emailed them already. He said it was for the security, but after I filled them up and tried to hand them to him, he said to just give them to the clinic. At the clinic, the staff refused to even touch the forms.
The three of us took the stairs, avoiding the elevator. My kids had fun racing up the five flights and I sadly realized what a novelty our trip had been for them. Everything else went on as usual. Jack was happy not to require eye drops anymore while Juno sulked about having to do it. The doctor told her, though, that she won’t be needing eye drops anymore at next year’s checkup.