A common thread between two extremes

September 4, 2013

 

I spent the first 10 years of my adult life working as an itinerant coal miner, like my father and grandfather before me. It wasn't until a good woman, who saw more in me than I saw in myself, put me on a different path that led to where I am now.

Dr. BowlingMy journey is often a curiosity to my patients. When they hear my story, some people ask how I got from coal miner to optometrist, how the two seem to be opposite in extremes. They are right: the two occupations have very little in common. Coal mining is dirty, dark, physically exhausting, dangerous work, but it is an honest day's labor. Optometry is a learned profession, skills honed after years of sacrifice, study, training, and practice. The two share very little.

Except for this: people.

In the mines, I had to face down crews of angry men, upset over some trivial slight, before it led to a wildcat strike, bringing the entire mine to a screeching halt. In my practice, I've had to face down angry grandmothers, so upset over their glasses that their language would make the saltiest of sailors blush. As a mine foreman, I had to lay men off, separating them from the only way of life they knew; men without other marketable skills or any prospects of future employment. I’ve held the hands of mothers as I told them that their child had a retinoblastoma. All those times linger in my mind like they were yesterday.

And I've seen joy in both worlds. I've seen the pride of crews I led setting record coal production runs. I've seen the wonder and amazement in the eyes of a myopic child seeing the world sharply for the first time. I’ve shared the unspoken camaraderie of a band of brothers, which can only be gained through years of placing your lives on the line with each other, every day, to make your wage. I’ve also grown to love the colleagues with whom I shared my optometric education, knowing full well that I would not be where I am today without their friendship, support, and help. I've had the satisfaction of watching a child, who received her first pair of spectacles from my office, grow to parenthood, and then bring her children to me for their first pairs of glasses. In my mind, that is the ultimate compliment-even if it shows in very stark terms how old I’m growing!

While our profession has its technical aspects, to be sure, optometry is really all about people: The people who choose to grace our doors and seek our care. While each patient is in your office for a reason, every one of them has a story to tell. Take the time to listen to the stories your patients have to share. Your life will be richer if you do.

Perhaps you’d like to share your stories with me. Feel free to contact me at drbowling@windstream.net. I look forward to talking with you! ODT