Hospitals are the immediate providers of physical care to patients facing surgery to remove an eye. They focus on post-operative care, including pain relief and initial care of the eye socket after surgery.
But that’s where it ends. The patient leaves hospital shortly after the operation, armed with an eye patch and pain medication, but often oblivious to the world of artificial eyes. They’ve never seen one, don’t know how they are made or when they can have one fitted. All they have is a follow-up appointment with their eye surgeon where, hopefully, they might get some direction about where to go next. The prosthesis is not fitted until 6 to 8 weeks post op. In some cases, they are not even aware that a conformer shell has been fitted during surgery. If this shell falls out, it can give them a real fright.
There is a huge gap between the hospital stay and the follow-up appointment. This is a time when people need two things: information about what happens next; and emotional support to help them adjust to their new life.
To bridge this gap, I visit all the hospitals each year and hold educational sessions for nurses who work on the eye wards.
I’ve just been down to Fremantle Hospital to address a group of nurses from the eye ward there. I approach these sessions in the same manner as I explain to new clients the process of having an artificial eye made. I start right from the beginning, explaining the actual operation, the care of the eye socket afterwards, the use of conformer shells, what an artificial eye looks like, the taking of impressions and the fitting process. I show the nurses video clips of how impressions are taken, the painting of an eye, and the movement that can be achieved in an artificial eye.
Maybe the most important part of the presentation is informing nurses of the need for emotional support both before and after the surgery. I make them aware of our support services: the buddy system; the email discussion group; social events; and our client stories of their experience with eye loss that are published on our web site. The buddy system works by matching people who have shared similar experiences. For example, if someone has lost an eye through cancer, we match them with someone else who has lost an eye this way. Or if the eye loss has been the result of an assault, we try and find someone who can relate to this type of trauma. Parents of children with retinoblastoma and micro-ophthalmia find this service particularly beneficial. Being connected with other parents who are further down the track can be comforting and reassuring. Often, the best form of help comes from someone who has been there.
The opportunity to visit hospitals and speak to nurses about our business not only helps future recipients of artificial eyes. It also increases the nurses’ understanding of the next step in the process of losing an eye. I leave them with our brochures which say: “We assist people with relevant information and support: it’s a personal passion of ours”. I even give them an artificial eye they can show their patients to reduce feelings of discomfort. I make sure the nurses know we are only too happy to see people before their surgery, or no later than one week afterwards.
As well as talking to ward nurses, I see staff on the short stay units in hospitals. In these units, nurses might never have encountered an artificial eye and might feel quite nervous about handling one. So the aim is to increase their confidence in removing and inserting artificial eyes.
As nurses are the primary caregivers in hospitals, and the ones who spend the most time with patients, it’s vital that they are aware of patient needs, the information available and the support services.