Dr. Rah Rah…

I’ve written before about how much I love the opportunity to follow my patients throughout their childhoods. Getting a yearly snapshot into their lives and hearing the updates from them fills my parenting arsenal with tips and things to prepare for. The common struggles and successes between parent and child forms a comraderie that connects us all, for better or worse.

Occasionally though, there are patients that have a story that grabs your heart strings in such a way that you become a cheerleader for their success. Last week I had one of those patients arrive for her yearly exam. I’ve seen this girl since she was seven, she is now twelve. I will never forget the first time I examined her eyes. She had just been adopted and looked so little sitting in my big examination chair. Her eyes were both watering, one would barely stay open when any light came near it. That same eye didn’t stay straight and wandered away freely from the other. It also had an obvious scar across the cornea. She didn’t speak English but also avoided using the interpreter that her family had brought with her to help with the communication barrier caused by our mis-matched languages. I remember trying to put myself in her position…my heart ached at the fear she must have been feeling. Although she was now living with an amazing family who had waited years for her and prayed for her arrival fervently, she had left the only home she ever knew when she left her orphanage. The conditions there were reportedly awful, the medical care she had received for her eyes was abominable…and yet…that was home to her. Now she sat in my chair, blinking, tearing up, and watching everyone around her all-the-while trying to process her new reality. I think of my older two girls and try to imagine them having to make a similar move and the thought gets interrupted by my head shaking as my brain overrides it–it’s just too hard to imagine.

In terms of adoptive families, this girl hit the proverbial jackpot. Other kids fill their home, opportunities are presented to explore whatever makes them tick, be it music or sports. This little girl was going to be loved by giant hearts and hugged by many…frequently. They were realistic about the limitations her eyes may have but were determined to make sure they had explored all avenues. In the last five years we’ve been through specialists, glasses, contact lenses, eye drops and patching regimens together. One eye does not see well and probably won’t ever see well. The other eye wasn’t all that great either but at least she could go to school and, using larger print books, function.

I always hoped we could get her “good” eye to at least 20/40. To be able to drive in this state without any restrictions on your license it is required that the driver be able to see at least 20/40 in one eye. You might think that the fact that she was now in a new country, with an amazing family and endless opportunity would be enough…but I wanted this kid to be able to drive. I remember the freedom that gave me at 16…the independence and self worth that came from getting myself from point A to point B without having to ask for a ride. And for her parents, who have invested so much time and money and heart into her care…I wanted this for them too. Year after year though, the magic 20/40 eluded me.

As we started on her prescription this year I started thinking about the fact that her teen years were approaching. She’s adorable and has a smile that can melt you. I remember that age though…you never feel adorable enough and it seems that everyone else has it all figured out. We don’t realize until we’re much older that no one does. As the lenses were flipping and the letters were being read lower and lower on the chart I tried to imagine where she would be if she hadn’t been adopted. If she hadn’t, in some twist of fate or serendipity, been placed with this family who wanted so much for her. And, on the flip side, where would they be without her? Certainly both would lacking without the other.

It hit me as we hit the 20/50 line that she was going quite quickly. Any of my optometrist friends can tell you that the WAY someone reads the letters tells you if they are going to read the next line on the chart or the next five lines. It’s all in their tone, pace and certainty. I flipped the letters down to the 20/40 line and literally held my breath. We’ve never been this close. I swear as she started ticking her way across that line I could feel her dad thinking the same thing behind me…come on, come on.

And then the waterworks started. Not her’s, not her dad’s…mine. Because when she finished that line it hit me as a mother. We want so much for our kids today…happiness, health, safety, smiles and laughter. Even more, though, if we allow ourselves to imagine it, we want a FUTURE for them. A future without ANY restrictions. To me, this vision leap just opened another avenue for this girl’s future that had been closed before. It’s still four years until she’ll be able to drive alone but now she CAN. It’s another opportunity that wouldn’t have been available to her in the orphanage had she not been adopted.

It’s a strange twist that we all face as parents. We want these children so much. Pray for them, love them, hate that the years pass so quickly but also know that ultimately, we want them to have the opportunities to go through this adult life as well. Personally, I love that someday this patient will get to “fly the nest” driving herself.

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