“It almost feels like a dream”

Newly-qualified optometrist, Nikki Sharma, shares her experiences of working in practice during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak to being furloughed and finding herself with time on her hands

Nikki Sharma

The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is everywhere and though we are living through it, it almost feels like a dream.

We are receiving daily, sometimes hourly, updates about the virus and the strategy that the Government is implementing to combat the pandemic. The way it has affected my work and personal life has been overwhelming, and this seems to be the case for many in the profession.

Career impact

Only a few months ago, I was settling into life in Cambridge as a newly-qualified optometrist. Everything was new for me – a new job, a new company, a new team, a new city and new housemates.

Not only was it daunting to work as a registered optometrist for the first time, but to adapt to all of these changes, including moving away from family and friends, was a monumental challenge. Just as I began to find my feet, COVID-19 broke and has turned my life upside down in ways I could never have imagined.

The true financial impact on the optical sector is still largely an unknown, but it is, of course, likely to be huge and may shift the way we all operate going forward once everything gets back to 'normal'

 
As the situation emerged, when I was in practice, it was shocking to see the changes that were introduced following guidance from ophthalmic regulatory bodies. It was just as surprising to see how things switched almost overnight. A key change was the temporary abolishment of routine eye examinations in a bid to avoid unnecessary social contact.

At the practice where I work, the appointment system was revised so that patients were only able to book appointments over the phone following a thorough triage.

Longer appointments and larger gaps between tests were then also introduced.

Hand gel was offered on arrival to patients and chairs were placed far apart from each other in the waiting area. Slit lamp shields were added and only a limited number of patients were allowed to enter the premises at a given time.

Where possible, in-person collections were avoided and dispenses were limited to only special circumstances where it was clinically justified.

Today, all visits are now limited to emergencies only, which is how most practices are currently operating.

Of course, these drastic changes have only taken place because all other avenues have been explored. They have only been implemented due to the magnitude of the problem we are all facing. The true financial impact on the optical sector is still largely an unknown, but it is, of course, likely to be huge and may shift the way we all operate going forward once everything gets back to ‘normal.’

Birdhouse
A birdhouse built and painted by Nikki Sharma

Social distancing

Like many High Street optometrists, I have been furloughed and find myself in a strange scenario – I now have all the time in the world, but very little to fill it with due to the restrictions in place.

Nevertheless, so much free time has allowed me to do things that I wouldn’t normally have time for. I have rediscovered my love for painting and have just finished constructing and painting a birdhouse. Though the first few days involved regular lay ins, watching films and not a lot else, I have now managed to get into a regular routine.

I normally start the day with an early morning exercise session. The rest of my day normally consists of walking the dog, catching up on television, reading a book or painting, video-calling my family and friends, and cooking.

My advice to those who are in a similar position is to set yourself daily targets that are small and manageable. Not only does completing these targets keep your mind active and engaged, but nothing beats that feeling when those tasks are completed at the end of a productive day.

Do the things you want to do, focus on improving yourself and you’ll come out of this period a better, more complete person than you were before

 
 

Seize the day

I, like many others, have been guilty of complaining about not having enough time for myself in the past. Therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to focus on the very things you want to. Maybe you can learn a new language, redecorate your room or read a book that has been catching dust on the shelf for years. Better yet, why not complete the CET that you’ve been meaning to do for months. I’ve recently decided to embark on my Minor Eye Conditions Services qualification too.

Though this virus has stopped me from seeing my family, my friends and my work colleagues, I don’t feel alone at all. For the last two Thursdays, I have been joining my neighbours for the #ClapForOurCarers campaign at 8pm and it is overwhelming to see the community come together during such a difficult time. I have also spent more time socialising, albeit over the phone, than I ever did pre-social distancing.

There are many ways you can make such a dire situation positive if you use your time wisely. Do the things you want to do, focus on improving yourself and you’ll come out of this period a better, more complete person than you were before.