Coronavirus: on the ground in Coventry
The most difficult part of COVID-19 for independent prescribing optometrist Susan Bowers was not being able to visit her mother in her final days
24 June 2020
As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic transforms the way optometrists practise, OT is sharing the experiences of optometrists across the UK and beyond. If you, or a colleague, is interested in sharing your story please get in touch by email
In a nutshell
Years qualified: 45
Mode of practice: independent prescribing optometrist
I have worked in hospital glaucoma clinics for nine years. I did seven and a half years at the University Hospital of Coventry and Warwickshire and then I moved to Warwick Hospital. I tried to do everything I could before we stopped working to try and get my patients’ pressures down.
We will be very busy once we get the go-ahead and resume the clinic on Friday (26 June) We are going to have a backlog of cases that we haven’t seen in the community. They might be stable – but how do you know they are stable if you don’t check them? If they are unstable, then they are losing their sight and no-one is actually measuring it.
On the last day before I stopped working in the clinic, I had a 73-year-old lady who lived on her own in a village with no bus service. She has already lost the vision in one eye and she was trying to get enough field of vision in the other eye to carry on driving.
I knew that she needed surgery, but we couldn’t list her for it. I emailed the consultant and said as soon as the lockdown finishes I need to list this patient for surgery. The eye department closed down at Warwick completely. They were running a skeleton service at Stratford with injections for wet macular degeneration and for emergencies.
Even though there have been few cases, patients may have a sense of uncertainty. We need to address those fears as we move forward with routine testing
At my practice, we only saw emergencies during lockdown. I wore personal protective equipment (PPE) and made sure the patient did as well. We saw an increase in cases of people injuring their eyes while doing DIY without goggles. The local hospital was only telephone triage, and there are some things that you need to physically see.
I felt duty-bound to see patients during lockdown because I don’t have some of the risk factors that colleagues might have. Although I have not yet had an antibody test, I think I had COVID-19 when I was in Tenerife. I lost my sense of taste, then I became tired and felt like I had a weight on my chest. I had night sweats and couldn’t swallow. We were staying next door to the H10 Costa Adeje Palace which is where there was the first outbreak of COVID-19 in Tenerife.
The personal impact: “I would ask if she wanted anything, but I couldn’t make out the answer”
My mum was 91 when she died of COVID-19. The worst bit was not being able to see her. I was able to phone her but because her dentures were loose, I couldn’t hear what she was saying. Her voice was so soft. I would ask her if she wanted anything, but I couldn’t make out the answer.
My sister was clever and got a digital picture frame that you can connect to WiFi delivered to my mother’s room. All her children and grandchildren could put pictures on it for my mother to see. I put a picture of myself in full PPE waving at her on it.
I was able to video call my mum on the Saturday. She asked for water and then said ‘Goodbye’ as loud as you like and waved at me. I was the last one from my family to speak with her. She died on the Monday morning at 5am. The fact that she got to say goodbye was the one thing I held on to.
My mother was very good at flower arranging and belonged to the local club. When they delivered the flowers to the nursing home, she used to arrange all of them. She was a homemaker and supported my father who was an accountant.
For her 90th birthday, I made her a green satin dress. When I lived at home, before I was married, I made all of my clothes, my sisters’ clothes and all of my mothers’ clothes. The dress took me two weeks sewing every night after work. My sister did her makeup and the salon inside the care home did her hair. She looked like a million dollars.
• As told to Selina Powell.