Identifying details have been changed to protect patient privacy.
“Doc! Great to see ya again!” In a jovial smile with a charming Louisiana drawl, he clapped the physician on the back as he settled into the examining chair. His wife, sitting across from him, greeted us with a warm grin.
Dr. S didn’t skip a beat. “Don’t miss me too much now,” he chuckled. “These visits should take only half as long as usual.” He thoroughly checked the left eye, and set down his lens. He then studied the right eye, holding the man’s head at different angles. He let out a low whistle. “They sure do a great job with these nowadays, don’t they? Been keeping it clean?”
None of the conversation had made sense until the man pulled from a case a miniature plunger and deftly plucked the right eye from its socket. Off came the prosthetic: a smooth disc-like implant that perfectly matched the size and hues of the other eye with spitting accuracy. The artist had indeed taken special care to recreate the same deep shade of bayou-green of the iris, faithfully reproducing its faint streaks of yellow near the center. The sheen of the sclera itself mirrored the healthy shine of the left eye, and the implant melded in between the socket space and eyelids with ease.
“Indeed, Doc! Check this out too,” he replied , popping the eye back into its place. As he pointed his gaze left, right, up, down, his prosthetic eye followed with small twitches in the same directions: left, right, up, down. “The only times when you can tell it’s different from the otha one are when ma left eye gets itchy. Then it turns a little red while this one stays white.” He then turned to me. He told me he was a restaurant cook, and swore that the crawfish in New Orleans was like no other in the world. Cancer had claimed his right eye several months ago, but it didn’t stop him from cooking at his best.
After I had helped him to the exit at the end of the visit, Dr. S spoke as he finished his notes. “I remember the day I told that man he had cancer. Many months ago. He hasn’t smiled like that in ages. His wife told me that after the enucleation he would barely speak to anyone—stayed behind doors and never made eye contact. With that prosthetic though, he’s chatting to strangers again, looking people in the eye during handshakes, really smiling again.”
I looked out into the hallway one more time, as I could still hear his voice in the background. Down at the end, by the exit, I saw the two of them walking side by side. His wife was laughing as they were about to turn the corner. He gave her the most loving wink.
This essay is the Winner of our first Student Essay Contest. Congratulations Kelley!
Kelley Yuan is a medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Her work has also been featured in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine and Hektoen International: A Journal of Medical Humanities. Her pieces seek to capture the rare, light-hearted moments in a field filled with pain, fear, and tough decisions.
This story reveals how dramatically a well-made prosthetic can shape the course of someone’s treatment and recovery. It is this attention to post-treatment details that can make such a huge difference, long after the disease itself is addressed.