The eyes have it: Optometrist strives to keep community seeing clearly
February 20, 2014
(Editor's note: This is part of a continuing series looking at different jobs and the people who get them done at Fort Rucker. Readers who have ideas for jobs or people to be highlighted in the series can send an email to jhughes 'at' armyflier.com for the staff to consider.)
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (February 20, 2014) -- Saint Jerome once said that the face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes, without speaking, confess the secrets of the heart. But, unlike Saint Jerome, one Fort Rucker doctor is more interested in the eyes themselves, not their secrets.
Capt. Bret Lehman, optometrist and chief of the department of specialty services at Lyster Army Health Clinic, has peered through many windows to the soul, but while he can clear people to fly, help them see better and even spot hidden tumors, he has not seen any immortal enigmas.
Averaging about 14 to 15 patients a day, ranging in age from 5 years old to 64 years old, Lehman said his days start off like most other Family men's.
"I get up around 6 a.m. I have a 2 year old and a 7 month old -- both are boys, so they usually wake me up first," he said. "I help my wife with morning chores before I get ready for work, I grab my lunch that I packed the night before and that's it."
He typically arrives at the clinic around 7 a.m., though his first patient won't arrive until 8 a.m.
"My first hour I spend checking up on emails and doing administrative work. For the morning I usually see eight patients. I see each patient around 10 minutes to an hour and a half depending on what issues they are having," he said.
During lunch he tries to squeeze in as much physical training as possible with a bite or two to eat along with paperwork. After that, it's on to his six afternoon patients.
"When patients come to see me, they usually need glasses or a check to be able to fly, but on occasion people are having eye issues such as seeing spots, having dry eyes or red eyes," he said.
Thursday mornings are set aside for eye flight physicals for the clinic, said Lehman. They day begins at 6:30 a.m. and he sees around 35 Soldiers before 10 a.m. All of the students who want to be pilots have to come through him to be cleared to fly.
"It is a streamlined process, most definitely. Our goal is to (examine) all of those Soldiers and have all of their paperwork done by lunchtime so we can see other patients after lunch," he said. "Thursday afternoons are also a time that we have patients needing a class on how to put in and take out contacts, and everything that goes along with wearing contacts."
There are only two eye doctors at the clinic, and they are responsible for the needs of everyone who walks in Lyster's doors, but Lehman said the job is typically stress free.
"We have a pretty healthy population, and the work is really gratifying because we have the opportunity to help patients with their life satisfaction by helping them see better," he said. "It's the best thing about this job. I want to help patients fix issues that they might have been struggling with for a long time."
He keeps from getting complacent by trying to find a creative or interesting thing about each patient.
"Everyone's eyes are a little different and you can't just go through the motions when you see them. I always try to look deeper into their situation. That keeps the monotony at bay," he said.
That extra digging on routine eye exams has led him to discovering several patients' brain tumors.
"I do a test on every patient, a test that many doctors bypass because it is a basic, simple test that some other tests might catch," he began. "But I always do the test anyway and it has helped me identify three brain tumors on three different patients."
"My extra time is seeing to other administrative needs, returning emails or completing projects that my chain of command has asked me to complete," he said. "One of my big roles at this clinic is to look months down the road to where we will be and how we can operate most efficiently."
Lehman is also on a committee that is trying to streamline eye equipment that eye doctors use across the country at military installations. The streamline is important, he said, so when military eye doctors move from clinic to clinic, they are always familiar with the clinic's systems and documentation practices.
At the end of the day, around 4:40 p.m., he heads home for some Family time.