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Change in law would have saved my sight

I am losing my vision, and one minor change in Florida's law would have saved it.

Last year, my eye was red and itching, so I visited my eye doctor, an optometrist. He examined me and explained that I had shingles in my eyes and that the situation was serious. But because he is a Florida optometrist, he is not allowed to prescribe oral medication. And because it was the weekend an ophthalmologist was unavailable, so he told me to go to the emergency room to request oral antivirus medication to correct my condition.

When I arrived at the emergency room, the staff who saw me diagnosed me as having conjunctivitis, or pink eye. When I told them that my doctor had diagnosed me with shingles in my eye, they disagreed and instead gave me antibiotic eye drops for treating pink eye. As soon as I left the ER, I called my doctor. He told me to return to the ER and insist on being treated for shingles in the eye with oral antiviral pills, not eye drops.

I went back and tried to explain my situation. But the ER refused to budge. Because I was disagreeing with their diagnosis and treatment, they called me unruly and dismissed me from the premises.

My symptoms became much worse. Although I was finally able to obtain the correct oral prescription a few days later, the permanent damage already had been done. I have lost some vision, and my eye is now painfully sensitive to light. My eyelid on the injured eye has been partially sewn shut twice to block the light; if the symptoms do not improve, it may be necessary to have the eyelid sewn completely shut permanently. Yet a few oral antiviral pills given early by my optometrist would have saved my eye.

The emergency room misdiagnosis damaged my vision, but what I learned later broke my heart. Florida is one of only three states that do not allow optometrists to prescribe oral medication. Had I lived elsewhere, I would have immediately received the correct medication and would be living with unimpaired vision today. You cannot imagine the time, money and suffering this has cost and caused me.

Florida must update these laws. Now only ophthalmologists (M.D.'s) are allowed to prescribe oral medications that can treat eye diseases and disorders. But optometrists are primary eye care doctors (O.D.s) who are on the front lines, and they should be able to treat patients in a manner keeping with their medical expertise and training.

This year, legislation has been filed that would authorize the Board of Optometry to create rules allowing optometrists to prescribe 13 specific oral medications. The Senate bill, SB 330, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, recently passed its first committee.

One of those drugs listed in the bill would have saved my eye and saved me many subsequent doctor visits and surgical procedures to try to give me comfort. Instead, I have been left disfigured with less than perfect sight. Not to mention the money Florida Medicaid could have saved had I been properly treated the first time.

Although my injury has taken some of my sight, I am not bitter. It has enabled me to have the opportunity to speak out in favor of something that may save others from even more significant eye injury. I think that most people agree that sight is one of the most precious gifts that the Creator has given us. Losing my eyesight due to a silly legislative turf war is a tragedy.

Karen Thompson lives in LaBelle.

Change in law would have saved my sight 02/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 6:39pm]
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