What Does an Average Ophthalmologist Do During the COVID Lockdown?

Dr. Quresh Maskati
Published Online: April 23rd, 2020 | Read Time: 8 minutes, 40 seconds

A short and sweet answer to the above question is: “How would I know?” I am not average – I am above average, just like my readers. Let us just proceed with my occasionally incoherent ramblings and disregard the irrelevant title of this piece.

When the first ‘stay at home’ announcement came, we had already been reading about this tiny but mean virus which originated in big bad China and was slowly spreading its tentacles (not sure if you could call its spiky hairstyle as ‘tentacles’, but we will let that pass) in our beloved country. Hence we felt very patriotic and decided to co-operate with the authorities. We even put on a ‘son et lumeire’ (sound and light) show on request from the guy at the top; first sound at 5 pm and then light at 9 pm (on different days of course as decided by several astrologers). We reasoned with ourselves that a couple of weeks at home couldn’t really hurt – we will just pretend we had gone on a vacation, minus the expenses!

Many of us even learnt new skills – like reading a newspaper on our cell phone or laptop and pretending to enjoy it; putting on news channels during our usual ‘working hours’ and pretending to enjoy it; tolerating our spouse’s culinary talent and pretending to enjoy it; being asked to comment on our children’s horrible works of art and pretending to enjoy it—you get the gist.

Unfortunately, as the days passed, we learnt (chiefly from the carpet bombing of webinars by well-meaning ‘experts’) that it is likely that there is never going to be a ‘back to the usual’ world as we knew it! We learnt that a vaccine has been made ready in Israel/China (pick any other country depending on your favorite what’s App group) and will shortly be available. 5 minutes later we heard that the virus is not only tiny and mean as mentioned in paragraph 2, but smart as well. It has a nasty habit of mutating almost at will; by now there were already 5 mutations (or pick any other number of your choice); thus researchers, who are mere mortals with above-average intelligence like me and my readers (see paragraph one) will take a minimum one to two years to come up with a vaccine, provided someone tells the virus to sit still and stop mutating!

This caused a sharp dip in our enthusiasm. This was compounded by conversations on face time, Google duo etc with relatives, friends in USA or Europe (all of us are supposed to have at least one such ‘reliable’ contact abroad) who told us of mounting death rates there; lack of PPE, long lines at grocery stores and worst of all, a shortage of toilet paper in the west! Conversations with non-medical friends and relatives in India were of course totally different. Here we donned the mantle of a COVID expert by virtue of having acquired an MBBS degree a million years ago. We cheerfully dispensed advice on how to build immunity by taking Vitamin C daily, Vitamin D once a week, Vitamin A once a month and so on.

Those of us who lived in housing complexes, made the rules for the society premises. Who is to be allowed, whether the garden was allowed for walks, which fruit and vegetable vendor to be arranged, whether part-time servants to be permitted in the society premises etc. Some of our fraternity actually started reading the fiction and nonfiction books that they suddenly discovered in their homes; a miniscule minority took the time to write books or book chapters or journal articles; a still tinier minority started reading back issues of the IJO which had escaped being given to the ‘raddiwalla’, due to the lockdown.

Some were forced by the spouse to actually do some housework; especially those that did not have live in servants. They quickly escaped such chores by attending the numerous webinars so kindly arranged by big companies from morning to evening on the latest IOLs or how to interpret an OCT etc. This was after getting themselves photographed engaged in cooking or cleaning and making sure it was put all over social media and had got at least 100 likes!

At the time of writing this article (approximately a month after the lockdown started), ophthalmologists at home can be classified into 2 main groups:

  1. The youngsters, who have taken loans from banks, need to pay EMIs, who are chafing at the bit (a racing term) wanting to start practice ASAP. They are asking the same questions on multiple WA groups: where to procure N 95 masks, shoe covers, thermal guns, sanitizers, face shields; SOP for starting the OPD; what protections should we give to staff, patients, attendants etc. When can we start elective cataract surgery? Yes, we know there is a 20% mortality rate for elective surgery, but that is for the patient, right? Once he has paid my fees and he goes home and dies, I cannot be sued right? What is proper SOP for OT?
  2. The ‘senior’ ophthalmologists, many with co-morbidities who are waiting for these youngsters to start first. Then review the situation after perhaps 2 weeks to see how many youngsters and practices are still surviving before deciding when to resume themselves. This group is often called in as ‘experts’ in webinars on ophthalmic practice in the post COVID era and cheerfully dispense advice which they have no intention of following!

In conclusion, I apologize for having inflicted upon you an over 1000 word essay on how ophthalmologists spend their time during the lockdown. In my defense, I must state that this was not my idea – it came from the fertile brain of the editor of this website. Hence, every brickbat, every invective you want to hurl should be directed towards him for his lack of judgment in inviting me to pen this piece and not having imposed on me a reasonable word limit like 100 words! In case a handful of you did find the article tolerable, feel free to email and let me know. These letters may be used as evidence by me in a court of law if I am sued for having wasted the precious time of the busy ophthalmologist with utter gibberish!

Dr. Quresh Maskati
Maskati Eye Clinic, Mumbai
Dr. Quresh Maskati did his graduation& post-graduation from KEM Hospital, Bombay University, obtaining his M.S. & D.O.M.S & F.C.P.S. Degrees, all in 1983, with a gold medal in DOMS. Superspecialised in diseases of the cornea and anterior segment microsurgery from Rochester and Boston, USA, he joined as a lecturer at Nair Hospital for a year, before starting private practice in 1986. He has many scientific publications and chapters in various books to his credit. He has published a book “Simplifying Eye Care” available in book stores, for the general public, in June 2010. Second edition released in July 2013. He was the president of Maharashtra Ophthalmological Society (94-95) and Bombay Ophthalmologists’ Association (2000-01). He is the youngest person in the history of these societies to hold these posts. He served All India Ophthalmological Society (AIOS) as President for 2014-15. AIOS is the largest life member national Ophthalmic Society in the world with approximately 18,000 members. It is also the only time in AIOS history that father and son have held this coveted post (Dr. B. T. Maskati was President AIOS in 1987-88)
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