Optometrist Scott Lee had a patient who simply would not listen to reason. “Somebody should do something about this,” Dr. Lee thought.
So, he did something. He drew a doodle.
“I work as the director of clinical care at a refractive surgery clinic in San Francisco. One of our LASIK patients was getting really nervous about having surgery. He wanted to do one eye first and then do the other eye a few months later,” Dr. Lee says. “I tried to reassure the patient that it was safe to do both eyes at the same time. After a lot of counseling, I got him to agree to do both eyes the same day, but two hours apart.”
This experience inspired his first cartoon of a nervous 10-eyed spider about to have LASIK, which he drew on the work schedule at the clinic’s bulletin board. “It was well received, so I started drawing one every week and putting them up in our office.”
“I grew up wanting to be a cartoonist. I watched a lot of cartoons and read the comics section everyday. I was ready to make a career of it, so I majored in art at University of California Irvine. To get my feet wet, I did some freelance art on the side. Then I realized that art was more fun as a hobby than a career for me.”
As a visual artist, studying vision seemed a logical choice. So Dr. Lee finished his art degree, then enrolled in the University of California Berkeley School of Optometry. Once he graduated and went to work, it wasn’t long before his artistic side re-emerged and he began drawing his eye cartoons, which he named “Sight Gags.”
He shared some of his favorites with me:
“You never can tell who is going to freak out about their eyes. The inspiration for this one came from a patient who I wouldn’t have expected that type of reaction from.”
“I like making cartoons that everyone can relate to. This cartoon wasn’t inspired only by a patient of mine, but a patient that every optometrist has come across. For my particular patient, I needed to schedule him for 30 minute appointments just so I didn’t get my day all backed up. Each time he came in, I was expecting to find central serous retinopathy. The cartoon gives you only a taste of how his exams went.”
“Optometrists are generally viewed as very nice, reserved people. For my first year in practice, I wore an earring—a leftover from my rock band years in college. It made office staff and patients look at me like some kind of opto-rebel, but it was nothing more than a small silver stud. This cartoon shows how bad we can really get.
The staff at his office encouraged Dr. Lee to collect his cartoons into a book, which he did. It’s available on Amazon.com. “I like sharing my cartoons with patients. I used to have my book in our lobby for them to read, but after it was stolen for the third time, I stopped leaving it out there. It’s quite flattering really. It’s nice to know that my bachelor’s degree in art hasn’t gone to waste.” He also likes sharing his cartoons with patients and friends on his Facebook page.
Patients like knowing that doctors have a creative side, Dr. Lee says. “It makes us seem more human and not just someone who is going to prod their eye. Some patients are afraid that they’ll do something that will make me draw them later.”
He says that showing a sense of humor about the eyes helps nervous patients feel more comfortable. “It makes them feel normal about having those fears. They see certain cartoons of mine and think, ‘That's me!’ Being able to find inspiration in what I do makes it easier to manage difficult patients. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine. That and fourth-generation fluoroquinolones.”