Tuesday, February 20, 2018

When the student becomes the doctor: How my (former) student became my father's eye doctor

Flashback with me 15+ years:  One of my high school sophomores named Jeff asks me if our whole English class can walk down to the auditorium so he can sing and play an original song on the piano  for his creative writing assignment.  And we do.  And he is fantastic performing for his fellow 20 classmates and me.  What he wrote and sang, my memory fails me--but I do remember loving his creativity, enthusiasm, self-confidence and his willingness to take a risk. 

Reflecting back to 15 years ago, Jeff was an intelligent, personable, fun, goofy, and insightful student.  He also had high emotional and social intelligence.  I had the honor of teaching him for two out of four of his high school years.  He was one of those teenagers who I knew would be successful with his life because he had a free spirit determination about himself. 

At the time, I had just moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire.  I was newly hired at Westborough High School after teaching for five year in New Hampshire.  Jeff and his classmates were caring, supportive, and energetic with me as a new teacher to WHS.  They were open to my nontraditional ways of teaching traditional material.  There are particular classes a teacher remembers throughout her career and Jeff and his class were one of those classes.

Flash forward to two years ago: I'm visiting my dad at the nursing home where he  now lives.  I'm talking to a woman named Suzanne, her husband Michael, and Suzanne's father Morty who is a resident at the nursing home.  My dad and Morty share a table for meals in the dining room.  Long story short, Suzanne and I put two and two together and realize that her son Jeff was my student years ago.  She says, Oh I didn't recognize your last name--Stoker.  I knew you as Eldredge.  She then added, did you know Jeffrey and his friends went to your wedding ceremony (back in 2003)?  I did recall and remember thinking how thoughtful and special Jeff and his classmates were to see me get married.

Present day:  So what is Jeff up to now?  He is an optometrist at his parents' practice in Westborough.  And I am so grateful to Jeff and his parents, because recently when my father started having problems with one of his eyes we decided to go see Jeff.  While I was sitting in the office waiting with my dad for his appointment, I could hear the receptionist talking with Dr. Cohn.  I couldn't help but smile--the boy who played the piano in front of his classmates, the boy who would ask an insightful question as well as a goofy one--was now an eye doctor--and was about to examine my dad's eyes and take care of my father.

Because my father has Parkinson's disease, I needed to accompany him into the actual appointment and in this case, I had to help hold my father's head (due to the dyskinesia he experiences from his disease).  Who knew an eye exam could be an awesome experience, but it was for my dad and me.  To have Jeff, a former student, examine my dad and offer his professional expertise and opinion when 15+ years earlier I was teaching Jeff, was, yet, another wonderful reason why I am so passionate about teaching-- the wonderful teacher/student connections that form.

During the appointment, Jeff was very respectful, gentle, and funny with my dad. He preserved my dad's dignity as I know it must have been very hard for Jeff to look steadily into my dad's eye as my dad's head moved.  When all was said and done, Jeff was able to rule out anything too serious.  However, he did recommend that we see a specialist to clean my dad's cataract.  He said this specialist would have the best chance of a successful procedure with Dad.  Dad had the procedure last week and thankfully is doing great.

As I probably have said before, we teachers rarely have the opportunity to witness how our students turned out as adults.  And fortunately, not only was I able to see how Jeff turned out; I was given the gift of him taking care of my father.