The Real Deal

In her shortlisted essay for the 2019 John Henahan Prize, Dr Julia Fajardo-Sanchez shares the principles for juggling a love of ophthalmology with that of your family


Posted: Tuesday, July 9, 2019

I am in love. This very subtle and yet powerful sentence is enough for you to know that I am quite a romantic but also that I am, let’s face it, in remarkable trouble. Wait, I am not in love with a person, if that’s what you’re thinking, although that will probably be easier than what I am feeling. I am in love with my work. People who know me are aware that I’m easily infatuated by all the situations that bring me happiness, and my constant wondering and thirst of challenges have become the main reasons to pursue the sometimes evasive and sometimes ungrateful – but then above all, always beautiful – art of ophthalmology – see how bad this is?
Very easily misunderstood, my feeling is not different from the one you experience when the eyes of that special someone – did I just say eyes? – intertwine with yours for a moment. Or, to add more drama, it is not different from the sweet emotion of sharing a comfortable and very long-awaited hug with my beloved mother. Probably you are outraged by this last comparison but, my dear reader, please give me some lines to explain myself.
I am a twenty-something-year old young ophthalmologist who has travelled a lot. What do I mean by a lot? Well, from Lima to Madrid, then from Madrid to London, trying out a series of intercontinental moves and subsequent ophthalmologic adventures. This nomad – yet sophisticated, c’mon – type of life has taught me what I need to know to be an expert in everything related to loving with my heart and not with my eyes – did I just…? – being that the way I have been loving my precious family since I was 22.
So, taking this hard-learned knowledge into account and with the same confidence and precision we slaughter the periphery corneal tissue to phaco our way-out of that list of cataracts, let me try to draw you down the three basic principles to juggle between the love for your ophthalmological life and your family ties. Juggle? Yes, you read it right. In order to get balance, you need to know how to juggle.
Principle One – Happiness cannot be compared.
It is certainly impossible – believe me, I have tried it too – to determine if your happiness will be greater seizing that intricate, indomitable intraocular pressure or managing that difficult intraoperative iris than sharing a cup of hot cocoa or eating a delicious ceviche – yes! – with your beloved ones. Why? Because there are not happiness units, you cannot calculate the exact amount of happiness with a tonometer for each of these scenarios – although I will be pretty happy to keep everything under 20mmHg, thank you very much – and you cannot possibly compare the joy of personal fulfilment with the joy brought by family time.
They are both joy. They are both happiness.
Principle Two – Yes, I love my family, and yes, I love my life.
I know, this principle sounds like a line from I will survive – oldie but goodie – but nothing gets clearer than this. When I began changing addresses across the world, I realised that I missed my family terribly, that I love them so much I was constantly asking myself: Do I need to chase my dreams? Is it necessary to enlighten my heart with the little victories of the everyday ophthalmological training? And my sweet and marvellous dad gave me the answer I needed. He told me: “Go catch your dreams, go fly for them! Otherwise, it would not be you, it would not be your life. And we love you, not in spite of but because of the way you are” – Bruno, my friend, my dad said it first.
I love my life and I love my family for being able to love how my life is.
Principle Three – How to juggle is the real deal.
So, as I was saying, the juggle thing is a serious thing. As all the incredible things in life, it has to be learned in a growing scale. To make it simple, I have prepared an excellent metaphor. Let’s try to remember – it should not be too hard for us, young ophthalmologists – when we started with the cataract surgery cravings. Oh yes, terrible, young hunger. They sat us the first time in front of a real patient – no farm friends today – phaco in one hand, feet on pedals, and the experienced surgeon next to us giving the first instruction, carefully looking after their own heartbeat and our hands. “Let’s try the paracentesis” was the whisper our mentor gave us. And what did we do? We – against our own prognostics – after just conquering the first paracentesis ever in our recent lives, try to keep going. I am sure we felt like rock stars while going against our mentor’s goodwill and his health, but at the end – and you know this is true – we ended up performing a meh – not brilliant, not good – cataract surgery, even perhaps with our mentor’s rescue performance.
So, slow down. To conquer the master of juggling between the love for your family and the love for your career you have to remember how awesome it was when you did every cataract surgery step at its own time. Do not try to appear in every-single-one of your cousins’ birthdays and read all the Ryan sections at the same time; identify your strengths, add them to your everyday juggle and keep adding as slow and safe as you can go.
Of course, you could be thinking “This is easier said than done!” . It is not easy, my fellow colleagues, nothing worth our time is. But let me add, remembering my favourite four – there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done – love is all you need.

Julia Fajardo-Sanchez MD, FEBO,Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
UCL Institute of Ophthalmology

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