What’s it like getting your eyes tested in Bolivia?

Earlier this year Lalit and I went on a big adventure across South America with our good friends Gabby and Daniella. Gabby and I met while we studied Optometry in Cardiff, and we had a lot in common since we were both international students. I ended up living with her for over 3 years, and even though I’m now married, I still think she’s the best roommate I’ve ever had 😛 Gabby and Daniella grew up together in Gibraltar, and both speak Spanish as a second language.

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We got to explore Peru, Bolivia and Chile on a once in a lifetime trip with Contiki Tours. It was a culture-rich trip filled with llamas, mountains, salt flats, flamingoes, and meeting some really cool people.

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I couldn’t skip getting my eyes tested during my time there, but this time it came with some challenges.

I tried to get my eyes tested in Peru first, and while the optician was very nice and provided the best refraction he could, I found it really difficult to communicate with my high-school-level Spanish…. And I’m still not sure if he understood that I was an optometrist myself.

If only there was a bilingual optometrist who could help me….

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Cue Gab, who very kindly sat as a patient AND a translator for my blog in Bolivia.

We came across the practice while exploring Sucre, a cosmopolitan city surrounded by colonial architecture.

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Gabby was tested by the friendly Delfin Encinas, an optometrist with an impressive resume, and long history in the optics industry.

Sr Encinas had been an Optical Technician for 25 years before becoming an Optometrist 5 years ago. He studied optometry in Lima (Peru), and boasted that he came from a family of established optometrists, including his wife and son.

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This was the most thorough eye exam I had seen on my travels so far.

He took a full history, and used opthalmoscopy to check the eye health. He also checked motility and measured pupil distances. He opted to use a retinoscope instead of the auto refractor that was in the room, and after Gabby’s refraction, he also asked her to walk around with the trial frames on, to make sure she was comfortable with her prescription, (this is a trick I might also try in the future). He did not take any intra ocular pressures. But he told us that he does use contact tonometry if other tests indicate that it’s needed.

He also gave us a few statistics about refractive error in the region. He said astigmatism tends to be the main problem for locals, while myopia (short sightedness) is relatively uncommon in that part of the world.

Overall, we were really impressed, and we learned so much. I feel very lucky to have met Sr Encinas during my time there, and I could tell he really loved his job.  So I’d like to thank him for being so kind and candid with us. I always wonder if the clinicians I meet ever get to see my blogs, so this time,  I have a special edition of this blog translated into Spanish in the hopes Sr Encinas can enjoy it too 🙂

I’d also like to give a big shout-out to Gabby, it’s one thing to be a great optometrist, but it’s another thing to be a great optometrist in two languages. Thanks for being my personal translator, not just for this blog, but for the whole trip, and I can’t wait to see what our next adventure has in store.

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