Article Date: 10/1/2005

Rescuing the Rescuer
When it came to reading the Snellen chart, this patient had no problems with spectacles. But his life outside the eyecare practitioner's office demanded a new approach.
By Lt. Ronald D. Casteel, Stockbridge, Ga.

I was standing on the roof of a burning building the night I decided it was time to get contact lenses. It was dark, the air was filled with smoke and, because I didn't have time to put my eyeglasses on, I couldn't see the edge of the roof.

Fortunately, my eye doctor came to my rescue.


My contact lenses have become an essential tool that helps me do my job effectively. I compare them to the PDA I use to access drug information in life-and-death situations. If my PDA breaks, I need to replace it immediately. My contact lenses are just as indispensable.


I work as a firefighter and paramedic. The eyeglasses I wore for my nearsightedness always got in the way. While I'm fighting fires, I need to wear a breathing apparatus that includes an oxygen tank on my back. The mask has to fit tightly over my face and create a seal to supply me with clean air.

I always bought the smallest spectacles available so they'd fit inside the mask, but they were still inconvenient. When the alarm sounds, we can't waste time. It gets really hectic when I'm trying to listen to the chief's orders and put on my mask at the same time.

When I wore spectacles under the mask, it would continually fog up. I'd have to remove the mask, clear the condensation and put it back on. Sometimes my glasses would fall off inside the mask, making it even more difficult to see. I've even had them fall out of my mask completely and get lost or broken.

Some people told me it didn't matter if my eyeglasses kept falling off, because "you can't see in a fire anyway," but I knew that switching to contact lenses could be the difference between life and death. When I'm in a burning building, I can put my face against the wall and shine my flashlight along it to see what room I'm in and if there's a doorway nearby. That bit of information can make all the difference in the world.

Firefighter Ron Casteel no longer struggles with the mask of his breathing apparatus thanks to contact lenses prescribed by Kirk L. Smick, OD, FAAO.


You may be wondering why I didn't get contact lenses sooner. The reason was because I didn't like the idea of putting something in my eyes. I procrastinated until I was assigned to fire duty and found myself on that dark roof. I knew I needed contact lenses immediately.

Dr. Kirk Smick and his staff were helpful in a crisis. Dr. Smick fit me with 2-week disposable silicone hydrogel contact lenses. Although they cost more than other types of contact lenses, I don't mind paying extra because the lenses help me achieve my goals. I haven't had any problems with the lenses. I'd much rather wear my contact lenses than my eyeglasses.


In addition to solving the problems I was having with my mask, my contact lenses make it easier for me to perform other parts of my job. I can see better when I'm involved in a swift-water rescue, rappelling down a cliff or treating patients in an ambulance. In fact, I've actually had my eyeglasses fall off while I was leaning over a patient in a speeding ambulance. I don't have to worry about this with my contact lenses.

Wearing contact lenses also has made my time off more enjoyable. Now, I can wear sunglasses over my contact lenses while I'm running and biking in the bright Atlanta sun.


My contact lenses have become an essential tool that helps me do my job effectively. I compare them to the PDA I use to access drug information in life-and-death situations: If my PDA breaks, I need to replace it immediately. My contact lenses are just as indispensable, so I always carry an extra pair with me, just in case. When you're dealing with people's lives it's important to be prepared.




Dr. Smick's Perspective

I first saw Ron Casteel in December 2004. He told me his eyeglasses prevented him from performing his duties as a firefighter and limited his flexibility in hazardous situations. I offered him two options to correct his bilateral 2.50D myopia without astigmatism: LASIK or contact lenses.

Mr. Casteel decided against surgery, so I fit him with 2-week disposable silicone hydrogel contact lenses. When he returned for his follow-up visit, he was ecstatic about the comfort and performance of his new lenses. He has no problem putting on his mask when he fights fires, and he enjoys expanded peripheral vision. Since I treated Mr. Casteel, he's referred three firefighters, none of whom I'd treated before, to my office for contact lenses.

Working with Mr. Casteel is a terrific example of why I like to find out all about my patients' vocations. I recommend that all practitioners take the extra time to discuss the various situations that can affect patients' visual performance and review their needs annually.


Kirk L. Smick, OD, FAAO
Clayton Eye Center
Morrow, Ga.

Contact Lens Spectrum, Issue: October 2005