Saving Skin, Sight and Insight

The follow column appeared in several APG of East Central Minnesota newspapers during October, 2018

Saving Skin and Sight

Since Sept. 1, I’ve seen a doctor seven times, which is very unusual for me. But I now have significantly better eyesight. Doctors also eliminated some skin cancer, which could have created problems. Along the way, I’ve learned several things that might be useful to families and educators

First, a few more details. I had surgery to remove cataracts in each eye. The sight in my right eye went from 20/300, which meant, very, very poor sight, to 20/20, which is normal. And that’s 20/300 with glasses, to 20/20, without them. The left eye also improved.

My eye surgeon told me that cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the U.S. I had been somewhat fearful of it, but many patients reported the surgery was easy and produced terrific improvements in sight.

The second surgery was to remove skin cancer found on my forehead and nose. It was benign, which, as my doctor explained, is “the best kind of cancer to have.” But if not removed, it could create problems later in life. I’m also very grateful to him and his colleagues.

So, what did I learn?

First, an immediate, practical lesson for families. When I was growing up, I didn’t realize how much damage the sun could do. Yes, it makes life possible. But it can and, in many cases, has damaged people’s skin.

So, families, here’s a gentle suggestion that you check with your doctor about this. Not for everyone, but for many children and adults, strong sunscreen is a must.

A second lesson – for educators – involved collaboration between two medical systems. While my eye doctor was part of one system and my cataract surgery was performed in a facility owned by another, it seemed like the two health care systems had worked out their collaboration very well. I noticed no glitches, no criticism by anyone in one system about the other.

While these two health care systems compete, they also collaborate. Their partnership puts patients first.

Sometimes educators do this well, as in the best dual-credit (high school and college) programs, or via the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs district-charter public school collaboration, which honors outstanding student work. We can have both competition and cooperation.

Third, both health systems asked me to evaluate the service I received each step of the way. They sent brief online assessments after every appointment. Doctors told me that their systems use the evaluations to help refine service.

Might at least some schools do more asking for feedback from families and students, at least once a year? Yes.

At least in some cases, I think educators could learn from the evaluations that health care systems conduct.

Finally, I’m in awe of medicine at its best, which I feel like I received. I’m eager to support leaders who will work to ensure that every American has access to excellent medical care.

I’m not an expert at how to do this. But I think it should be a priority.

Last summer I was in Scotland and developed a leg infection while on the northern island of Skye. We stopped at the island’s only hospital. Within an hour, a doctor examined and treated me. He also gave me medicine to cure the infection. The cost for this was $0.

Medical care is a human right in Scotland. It’s not tied to how much you earn or where you work.

I hope terrific medical care, such as I have experienced at home and abroad, becomes available to every American.

These two systems asked for feedback and cooperated with each other. That seems like the best kind of professional behavior. These medical care systems made serving people their priority.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher, parent and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome at or @JoeNathan9249