Dr. Whitney Hauser: Hi, I’m Dr. Whitney Hauser, and thank you for joining us for Dry Eye Coach Podcast. Today I’m joined by Shannon Bream, who is the anchor of Fox News at Night. Welcome Shannon.
S. Bream: Thank you so much for having me.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Absolutely. Absolutely. You’re going to give us some great insight into the patient perspective today. And as doctors, we often hear from our patients about the symptoms of dry eye, but sometimes our patients, I think have a little bit of a difficult time conveying the real heart of the message to us. So I really appreciate you joining us today.
S. Bream:I am happy to. It’s a topic that I think more people need to hear about to help folks on all sides of the equation. Certainly physicians who can be lifesavers in this, but just for people who feel discouraged out there and are looking for help too.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right. It is a two-sided coin, because as doctors, sometimes you hear patients, but do you really listen? Kind of thing. And as patients, I think your story is going to illustrate for us it can be really frustrating and beyond frustrating to a point where you just don’t know what you’re going to do. So tell us, when did this become a problem for you? When did it all start?
S. Bream:I was one of those little kids who wore glasses, like in elementary school, I was very early on. I needed help. I started contacts in middle school and I don’t know if everybody would now say that’s the greatest idea, but I was desperate to get rid of my glasses. And so I’d been in contacts for decades by the time I started having the dry eye trouble, which was late thirties, getting close to my 40th birthday. And I really didn’t know what to do with it.
S. Bream:I would have situations where my contacts would get dried out and I would take drops and that kind of thing. That was never a real problem for me. But when I started having erosion, and that coupled with the dryness was just a really bad combination for me, and that was getting close to my 40th birthday.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Yeah. Yeah. So you said you tried drops. What all did you try over the years?
S. Bream:I would try any kind of re-wetting drop, anything specifically for contacts. And then I was having conversations with my doctor about, should I be wearing them less? I went through a period of, when the extended wears came out, I wore those, which seems crazy now. And there are so many other options now and they’re much thinner and seem more breathable, but as a teenager, you’re not the most responsible person in the world sometimes with your contact care.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:True, or anything else.
S. Bream:Right. I had a lot of dried out contacts. But generally I would just use re-wetting drops and things when it would spring up, if I would have times where I’d probably worn them too long, needed to get them out. And it was around that time that my doctor was also encouraging me like, “Hey, maybe you do more time with your glasses, less times with the contacts.” But he also told me, “This is part of the aging process and women often …” he has patients that, around that 40th birthday, really start to have more of the trouble with the dry eye.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. That’s a true story. But how did you feel being on camera and they’re telling you, “Wear your glasses,” that’s the solution that they’re providing to you? How did that make you feel?
S. Bream:Well, I knew there was a lot of time off-camera that I could do that and that it would be better for my eyeballs to probably get some rest. And that did seem to help me in some respects, and then I was having trouble whether I had the contacts in or out.
S. Bream:By the way, there’s so many cool glasses and frames now that I think you can get a signature look and so many people on TV wear them. They’re like, “Oh, that’s kind of their thing.” So I love my glasses that I have, and I do wear them when I need them at night or in darker situations where you’re not as dilated. So I think, God bless you, there are cute glasses out there for every age and face and gender and whatever. You can find them.
S. Bream:But I found that I was having trouble even in and out of contacts and glasses. And so I knew for me, it was going to be beyond just more time in the glasses.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:So how many doctors do you think you might’ve seen over the years for this problem?
S. Bream:The first doctor that I saw, who I would generally get fitted for my lenses and glasses, after he saw me a couple of times and I was having these nighttime erosions, he quickly realized that it was going to be more complicated than just some drops and some dry eyes situation. And he was good enough to say to me, “Listen, I think you need to see someone that’s a little bit more specialized in this. I want to help you, but I think you need to go to the next step.”
S. Bream:So I found someone who came highly recommended. It’s kind of on the local list of top doctors, that kind of thing. And went to see him, and at that point I was really suffering with the erosions, which are extraordinarily painful, and trying to manage dry eye and the erosions I was having. And I was pretty frazzled by the time that I got to him, but trying to be professional and communicate as clearly as I could to him about what I was going through. And I don’t know if something was lost in translation there, but I felt like he didn’t take it very seriously, but I tried to follow the advice he gave me. And I started using a heavier ointment overnight, which definitely was helpful, but I still was having so much pain.
S. Bream:And when I went back to him after probably three or four months, I tried to convey to him again, like, “Listen, I am in pain a lot. My vision is suffering. I can’t sleep. I’m really having a tough time.” And he said to me, “I really think you’re a little emotional about this.” And that was the wrong thing for him to say to me, because I was barely holding it together for that appointment. I’m like, “Well, he’s definitely right. I’m definitely emotional about this.” But I just felt like somehow we did not connect about the seriousness of the problem I felt like I was having.
S. Bream:And I left there and I was crying in my car and I said, “Okay, you’ve got to find someone new. Are you too emotional? Are you crazy? Are you losing it over this problem?” And I started to think, “Is it me?” And for a while, I did not go back to the doctor. I suffered in silence, tried to figure out my own combination of drops and ointments, and was just really discouraged because I thought, “Man, if I’ve seen two professionals who can’t help me, maybe I’m just stuck in this situation.”
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. Well, there’s the comorbidity of dry eye and depression and anxiety. And sometimes the question is, which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Patients like you have real problems and they go in and they’re dismissed a little bit. So it is a struggle and it is emotional. And if I were you and a doctor had said that to me, I think if I weren’t emotional, I would have gotten emotional right on the spot. That’s hard to hear.
S. Bream:Yeah. It is, because you’re looking for a lifeline at that point. Like, “Just please throw me a life preserver, somebody. I’m not a medical professional. I don’t have answers. All I know is I’m in a lot of pain.” And when you can’t sleep, I think that really exacerbates everything because now you’re sleep-deprived, you’re exhausted, which is going to stop your emotions and your ability to think logically and to problem solve, and still working a full job and living your full life.
S. Bream:But I got into this place where I thought, “Man, I’m just barely, truly surviving.” I started to search online, which is the worst thing, because I always tell people, you go online for an illness and you find out you’ve got approximately 17 seconds to live. Don’t go there if you’re not a medical professional. But I would find message boards that would have people describing similar symptoms, and that started me on a trail to have a better way to explain to my doctor what I was going through.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Yeah. There’s good and bad sides to the information that you get on the internet. Certainly if you go in and you Google headaches, the odds are you’re going to come up with a brain tumor.
S. Bream:Exactly, exactly.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:But you can also find support, and you can find people that are like-minded as well.
S. Bream:Exactly, exactly.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:But you can also find support, and you can find people that are like-minded as well.
S. Bream:Yeah. And through these message boards, what I was trying to find are symptoms, so I could figure out what do I have? How do I better describe this so I can get help? And what I found on some of these message boards were people who were completely despondent, which, we’re almost two years into the process now, I found myself there, where I’m thinking, “This isn’t really a life. I’m in pain and exhausted all the time. I’m hiding this so I can continue working and being professional. My husband’s really the only person who sees this in the middle of the night and up and down and with compresses and wash cloths and potions and trying to do whatever I can.”
S. Bream:So I found these message boards where people were describing the exact sensations and the problems. And I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes. What is this? What is this called?” And it gave me just a better vocabulary to go get some help. And I remember reading on some of the message boards about people who said, “I’ve been turned away from the emergency room. They tell me that I’m crazy, and no one will help me.” And I’m thinking, “I get that.” And there were people who were talking there about being so despondent, like they wanted to take their lives. And I thought, “I get what you’re saying. I’m two years into this and thinking, this can’t be the rest of my life.”
S. Bream:And I really just sat down and had a heart-to-heart with my husband about where I was. And he knew that I’d hesitated for so long to go back to the doctor because I just didn’t know what to do after that last appointment. And he said, “Let’s tackle this. Let’s find you somebody. We’ll keep going if we got to go through 10 doctors.”
S. Bream:Luckily for me it was number three. And that third doctor that I saw has been a fantastic literal lifesaver for me and really sat and listened to me. He went through my chart. He talked to me after the PA had done a full prep, so that when he walked in the room, he said to me what I needed to hear. He said, “I think I know what’s wrong.” And I thought, “Thank God this person is going to listen to me and we’re going to figure this out.” And just him taking the time and seeing probably that I was emotional, but being sensitive to that and helping me to find the vocabulary to help him so we could solve this thing was huge.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. You have to be your own advocate, unfortunately, in healthcare. And it’s hard because sometimes folks, they do look emotional, they don’t have the vocabulary. And I think that’s probably the key, is saying the right words to the doctor. And I think that matters, unfortunately, because it’s really not the patient’s role, but it really does facilitate it and push the conversation along. So kudos to you for doing that.
S. Bream:And people can’t be mind readers. It’s just like if you go to your hairstylist and you say, “Well, I want X, Y, Z.” That’s what mine always says, “I don’t trust what you’re saying that we’re going to see the same thing. Bring me a picture.” We got to know that we’re talking about the same thing here. And it was the same thing with my doctor when I was able to give him exact descriptions about the pain, when it was happening, how it was happening, what I was using. And it just helped to spark a conversation and it was the first time in two years that I had hope when he said to me, “There are so many things we can do to tackle this from zero to a hundred. Let’s start at one and we’ll go and we’ll figure out what works for you. And there are options. We’re going to figure this out.” And it breathed, really, such relief into me and such hope into me that I thought, “Okay, I can keep going and we can do this.”
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right, right. The hope is what a lot of these patients lose, honestly. And the downside for patients as it comes to dry eyes, it’s typically not vision-threatening, so it’s quality of life-compromising, and doctors don’t always lean in when vision’s not at stake. Not as much.
S. Bream:Yeah. Because obviously I’m sure the number one priority when people come in, they need to see clearly or they have serious issues going on with their vision. I think sometimes if you can’t accurately describe what you’re suffering with dry eye … I now, because I’ve put my story out there, will get emails and DMs from people and I just hear the agony in their voice. And not long ago, within the last couple of years, a young woman who was a local meteorologist who had dry eye issues and had surgery issues and ended up taking her life. And I read her story and I just sat in my house and cried because I thought, “Oh my goodness, if I could have just heard her story, heard that she was suffering, say to her, ‘Please don’t throw in the towel.'” It can be extremely overwhelming for people. And I think sometimes we’re ashamed or embarrassed that we are suffering so much on, as you mentioned, the depression side or the mental health side, along with the physical. And it just can be a really bad spiral for some people.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. Absolutely. So what would you like to tell doctors? What would you like for them to know? What’s a great takeaway from a patient perspective for a physician.
S. Bream:Oh, really just, I know everybody is so busy and I know that you got to keep the patients moving, but even if you can just listen for five minutes, just let them pour everything out. You’re going to hear clues, I’m sure, along the way that make more sense to you than they do to them. And so I always tried to go in with a note and to write on paper so that, if I did get flustered or emotional or feel hurried, I would say, “These are the things I need to communicate to the doctor.” And sometimes I would give them the piece of paper.
S. Bream:So I think even as busy, and the demands I know that are on doctors, if you can just listen for a few minutes, let somebody unload. I know you’re not a therapist. You can’t be there for 20 minutes listening to all their problems. But I think if people feel heard, then they feel there’s a little bit more trust. They can be more vulnerable and open up in a way that may help you to get the clues to solving their particular problem.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Yeah. I love what you said about let them get it all out, because a lot of these patients come in and I think they get cut off. And when they’re cut off, they don’t, like you said, reach the end of their story and their journey with the doctor. And I don’t think they feel that level of satisfaction of being heard. So I think it’s not just tell your story, it’s tell your whole story, and you can really get into therapy then. So I think that’s great. I think that’s great. You’re really giving a lot of insight into what can really help doctors better serve their patients.
S. Bream:I hope so, because the doctor that has ultimately helped me and been with me on this journey, like I said, he gave me time to pour it out. And I was telling myself the whole time, “Don’t cry. Don’t get upset. Don’t get emotional, because-“
Dr. Whitney Hauser:“Hold it together.”
S. Bream:I know, “Keep it together.” Just because you want to appear professional and like you’re a rational person, but he just let me just put it all out there. And what was tough for me is that I have some complicating factors, and once he figured out what’s going on in that first visit, towards the end of the visit, he said to me, “You need to know in particular what you have, there’s no cure for that.”
S. Bream:And for me, I didn’t hear anything else he said after that, because it was like I’d had this sip of water after being in the desert for two years. And I’d just been drinking in everything he said and when he said that … I mean, it’s important for the patient to remember too, you can’t just shut down. I don’t even remember how I got out of the office that day. I was so upset, because I thought, “Oh no, I’m never getting better.” But thank God I had a followup appointment. I went back and he said, “Nope, this is how we’re going to do it. There are all these things that can help you to get better.” So patients have to listen too.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Yeah. A lot of things, particularly in dry eye, there’s not a fix, not a solution. You don’t cross the finish line. But there are ways that we can help you feel better, live a better life, have better quality of life. So it’s not every waking minute you’re obsessed about it, because it’s wrecking you.
S. Bream:Right. Exactly. And when people, like you said, when they have that hope, they can go on, they can try another therapy or try another avenue, because everybody is so different, I find, when it comes to this. And I’ll have people reach out to me, coworkers or strangers, and say, “Hey, I’m having this eye problem. What do you use? What do you do?” And I’m like, “Listen, it’s all trial and error for me. You got to find the right drops for you, that if you need your tear ducts plugged, or whatever it is, everybody’s got their own path. So yes, these are the 10 things that have worked for me, but just don’t freak out if they don’t work for you, because everybody’s got to do a little bit of trial and error to see.” With dry eye, I find it’s very individual.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:It is. It is. And that’s great advice to give to friends and colleagues who contact you, is it is so individual, and to not give up. The hope component is a huge part of it too.
S. Bream:Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely. And I think once you have that, you can keep one foot in front of the other. You can keep going.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. Absolutely. That’s just life. As long as you have hope, you can keep on going. So on a very different note, but also kind of a bright note as well, tell us about your book, Finding the Bright Side.
S. Bream:Yeah. And honestly, there were two chapters in the book that were so hard for me to go back and write, because I think all of us go through things in life, a health scare or a loss or something really painful, losing a loved one or job, whatever it is. It really was hard to go back and unearth some of the worst moments with my eyes. And also, my husband’s actually a brain tumor survivor. And those were the two worst chapters to write in the book because you just remember basically the hell that you lived through.
S. Bream:But the whole purpose in writing the book was to say, “Listen, I have gotten fired. I’ve had such a horrible health issue that I had very dark thoughts and a lot of depression. I’ve been through this with my husband. But there’s a way through, there really is a bright side to everything you go through.” I find I’ve become a much more empathetic person. I’m so much more thankful for everything. In my day, I’m a person of faith and as I was coming through this and started to be able to get relief, ending up having a surgery and getting my vision back as the result of that, feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I can read that street sign,” and literally stopping and saying a prayer like, “I’m not in pain. My eyes aren’t dry. And I can read that street sign. Thank you, God.”
S. Bream:So the book is all about funny stories, sad stories, but just that there really is purpose in all of the ups and downs, the pain, and that I think going through the worst things has made me a better, much more grateful person. And I think that’s just a good place to be.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Absolutely. You couldn’t have said it better. And I think we should all look to the bright side. And sometimes when you’re in those dark places, it’s really hard to find.
S. Bream:Mm-hmm (affirmative). It is. It is. But know that there are people who care about you and there are people who will throw you a lifeline, no matter who you are and what your situation is. There’s help out there, regardless of what you’re struggling with or going through. It’s there.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Right. Beautifully said. Shannon Bream, thank you so much for joining us today.
S. Bream:It was my privilege. And listen, for folks out there, like you said, don’t give up. There are solutions. There is help. There are people who care about you. And just keep advocating for yourself and you’ll get there.
Dr. Whitney Hauser:Absolutely. And thank you for joining us today for Dry Eye Coach Podcast.