Sometimes your life journey starts in dog food boxes

September 18, 2019

SEPTEMBER 18, 2019: It was 1969, and the US was reeling from the hysteria of The Beatle’s last public performance, 350,000 plus rock-n-roll fans gathered at Woodstock, and the Apollo 11 mission landed Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buz” Aldrin as the first men on the Moon. It was 50 years ago and there were some monumental events happening in the world, and it was no different in Nancy Wilson’s world, though she didn’t realize it at the time. A young lady from Bossier City, who had just, several years before, graduated from Airline High School as the second graduating class of 101 students. She started her Freshman year of college at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston in search of her future, only to discover some short weeks later that school was just not for her, but the workforce was. At the tender age of 19, she took the initiative to apply for work with Dr. Breffeilh. She was hired to work in the office and then in 1969, at 21 years old she began working for Dr. James Ward, a local Ophthalmologist. Much like her, he had started his career in one direction and was promptly led to go another. He was an OB/GYN and then realized it wasn’t for him, so he returned to school and training to become an Ophthalmologist, opening his practice in the fall of 1969 – and that’s when Nancy’s journey of 50 years began. Nancy would work for Dr. Ward for some 33 years as an Ophthalmic Technician – managing the front desk, bookkeeping, appointments, and patient files which were organized and stored in dog food boxes. Together, they worked Monday thru Thursday, Thursday being his operating day, and then back in the office Friday and Saturday. Nancy was part of the changes in technology and the growth of the practice, which ultimately moved from the dog food boxes to a massive filing system including not only Dr. Ward’s patients but the new partnering physicians Dr. Frederick Kirchner, Dr. Bruce Henderson, Dr. Ellen Berg, and Dr. Bryan Vekovius. When the partners decided to move what is now the Highland Clinic Ophthalmology practice from Fairfield Avenue to the current Ashley Ridge facility in 2008, Dr. Ward retired. Nancy was hesitant that she’d have a place with the group moving forward, as she had always been Dr. Ward’s right hand. She was offered other opportunities, but after prayer turned it down with no sure future ahead. Of course, in Godly fashion, the very next day, Dr. Henderson and the other physicians asked Nancy to come with them; and the rest is both her history and her continued future.

“Dr. Ward is now 90 years old. I visited him just the other day. I owe so much gratitude to this man. He taught me so much, put us through professional training, offered hands-on training, and embraced his world and the people in it with such strength. When he first started out, he kept his charts in dog food boxes and then he experienced unbelievable growth. It was so amazing to watch his career grow alongside Ophthalmology in general. We were around before lens implants were even thought about. Dr. Kirchner and Dr. Ward went under investigational studies on lens implants and glaucoma drops. There was so much paperwork, but the advancements that I’ve been a part of were so rewarding. The patients, the physicians throughout my career are truly neat people,” reflected Wilson.

It’s the end of a very hot week in August 2019, when I had the opportunity to sit, over lunch, with Nancy, mostly against her wishes. Not because she didn’t enjoy a nice lunch break, or because she didn’t like the company – I, too, have a long 16-year history with she and the practice. She didn’t want the focus on herself, but her family of friends and colleagues encouraged her to celebrate what is these days an astounding accomplishment – 50 years in one career with the same group of physicians. I asked her what sustains you to do something for 50 years, when so many these days don’t show that level of loyalty and dedication in the work force?

I was expecting something profound, and she laughed and said “I had bills to pay and sons to raise. My husband and I both worked, and you just did what you had to do to make it.” She said this jokingly, but also with some truth to the matter. You see, Nancy had many times in her life when she just had to do what she had to do to make it. About 23 years ago, she received the devastating news that she had breast cancer, which resulted in a mastectomy, chemotherapy and the works. She would schedule her chemotherapy sessions on Fridays, so her husband could take the kids somewhere fun, while she went to her sessions. She only missed one day of work throughout her fight, and she won! In the later years of her marriage, she was the caretaker to her husband who required dialysis three times a day, every day. She would treat him before leaving for work, go home at lunch for another treatment and then again in the evenings, for as long as it took. Her husband succumbed and passed way 13 ½ years ago, shortly after she had buried her mother-in-law.

Nancy would tell you, though, that she’s always been blessed in life and that you just must accept and embrace the challenges. “My advice, about anything you love is to stick with it, learn about it; in your work – get along with fellow employees, do what you have to do. Your home situation is your home situation. You always make more of an impact on people by focusing on them and not yourself. Be the very best you can be. Period. Thank the Lord every morning for waking you up and taking where you can go, and laying you back down again at night.”

So it is, Nancy continues to get up every morning hoping to bless someone’s life and goes to bed each night praying for the same tomorrow. Even though, her routine is a regiment that doesn’t change much daily; when you look at it collectively over the years it continues to evolve just like the medical field she’s in.

Nancy reminisced, “I marvel at the intelligence and skills these physicians have and the technology that is now at their fingertips. Back in the day, the physicians would use an actual camera for pictures of the eye, send the slides to get developed at Dee’s in Downtown Shreveport and then look them over to diagnose and treat the patient. Now, the machines do most of the work for you – the Humphrey Visual Field, the Pentacam, the Lenstar, and the Fundus camera. This technology took the place of the old, tedious ways like the Tangent Screening where technicians like me would mark points of visual identity on an actual black cloth screen and then have to draw it out.”

The Ophthalmology of today is so advanced with lens implants, eye drops, and surgical precision to correct near and far sightedness. However, the physicians, then and now, still use formulas to determine the strength of the lens implant needed for each individual patient case. Nancy said “I still marvel at their intelligence and God-given abilities.”

Nancy, as an Diagnostic Technician, still does what she did so many years ago – getting in early, opening up by 7am, printing schedule for the doctor I’m working for that day, scheduling the patients, scheduling surgeries, checking patients for visual fields, and measurements for power of possible lens implant. “I’m very fortunate! I can’t even think back about what it would have been like if I hadn’t stayed around. I had other opportunities and didn’t take them. I’ll just keep going as long the Lord gives me the strength and the health so I can. Yes, I’d love to retire, especially after a morning like I’ve had today; but it’s like the doctor always says…. you gotta keep going. I enjoy getting up every day with purpose. I have had good people to work for. I know what to do, I know what to expect. This back hallway is my family. We all get along…. Casey and Wendy and myself have over 100 years combined experience.”

Wrapping up my time with Nancy, I ask her what’s next. She simply replies, “I’m happy…the Lord provides and that’s what it’s all about.”

Nancy Wilson works as a Diagnostic Technician for Highland Clinic Ophthalmology, specifically Dr. Bruce Henderson and Dr. Ellen Berg. The practice offers some of the highest quality ophthalmic medical and surgical services in the Shreveport/Bossier City area, specializing in cataracts and glaucoma. Offices are located at 471 Ashley Ridge Boulevard in Shreveport, 318-795-4770.