Through the eyes of a “Protanopic” Optometrist
Dr Pavan Kumar Verkicharla
As a child, I remember those days, when being a class 5 student, I preferred the not so interesting essay writing competitions as opposed to what most of the mob chose- painting. Yes, I am the one who chose a "black" pencil over the "colored" crayons. I blamed my school teachers for it thinking that they were inefficient in improving my aptitude towards painting by not teaching me how to differentiate colors.
It didn’t end there- I detested the task to select matching threads used for stitching from the clothes/bangles store for my mother, as either most of the threads looked a perfect match or none (from a box containing atleast 100 colored threads). This task made me feel like I am fighting with a bunch of 100 enemies. Not to mention the baffled reactions and raised eyebrow looks (weird expression) during the carom board games, which I got often from my friends/family when I asked them with caution or curiosity "Is this red coin?”. Also worth mentioning is my perplexed feeling when I heard people talk about colors like lavender – aqua – magenta etc., as names of these colors confused me more. Again with all these, I blamed my school teachers for giving me poor knowledge on colors!
I entered the fascinating world of Optometry in 2006. It was in my second year of undergraduate program, at the Bausch and Lomb School of Optometry or BLSO clinics when all my 22 classmates surrounded me for my turn to read out the numbers on the plates/charts of the ISHIHARA book (flipped by my friend). As I read out, my class mates were initially annoyed with my responses, thinking I was playing around as a color vision deficient; but soon the instructor said, "YES! He is the one". Then every chart flipped, excited my classmates as they wanted to listen to my wrong answer. They were thrilled to see a live example of color vision deficient during the internal practical but it was only me who went through mixed emotions of surprise and worry.
Finally, I was detected to be a color vision deficient (condition characterized by the lack of photo receptors (cones) in the retina and the person with this condition experiences difficulty in differentiating specific colors) and in specific- a Protanope (loss of or defective red cones). I got to know why I chose black pencils/essay writing rather than colored crayons/painting and also removed my notion about my school teachers’ inefficacy.
Is this how you see?
This is how I see. Photo courtesy: Vinod Maseedupally
Since then, I always carried my own colored pencils with "color name" - (example text "Green") wrapped to the pencils to outpatient departments -OPDs. However, on the days I forgot my labeled color pencils and mistakenly color code things wrongly, the weird and serious looks continued ….. One such instance was when a consultant ophthalmologist, after seeing my color coding in clinical findings recording/work-up sheet said "Pavan, degenerative changes should always be color coded with black" and I replied "yes sir - it is black" and the consultant gave a serious look (I used brown color which to me looked like black). I also had tough time in viva voce, when the examiner said "comment on this", and "this" unfortunately happened to be a colored lens i.e. "tints and filters". I couldn’t answer as it looked to me somewhere close to "light reddish colored greenish brown lenses" (you know what I mean).
After all, I desperately wanted to do something to the field of color vision and I took up an additional project on color vision (X-Chrome lenses and the color vision deficiency) along with my main internship project (in electrophysiology). All these paved the path to pursue PhD and I applied to various universities and professors underlining the sentence that “I am a color vision deficient” and I’m interested in color vision/optics research. Although I haven’t received any offer into color vision research, I was fortunate to receive two PhD opportunities from two different universities and both happened to be related to myopia optics.
Dealing with any color related matters was/is/will-be never easy. I would like to quote here-
“An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere. The pessimist sees only the red light. But the truly wise person is color vision deficient” – Albert Schweitzer
So color vision deficiency never became an obstacle for me in achieving my dreams; in fact I use this deficiency to just create fun and made my friends laugh (In Hindi - “Mera Face ko na acha color hain – na color vision hain”). Neither my PhD supervisor at the Queensland University of Technology, Australia nor my current mentor for Post-Doc at the Singapore Eye research Institute, Singapore thought that my color vision deficiency will impact the research work I do. I managed the analyses where we have to color code things; I plot graphs comfortably that needs color coding; make posters where colors play an important role and make the figures for publications, presentations and lectures where color coding is essential.
To conclude, I can differentiate colors- I see roses as red, sky as blue and “I SEE colors - but, just in my very own different way”. I never want to put an end to this romantic fable, a colorful love story between my perception and the reality. Hence, the saga of the colorful life of a color vision deficient continues…
About the author
Dr. Pavan Kumar Verkicharla is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Myopia Research Group in Singapore Eye Research Institute. He received a Bachelor degree in Optometry from Bausch & Lomb School of Optometry, L V Prasad Eye Institute and a Doctor of Philosophy from the Queensland University of Technology, Australia in the year 2015. His PhD research investigated the development and validation of a new method for determining retinal shape. Pavan has publications in international peer reviewed journals and is also reviewer for Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Clinical & Experimental Optometry, Optometry & Vision Science and Clinical Ophthalmology. He is a member of American Academy of Optometry and Optical Society of America. His research interests are Myopia Optics, Myopia Pathology, Instrumentation, Color Vision and Diabetic Retinopathy.