The thousands of patients optometrist Bert Frewing has examined include Bonnie Godfrey, who is also his office manager. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
45-year career in La Grande coming to a close for retiring Bert Frewing
LA GRANDE — Most people emerge from a dip in a swimming pool feeling refreshed.
Not this La Grande man. Three months ago, he emerged from a brief swim with burning eyes and badly blurred vision. So bad was his sight he could not make it on his own to La Grande optometrist Bert Frewing for treatment.
“His wife had to lead him into my office,’’ Frewing said.
Frewing, in his ever calm and reassuring manner, applied steroid drops to ease the swimmer’s eye pain and inflammation. Minutes later the fire in his eyes cooled and his vision began improving.
A day or two later the man’s eyes were almost back to normal after recovering from a novel mistake. The man had cleaned his swim goggles with detergent and then wore them before washing the detergent completely out. A small amount of the detergent had gotten into his eyes.
Fortunately the man suffered no permanent eye damage thanks to Frewing’s quick work.
Another satisfied patient — one of thousands the optometrist has had during a career in
Today the finish line is in sight for a man who has devoted his career to improving the sight of others. Frewing is preparing to retire. He is now tying up loose ends at his office and expects to be finished with his work by Friday.
“It is a sentimental time for me. Some of my patients are people I have been seeing for 40 years,’’ Frewing said.
The list includes one patient who was in her 20s when Frewing first saw her and is now in her 60s.
“It will be hard to let go of these friendships,’’ Frewing said.
Retirement means Frewing will no longer be fitting patients for glasses, treating them for mishaps, diagnosing them for eye diseases or removing foreign objects from their eyes.
A number of patents came to Frewing after getting tiny pieces of metal in their eyes from grinding work at mills. Removing these quickly is important because the longer a piece of metal is in an eye the deeper it will get. There is also another concern.
“You need to get the metal out before it starts rusting. Rust will permanently damage your eye,’’ Frewing said.
The personable optometrist has not had a problem getting people to be motionless when removing foreign objects from their eyes.
“Most people can sit still if it hurts badly enough,’’ Frewing said.
The optometrist relied on high-intensity light and eye magnets to help him remove metal fragments. One of Frewing’s patients got metal in his eye so frequently that he purchased his own eye magnet so that his wife could use it to remove some of the fragments.
Frewing did most of his metal removal work in the early years of his practice.
“Today most people go to the (hospital) emergency room for this.’’
Frewing started his career when only hard contact lenses were available. Soft contact lenses that people can wear for long periods without feeling any discomfort became available in the early 1970s. Soft contact lenses caused problems for some of his patients because they made the mistake of wearing them for days at a time.
This caused problems because they deprive eyes of oxygen, resulting in swelling and edema.
“I’ve gotten calls at three in the morning from people whose eyes were burning and their vision was blurred
Frewing also received
Unfortunately, people suffering from snow blindness sometimes have lingering affects.
“Their eyes often remain quite sensitive to light,’’ Frewing said.
Seeing how far optometry has come in the past 45 years is as easy as stepping into Frewing’s office building at 1602 Fourth St. Just inside the entrance is a collection of once popular rimless glasses patients have brought in. The corrective eye wear cannot touch the effectiveness and comfort of glasses now available. The state-of-the-art eye wear not only provides better vision and has features like light tinting but also is more comfortable since it is made of plastic and lighter.
Step farther into Frewing’s clinic and one finds state-of-the-art diagnostic testing machines, the likes of which were unheard of when Frewing started his practice. The equipment allows Frewing to diagnose eye diseases and better test the vision of patients.
Improved technology is not the only reason Frewing can do more for his patients than he could four decades ago. Changes in laws have expanded the number of medical procedures optometrists can perform. Today optometrists diagnose glaucoma, cataracts and other eye diseases in addition to removing foreign objects from eyes and much more. The expanded range of what optometrists can do is something Frewing finds gratifying and amazing.
“When I started we were not even allowed to use drops to dilate eyes or treat minor inflammation,’’ Frewing said.
Optometrists work more closely with other health care professionals today. For example, an optometrist will provide pre- and post-operative care for patients undergoing cataract surgery while working closely with the ophthalmologist doing the surgery.
The advances made in cataract surgery in the past four decades are stunning. Today the procedure takes less than 30 minutes for a single eye and patients are able begin to reading hours after their operation.
This is a far cry from four decades ago when operations took much longer and the
“People would have to lay in a bed motionless with their head between two sandbags for three weeks to prevent tearing a retina,’’ Frewing said.
Cataract surgery was so dreaded that one of Frewing’s patients four decades ago, who was totally blind due to cataracts, refused to have surgery for them.
Frewing, who grew up in Prineville, started on his path to becoming an optometrist at Pacific University in Forest Grove. He graduated from Pacific in 1964 with a bachelor of science degree and a doctor of optometry degree. He began his career in the U.S. Army. He worked as an optometrist in Okinawa, Japan, for almost four years and had a huge caseload during this time.
“I saw 60 patents a day. I had to be quick. I didn’t get to spend as much time with my patients as I wanted to,’’ Frewing said.
After leaving the military, Frewing moved to La Grande to take over the practice of John Schouten, who was leaving after 1 1/2 years in La Grande. Frewing wanted to work in Central or Eastern Oregon after growing up in Prineville.
Frewing’s first La Grande office was at the Sac Annex. He moved to his present location, 1602 Fourth St., in the early 1970s. The office had been a home owned by former Eastern Oregon University art professor Ian Gately.
The retiring optometrist is looking forward to the freedom retirement will provide, but he is also worried about how he will adjust to retirement. He is confident he will do just fine, however, because of the extensive amount of time he will be spending with his cherished family. Frewing and his wife, Jean, have one son, five daughters and 16 grandchildren.
“They will keep me busy,’’ Frewing said.