December 2013




William Fishkind, MD, takes off

by Maxine Lipner EyeWorld Senior Contributing Writer



Dr. Fishkind with his Bonanza A36

Dr. Fishkind flies his Bonanza A36 for short flights to small airports around Arizona.

Source (all): William J. Fishkind, MD

Piloting toward multi- dimensional success

It began as something of a lark—the last thing in the world William J. Fishkind, MD, ever expected to be doing. Shortly after responding to a newspaper advertisement for an introductory flight lesson, he found himself at a small county airport in a little Cessna 152 sitting in the pilot seat. Dr. Fishkind is co- director of the Fishkind, Bakewell& Maltzman Eye Care Center, Tucson, Ariz., and clinical professor of ophthalmology at both the University of Arizona and the University of Utah. "The instructor went through the basics of what's involved with a takeoff and what to expect from the airplane and the next thing I knew, he said, 'Well, go ahead.' I said, 'Me?' he said, 'Sure, you do it.' It took a little while to build up speed because it wasn't too fast or powerful, but in that moment it transitioned from taxing down the runway to flying, it was an amazing feeling—it felt like I was a bird flying in the air." At that moment, Dr. Fishkind was hooked.

Free as a bird

Dr. Fishkind decided that he was going to continue flying for a while and see about getting his pilot's license. He also decided to buy his own airplane, a Cessna 182, a bigger version of the one on which he had taken his initial lesson. "Eventually I traded that and bought a Bonanza A36, and that was the airplane that I flew for quite a number of hours," he said. His hobby gave him a sense of mobility that he hadn't anticipated. "What I realized was that in Arizona, we live in small pockets of population separated by large expanses of desert," Dr. Fishkind said. "The airplane was not only fun and challenging but also provided me with the ability to go places that I couldn't otherwise go for a weekend."

It seemed the perfect hobby. But while he relished his time in the air and the freedom it provided, he eventually decided to take a flying hiatus, concerned about the risks it entailed. "My kids were approaching junior high school, and some of my friends were killed in airplanes," he explained, adding, "I realized that airplanes are dangerous, and I wanted to be sure that I was going to be around for my kids while they were growing up."

Then, 10 to 15 years ago, when his children were fully grown, he returned to the hobby he loved. This time he purchased a Bonanza A36 with a jet prop turbine engine. "It's very powerful, very fast, and incredibly safe," he explained. "It's about 100 times safer than a standard reciprocal engine."

Typically, he will take two-hour jaunts from his Tucson home. "I often will fly out for short flights to small airports around the state," he said. Periodically, he might fly from Tucson to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, Las Vegas, or even Durango, Colo. From there he might expand the circle radius another two hours and go on to Dallas.

Memorable excursions

Some flights have had particular appeal and are etched in his memory. "I flew in the Grand Canyon before it was forbidden," Dr. Fishkind said, remarking, "I don't think that I've ever been in a natural setting as beautiful as that in my entire life." That is just one of many highpoints. "I have landed in Big Bear when the mountaintops were covered with snow and Los Angeles was shining like a jewel below, and I have flown to San Francisco and seen the city reflecting in the sunlight," he said. "I have gotten a chance to see the San Andreas Fault from one side to the other."

When he has been on the East Coast, Dr. Fishkind has flown to Nantucket and traveled a now infamous route. "I flew the same route that (John F.) Kennedy (Jr.) flew when he was killed," he said. "I elected to fly it differently because it was too dangerous to fly it the way he flew it." It can be hard to get your bearings over the Long Island Sound at night, Dr. Fishkind explained. "It's like flying in clouds, you can't see up or down, you can't tell where you are, you can't see the water," he said. "It's like a big fog that you're in. "Bearing that in mind, Dr. Fishkind decided to tack along the coast of Connecticut and out along Cape Cod. This way, he always had a horizon. "I could always see the lights and I knew where up and down was," he said. "Then as I got to Nantucket I ducked over the water for a short period and then landed."

Such awareness of any potential problems is part and parcel with how he typically conducts himself in the air. "When I'm in the airplane I'm 'Mr. Conservative,'" Dr. Fishkind said. "I fly as if it were a jet airliner, especially when I have passengers." He takes his responsibility very seriously, just as he does when caring for patients.

Over the years, Dr. Fishkind has found that there has been an amazing interplay between his time in the air and his time in the operating room. "Flying has made me more orderly, it has made me aware of checklists," he said. "We use checklists in the airplane every time we get in it; now I use checklists in surgery." He begins by making sure that all of the ergonomics are appropriate—the chair is the right height, the table is in the right place, the microscope is set up properly, and so on. Likewise, when he is flying Dr. Fishkind often draws on his ophthalmic experience. "You're flying along and something isn't right. You have to analyze the problem, figure out where you are, what is going to happen, and use your same surgical analytical skills to get out of that situation," he said.

The majority of the time, however, he finds that flying is a welcome respite from the rigors of work. Dr. Fishkind encourages others to seek similar release. "Most ophthalmologists love their work—we like what we do and we certainly want to stay current," he said. "But on the other hand, we need areas where we can blow off steam, where we can relax, because ophthalmology is a very highly specialized, very tense and rigorous field." He advised others to find an off-hours activity they love. "I encourage my colleagues to look for other areas of interest that are outside of ophthalmology that can be rewarding and that are fun," Dr. Fishkind said.

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