How the Island’s only full-time, year-round eye doctor got hooked on Nantucket.
Twenty years ago, Dr. Mike Ruby was juggling a demanding career as an eye doctor in Boston, when a friend invited him on a weekend fishing trip on Nantucket. Originally from upstate New York, Ruby had never been to the island and welcomed the trip as a rare respite from the rigors of seeing up to sixty patients a day, six days a week in the city. Catching bluefish off the South Shore that weekend, Dr. Ruby got hooked on Nantucket for life.
Three years later, he took a six-week leave from his practice to work as a fishing mate for Captain Tom Mleczko. When the fishing season came to an end, Dr. Ruby still couldn’t cut ties with the island and began commuting back and forth to Boston. He got his captain’s license and started treating patients on the island. “I did seven years back and forth between here and Boston,” he says. “A little fishing, a little eye doctoring… made me realize this community needed an eye doctor.”
Today, Dr. Ruby is the island’s only full-time, year-round optometrist. Sitting at his airy ACK Eye office on 13 Old South Road, employees buzz around him. “I never ever thought I’d be as busy as I am on-island,” he says. “I’m a classic example of be careful what you wish for.” Dr. Ruby moved to Nantucket full-time in 2009 and eventually purchased this office space, above which he and his wife Amy live with their dog, Olive.
The sunny and inviting space has a full optical boutique as well as examination rooms where state-of-the-art technology allows him to treat patients with all levels of non-surgical eye care.
“I would love to make more time for fishing,” says Ruby, who originally intended on having a dual career as an eye doctor and fishing guide on the island, “but in the last eight years I have put everything into the growth of this practice.” He pulls a framed photograph off his credenza. In it, he’s standing over a four-hundred-pound tuna that he fought for hours to bring to the boat. Ruby looks at the photo with a grin identical to the one smeared on his face that day seventeen years ago. “As hard as it is for me to step away from the office, there’s no question I am a better doctor when I am actively creating balance in my life,” he says. And for Ruby—balance means fishing.
Although he no longer guides charter fishing trips, Ruby is part owner of the legendary Bill Fisher Tackle, which he purchased along with friends Nat Reeder and brothers Corey and Cam Gammill in 2005. “Our tag line for the first few years was ‘Keeping the Tradition Alive,”’ says Ruby. “Bill Fisher Tackle is just one of those historic spots that people come to every summer. There’s some great emotional history to that business.”
Off the water, Ruby’s true calling has always been caring for others. Before beginning his career in Boston, he traveled around the world for three years with aid organizations, providing humanitarian eye care in places like Nepal, Thailand, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, and Malaysia. “Most of the medical trips I was working as one of a team of doctors seeing several hundred patients a day,” Ruby says. “We were dispensing thousands of pairs of donated spectacles, and trying to filter out the patients that needed higher level medical or surgical care.”
Dr. Ruby recalls doing eye exams by generator at a makeshift medical tent in the foothills of the Himalayas, where patients may have walked a full day to be seen. “At the end of the day, you were mentally and physically exhausted,” he says, “but you knew without question that you contributed that day.” In addition to his humanitarian eye care, he also taught ophthalmology in Norway, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, France, Italy, Israel, Colombia and Singapore. “The list is never as long as I would like it to be,” he says.
Although these days he might not be venturing far off the grid, Dr. Ruby gets equal satisfaction out of treating patients on Nantucket. “You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to help, there is need everywhere,” he says. “As fortunate as we are here, there are still many opportunities for service here at home.” With his cell phone number listed on the office answering machine, there’s a country-doctor mentality to his practice. If he bumps into someone experiencing eye trouble at, say, the super market, he’ll very often have them follow him right back to his office down the street.
“The emotional feedback is there, and I never had that in Boston,” he says. “The positive side of this community is so much bigger than the negative.” And when the time is right, and the tide is running strong, Dr. Ruby can still make his way out to sea where he remembers exactly what brought him here in the first place. Indeed, Ruby’s love of fishing is always in eyeshot.