Saturday, December 1, 2012

People Like You

I ran with the zeal of a 16 year old from optometrist to ophthalmologist and back again trying to find out what was wrong with my eyes.  All of these men were in agreement; there was nothing wrong with my eyes.  One doctor asked me what I was studying.  When I told him that I was an English major, he said that I was “just a high strung bookworm with eye strain.”

 For the next six years I bumbled through life like Mr. MaGoo.  My reading speed became so slow that I gave up reading the novels I loved and turned instead to poetry and children’s literature because there were fewer words on the page, the print was usually larger and bolder, and the pages were not glossy.  When I requested a student teaching assignment in the Illinois town where I was a university student and explained that I could not drive, the department chair said, “Your life sounds like a Dickens’ novel.  People like you don’t belong in college.”

One year later, after moving to Michigan,  I rested in an examination chair while a young optometrist just out of school, Dr. T.K. Johnson gave me medication and told me to rest until his boss, Dr. R.T. Blackhurst arrived.  Dr. Blackhurst, an ophthalmologist, rushed to his office from his cabin.  His new associate had just done something outside the box.  He had checked the ocular pressures of a young patient whose visual acuity changed every time she blinked.  The pressures were exceedingly high, and the visual field tests showed that vision had been lost around central vision in both eyes and through part of the central vision in one eye.  I was given a pamphlet about open angle glaucoma that described the symptoms I had been experiencing during my first 22 years, seeing haloes around lights, diminished depth perception, sensitivity to light, and mild color blindness.  Even the size of my eyes, larger than normal that most people found one of my most attractive features was a symptom of the disease that was making me go blind.

I finally learned how to drive a car.  That was exhilarating as well as disappointing since my driving could be impaired by a few drops of rain, the glare from oncoming cars at night, snow that concealed curbs and center lines, and expressway speed limits.  Recalibrating became a way of life for me.

In the fall of that year, 1969, I drove to the Midland Medical Center Auditorium at Dr. Blackhurst’s request.  A conference was being held with ophthalmologist from all over the state and beyond.  People like me were invited and led onstage to be seen by the chairman of the Department of ophthalmology at The University of Michigan Medical Center.  I waited in the wings while a baby with cataracts was carried toward the middle of the stage.  I wondered what this child’s life would be like.

When it was my turn, I met the man who would change my life forever, Dr. F. Bruce Fralick.  After he learned everything he wanted to know about me and my eye condition, he asked me if I had any questions.
“Yes,” I said.  “I would like to know if I will be able to go back to college and get my teaching certificate.”

“Don’t you asked me what you can do,” Dr. Fralick said with a strength and firmness I will never forget.  “You show me what you can do.”

As soon as it could be arranged, I completed my student teaching requirement and earned a secondary teaching certificate.

There are some benefits to being left behind like people like me.  According to the aptitude tests I took in elementary school, I am just an average student.  So my parents did not put any pressure on me to earn good grades. Much later, as an adult no longer measured by timed tests and wearing glasses that filtered out the UV in fluorescent lights used in classrooms, I earned two masters degrees with grade points of 3.95.  Quite frankly, I am glad the educators made this little mistake.  It freed me to be creative back when STEM was being pushed on baby boomer males.

It is because there were no Tiger Mothers around that I have been able to be published so far in more genres and media than most writers: THE DICTIONARY OF MIDWESTERN LITERATURE, HUMPTY DUMPTY’S MAGAZINE, newspapers, poetry chapbooks and magazines, and now online.

The day that I came across SCATTERED SHADOWS:  A MEMOIR OF BLINDNESS AND VISION by John Howard Griffin, the author of BLACK LIKE ME, I knew for the first time that there were other people like me and that some of them lived very successful lives even when the roads they travelled had many bumps and detours.  I hope this blog post leads to the early diagnosis of potentially blinding diseases in children, adults, and the elderly whose symptoms might otherwise be ignored or attributed to a character flaw, attention deficit disorder, laziness, or lack of motivation.  If you know any people like me or their caregivers, please encourage them to seek the help they need.  There are many resources online.  Just search for low vision information and services, for university medical center low vision websites, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped in your area.  If you need help accessing information, just ask your reference librarian for help.  That is what people like me do all the time.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Welcome to my blog.  Loving What Is Left is for people who are living with low vision, grieving the loss of some of their vision, and enjoying using the vision they have left.  I’ve lived with lower than normal vision for over 68 years.  During most of those years, I did not know what low vision was.  Now I can go to several websites to locate and browse low vision simulations.  As good as these representations are, none show the beauty accompanying impaired vision as well as Vincent van Gogh did in his paintings, Starry Night and Starry Night over the Rhone.  As you can see in the picture above this blog, the halos seen around lights during the early stages of Glaucoma and cataracts are truly wonders to behold.

There are many sites for sore eyes.  Few contain information from patients rather than objective professionals in the fields of health care, social work, and rehabilitation.  Even fewer contain information for patients who are transitioning from low vision to legal blindness.  I have experienced living with both and can tell you that the line between them is as blurry as impaired visual function on a bright, sunny day.

It is estimated that over 60 million baby boomers, my generation, will live with low vision at some time during what are called retirement years because of diabetes or age related macular degeneration.  If they plan to continue working, they need more information than what I am finding at low vision websites.  Sometimes high powered magnification and large print are not enough.  I also needed computers and books that talked, sighted readers, and a white cane in order to perform at a professional level because my reading speed was so slow before I became legally blind and vision loss below central vision made locating curbs and stairways problematic.

The unemployment rate for the blind and sight impaired is estimated to be around 80%.  Although the high hurdle of discrimination has almost been conquered, the rehabilitation services for people who lose any of their sight as adults is so slow when it is available that many with low vision must join the rolls of the disabled rather than stay employed.

What you will find at Loving What Is Left is more subjectivity than objectivity.  You’ll get plenty of information about diseases from the professionals.  What you will find here is feelings and opinions that people really don’t want you to share.  Low vision is annoying.  If you share just how annoying it is, you also become annoying.  It is OK to be annoying.  Annoying even has a good side called Advocacy, when grumbling creates inspiration, innovation, and change.

I’m glad you found Loving What Is Left and hope you will drop by again.  Meanwhile, if you are as impatient as I am, start looking online for regional resources such as support groups and low vision services where you live.  If you need help locating information, it is as close as your nearest reference librarian.