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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Ross Rambles: On being blind - part 1

Friday, April 6, 2007

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series.

You don't see many blind people out in the public. At least I don't and didn't even before I became blind.

It simply is not convenient for a blind person to go out in public. It's easier just spending time passively in familiar surroundings, resigned to the isolation as well as the perpetual darkness.

For someone who lives alone, like I do, the isolation is more complete and the practical problems of daily living more daunting.

It was only natural at the onset of my condition to give serious consideration to throwing off these mortal coils (or whatever euphemism best softens the concept of a bullet to the head).

I decided against that course of action because it would have been rude. I've known my apartment manager before we both lived in the same building. It would have been rude to expose her to such a grisly sight.

It would also be rude toward friends and colleagues. They've been helpful and supportive during my ordeal. I won't attempt to describe everything everyone did for me during this time but I will mention two people who were particularly helpful - Ron Flewelling and Jim Adamson. Each of them provided transportation on a number of occasions, including repeated trips to Sioux City for medical treatment.

Despite the fact that people have shown a willingness, even an eagerness to help, I worry about people getting the mistaken idea that they could have done something more to prevent my demise.

This is particularly true of relatives, all of whom live hundreds of miles from here. My untimely death would certainly be inconsiderate toward my widowed 86-year-old father who recently had heart surgery.

I certainly don't want to cause any pain to my brother and two sisters, nor to my nephews and nieces who are all grown now. Although I don't often see my great nephews and nieces, I feel close to them. They like me because I can put a cigarette out on my tongue.

How would their parents explain my death? - "By the way, your great uncle, the one who puts cigarettes out on his tongue, he won't be showing you that trick any more."

So anyway, having decided to forgo all that rudeness, I contemplated what my life would be like as a blind person. What kind of support services could I expect? What kind of activities would I engage in?

I had little hope that life would contain anything of value but I also had little fear that it would be unendurable. I approached the coming darkness with a resigned acceptance and a bit of curiosity.

Let's back up a bit. I've been blind in my left eye for several years now. I lost my sight in that eye rather rapidly as I recall. By time I had it checked out, the damage was irreversible.

In December, I saw a multitude of dark floating specks from my right eye and a dark curtain started progressing from the bottom of my sight upward. On Dec. 22, I went to Dr. Stoelting in Cherokee and he sent me immediately to Dr. Han, a retina specialist at the Jones Eye Clinic in Sioux City. That same day, I had retina surgery at Mercy Hospital. I was told that the surgery had a high success rate, about 80 percent.

For the next couple of weeks I had limited vision but it was sufficient to avoid walking into things. My mobility and activities were more limited by restrictions on physical exertion rather than by poor vision.

I was supposed to spend most of my time, day and night, in a recliner with my eyes closed, not lying flatter than a 45 degree angle. Breaks from the routine were allowed for using the bathroom and getting food from the refrigerator - raw fruits, raw vegetables, lunch meat, cheese and bread. I also received hot meals once a day, Monday through Friday, from the hospital's Mobile Meals program.

This routine precluded reading, watching TV or basically any other entertaining activity.

Supposedly, a person with a lively imagination and contemplative nature will never be bored. Here is a sample of my thought process during this period:

"I wonder what time it is. It must be at least noon. This recliner is getting kind of old now. My nose itches. I'll scratch it. There, that's better. I wonder how much a new recliner costs. I wonder whether earthworms have taste buds and whether they prefer the taste of some kinds of dirt over others. What time is it now? It must be at least 12:01."

After a seeming eternity of this, I was finally liberated from the ordeal but the ordeal ended up being for no purpose. I was not among the 80 percent for whom the surgery was successful.

Continued next week.