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Monday, May 2, 2016

Ross Rambles: On being blind - part 2

Thursday, April 26, 2007

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

Two weeks after my retina surgery, I experienced more symptoms of a detaching retina, black floating specks, light flashes and a black curtain partially covering my vision, this time descending from the top of my vision downward.

I did not rush to seek emergency treatment. I simply accepted the fact that the surgery didn't work. Dr. Han had mentioned an alternative procedure, something about draining the eye of fluid and installing an air bubble, but this had somehow struck me as a desperate and impractical procedure. I had dismissed this information quickly after I heard it, back when the initial surgery seemed successful.

When the retina began detaching the second time, I assumed blindness would become complete and permanent.

This is when I contemplated whether or not I would continue living. I decided I would in order to avoid being rude to the people I know. I accepted a limited isolated existence.

Of course, I would also be financially destitute but what would result from that? Would I starve or die of exposure after I was evicted for not paying rent?

I pictured people looking through my things outside my apartment building and someone asking the manager what the recliner would cost.

"A dollar should be enough. It's rather worn out."

"And who is that sitting on it?"

"That's the blind guy who used to own this stuff."

"Does he sing and play the piano?"

"No, he used to write for a newspaper before he became blind."

"That doesn't sound too useful."

"You're right. The recliner is clearly the better choice."

I would earn some social security disability income and there are services available for people with disabilities. I could probably live independently with some housekeeping assistance at least once a week. Mobile Meals delivers hot meals five times a week and there is grocery delivery available.

I would need help occasionally with such things as writing checks, filling out forms and transportation. As I've mentioned, I had little hope of having much of value in my life but little fear that it would be unendurable.

One requirement I would place on my semi-independent living arrangement would be that my regular assistance would be solely through professionals. I have accepted help from friends in the spirit that it was generously given but I would not impose upon them as a permanent situation.

I decided I would not move closer to family members for fear that they would feel obligated to look after me.

After having thought all this through, I awaited coming blindness but the detachment of the retina was progressing slower this time. I noticed the unmistakable signs five days before an appointment with Dr. Han which I had not sought to either change or cancel. The condition had progressed but I still had some vision on the day of the appointment, Jan. 12.

Dr. Han scheduled me for emergency surgery that same day. This time the procedure involved draining the eye of fluid, It was a procedure with a greater success rate but Dr. Han had been reluctant to use it the first time because I was already blind in my left eye and this procedure would make me blind in my right eye for about 10 days.

The doctor was uncomfortable with the fact that I lived alone. I might have given him the impression that I would have regular visits from helpful friends. I'm sure friends would have been willing to do that if I asked but I did not ask. I had been contemplating the idea of permanently living alone blind and had come to terms with it.

The actual experience of being blind was not much different than I had expected. One surprise was how disoriented a person can become in a small, very familiar area but there was no hurry to get anywhere so I could move as slowly as I needed to avoid bumping into things.

As with the first surgery, I needed to keep my head in a certain position for most of the time, this time I needed to lie on my right side with breaks only for such things as getting food and using the bathroom. The tedium was made almost tolerable by the realization that I would not be permanently blind.

As the large bubble blocking my vision shrank and then disappeared, my vision was extremely blurry. I had a hard time making out shapes at a distance and I had to hold whatever I was reading right up to my eye.

During my next visit to Dr. Han, he informed me that I had developed a severe cataract, a complication that sometimes develops after retina surgery. At this point, I was tempted to vent my frustration by saying a bad word or two.

I was told that the cataract surgery would be a less involved surgery than the retina surgery with a fairly quick recovery but it would have to wait for several weeks after the retina surgery. In the meantime, I was referred to Dr. Stoelting in Cherokee to see what could be done to improve my vision prior to cataract removal.

My vision could be improved some with corrective lenses but only to 20/80. It takes 20/70 vision for people to get a license restricting them to driving in the day only at no more than 35 miles per hour. I didn't ask what it would take to get a license if I had flashing lights on my car and a loudspeaker on the roof that repeated the message, "Get out of the way!"

I decided not to get a temporary corrective lens since it would not enable me to drive or to work.

During this period, I sometimes walked downtown when it wasn't too cold or snowy. There were days during this period when even people with good vision avoided going outside.

I commend the Mobile Meals people for making deliveries even on that Thursday and Friday when most activities came to a halt due to a blizzard. This is a good program. The food was consistently good and very welcome for someone unable to do much food preparation. Phone calls and books on tape were also welcome diversions.

I had the cataract removed on March 8. I returned to work on Monday, March 12.

The experience has given me a greater appreciation of the generosity of friends.