Contributor Lynne Tatum – Changing Vision; Changing My Life

As a younger woman, I flitted around my beloved New York City without a care.  Using a cane I knew I’d be relatively safe, as I had quite good usable vision.  I became concerned when objects began to look blurry.  I vividly recall the day when I stood on the corner watching a slew of out-of-focus yellow blob taxi cabs zoom by.  They simply did not look as sharp as I knew they should be.  Plodding on, I didn’t give it too much thought.  Work called and I had to answer.  Shortly thereafter, a colleague offered information about a miracle doctor who could restore my vision.  I was only able to see out of my right eye, but that did not stop my inquiry into what might be a real improvement in my vision.  I immediately made an appointment. I experienced a stomach-churning sense of anxiety each time I had to go to this office as the elevator had no Braille or large print numbers.  Often, I would ask whoever was behind the desk to help.  To say I’m not crazy about elevators is putting it as mildly as I can.  The fact that I must use them every day is a source of serious annoyance but, again, I do what I must do.  Needing to be guided around this catacomb-like medical office caused me to understand that the cataract really was ripening and I was losing a good deal of light in my right eye.

An amazing change was immediately apparent following the first surgery as light and sight were miraculously returned to me. However, there was one little problem.  One evening while watching “Great Performances” on television, I noticed that the male singer had a shadow of his head above his real head.  Eek!  “What on earth?” I thought.  I phoned my doctor the very next day and he scheduled another operation.

The second surgery was largely unnecessary.  My vision continued to do its image-splitting act until I could see two images–the real thing and its fainter twin right beside it.  This double vision glare has steadily worsened until it’s now obscured my ability to read the ever-present large print that has been a staple in my life. I was used to holding a binder while singing and having the ability to at least glance at my words for support, but my new lower vision had made short work of that.  I will admit that my print-size was surpassing my age.  Now it’s memorize, memorize, memorize. 

Three constant factors which kept me from diving into the depths of depression were (and ever will be) my sense of humor, pride in my performance, and self-preservation.  Maria, my partner in life and crime, has listened to some truly ridiculous lyrics come out of my mouth while trying to get it right.  At one point, I had her so confused that she began singing them along with me.  Additionally, and evilly, I say I miss my large print words for another not-so-professional reason.  While reading, I could hide behind my binder when a particularly mirthful situation arose.  Ah, those satisfying moments of sheer, shoulder-shaking hysteria.

I’ve seen a cadre of doctors since my operations and have continued to visit my childhood eye doctor, who should retire soon.  I mean, really.  He has known me since I was four years old and I’m certain he was at least in his thirties or early forties then.  He has never held out even the faintest glimmer of hope.  During my last visit he informed me that the beginning stages of macular degeneration were setting in–not the best news I could have gotten.  At one point, his long-time nurse thought my retina had detached as I woke up with seriously blurry vision that stuck with me for about a day or so.  The retinal specialist recommended I go to the Lighthouse for who-knows-what.  I simply chuckled.  I’ve been enrolled in the Music School of Lighthouse International since 1984 and plan to take at least a couple voice lessons come next semester.

These days I have good vision days and horrible vision days.  It doesn’t slow me down.  It probably should, but it doesn’t.  I’m probably more reckless now than I ever was, to tell the truth.  I thank Maria profusely for putting a cane in my hand twenty-three years ago.  Even though carrying it can be a royal pain, I could not do without it.  I am learning to listen more.  No longer walking with my mp3 player blasting away in my ears, thinking I’ll see the lights and whizzing cars, trucks and buses, I cross with the parallel traffic.  I have been hit by taxi cabs twice this year–one leaving me flat on my butt, the other running right over my right foot.  It has not been fun.

Walking is my refuge and I refuse to give it up.  It offers precious thinking time and has led me to many life-changing decisions.  Travelling the same route each time, I sheepishly recall the one occasion I tried to be adventurous.  I thought the walking would be much easier as the streets were wider.  Well, I found myself two avenues over and a few blocks beyond the street I needed.  I can walk my regular route without thinking, mostly.  I pay particular attention at the curbs.  I’ve also noticed that some days are New Yorker-friendly days when I receive more assistance than I need and other days I am muttering away to myself because no one was there to help me cross the street when those annoying vehicles decided to use the middle of the street as a parking lot.  Fifth Avenue on the Central park side is one of my favorite walking strips with only a few major streets bisecting that uneven but excellent path.

I am extremely grateful that I began using screen readers years ago even when I could see fairly well.  It just seemed easier and heaven knows my proofreading improved immeasurably.  I maintain that those of us who listen to documents rather than look at them are able to pick up mistakes much faster.  This, of course, assumes you know how to listen to and correct your errors.  Additionally, I no longer rely on my unreliable eyeball so I cannot be tossed from my job as Senior Instructor at Baruch College’s CCVIP so readily because I am unable to read the printed material.  I have no excuse.  Imagine, I am now in the same position as my students in terms of making revisions to my multitude of documents.  I changed my practice of using screen magnification with a screen reader approximately a month ago, deciding that I am much more efficient as a screen reader user.  The backspace key is my faithful and reliable friend.  Long may it work on my keyboard.

I will admit that my television watching has waned considerably, but I have decided to purchase some movies with audio description, as there are a few films which I really would like to see with whatever vision I have left.  I have listened to a few audio-described flicks and have found this enjoyable, but there is something about them being on the big screen–at least the big screen of our television–that is very satisfying. 

I know my life is changing as my vision changes but it will not hinder me from doing the things I love.  These are the activities that make my life worth living.  Why on earth would I want to give them up?  I don’t and I won’t! Low, lower, and lowest vision be damned!

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