This story is about one man’s short journey from full sight to total blindness and the establishment of the only currently operating support group for blind people in Dallas Texas.
It was early in May 2010. Everything was bright green; the leaves fluttered in a soft breeze and flowers were peeking their heads up out of the ground, promising a profusion of color. The sky was an azure blue and the bright sun made everything seem to sparkle.
As I looked out of the window, taking in the day, I was anxiously awaiting our upcoming trip to Alaska, a trip that my wife, Elaine, had wanted to take for several years. I had always said that the trip was too expensive for us, but she had finally convinced me to go, and I was excited.
All of my cameras were cleaned and ready for the trip. Visions drifted slowly through my head of me taking pictures of a grizzly bear walking near a cold stream, and maybe even one of a bear catching a salmon for breakfast.
With these pleasant images in my head, I turned back to my computer where I had been photo shopping my latest picture of a pretty lake. I thought that the sky looked empty and needed something to add interest and balance so I was inserting a pair of birds that I cut from another image. I looked up to select an item from the command line and I had a hard time making out the choices.
I had been having this problem for a little while now. At times the choices would look sharp and in focus, other times, they seemed a little blurry. I took off my glasses and rubbed them with a cleaning cloth. This time, when I put my glasses back on, I found that cleaning them had made no difference. I took the glasses back off and tried wiping them with the glasses cleaning fluid. I still couldn’t see any better.
I struggled with the picture and was finally able to make the desired changes, or so I thought. Later, when I asked a friend to look at my picture, he pointed out a number of problems that I had not seen. I decided that I must need new glasses. I called my wife at work and asked her to make an appointment for me with our eye doctor.
Two days later, I found myself in the chair in the doctors examining room. He came in and asked me how I was doing. I explained that I thought I might need stronger glasses. The doctor asked me to look at the eye chart on the wall, then he positioned my face on the chin rest of an examination machine. He looked into the other side of the device and shined a light into my eyes. The doctor even used a little magnifier to look into my eyes. Following the examination, the doctor told me that he wanted me to see a retina specialist.
By the end of that same week I was in the waiting room of another eye doctor. Eventually, I heard someone call, “Becker, room 103.” I made my way to the room and took my place in the examining chair. Once again, I read the eye chart and looked through the little machine. After his examination, the doctor told me that he wanted to take a picture of the back of my eyes. I went down the hall, where a technician inserted dye into the vane of my arm and took a few pictures of the back of my eyes. Back in the examining room, the doctor looked at the pictures of my eyes on his computer and said that they revealed that I probably had macular degeneration. Naturally, my first thought was, would I still be able to take my trip to Alaska. The doctor told me that he would give me a shot in my eye along with some medication and that I was to come back to see him as soon as I returned home.
Our trip to Alaska was divided into two parts. The first week was spent on a bus tour across Alaska. The second week was aboard a cruise ship. Soon after my visit to the doctor, we were on a plane winging our way to Seattle Washington, where we caught a commuter plane and hopped up to Anchorage, Alaska. When we landed, we were met by our tour guide, who took us to a really nice hotel and told us about a tour meeting that was being held that night. At the meeting, we were treated to a delicious steak dinner, and informed about all the things that we were going to do and the places we were going to see.
Early the next day, as we were getting on the tour bus, I noticed that as I came to the steps, they looked a little daunting. I held tightly to the rail as I stepped up into the bus. As soon as I was in the aisle, all was fine. The guide told us that we were off to the Denali State park. She said that, even though she couldn’t guarantee it, we might even see a grizzly bear there.
Sure enough, on the second day out, the driver stopped the bus and said, “There’s a grizzly bear down there.”
“Where!” Everybody wanted to know. It turned out that the bear was on our side of the bus. Elaine pulled down the window, while I put on my 300 mm telephoto lens.
All of the passengers were looking for that bear. Suddenly, everyone on the bus was excitedly shouting, “There she is down there in that driveway and she has a cub.”
Although, it wasn’t by a cold stream and it certainly wasn’t catching a salmon for breakfast, it was still a grizzly and I wanted to see that bear! I heard Elaine say, “Oh, yes I see it!”
“Where is it ?” I wanted to know.
“It’s just down there,” she said, pointing to where she saw the bear. Try as I might, I could not find that bear. Although everyone was telling me where to look, I could not see any animal, let alone a grizzly. In fact, I couldn’t even see the driveway where they said the bear was.
After a time, the driver started the bus and drove on. There would be no bear sighting for me. As we continued on, we saw a lot of wild life, but no more bears.
For our next adventure, we decided to take a plane up to the Artic Circle. Early the following morning, we were at the airport for a brief mandatory flight school. The training was held outside in a small picnic area.
I went into the restroom and washed my hands and wet a paper towel to clean the gash in my fore head. The cut wasn’t that bad, but perplexed, I wondered why in hell I hadn’t seen that sign.
We boarded the plane with no more mishaps. When we arrived at the Arctic Circle, it still wasn’t cold. In fact, to my surprise, the air was quite warm. No snow or igloos greeted us. My dream of crunching around in the snow and watching a dog sled race was gone. All was not lost though, my desire to walk around in white powdered snow was yet to come.
Elaine and I signed up to fly to the top of a large glacier. Before embarking on this side trip, we had to put on large rubber boots over our shoes so we could walk around in the snow. After landing on the top of the glacier we stepped out of the plane onto about eight inches of snow, which was packed on top of another thousand feet of snow, hence, the glacier. I stomped and crunched to my heart’s content.
The next day, we decided, that since we had seen its summit, we would take an expedition to the base of the glacier. We traveled by van to the general location, but to actually get to the place where the glacier melts to create a cold water stream, we had to hike about a mile. Getting out of the van, I put on the lens of my camera. As I walked toward the start of the trail, I tripped on a curb and went flying, face first to the ground, slamming the camera down as well. When I got up, I spoke sharply to my wife, saying, “Why didn’t you warn me about that curb? I have already told you that I am having trouble seeing!”
When I had had a few minutes to collect myself, I realized I needed to be more careful and pay closer attention to where I was walking. I apologized to Elaine for yelling at her and blaming her for my fall. Together, we walked to the base of the glacier, which was magnificent. The cold water stream, fed by the glacier, flowed past us as it rushed down river.
At this point, we had taken a cross-country bus tour and seen grizzly bears, visited the Arctic Circle, landed on top of a glacier, and walked to its base. This part of our trip was finished and it was time to go aboard the cruise ship.
As we were boarding the ship, I mentioned to Elaine that I thought that this was a very large vessel. She told me that it was one of the smaller cruise ships, which she preferred, because fewer people were aboard.
We showed our passports and went to our state room, located just past the stairs that led directly to the dining area. How convenient. We entered the room and found that our luggage had already arrived. The room was nicely furnished with a bed, a TV, a small couch, and a comfortable chair for lounging. The nicest thing about the room was the balcony, because it was on the starboard side of the ship, which allowed us to look out over the water at the other boats which were docked nearby. The only thing I found wrong with our state room was that it was so dimly lit.
Elaine turned on the TV and I decided to read. I turned on my Kindle, but something seemed to be wrong. I could only see half of the sentence. I had to move my head back and forth to read each line. Earlier, I had set the font size as large as possible, but this didn’t help. I told my wife that something weird was going on and I didn’t want to read any more. “Why don’t we take a stroll around the promenade deck instead,” I suggested. And we did.
A few nights later, we were sitting in the five star restaurant aboard the ship and enjoying delectable steaks along with glasses of wonderful red wine. A formally dressed maitre d’ served us and all of the wait staff was dressed in crisp uniforms with little caps on their heads. We were having a good time enjoying small talk, when I said to Elaine, “Why do you think that the lighting is so dim all over the ship? I have to be very careful with my footing on all of the steps we have to climb. I am constantly afraid that I might fall.” Her response was that it didn’t seem that dark to her.
After we left the restaurant, we walked to a little jazz club on board the ship. I love a good jazz group and could sit all night listening to them play. As we stepped into the club, soft music was playing, candles were burning on the tables, and a couple was swaying together in the corner of the dance floor. It all looked so romantic. Feeling the mood, Elaine wanted us to put our arms around each other and draw close together and gently move to the music. She asked, “Do you want to dance?”
Have you ever noticed some men are so unromantic and into themselves that they can’t understand how another person is feeling? At that time, this description perfectly fit me. I said, “No, lets just sit over here and listen to the music.” Thus, I missed out on the special feeling and love that she wanted to share with me. That was my first mistake and what is worse, I didn’t even realize what I had missed until long after the trip.
We listened to the jazz band for about an hour. We left the club and went to the theater where a musical was being performed. As we climbed the stairs to the entrance, I walked one step behind and a little to the right of Elaine. This way, I was able to watch her climb the steps, which made it easier for me to ascend in the dim light. As she stepped across the threshold into the theater, I crashed into a glass door that had not been opened.
“Damn!” I cried, “I didn’t see that door!” I propped open the offending door so someone else wouldn’t run into it. We entered and found our table. We enjoyed the musical despite the large bump that was on my forehead.
The next day, the ship docked and passengers were free to go on shore. Elaine and I planned to spend a little time exploring the city and having lunch at a local restaurant. As we moved down one of the main streets, window shopping along the way, we came to a jewelry store. Elaine said in a happy, excited, giddy tone of voice, “Here is where I get my free charm.”
I asked, “What charm?”
Elaine explained, “Didn’t you know, this shop gives a free charm to everyone on the ship. I’m going in to get mine.”
I thoughtlessly responded, “You don’t need a charm.” All Elaine wanted to do was to get a little memento of our trip. Maybe she would buy a bracelet to hold the charm.
“What a racket,” I thought. This store is luring people in with the offer of something free in the hope that they can sell you an expensive bracelet and some needless charms and charge you an outrageous price for them. What a skin flint I was!
Unlike at the jazz club where she had simply ignored my not dancing with her, Elaine was hurt and angry about my thoughtless comment. She clammed up and didn’t say another thing. That’s what she does when she is angry, which drives me nuts. I realized that I had made another mistake.
My wife had walked ahead of me up the street. I caught up with her and said, “I’m sorry. You can get a charm, if that is what you want to do.”
“I don’t want a charm,” she snapped. She stomped her way down the street. And I followed her with my tail between my legs. Luckily, Elaine never stays mad for long and soon I was no longer getting the cold shoulder.
We stepped into another shop, where I saw a ring with a stone whose color was the kind of passionate pink that sometimes appears in the sky at sunset. I asked the clerk to take the ring out of the case. I called my wife over to try it on and she thought it was lovely. She had seen a ruby ring that she also liked.
I told the clerk, “We’ll take them both.” I had to chuckle when I realized what that little free charm had cost me. I must admit that I have never regretted buying that ring with the pink stone. Elaine wears it often and has gotten many complements on it.
Our next stop was at the boat that was going to take us whale watching. It was a pretty vessel with a sight seeing cabin that could accommodate twenty passengers, although only ten or twelve people would be going on this trip. The boat was long and sleek and looked fast. It was a new boat, this was its first sight seeing season. Inside of the cabin were two long benches, one on each side. Large windows pivoted up and tilted so they could attach to the ceiling giving an open air view of the scene outside. Passengers who were setting on the bench looking out of the window had the same view as though they were standing on the deck.
We closed the windows while we were knifing through the water. When the boat reached a wild life area, we opened the windows to gain an unobstructed view. Our first stop was at an outcropping of huge rocks, which jutted out of the sea and made a little island. Several seals were sliding on and off of the rocks. I walked out onto a small deck at the front of the boat. From this position, I could see straight ahead and on both sides of the boat, while the people in the cabin could see only what was on their side.
On the little island was a very high rock, where a large seal sat watching the others sliding on and off of the rocks below. He looked like he was saying, “I’m the king of seals.” Quickly I raised my camera to my eye. At least, I thought that was what I was doing, but instead, the eye piece came to rest on my forehead. I slid the eye piece down to my eye and wondered why I had done that. It had never happened before.
Click, click, click. I was snapping pictures of the seal island as the boat moved past. I thought that I had gotten several good shots. As the boat picked up speed to take us to the next exciting spot, I returned to the cabin to check the viewer on the back of my camera, which displays the last picture taken. Something was wrong. I couldn’t see any color in the picture nor could I see its details. I figured some of the camera’s settings must have been off when I took the shots. I asked Elaine to look at the picture and she said that it looked pretty good to her.
I asked, “Does the color look good to you? It seems pretty faded out to me”. She affirmed that the color was fine. Puzzled, I change the view of the image on the back of the camera to a graph which shows the condition of the picture. The graph looked normal, No great peaks or gaps in the curve. So the picture had to be OK. I concluded that something must be wrong with the camera viewer.
Our next stop was just in front of a large cliff that slid down into the sea. Everyone was talking about a bunch of mountain goats that were standing on the edge of the cliff. Again, I went out on the little deck at the front of the boat, where ,three other people were standing. They were pointing up at the mountain goats. “They are just up there, four of them, two adults and two little ones.” a fellow passenger said as he pointed up at the cliff.
Look as I might I could see no mountain goats. I took the camera with the long lens on it and scan the cliff, but I still could not see the goats. The boat began moving off toward the next stop, where we hoped to see whales. I would have no pictures of mountain goats clinging to the side of a cliff.
I returned to the cabin and waited for our next stop. As I sat there, I looked at several of the images that I had taken. All of them looked bad. I came to the conclusion that something was definitely wrong with my camera viewer.
Just then, the crew announced that there were whales near the boat. I ran out onto the little deck and there they were huge humped back whales, right in front of us. I grabbed up the camera and the eye piece landed on my forehead again. I pulled it to my eye and got pictures of a whale spouting water and diving with it’s tail up in the air as it sank down into the ocean. I could see everything perfectly through my camera lens. We saw several more whales AND I got, what I thought were, several GREAT pictures.
That was our last stop and we were racing back toward home base. On the ship, our luggage was packed and ready to go. We had about two hours before we disembarked. Deciding to read a bit, I turned on my Kindle. When I looked at the text, I found that I could only make out one word at a time. At the end of a line, I had to go down one line and trace my way back to the beginning of that line and move from word to word again. This was so difficult to do that I turned off the device.
I went out to the balcony where Elaine was sitting and told her that there was something really wrong with my eyes and that I couldn’t read my book at all. She assured me that we would go back to the eye doctor as soon as we got home.
After a long trip, it was indeed good to be home again. When I walked into the house, the first feeling I had was to be glad that no one had broken in and taken anything. The air seemed still, almost as though the house had been lonely while we were gone. I sat on the couch in the living room resting for a while and, as I have so often done, I noticed how my wife has turned this house into a home. She is very good at decorating and even arranged the wall hangings artistically. Everything seemed so wonderful as I sat there. Home at last safe and sound, what could go wrong?
I decided that I couldn’t wait any longer to see my vacation pictures so I turned on the computer and got out the camera. I downloaded more than 1,000 images from the memory card. To my horror, I could not see the slide show on my giant monitor nor could I make out a single image.
I called out, Elaine, come here. Look at this picture. “What do you see?” She told me
that it was a picture of a bunch of trees with Mount McKinley in the background.
“Yes, I said, “Is it in focus? Does it have any color?“ She assured me that it was a perfect picture. I slowly went from picture to picture, but still could not make out any of them. “You have to call my eye doctor right now”, I insisted.
In the doctor’s office, I waited for him to come and look at the new images of the back of my eyes. He stepped in and asked me how I was doing. “Terrible,” I responded. Then I told him about the problems that I was having with my eyes.
My doctor looked at his computer for a while. With some concern in his voice, he explained that the images all looked unusual and that he wanted to talk to another specialist about them. He asked me to make a follow up appointment for the end of the week.
Early the next morning, the phone rang. Elaine picked it up and talked briefly then she came into the bedroom and handed me the phone saying that it was my eye doctor. The doctor told me that he had another specialist look at my pictures and he wanted me to see him. Evidently this new doctor would only be in his office for the next two hours and he could see me if I could get there before he left. I was frightened and I thought, “This has to be very serious.”
Immediately, we left for the specialist’s office. The new doctor studied my eyes and told me that I had one of two things wrong. The first possibility was cancer. Cancer! That word will set fear loose in the heart of anyone who hears it. I had tasted that fear once before and it didn’t taste any better this time.
The second possibility could be a virus. The doctor said that the only way that he could know for sure what was going on with my eyes was to do a biopsy. He asked for my consent to perform this procedure. I agreed. What else could I do?
The night before the biopsy was to be done, I moped around the house. I went to the computer again and tried to look at my vacation images. I still couldn’t make anything out in the pictures.
The next day I was lying under a white sheet and being wheeled into the operating room. The next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room with a big patch over my eye. The doctor instructed me to come to his office the next day for the results of the biopsy.
At the follow up examination, the doctor removed the bandages from my eye. After looking into my eyes with his instruments, He studied the results of the biopsy. The doctor explained that my loss of sight was due to a CMV virus. He told me that everyone has this particular virus in their bodies at all times and that usually, the natural immune system takes care of it. Because my immune system had been weakened by chemotherapy, the virus had gone unchecked and had invaded my eyes. The doctor gave me a prescription to fight the virus and told me to take the medication for one week and then return for a follow up exam.
When I got to the druggist, to my shock, I found that the prescription cost more than $800 over what my insurance would pay. I was not going to quibble about the price though, if the pills would save my eyesight.
Back at home, I discovered that my vision was a lot worse than it had been before the biopsy. The day before, although I couldn’t see little things like what was on my computer screen, I could at least see too get around. Now, I could see nothing but shadows and light. In front of the mirror in the bathroom, I couldn’t even see my reflection so I could shave. I couldn’t see to put tooth paste on my tooth brush. Anger and fear filled me.
I looked at my hand and found that I could make out the wedding ring on my finger. I could see its pretty stone, a dark brown and a light brown portion with a streak of white slashing through the center. I call it my rocky road ring. As I looked at it, a great emotion flooded throughout my body. I loved this ring, because it represents the love my wife has for me and the love that I have for her. Tears streaked down my face. I looked at the ring and sobbed as I lifted it to my lips and kissed it.
I went into the bedroom where my wife was resting and laid down beside her. With tears in my voice, I choked out, “I love you and I love my ring.“ Putting my arms around her, I lay still Until I fell asleep.
The next week, in the eye doctor’s preparation room, his assistant asked me to look at the eye chart on the wall. I couldn’t see the chart let alone anything on it. She shined a light into my eyes and asked if I could see the light. I told her that I could. She moved the light around and I pointed to where it was. The assistant put eye drops in my eyes.
The doctor came into the examining room and asked me how I was doing. “ Much worse,” I said. He looked at my eyes and told me to take the medication for one more week.
Although I am sometimes forgetful about taking pills, I was extra careful not to miss any during that week. Back at the doctor’s office, I anxiously waited for him to come in and check my eyes. He had me place my chin on the machine and he looked at the back of my eyes. After a few moments, he said, “Why don’t we give it another month, then we will take another look.”.
Because I could see light and dark and make out some objects, I continued to hope for recovery. In the meantime, we tried to carry on as usual. One thing that I liked to do was to cook for Elaine and myself. Unlike most men, I enjoyed going to the store and selecting foods for our meals. My wife didn’t especially like this chore, so it worked out pretty well for me to do the shopping.
I used to go to the store and walk up and down the isles selecting this or that food we had never tried. At times, I would choose something that we had not eaten for a long time and had forgotten that we liked. Now that had all changed. Although I could see the isles well enough to push a grocery cart with out bumping into people or displays, I couldn’t see anything on the shelves. Elaine and I would walk up and down the isles and, while I pushed the cart, she would tell me what was on the shelves that we were walking past. She might pick up a jar of pickles, for instants, and put it in my hands and ask if this was too big a jar for us. I would tell her if she should put it in the cart or not. In the produce isle, she might give me a bunch of carrots and ask me if we wanted to buy them. I would feel of the carrots and tell her if we should buy them or not. In this manner, we worked our way through the store.
On this particular shopping trip, I wanted to buy a bag of frozen peas. We made our way to the frozen food section. I couldn’t see anything in the freezer cases, so I told Elaine that I would stay with the cart while she looked for the peas. After a short search, I heard Elaine call, “I can only find a large bag of peas. Do you think that it will be too much for us?”
I said, “Just a minute, I’ll take a look.“ I left the cart and walked to where she was standing, holding the bag of peas. Taking the bag from her hands, I felt of the size. I didn’t think it was too many peas for us. I said, “ This will be fine
“, and I handed the bag of peas back to her.”
That was when I herd Elaine say, “LeDon, I’m over here.” She was standing farther down the frozen food isle.
Embarrassed, I told the person that I had taken the bag of frozen food from, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you were my wife.” I don’t know what she must have thought when I took the package from her hands, but she had not resisted and had handed it over without comment. I am sure that she was stung by the idea of a stranger walking up to her and taking the food right out of her hands.
I walked over to where Elaine was standing and, while laughing at my mistake, I took the peas from her hands and said, “This is not too many peas for us.“ I thought, it’s getting pretty bad when you can stand right in front of a woman and not know weather or not she is your wife!
After a month, I went back to the eye doctor and he told me that we would wait another month and take another look. That was when I decided that I should get a second opinion.
I went to see the retina specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern medical center at Dallas. At the appointment, the doctor asked me what problem I was having. I said that my sight was impaired. I told her that I could see her standing in front of me, but I could not see her face and I could not see below her knees. I could only see her mid section.
The doctor asked me what type of treatment I had received and I told her about the prescription I had taken for the last two months. She examined my eyes and affirmed that she would have pursued the same line of treatment and recommended that I continue to take the medication.
I asked the doctor if there were a chance that I would lose all of my sight. Her response was that the chances were fifty-fifty. I hated that answer. To me, it seemed like she hadn’t given much thought to one of the most important questions I had ever asked in my life. I felt like she was saying, “Maybe you will or maybe you wont. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Before I left her office, the doctor told me about DARS, the Department of assistive and rehabilitative services, a state agency that works with blind individuals. She provided me with a letter certifying that I was blind.
Even with a letter in my possession that verified that I was blind, I couldn’t accept this grim reality. I still thought of myself as sight impaired. I could not think of myself as blind. To me, blind meant not being able to see anything. Despite my trepidation, when we got home, Elaine called DARS and set up an appointment,.
I decided to return to my original doctor for continued treatment. When He asked how I was doing, I told him that my site was still getting worse. When I asked if I should renew the prescription that I had been taking, the doctor indicated that this approach was controversial and didn’t prescribe any more pills. He asked me to return in a month.
As the days slipped by, my sight seemed to be getting worse and worse. Then, one Sunday morning, as I was walking down the hall to go to breakfast, I could tell that the dining room was filled with sunlight. Suddenly, I felt that I had an epiphany. It seemed to flow all through my body. My soul was filled with joy. I felt like God was whispering in my ear. I knew that my sight was as bad as it was ever going to be. When I stepped in to the dining room, I was very happy and had a big smile on my face.
I excitedly called to Elaine, “I am sure my eyes won’t get any worse than they are today. I won’t ever be able to drive, or do my photography art on the computer, but I can be thankful for the sight that I have. I can walk through the house and not run into anything. I can see my chair. I should be thankful for that.“ Elaine hugged me. That was a happy day for both of us.
Unfortunately, my happiness didn’t last long. No matter how sure I had been that my condition was stabilized, as the days dragged on, my sight continued to decrease. I wanted to cry.
Back at the eye doctor’s office, the physician told me that he could no longer see the back of my eye, because things were floating around inside it. He recommended an operation to clear out my eye. I dreaded having surgery, but what if the operation kept my eyes from getting worse? Wouldn’t it be worth the try? Of course it would, so I had the surgery.
At the post-opt visit, the doctor removed the bandage from my eyes, and shined the light into my eyes. “Can you see this light?“ he asked.
“No,” I responded. I couldn’t see the light. He moved the light around and asked if I could see it in various positions. I could not see the light anywhere. I was totally blind. I couldn’t even see shadows like I had before the operation. I could see nothing. I was blind, Why had I allowed the operation? I was devastated!
At the end of another month, I was back in the eye doctor’s examining chair. He took a final look into my eyes and told me there was nothing more he could do. The doctor explained that it was like when someone has a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed. Nothing can fix it. Nothing could be done to restore my sight. I would be blind for the rest of my life.
For months, I wrestled with conflicting emotions. Why had I let the doctor operate? On the other hand, what if I had lost my sight anyway? Wouldn’t I always wonder if the surgery might have saved the sight that I had?
I was desperate to understand why this had happened to me. Was it something that I had done or was it God’s doing? If God had caused my blindness, what had I done to deserve such a fate. I had not lived a perfect life, but I felt I had lived a pretty decent one. I was a good father to my children, I had never deliberately hurt anyone. After I had been in this mode of thinking for a while, I realized I didn’t believe that god did such things to people to punish them. I had to admit that it was just my bad luck that it had happen to me.
As time slowly dragged by, I found myself in a deep funk. It seemed like I had lost all that was good in my life. I could no longer do my photo art and most of my photography friends were avoiding me.
I felt like I was useless around the house. We had a problem with a light in the hall and I knew how to fix it, but I couldn’t see to do it.
Worst of all, I felt that I had become like a pet that my wife had just acquired. She did everything for me from cooking my meals, to paying the bills and deciding if the cars needed service. I did almost nothing but mope around the house Each day. I felt as though God had prepared a hell for me right here on earth.
One day, the phone rang and I fumbled my way around the room until I found it. I answered and the caller told me that her name was Jennifer and that she was a counselor with DARS. She asked if she could make an appointment to come to my house and visit with me. I made the appointment for a day and time when Elaine would also be home.
Jennifer rang the doorbell at the agreed upon time and introduced herself. Her voice sounded nice. The counselor took out her paperwork and asked a lot of questions like how long I had been blind. She gave me a catalog containing items that would be of special interest to people, who are blind. To demonstrate such adaptive devices, she also gave me a talking watch on a key chain.
As Jennifer was explaining to me what life would be like as a blind person, she said, “You will be able to do everything that you did before. You will just have to do it differently.”
I thought, what had she just said? It sounded like she was talking to a small child, who had just fallen down and skinned his knee. “Don’t worry, honey, everything will be alright.” Because I had become blind, did she think that I had become an idiot too? You can do everything that you use to do You’ll just have to learn to do it differently! Who did she think that she was kidding?
What would I have to do differently to allow me to look at a sunset? Would I ever be able to see two lovers kiss again? I would never again be able to engage in photo art no matter how differently I did it, nor would I be able to turn the pages of a picture book and see the wonderful images that other photographers had created. Okay, maybe I would be able to go into the kitchen and get milk from the refrigerator and stick my finger over the rim of a glass to make sure that I didn’t over fill it as I poured, but that was by no means, doing everything.
I didn’t give voice to these thoughts, because I realized that the counselor had been saying what she had been taught to say. Rather, I said to Jennifer, “Yes, I know that I will have to learn new ways to do many things.”
Jennifer seemed sensitive to my situation. I was certain that she had encountered many people who had just loss their sight and understood the trauma and devastation that most feel after receiving a diagnosis of blindness. She intimated that she knew how I felt, but she didn’t know how I felt, not really. A sighted rehabilitation counselor was not who I wanted to be talking to just then. I wanted to talk to someone who had lost his sight and had learned to live a creative and useful life without the ability to see. I wanted to talk to someone, who really did know what I was feeling, because he had been through it himself.
I asked Jennifer where there was a support group that I could join. To my amazement, she told me that she didn’t know of any such group. I could hardly believe my ears. I said, ”Are you telling me that in the entire Dallas area, there is not even one support group for someone who has lost his sight? Why not? This is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States.” Jennifer said that there use to be a support group, but it was no longer active. I must admit that this information made me a little mad and perhaps, even a little scared for the future.
When Jennifer returned for a second appointment, she wanted to show me how I could do things in the kitchen. She asked me what I wanted to cook. I figured that she wanted to determine if I knew how to use the stove without setting myself on fire. I realized that such a task was daunting for some people who have just become blind, especially, if they were older, like me. I still knew my way around my kitchen, since I had done most of the cooking for my wife and myself. I got out the cooking spray, and some eggs and the frying pan and scrambled up some eggs. Jennifer said that I had done well.
Back in the living room, I once again complained about the lack of a single support group for blind people in the entire Dallas area. I felt Jennifer heard the pain of disbelief and desperation in my voice, because she said, “I’m thinking of starting one, but, you will have to run it.” That took me by surprise! I wanted to find a support group, but what did I know about running one? Nothing. Nevertheless, I told Jennifer that I would be glad to try to help run one.
In a few weeks, I got a call from Jennifer. She told me that she had found a place for a support group to meet. She was contacting all of her case load to tell them about the meeting that would take place in two weeks.
At the meeting, we went around the room and each person described his or her experience with blindness. Carl, who likes to be called big C, explained that he had lost his sight as the result of having shingles. He told us that he had not been blind for long. As it turned out, he and I lost our vision at about the same time. That was another thing that we had in common.
Kathy shared that she had low vision and was struggling to keep her job. I appreciated her honesty about the loss of her sight and her courage to keep working.
Tim said that he was fifty and five years earlier had become blind due to diabetes. Someone asked him if he wanted to be called Tim or Timothy. He responded that it didn’t make any difference to him. He added, “You can call me Tim or Timothy or anything.” “But, I really don’t like being called anything.” I laughed at his little joke and thought, here is a man who has not let blindness rob him of his sense of humor.
Next, a man who was really hard to understand spoke up. His mother, who had accompanied him to the meeting, helped us understand what he had said. She told us that her son had had a stroke and that, in addition to being blind, he had to struggle to speak. He had come to the meeting in hopes of finding some friends. I started to think how little my problems were when compared to those that others might face.
The next person to speak was a woman named, Brenda. She explained that, because of her low vision, she had to arrange for a handy ride to pick her up each day and take her to work. She used a computer at work that had a screen magnifier so she could see the monitor. She told us how difficult it was to keep up with the sighted workers in her office. This was a woman, whom I could admire. She was striving to compete in a sighted world and she was making it, so, couldn’t I?
A woman with a Spanish accent informed us that she had come to the meeting, because after losing most of her vision, all she had left to do was to sit on her couch and watch TV. She said that if it had not been for the meeting, she would never have gotten out of her house.
Mary told us that this was the first time she had left her house in more than a year. She said that she was uncomfortable around people and that she felt no one wanted to be around a blind person. She said that even her relatives didn’t want to be around her.
One of the people that impressed me most was Paula. She had been totally blind since early childhood due to a genetic condition in her family. She told us that she was a grandma and had raised three children. Although she was in her sixties, she still was holding down a full time job.
As I listened to the others tell their stories, I said to my wife, “I didn’t know there were so many ways for someone to lose their sight. Did you?” She agreed with me that she didn’t.
Several people were there with family members or friends, who acted as their sighted guides. Some had come to the meeting on their own. These were the people that I admired most. I still have not been out on my own and their ability to get around was impressive.
After the meeting, I heard several say, that they especially liked hearing about how other people had lost their sight and how they were coping with their blindness. This was what I had liked most also. The meeting had been quite an education for me.
The support group has been meeting for two years now. After getting to know many others, who have lost their sight, I have come to the conclusion that being a part of a support group may have been the most important key to my realization that despite my vision problem, I am still a valuable person, that I can contribute to my community, that my thoughts and opinions can still be valuable to others, and that I have recovered my dignity. We all know that although being blind isn’t easy, if we take a positive approach to life we know that we can still work , make friends, have fun and live valuable lives. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?