July 27, 2011

PYHO: Blind Girl

There’s a little something I’ve mentioned here before, but never really written about. Pour Your Heart Out seems like a good opportunity

* * * * *

I think I was around 7 when I first realized I couldn’t see the stop sign at the end of the street. At that time both of my eyes were fine, I was somewhat near-sighted, but all I needed was glasses.

A few years later, at age 10, I had my first bout with “inflammation” in one of my eyes. The right one, if I remember correctly. It was treated with a shot of steroids and life went on.

Then during the summer after my freshman year of high school (I was 15) I completely lost the sight in my left eye.

Towards the end of the school year I dealt with redness and pain around my left eye. My mom took me to a walk-in type clinic, the doctor there shined his little pen light in my eyes and diagnosed me with “eye strain” because I had been studying for finals, prescribed some kind of drops and sent me home. He should have known that he wasn’t an opthamologist and given me a referral to one. But because we automatically trust people with Dr. in front of their names, we took his word for it.

After some period of time (I honestly can’t recall how long), those symptoms did go away and we assumed my eye was fine. Not even I knew that I was actually slowly losing the vision in my left eye. All I can guess is that my right eye compensated, or denial, or….?

I lived in Lake Tahoe when I was a teenager and every year there is a great fireworks show over the lake on the 4th of July. We decided to go see the show that year. We got to the beach where we wanted to watch when it was still sunny. I didn’t have prescription sunglasses so I would sometimes put my mom’s sunglasses over my regular glasses when it was too bright. Well I went to do this and that was when I noticed I couldn’t see anything to my left.

I didn’t freak out. I just sort of took the sunglasses off and tested things. I covered my right eye and lo and behold, I couldn’t see a damn thing out of my left eye.

Um. What the hell is going on here?

I still didn’t say anything. I think I figured if I couldn’t see, what could my mom do about it? Besides, it was a holiday and nothing was going to happen that night anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely worried and uneasy, but I chose to keep it to myself until the next day.

My mom found an opthamologist in Carson City and we went right away. After his exam he informed us that my retina had detached. He referred us to a retinal specialist in San Francisco who might be able to help. I think we drove to SF the very next day and met Dr. McDonald.

Dr. McDonald said that I needed emergency laser surgery to try and reattach my retina. However, my retina had been detached for so long and the vision had deteriorated so far, that it might not work.

We’re talking about my VISION, so it was worth a shot.

One of my most vivid memories of that time was all the tests they ran trying to determine how this was happening to me. A nurse pulled me aside to ask if I was still a virgin because if I were sexually active perhaps it was an STD. Can you imagine my 15 year old horror at having to discuss this?

After surgery I had to lie face down for TWO WEEKS in order for the little bubble they left inside my eye to float up and keep my retina pushed to the back of my eye. My mom and step-dad took turns sleeping out in the living room with me to try and make sure I didn’t roll over. I ate hanging my head down. My mom was a pretty big Nazi about it.

And it was the middle of summer. Fun times!

We did everything we could, but it didn’t take. My left eye is dead to me. It ended up atrophying and looks really bad. I had to return to school for sophomore year with an ugly eye.

Because I am one of the kabillions of Jennifers in the world I became known as the “one-eye” Jennifer. Horrible, nasty jokes were made at my expense. The kind of jokes only cruel teenagers can make.

But I had some really good friends who would tell the jerk faces to shut up and would even explain about my eye for me to those who asked. Because I did get really tired of explaining it to people. Still, all of this changed me. I no longer looked people in the eye because I was self-conscious. When I met someone new and we shook hands, I would stare at our hands and mutter my hello, nice to meet you.

After a couple of years Dr. McDonald told me I could get a plastic prosthetic eye to sit in front of my bad one. For one reason or another it never happened, probably because it involved more trips to the Bay Area.

The rest of high school went along without incident. Well, without any more eye-related incidents, anyway. And even though I still hadn’t managed to get a driver’s license, my mom & step-dad gave me a car for my graduation!

Sounds good, right? Read on.

Less than 2 months after graduation I started seeing little grey/black floaters swimming around in my RIGHT eye. Then, the retina in that eye, the only good eye I had left, suffered a peripheral detachment. Meaning, a “corner” of it detached (there are no corners in the eye, though). Perhaps flap is a better word? The best way to describe it is it was like there was a bit of a curtain covering a small part of my vision.

My mom & step-dad were away on a trip to Canada. I was going to have to call my grandmother but I really didn’t want to bother her. Maybe it was nothing. Maybe I was just being paranoid. Denial was my friend even at age 18.

I did force myself to call my Grama and of course she rushed to my side. We went to the Carson city opthamologist who confirmed my fears. My mom must’ve called home (this was only 1992, long before the entire world had cell phones) because the next thing I knew they were cutting their trip short and coming home.

This time I had to lie on my side for 2 weeks. But this time it worked. My vision was left a little damaged, but otherwise things were alright.

In the meantime, however, I had to quite my movie theater job, so once I was recovered, I needed to find something to do with myself. A friend of my mom’s had recently given birth to twins and needed help. Well I love babies, so I was all over it!

Through my “mommy helping” I had the opportunity to spend a month in Florida the following April. It was fabulous, but my right eye started acting up again while I was there.

This time I simply noticed a change in my vision. It got ever so slightly blurrier. And again, I didn’t say anything right away. I was all the way across the country, and we’d be home soon enough anyway.

I think close to the time we were to be leaving I talked to my mom and gave her a heads-up that I thought maybe something was wrong again, and I think she made an appointment even before I got back. I have this vague recollection that we went straight from the airport to the Carson City opthamologist, but maybe not, so don’t quote me on that. Jeez, why aren’t these things super easy to remember? We’re talking about life-changing stuff here!

What I do know for sure is that Carson City doc told us my entire retina had detached and called Dr. McDonald who scheduled the surgery.

The weight of this situation hit us pretty hard. We became very concerned that I might end up totally blind. So my mom decided we needed to take a trip so I could see some of my favorite places one more time - just in case. Dr. McDonald said pushing the surgery out a little probably wouldn’t make much of a difference, so that’s what we did.

My dad & step-mother came down from Washington and all of my parents plus my Grama took a road trip together. Oh boy. It was really cool, but also really awkward. Nevertheless, we took the scenic route through Yosemite and Mammoth, over to Gilroy, Monterey and Santa Cruz, and the gorgeous Pacific Ocean, on our way to San Francisco and my third eye surgery.

I had to be on my face again, but this time my retina stuck, thank God! However, my vision was reduced quite a bit. I was now legally blind CORRECTED. The legal definition of blindness is 20/200. That’s right where I was at. That’s right where I am today.

Thankfully my right eye has remained stable since I was 19. There is a theory that adolescence exacerbated the problem so once I was through puberty, it calmed down. Seems plausible.

I never did get to have a driver’s license. But I DID finally get a prosthetic eye before my wedding day. It’s so funny to me that both my left “eye” and the left lens I wear in my glasses are totally useless. Purely aesthetic, vain. Just so I look normal, balanced. It’s kind of ironic I think, given that I pride myself on being authentic. I know that’s one of the reasons it took me so long to get the prosthetic even after I was living in the Bay Area. Isn’t it kind of a lie?

So that’s the story of my bum eyes. I’ve adapted fine. I’m mostly OK with having this disability, but I’m not going to pretend it’s all fun and games. I do get frustrated by not being able to hop in the car to run my own damn errands. And sometimes it’s extra frustrating as a mom when my inability to drive my kids places means they miss out on something.  Also?  It does hold me back some, contributes to my insecurities.

Considering the alternative, though? I am very grateful that I can still see ANYTHING! I’ve met a lot of blind people and 2 of my closest friends are totally blind. It’s doable. But nobody wants to do it.

I recently asked my daughter what she thinks about my bad eyes. She didn’t understand what I meant so I clarified, “Do you think anything in particular about your mom not seeing very well?” She shrugged and said no.

Sure, for now she doesn’t care, but I’m prepared for the day she throws it in my face in some angst-filled teen drama moment. Yeah, it’ll happen.


  1. So sorry about that! Geez, your statement in the beginning is so true: that we tend to trust anyone with "Dr." before their name. I have a very big beef with Docs as well for stuff like this.

    Sorry you've had to struggle and hopefully you don't get the same flack from your daughter one day that the heartless teens gave you in high school!

  2. It's so easy to trust someone who is a doctor. SIGH.

    What an ordeal- especially as a teenager. B/c teenagers are just cruel.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. xo

  3. Your story has me all teary-eyed tonight. We've struggled with eye problems in our family. My Dad has Glaucoma and we found out my daughter had a lazy eye last year. She was 20/200 in one eye when we found out. But, after reading your story, I'll just be grateful she has one pretty decent eye!

    Thank you for sharing this. I'm so impressed with your attitude about everything. May your daughter's teenage years be drama-free. :)

  4. Obviously, we have never met.

    I had no idea that you had gone through any of this.

    I find it ironic that a woman who stands out in my interactions with her as someone who has a clear vision of herself and the world . . . would turn out to have vision issues.

    You are lovely.

    Strong and insightful and lovely.

    Thank you for pouring your heart out here.

    I am honored to have the chance to get to see you a little better.

    Love to you.


  5. You are so right about us being so trusting of anyone with a DR. in front of their name. I'm so happy that you had friends who would stick up for you...everyone needs friends like that!

    Sounds like it's been a rough road for you but your outlook is positive and admirable!!

  6. You are amazing and incredible and I love you. And I am seriously so pissed at those teenagers I want to punch them in the face. Sometimes it is a good thing to have a friend who is prone to violence. :)

  7. How brave you must have been. I imagine going through something like this and it just terrifies me to no end.

    Thanks for pointing me to your story!

    I am so glad to know you!

    Btw this is grocery_dad from the twitters.

  8. I'm speechless. I could only imagine, having to go through all that (in your teenage years out of all times!), how difficult it must be for you. Yet from how you told your story, I sensed quiet resilience and humor in the face of adversity. Way to go, sista!

    You're blessed with family who loves and cares about you. That awkward road trip... that was hilarious and yet so touching... I don't know that many families who would do that, can you believe that?!?

    And the fact that here you are, writing on your own blog, and me reading your posts... that shows your determination and courage, and I so commend you on that.

    Looking forward to reading more from you!!! big hugs!

  9. grateful to grocery_dad for directing me here, and I loved rfeading your story. thank you for pouring your heart out!

  10. your story is amazing. Thank you for having the strength to share it.

  11. Wow, that is an incredible story. I give you a lot of credit for not only being so strong, but also for saying something like "Considering the alternative, though? I am very grateful that I can still see ANYTHING!" Thanks for sharing this story of strength, Jennifer.