February 12, 2013

What It's Like to be Visually Impaired

Perfect eyesight is measured at 20/20.

With corrective lenses, my vision is around 20/200. This means that I have to be no more than 20 feet away from something to see it, whereas someone with 20/20 vision can be 200 feet away and still see it. I can pretty much see only the big E on the eye chart clearly.

This is in one eye. My left eye is unable to see at all.

The powers that be call this "legally blind". The word "blind" in there at all can make one think totally blind. This is why I prefer to use the terms "visually impaired" or "low vision". It's not politically correct; these terms are simply more descriptive, or specific, for someone who is in between fully sighted and totally blind.

I have been asked if everything is just blurry for me, like out of focus. We've all seen blurry photos. My answer is, I guess so, but for me, I think it's more dirty, and smudged. I can't see straight. Haha, right? But seriously, straight lines do not look straight to me. I can use a level to straighten a picture on the wall, I'll know it's straight because the level says it is, but when I step back to look, it still looks crooked to me.

Here are great examples of what it's like to have some eye conditions. However, none of them are me. I don't even think any eye doctor who's treated me has given a name to the problems I've had.

This happened to me the first time the retina in my right eye detached.
It was very annoying.

My eyes have suffered from inflammation which led to retinal detachments. My eyes have been treated with steroid shots directly into the eye, vitrectomy and laser surgeries to reattach the retinas. My left eye went untreated for too long before I got to the right doctor, so his attempt at saving the vision in that eye didn't work. The retina in my right eye detached twice, I had two surgeries and my lens removed. My right eye has been stable since I was 19, except that a contact lens I was wearing for awhile scratched my cornea, and I deal with dry eye.

There is some scar tissue on my retina that I can actually see. Those are the "smudges" I mentioned before. A bit of the scar tissue is very close to the macula -- the very center of the retina -- and it is sort of tugging on my retina, causing it to pucker, which I believe is what causes my inability to see straight lines. There was some discussion on whether or not to try to remove the scar tissue, but because I tend to have an inflammatory response to surgery, we decided to leave well enough alone.

What does all that mean for what I can and can't see?


I searched high and low (if you can search high and low on the internet) for a photo that looked close to what I see. I couldn't find one so.....I attempted to mess with one of my own photos.

But it didn't work. So really all I can do is try to describe how I see.

Like I already said, my vision is dirty and smudged, and ragged around the edges. In one eye. The other is dark. During the day I do pretty well, but at night, forget about it. I should really use a white cane at night, that's how difficult it is for me to see in the dark. I don't use a cane, however, because I'm never out alone at night.

I feel like the world is closing in around me when I'm out at night. It can be quite disconcerting, in an out of control sort of way. When in a car at night, it feels like I'm in a tunnel. I cannot see anything but lights beyond the reach of the headlights of the car I am in. I would honestly be better off just closing my eyes.

Lighting is everything. I need a good amount of light in order to see my best. Natural light is awesome, but direct sunlight can be too bright. Double edged sword I guess. I have a special hate on for restaurants with "ambient" lighting. I think we should all be suspicious of this. Why don't they want us to see our food?

My glasses are tri-focals for far, close and closer. The "closer" lens is how I'm able to read and see the computer. Actually, I'm looking through the middle "close" lens as I type this because I can see what I'm typing well enough, without having to have my nose pressed up to the screen. Also helps me to not make my back and neck angry. I often marvel at how far back on their desks most people can perch their monitors AND lounge back in their chairs.

My sight loss happened to me so early in life that I really can't even remember what perfect vision is like. My mom asked if I see clearly in my dreams. Nope. But sometimes I do drive - slowly! Over the years I've worked as a church secretary, scrapbooked, I can knit, crochet and even take some decent photos. And now I blog! I appreciate so much being able to SEE my children's beautiful faces, as well as each and every sunset and big, fluffy cloud.

Not being able to drive is the biggest inconvenience of poor vision. For me that is. I have known others with sight loss who lost a whole lot more when their eyes betrayed them. We live in a very visual world so it can be extremely hard to adapt.

Thankfully, there are lots of gadgets and other things to help make up for what one cannot see. However, because it's been so many years since I became visually impaired, I can't say with any authority what all is available today. When I went to the Orientation Center for the Blind in Albany, CA back in 1994, I learned basic Braille, white cane travel (mobility), computer accessibility, how to cook blind and for some dumb reason, how to sew blind. I hated that. To be quite honest,the skill I still use most is what I learned from mobility training. Things like counting steps and paying attention to what my feet feel on the ground. Also north, south, east and west. One other thing is that I can pretty easily identify clothing and other items by feel.

I have an appointment one week from today with an ophthalmologist. I haven't seen one in about 10 years because I've been too nervous to see someone new, someone who isn't already familiar with my eyes. I desperately want new glasses, though, so I have to suck it up and get it taken care of. Wish me luck!

For the complete story on HOW I lost vision, go HERE.

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