Born with it

So, I was born with partial blindness in one eye. Most people don’t notice it and for me, it is all I know – hence ‘normal’. Pictures of me, or I suppose any movies of my behavior, don’t show it either.

But of course, it is not normal, and was one of the first things I learned about myself, so I’ve been aware of it from long before school age. The fact of being aware is probably a gift, as some parents might have handled it differently. But it didn’t mean full implications, nor full understanding. Living with it has in fact, changed me, and taught me a great deal and made me more aware of both awareness and non-aware states of being.

One of my earliest memories is of looking at a vision chart in a doctor’s office. Consequently, I learned the letters “E” and “H” and several others long before going to school or learning to read. I believe I learned to read before school, not surprising, again due to my parents both being educators.

I visited an Ophthalmologist every 6 months and then annually, usually in Omaha NE at the offices of Drs. Morrison, Truelson and Latta. It would involve a series of eyedrops to dilate the puplis, sitting in a darkened room for what seemed like hours, and then being examined usuing various instruments and techniques. The doctor had a dictating machine that he used and would mutter into as he examined me. It was explained to me a little bit, especially that they were watching a slight cataract in the lens to see if it was growing (it did not, and most subsequent eye doctors would miss it or not mention it).

There was some debate also about how soon I might need or want glasses, and they were recommended after the first grade as a protective strategy for my good eye. Lenses were found totally ineffective otherwise – for the simple reason that it was not an optical problem. They never really bothered to explain this to me as a child as they probably thought I would not understand. The protection strategy was given as the reason for glasses in any case. Cataract was mentioned but not really explained.

The fact that I got interested in Photography and Stage Lighting and pursued them vigorously for years is an interesting feature of my awareness of vision and light. It also turns out that I have perfect color vision, while my Dad was color blind and my brother partly so. I know this color vision fact by my draft physical the senior year of college and by later consultation with another ophthalmologist. At the end of the hours long draft physical routines the medical student showing me the set of some 50 color pattern flash cards said to me “do you mind if I do this again?” and he repeated the test. Apparently I was one of a very few people of the hundreds he had given it to that correctly identified all of the cards. He said “you have perfect color vision”.

But of course, I had already failed the rest of the vision exam – so I was classified 4-F for the draft. Most of the time state DMV’s in the half dozen states I have had a drivers license use a binocular vision testing machine or they try to have you read the vision chart while you cover alternate eyes. I always fail those tests and usually have to get a regular eye exam and a letter or form filled out to get a driver’s license in those states.

As I mentioned, it is not an optical or lens problem. In fact, the best explanation is ‘electrical or electronic’. Look at your TV or computer screen and see the dots (pixels). If the dots are missing in some large quantity, or worse, scrambled, you can never focus. Parts of my retina are just missing – so there is no image in that part – and the optic nerve is malformed which probably causes scrambling of the rest, although peripheral vision is better on the far left side. No lens will unscramble or restore the retina or the connections of the optic nerve.

Based on my experience I would say that my brain has rebuilt or refiltered parts of the image over time – some ‘programming’ has occurred that takes the place of re-wiring and makes pieces focus better or be more useful. When I was a child, my brain simply turned that left image off most of the time. I would see it only when there was dramatic motion or color on that side. For me, it is always a separate image, the two right and left images do not merge at all, and never have, and much of the time, the left one is ‘off’, until I become aware of it or cause it to be aware.

The reality means that I have developed different ways of judging distance and speed than the average person with binocular vision. I hate parking lots because those situations don’t give me as many alternatives to normal vision and also cause me to twirl my head around like a chicken because of course, I really only see well enough with one eye, on one side at a time. I can otherwise probably judge speed and distance and relative size better than the average person on a roadway, because I’ve had to pay more attention to get that information than someone with two eyes that ‘automatically’ calculate and provide it.

I took ground school for piloting private aircraft in college (the president had been a bomber pilot in WW2 and offered the course). It was very interesting as I love maps and technical stuff and math, and we could have had flight lessons at a cut rate price at the local airport. But, having become more aware of what it might be like to navigate in three dimensions with no center line on the travel path at higher speed than driving, I decided against actually learning to fly a plane. Several folks told me that I would probably qualify for a private license with an eye doctor letter (but of course, not for commercial piloting) and we were also offered the chance to apply for FAA air traffic controller training – and I said “No” – I don’t think my vision is safe enough for that job either. I probably could do either – but in a crisis and ‘pinch’ situation where two good eyes would be handy, I would just as soon keep others and myself that little bit safer.

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