Total Blindness

A few weeks ago, the topic of MindloveMisery’s Menagerie’s Tale Weaver was the loss of the sense of hearing. I was secretly hoping for a tale weaver on its visual counterpart to come up and my wish was granted today: today we’re asked to weave a tale about a character who’s blind. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fiction or so I believe.

As most of my readers know, I have always been legally blind. I at best had around 20/800 visual acuity in both eyes, although I claimed to have 20/400 for a long while. By the time I was eight or nine and was pretty much given up on vision-wise by my doctors and parents, I had roughly 20/1000 vision in my left eye at best and my right eye was even worse. For those who have no clue what visual acuity means in daily life, I was able to see someone raise their hand at one meter’s distance but not count their fingers.

Even so, I didn’t consider myself functionally blind until I was thirteen and transferred from special education to a mainstream setting where I was the only person with a visual impairment. There, there was no point in accentuating my tiny bit of vision, since compared to my peers, I was as blind as a bat.

To this day though, I find it hard to accept the fact that, in essence, I’m now totally blind. I only started considering this possibility after my most recent visual screening at the blindness agency, which revealed that I only have a small window of light perception left in the central part of my left eye’s visual field. For those unaware, light perception is the ability to detect the presence of the eye doctor’s flashlight, but notably not the ability to detect what direction it is coming from (that would be light projection). In other words, I am no longer able to tell where a window or other light source is located within my visual field or even whether there is a light source present if I’m not directly looking at it.

Since I always had some residual vision, no matter how little, I have always wondered what total blindness would look like. One day in fifth grade, one of my support staff told us about having been blind for two weeks due to some disease and it not looking like darkness at all. Other blind people have asked rhetorically: “Does your forehead see darkness?” No, of course it doesn’t.

Like I said, I was given up on by the eye doctors when I was eight or nine. For this reason, I didn’t have regular visual check-ups. I had one in 2005 at the blindness rehabilitation center and then again in 2013 in preparation for cataract surgery. In 2005, I had light perception and some level of environmental light awareness in both eyes. By 2013, I had gone completely, totally blind in my right eye. However, I was unaware of this until the optometrist tested my light perception in both eyes.

Since being made aware that I’m totally blind in one eye, I’ve tried to cover my left eye to see what total blindness looks like. I seriously don’t get a clue. In fact, the closest I come is that blindness, indeed, is the absence of any sight at all, including the sight of darkness.

This does make me think that, when (I’m pretty sure it’s “when”, not “if”) I’ll have lost that last tiny bit of light perception in my left eye, I won’t be aware of it at all for a while. It terrifies me.

#WeekendCoffeeShare (April 18, 2021)

Hello everyone and welcome to my #WeekendCoffeeShare post for this week. I just had my afternoon coffee. I think there’s still some left, or you can have a tea, fizzy drink or water. We alsso have custard cupcakes if you want one. They’re delicious! Let’s have a drink and let’s catch up.

If we were having coffee, I’d ask you about your weather. Ours has been steadily improving over the past week. On Monday, we still had a bit of ice rain, but the rest of the week, it’s not rained much. Today, we have some sunshine and temperatures of about 16°C during the day. It’s still close to freezing at night though.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that, on Wednesday, I had a good talk with my community psychiatric nurse. I was able to express some of my anxiety. Then again, Thursday night I ended up in a bit of a crisis again. I tried to reach my CPN on Friday. Unfortunately, by the time she called me at 5:30PM, there was little she could do for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll meet with my nurse practitioner again. I’m considering asking him about my medication, both my daily meds and my PRN tranquilizer. While the PRN med, the atypical antipsychotic quetiapine (Seroquel), works okay for reducing sensory overload, I’m experiencing increasing anxiety, particularly at night. I don’t blame the quetiapine, but I’d really like something to help with this.

If we were having coffee, I’d share that I had quite a scary experience yesterday. I was walking outside in the sunshine and suddenly completely blinded. Of course, it is only to be expected that I’ll eventually lose my light perception too, but it’s still scary. My staff interestingly did understand my panic about being blinded. Most people probably won’t, since to a sighted or even partially sighted person, I’m pretty much totally blind.

I also had a pretty nasty headache, so I’m wondering whether I might have experienced a spike in eye pressure. My staff is going to inquire about getting my eye pressure checked by an ophthalmologist. I’ve heard, after all, that glaucoma needs to be treated even in blind people.

This experience did motivate me to finally inquire about getting a pair of NoIR sunglasses again. I had them in the past, but cannot find them in my size at the most well-known low vision shop. My staff E-mailed the occupational therapist about it. For now, another staff gave me a pair of regular sunglasses.

If we were having coffee, I would tell you that I got a new roller tip for my white cane on Friday too. I now have a marshmallow tip, which I think works better than the large ball tip I used to have.

If we were having coffee, I’d share how happy I am with all the engagement on my blog. It’s truly heartwarming to see how many people are touched by my posts.

If we were having coffee, lastly I’d tell you that my husband and I went for a walk in the “wolf woods”, as he calls the woods between Raalte and the nearby theme park. A wolf was found in the theme park a few weeks ago. Thankfully, we didn’t spot it.

How have you been?

Color Vision

As regular readers of my blog will know, I am blind. I wasn’t always totally blind though. As a child, up to around age twelve, I could see most colors. I could still see some very bright colors until I was eighteen.

When I asked the ophthalmologist at the university medical center to put me on the waiting list for cataract surgery in 2013, some color vision was all I hoped for. The doctor said that the best possible outcome was that I could have hand motion vision, ie. see someone’s hand move from one meter away. I didn’t really care about seeing anything one meter in front of me. If I’d have to hold a colored paper five centimeters in front of me to see its color, that was fine by me. I just wanted to be able to distinguish colors again. Unfortunately, though the surgery was at least a partial technical success, I never regained color perception.

When asked at the rehabilitation program for the blind what we’d be happiest about to regain if we ever regained our vision, most of my fellow clients mentioned some variation of independence. I, though, said that I’d be able to enjoy the colors of nature again. Unfortunately, though technology has come a long way, it will likely never be able to recreate an experience remotely similar to color vision.

I can still, fortunately, see some colors, but it’s in my mind’s eye. You see, I have projected grapheme-color synesthesia. When I touch the characters on my Braille display, they evoke a visual sensation of a color. Each letter corresponds to its own color, though some of the colors are very similar. That probably reflects the fact that I was never able to see the full variety of shades of colors that sighted people can. For example, the V and J are both a light shade of green. I can tell them apart if I see them both, in that the J is a slightly lighter, mintier shade, but it’s hard to describe.

Words also have an overarching color. In case you’re wondering, the colors of color words don’t always align with their meaning. For example, the word “Green” is more red (after the letter G) than green, even though both E’s are green.

I love my synesthetic color perception. It makes up for a loss of appreciation that no amount of technology can compensate for.

This post was inspired by CalmKate’s Friday Fun Challenge with the theme of “Colors”. I’m not really sure whether this rambling piece fits the idea of the challenge, but oh well.

Blindness: Dealing With Vision Loss #AtoZChallenge

Welcome to day two in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I am going to tell you about my most obvious disability: blindness.

I was born prematurely. When premature babies could first be kept alive in incubators in the 1940s and 1950s, thousands of children became blind due to a condition first known as retrolental fibroplasia (RLF). The first known cause of RLF was excesss oxygen, as these babies were kept alive because of ventilators and no-one knew that too much oxygen could do harm too. Once doctors and nurses started being more careful with oxygen, the number of RLF cases decreased. However, still, babies develop this condition until today. The name of the condition got changed sometime in the 1970s to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP).

I was born in 1986. At the time, the first sight-saving treatments for ROP had become available. However, early detection is still key to timely intervention. At the time of my neonatal intensive care stay, the pediatric ophthalmologist specializing in ROP was unavailable, so my ROP remained undetected until it’d reached an advanced stage. I did have sight-saving surgery when I was about five-months-old, but I still had only about 20/400 vision left in my better (left) eye.

The bad thing about ROP is that, even though it isn’t in itself degenerative once the baby is out of the NICU, it can lead to further complications throughout life. These can then lead to further vision loss. I developed a cataract on my right eye at age seven. I got it removed, but couldn’t get a lens implant at the time. I could’ve gotten one when I was older, but by this time, my vision had already further deteriorated.

At age eight, when I had only “hand motion” vision (which corresponds to about 20/1000) in my better eye, my parents and the doctors decided to give up on further treatment. I didn’t like it, but I had no say in the matter.

From that point on, i was treated like I was totally blind. I wasn’t, but to a sighted person, 20/1000 looks like not worth it.

At age twelve, I suffered a retinal detachment in my right eye. From that point on, I was blind apart from slight light perception in that eye. I also suffered decreased vision in my left eye, though I considered myself having some minimal functional vision until I was around 17.

Now, I measure as having light perception in my left eye only and no vision in my right eye at all. Light perception is the ability to discern whether it’s dark or light in a room. For example, people with just light perception, can tell the difference between daylight and nighttime, but nothing else. I have some environmental light perception too. Not sure what the correct term for this is, but it means I can detect where for example a window is located. Occasionally, when the light is right, I still have object perception for large objects such as cars or people (within a few feet’s distance). I do not have form perception though, so I do not see the outline of objects.

In 2013, I had cataract surgery on my left eye. I had suffered a cataract on that eye ever since 2001, but, in keeping with my parents’ view, wasn’t going to have it removed. I finally took the step to ask for surgery when I was 27. I didn’t have my hopes up too high. I mean, the university hospital ophthalmologist had gotten my old records from age eight and hoped I’d get that amount of vision back. I just hoped for some color perception mostly, The surgery again was a partial technical success, in that they couldn’t give me a lens implant again. They offered me a second surgery to place it, but the doctors were by this time able to see my retina had atrophied and offered me little hope. I decided not to pursue the second surgery.

Dealing with vision loss can be hard. I mean, to a sighted person, I am considered blind from birth, but I still valued my residual vision when I had it and miss it now that it’s gone.