My White Cane Arrives – and I avoid it for over a week.

My bravery comes in waves.

Ordering the white cane was one thing, but when I got the shipping notice it became real. That’s when denial kicked in. I suddenly felt like a fraud. I’m not blind. I’m blind-ing. I’m blind-ish. I have blind-like tendencies.

So what did I do? I didn’t go check the mail for two weeks.

I started walking around my neighborhood, using one of my support canes as a guide cane. I acted as if I could see better than I really can (something I’ve gotten quite good at), and roamed Greenwood, Phinney, and even the edge of Ballard.

The first pole I walked into was very painful. I clipped it with my left shoulder. The bus stop sign blended into the colors of the background and disappeared. Hoping that no one saw me, I kept walking.

The honking car scared the crap out of me. Still upset from walking into the pole, I wasn’t paying attention and stepped off a curb right in front of a very-easy-to-see (even for me) SUV.

At that moment I was suddenly aware of how far away from my sofa I was and that I was very much alone.

I felt sorry for myself for the next few blocks, then I started feeling stupid.

Two Competing Afflictions

I am slowly losing my vision to glaucoma, and quickly losing vision to cataracts.

What is Glaucoma?

Neil T. Choplin writes:

It is becoming clear to us that glaucoma is a spectrum of clinical entities that encompass many ocular and systemic conditions.

[…]

To try to describe multiple disease, conditions, and scenarios in a widely disparate group of patients with a single term ‘glaucoma’ is subject to frustration.

Because of this, I’ve been weary of discussing my condition with people. “Glaucoma” is the leading cause of blindness, so invariably the person I’m talking to has heard of it and may know a little bit about “what it’s like” and I have to spend the next half-hour explaining that my condition is not like their grandmother’s or friend’s neighbor’s uncle’s condition, picking off an emotional scab as I recall being the youngest person in my doctor’s waiting room by about four decades.

I’ve put up a good fight for fifteen years and the glaucoma has progressed much more slowly than anyone could have predicted. This allowed me to slip into denial and pretend that it wasn’t happening anymore. The reality is, that there is no cure for my condition and the best I can hope for is to keep the progression slow.

Unfortunately, I’m also getting cataracts.

Can’t you have cataracts removed? Shouldn’t you?

Yes, and yes. Unfortunately, I can’t afford the surgery.

The growth has taken an additional 40% of my vision field in my left eye in the last four months. (My right eye is getting worse, but it was treated as an afterthought so bad was my left eye.)

The good news is that this is not (yet) the type of cataract that will tear my eyeball in half. As my doctor put it, it just keeps me from seeing out, and him from seeing in. (Which means that the state of my glaucoma is anyone’s guess until I have them removed. I’m trying not to get hung up on the idea that underneath this blob in my eye I can still see as well as I could before it arrived.)

So, while I save up my pennies, I’m going to treat this like “practice”. Everything is a learning experience the first time, and I have the somewhat unique opportunity to go blind twice.

Accepting That Which I Cannot Change

My wife drove me to the mailbox and I waited in the car while she went in to get my package.

A few minutes later she came out with a long thin cardboard box, opened the passenger door, and placed my destiny in my lap.

The next day I went on another walk around the neighborhood and I could feel an immediate difference.

People weren’t crowding me on the sidewalk, and traffic stopped any time I faced a curb. I felt myself walking with my head held high and a spring in my step. I think I strutted a little in the park.

Me.

Strutting.

In Public.

In the grocery store, I no longer had a death-grip on the shopping cart or my wife’s belt loop. I wandered off by myself and felt no shame whatsoever as I bent waaaay over to read labels on lower shelves. I haven’t felt this independent since Christmas.

Last weekend I wandered around Art Walk alone and talked to some wonderful musicians. They were the first new people I’ve talked to in over a year. It felt nice to not have to explain that I can’t see.

Yesterday when walking to my wife’s work to say hello I walked into a bush… and laughed and laughed.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by barbara on September 12, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Thank you for sharing. . . I too am blind-ish and have been resisting using the cane that my husband ordered for me. I am trying to make friends with it, but so far we are not at the warm and fuzzy stage of our relationship. I had cataract surgery in March 2011 and have had a succession of problems since. I apparently have/had undiagnosed rod cone dystrophy. I can not say why it is that the cataract surgery pushed my condition into severity, but before I had 20/40 corrected vision and now I have a visual field of less than 20 degrees and 20/70 corrected vision in my central field. I see. I really do, just not what is coming from the sides and a little fuzzy in the center.
    Anyway, your story made me smile, and gives me motivation to take the demon stick out and give it a try.
    Barb

    Reply

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