Learning To Live With Low Vision
I was in my late thirties when I first noticed presbyopia and became aware of the astigmatism in my left eye that had probably been there since birth (after all, the soldiers who administered my Air Force eye exam did tell me that I “did and did not have a depth perception problem” back in 1993). But, I really didn’t notice any other significant changes until a few years later, when I wasn’t getting enough light indoors but was getting way too much of it outdoors (during the daytime hours, of course).
Initially, the extreme light sensitivity outdoors didn’t faze me. I thought I was just having trouble adjusting to those curlicues compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) indoors, and I was. But, there was more to my failing eyesight than those ineffective little 40-watt bulbs. I was beginning to have problems with contrast as well.
By the end of 2014, I was even struggling at work. For nearly all of my adult life, I have worked as an inbound call center customer service representative. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s website, O*Net OnLine, near vision is absolutely necessary for the job, and I couldn’t agree with that more.
It most definitely is necessary, and so is the ability to be to able to withstand staring at a computer screen for eight hours or more each day. But, I digress. I was barely making it through two hours of my shift. So, I went back to my optometrist – who discovered bilateral drusen and referred me to an ophthalmologist.
That ophthalmologist discovered bilateral choroidal folds (ripples in the vascular layer behind the retina). He diagnosed me with choroidal folds and dry eye (which I did not have), and referred me to a retinal specialist to determine whether or not the drusen were due to macular degeneration.
That second ophthalmologist also diagnosed me with choroidal folds and dry eye (which I did not have) and chose to disregard the drusen until I had my thyroid checked and also got tested for cancer. My thyroid was fine, and the only tumor that I have (which was discovered nearly a year later) is a benign bone tumor behind my left knee. But, I was getting ready to move halfway across country by then, so I postponed another visit until I could find a new ophthalmologist there.
Unfortunately, I fell three times before that would happen – breaking my glasses and going to an optometrist (for a replacement pair) and being referred to an ophthalmologist. That ophthalmologist also chose to go the route of his previous two colleagues. So, he handed me a sample box of artificial tears (which do not work) and told me to come back in a year. But, I was having none of that. The bilateral drusen and choroidal folds were a given, but the dry eye wasn’t true. So, I put my foot down, and he referred me to Duke Eye Center in Durham, North Carolina (“Fight, Fight Blue Devils Fight…”). And, I never thought that I’d ever be able to get an education at Duke, but that is exactly what I did, and for a whole heck of a lot less money than it costs their students per semester hour (which is about $5084.00).
According to U.S. News and World Report, Duke holds the #8 ranking of the best hospitals for adult Ophthalmology in the United States. And, with just one 5-hour-long visit this past March, my voice was finally heard. I have allergies, get migraines, and am susceptible to computer vision syndrome, but I do not have dry eye. I have low vision that is caused by the choroidal folds that are present because – well, that is just how my eyeballs were formed.
At the moment, I still have plenty of useable eyesight left, so my low vision specialist upgraded my prescription to trifocals and her occupational therapist provided with useful information for providing the tools necessary to make the most of my remaining eyesight. I have also been in contact with my commonwealth's department for the blind and vision impaired, and they will be providing me with more. Aside from providing me with the Windows Ease of Access and proper lighting information that I already knew, the therapist at Duke also explained why none of my sunglasses (even the wrap around pairs) was working.
Have you ever gone outside during winter or gone swimming or boating without sunglasses on and been temporarily blinded by the sun reflecting off the snow or water? It hurts, doesn’t it? Well, that is how it feels for me every time I open up the front door just to get the mail (which is in a box on the outside wall, right beside the door). So, part of what gives me low vision is extreme light sensitivity. That produces washed-out images and/or glares, that also make it difficult for me to drive. And, no, simply putting on any old pair of sunglasses and/or lowering the sun visor will not do the trick - neither will wearing polarized glasses. Because I have low vision, polarized lenses cause everything to become too dark. So, I now have to wear wrap-around sunglasses that provide me with 360° of protection and enhance contrast both indoors and outdoors (which is why you see the blind and visually impaired wearing sunglasses indoors – only about 15% of the blind completely lack light perception).
She also told me about two organizations that could definitely be of help. Enrichment Audio Resource Services, Inc. (E.A.R.S.) - aka Ears For Eyes provides, free of charge, audio lessons that teach adaptive daily living skills to the vision impaired and their caregivers. They have twelve lessons, and I have already been through five. These lessons include the following.
1. The Kitchen Environment
2. Marking the Stove and Microwave
3. Basic Kitchen Skills
4. Eating Without Embarrassment
5. Indoor Mobility
6. Using a Sighted Guide
7. Managing Medications
8. Personal Grooming
9. Doing the Laundry
10. Using the Telephone
11. Adaptive Devices & Techniques
12. Advanced Cooking Techniques
The other organization is The Checkered Eye Project. Do you see that pendant that I am wearing in the image below? I got that from The Checkered Eye Project. I wear it to let others know that I do not see so well. It definitely comes in handy when I go into someplace new and have to read and/or write something - which isn't always easy to do when the font's way too small to see it.
If you or someone you know is struggling with low vision, check out those and other resources available, because they will definitely be of help.
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