conundrum of low vision
by Gary Ted Montague
When I was three, doctors told Mother that my vision was 20/500. I had to be twenty
feet from an object to see what most people saw at five hundred feet. I had quite a loss.
I could not find the ball my twin sister tossed to me, even though it lay near my feet.
When I was finishing college, an ophthalmologist told me that 20/500 is what I see with
my better eye and best glasses while the other eye sees half that well. To complicate
my situation, I see with only one eye at a time and have no depth perception or much
peripheral vision. When my less good eye takes over without notice, I do not see as
much as 20/500. Sometimes I do not see the biggest letter on the eye chart.
After I retired, I had cataract surgeries. The doctor discovered the lens sacs had not
formed properly. She could not replace either lens.
Later in life, a neurosurgeon tried to find out why I was having balance problems. He
said the occipital lobes did not develop and showed me how dark they looked on a brain
scan. “There’s nothing there to work with, Sir,” he said.
My father did not understand what I saw until his eighties when he developed cataracts
and suffered temporary vision loss. People with vision changes must adjust ordinary
activities, like shaving, climbing stairs, folding laundry, cooking, mowing the lawn,
servicing their air conditioners, and traveling alone or with a companion. After eight
decades of living with low vision, I have strategies to navigate without getting hurt.
Some are automatic. Others are intentional or the result of trial and error.
I listen for clues like echoes. Because that does not always work, stress rises, and I am
extra cautious. Sound helps me determine how far away moving cars or animals are
and how quickly to get out of the way. With partial sight, it is tough to judge how wide I
must open a car door, how low to bend for head clearance, or how high and far I must
Before Mother took me to the New Mexico School for the Blind at age eight, I could not see the numbers in the books. My poor arithmetic skills frustrated Dad, but he
unknowingly taught me a lot about geometry. We used ladders in construction, and he
taught me how to use them safely. I remember his direction, Dad’s law of physics. “If yer gonna use a ladder, ya gotta learn how to set it up so’s you don’t fall off and the ladder doesn’t fall down. Look here, Boy. Set it so’s the distance from a wall to the base of the ladder gives you a good, safe angle, and watch out fer how slick a surface is ‘cuz they ain’t all the same. And watch out for the molding.”
Both at home and away at school, no one said I could not learn, called me handicapped
or disabled, or let me off easy. I admit I sometimes feel exhausted with the extra effort
required, much as a wind-up toy whose key is missing, with no oomph, no go. But then I remind myself to DRESS well and move on by remembering:
Determination is my base.
Resilience is key.
Effort is required.
Survival is ensured.
Success will come.
Gary with nose almost inside his toolbox as he searches for a tool.