My eyes have caused me problems all my life. I was born with hyperopia, or farsightedness (longsightedness in the UK), which is relatively unusual — nearsightedness is the more common ailment. Hyperopia is similar to presbyopia, which most people experience in middle age, when their arms become too short to hold the book at a sufficient distance from the eye.
But hyperopia sets in early. According to the wiki:
Hyperopia, also known as farsightedness, longsightedness or hypermetropia, is a defect of vision caused by an imperfection in the eye (often when the eyeball is too short or the lens cannot become round enough), causing difficulty focusing on near objects, and in extreme cases causing a sufferer to be unable to focus on objects at any distance. [emphasis added]
My eyes became an “extreme case” when I was about forty-five, after which nothing, not even Arcturus, was far enough away to come into focus without the help of glasses.
When I was two years old, my mother noticed that my eyes crossed when I tried to look closely at objects. She took me to the pediatrician, and eventually the ophthalmologist, who diagnosed me and prescribed corrective lenses. I wore glasses until I was twelve, after which my vision was deemed “corrected”.
But it wasn’t, not really. My hyperopia was just in remission. The lens muscles in my eyes had simply learned to pull extra-hard all the time, until I was no longer aware of it. When I passed my fortieth birthday — the traditional milestone when presbyopia sets in — intense discomfort sent me to the eye doctor again. I’ve changed prescriptions several times since, and now my lenses are so rigid that there’s not much more that can be done. I simply have to endure discomfort, use large monitors at 800×600, read large-print books whenever possible, and use a magnifying glass to make out the directions on virtually anything.
All that is bad enough, but my visual situation became much worse overnight several weeks ago. Dymphna and I caught some kind of virus and became ill at the same time, although our symptoms were somewhat different. Mine involved intense migraine headaches with associated visual distortions, plus bad sinus congestion.
I experienced no eye trauma that I was aware of, but perhaps a violent sneezing fit precipitated my new condition: a distortion of the visual field in my left eye. I hoped it was a transient effect of the virus, and would gradually disappear as the other symptoms went away. But it didn’t, so after a couple of weeks I went to see our family doctor, who made me an appointment for today with an ophthalmologist. I returned with a better idea of what ailment I have, and what I’m likely to face.
I’ll be seeing a retinal specialist on Friday for a precise diagnosis and treatment, but my condition is most likely a variety of macular degeneration brought on by a buildup of fluid in a small spot under my retina. The ophthalmologist says that it is probably treatable — which until recently was not the case — so I’m more optimistic than I was a few days ago.
In the meantime, my life has become more difficult. My two eyes cannot reconcile their differences with each other, so that when I do close-up work, both sets of muscles — lens muscles and ocular muscles — keep pulling and tugging trying to bring both images into line. The result is agonizing, and rapidly reduces my eyes to complete exhaustion.
However, now that I have the doctor’s go-ahead, I keep a patch over my left eye when I work at the screen. I have it on now. It’s not a dashing pirate patch, just a medical eye pad held on with adhesive tape. But it does the job — I can read and type without agony, and when I pull it off to work outside or do household chores, my eyes are not exhausted. Driving is actually quite pleasant, since I don’t have to focus on anything close, except for an occasional glance at the dashboard.
Interestingly enough, reading a book or magazine with a relatively large type face is not all that difficult. My right eye is very dominant, and does all the real work. Also, reading is a holistic process. The eye takes in a large block of text — sometimes a couple of sentences — as a unit, and the brain then parses it unconsciously in a split second. I’ve noticed that I’m more likely to misread words that have almost the same “look” — taking in “autonomy” as “antimony”, for example. And my eyes tire more quickly than they used to.
But the screen is another matter. Because of its pixelated nature, the eye cannot resolve the image into hard edges. For people with normal vision, that’s of small consequence. But for us hyperoptics, the lens muscles just pull and pull and pull, trying in vain to obtain clarity. With my new condition, using both eyes to do it has become unbearable.
Then there is the “refresh rate” — the constant rebuilding of the image on the screen. The flicker is faster than the eye can detect, but there are subliminal interference patterns that arise from the overlap of the ocular rate — roughly twenty times a second — and whatever rate the monitor uses. My left eye really feels the flicker, since normal processing is impaired in part of its visual field.
Because of the above, posting has been relatively light of late, and will continue to be light indefinitely. Editing is easier than composition, so there will be more translations and guest posts and fewer essays that I write myself.
Please bear with us for a while. I’ll keep you informed.
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Ever since I first painted my first picture at the age of seven, going blind has been the greatest fear of my life. Blindness terrifies me far more than deafness, paralysis, dementia, or death. For as long as I can remember, life has consisted of glorious colors, entrancing movement, and the pleasure of words on the printed page.
Thus I have lived in terror for the last couple of weeks. The worst time is when I lie down to try and sleep at night. My mind loses itself in a labyrinth of frantic planning about the tasks that would be required of me in preparation for a life when I could no longer see.
One of my concerns has been the possible gradual transfer of operations at Gates of Vienna to people other than Dymphna and myself. As I have often said in the past, this blog is a group effort, and there are others who easily can take up where we leave off. I’ve already had discussions with some of the people who would have to be involved.
Yet now it seems that I have been given a reprieve, at least for a while. Typing and reading with one eye is not all that bad — it can be done. And I must be patient and let the doctors do their doctoral things.
In the meantime, I look out the window with pleasure at the March evening. Spring is late this year — the daffodils are only now reaching their peak, and the forsythia is just beginning to show yellow. I take in the color and the movement, the yellow and green, the blue of the sky and the red haze on the tips of the maple boughs. And I am profoundly grateful.
I’ll close with a meditation on the same topic from the great contemporary poet Pattiann Rogers:
Seeing the Glory
by Pattiann Rogers
Whatever enters the eye — shade of ash leaf,
Torn web dangling, movement of ice
Over the canyon edge — enters only
As the light of itself.
It travels through the clear jelly
Of the vitreo, turning once like the roll
Of a fish in deep water, causing a shimmer
In that thimbleful of cells waiting,
Then proceeds as a quiver on a dark purple thread
To pass from life into recognition.
The trick is to perceive glory
When its light enters the eye,
To recognize its penetration of the lens
Whether it comes like the sudden crack
Of glass shot or the needle in the center
Of the hailstone, whether it appears like the slow
Parting of fog by steady trees or the flashing
Of piranha at their prey.
How easily it could go unnoticed
Existing unseen as that line initiating
The distinction of all things.
It must be called by name
Whether it dives with triple wings of gold
Before the optic nerve or presses itself
In black fins against the retina
Or rises in its inversion like a fish
Breaking into sky.
Watching on this hillside tonight,
I want to know how to see
And bear witness.