ON BECOMING ILLITERATE
If the definition of being illiteracy is “unable to read or write in any language” I am inexorably moving in that direction. In fact I can barely read or write now. I’m typing this as a Word document using 22-point type and a seven-power magnifier close at hand. I make lots of typos and despite using spell check some of them escape my being reminded what books matter to me rarely matter to anyone I know. And while I’ve written some satirical plays and some off-beat stories, I won’t be writing that novel after all.
Age-related Macular Degeneration ARMD) both wet and dry, is causing a steady deterioration of my eyesight. Injections of Avastin arrest the “wet” (neovascular) aspect but nothing halts the more gradual but inexorable, slower “dry” deterioration of rod and cone cells in the macula, the center of the retina.
I can no longer read conventional print in books, magazines or newspapers. Nor can I write legibly or read cursive—including my own. I literally cannot read my own writing. So boxes of old letters, some by departed relatives and friends, decades of journals, sketches, notes and drafts, are closed to me. Me, with my sometimes snobbish pride in being ‘well read,” with two degrees in history and one in psychology & counseling, and a personal library of over 900 bn00ks mostly well-worn paperbacks. About two dozen of those books are ones I bought and never read, squirreling them away for my old age when I would have plenty of time to read all I wanted and “fill in the gaps” in my knowledge of history and world literature. Not going to happen. Still, a few in pristine condition made good Christmas gifts for friends. Some of the others I search for “good homes for” as if they were puppies or kittens but often
I can read the enlarged computer screen with the Sherlock Holmes style magnifier but it is like reading hieroglyphics. It is slow going and that dramatically restricts the sheer quantity of reacing I do every day.
My other longtime interests besides travel, hiking and backpacking, are photography and photo editing, astronomy and stargazing. Travel and outdoor adventures will soon depend on someone else driving me. I tell myself I can leave the camera on autofocus/shutter priority/1/125th of a second/100 ISO and play with the result in Lightroom or Photoshop Elements and it will be satisfactorily enhanced. I cannot drive myself to or from star parties anymore but I live in a rural area and when the skies are clear and dark, I can see easy things like the Big Dipper, Orion, Scorpios, The Teapot. I’m determined to spot the Andromeda Galway (M31) but that can only be seen under unusually good conditions for viewing. It was while observing the wonderful Hale-Bopp Comet in 1997 under the dark skies of the southern Utah desert that I first noticed that vision in my left eye was blurry and could no t be brought into focus using the binoculars a friend loaned me. The comet was more magnificent with the naked eye anyway, in its ‘expansive cosmic context but I realized something was wrong with vision in my left eye.
The ophthalmologists quickly diagnosed me with ARMD adding encouraging words like “We usually only see it this bad in people over 75, not in their fifties.” They explained that in the “dry” aspect the prognosis is for a gradual, inexorable decline visual acuity. The ‘wet” dimension arises from he body’s misguided attempts to heal itself. Detecting damage to rod and cone cells, it sends out tiny new blood vessels in the layers of the macula to bring nutrients and oxygen to the damaged area. These abnormal blood vessels are very fragile and prone to hemorrhaging. The fluid they leak kilsl any rod and cone cells in comes in octant with. At worst this can be like a dam suddenly bursting and creating a devastating flood whoa damage cannot be repaired.
So I’ve had 20 years of very useful vision since the initial diagnosis. So I guess I shouldn’t complain. I believe I have made good use of my remaining vision.
In February 2017 my opthaenologist told me “You now meet the criteria for being legally blind. If you need to sign some papers for you to get services for the blind, let me know.”
LEGALLY BLIND. That stunned me. I mulled that over as I drove the 18 miles home from his office. I live alone in a beautiful rural area five miles from the nearest small town. My primary vehicle has 301,000 miles on it. I have probably driven well over a million miles in my lifetime. Virtually no public transpiration in western Colorado and eastern Utah. Hard to live here and not be housebound if you don’t drive. My driver license expires in a few months anyway and there is no way they will renw it. They shouldn’t. I will lose my travel freedom and become dependent on going where others are willing to take me when they want to go
Last month the ophthalmologist tested mea gain and said “you did better this time” on the eye chart with some coaxing and coaching to use averted vision and scan back and forth, by tthe tech. So I’m no longer LEGALLY BLIND. For now. I’ll see him again before the year’s end. Apparently my visual acuity is fluctuating around the cutoff level. Weird. I am intermittently disabled, apparently.
Much of the time I take pleasure in developing what I like to think are clever work-arounds, like photographing tiny serial numbers I cannot read, then enlarging the image until I can read the numbers.
Other times I dread the thought of a humiliating and increasing dependency on others and my interaction with the world shrinking and shrinking. I often cannot recognize friends form more than 20 feet away. I cannot recognize or see faces clearly from that distance.
“I’m not sure I’m seeing things accurately” is not only literally true but becomes a metaphorical truth. I heard that we make over 70% of our decisions on the basis of visual information. I sometimes feel indecisive, uncertain, not sure I’m “seeing the whole picture.” If I cannot trust my perceptions, how can I trust my judgment?
I will never be able to read my grand-daughter’s125-page senior thesis, base on original research done in Cartagena, Colombia, that won her Magma cum laude honors. It will not be available in audio format. It looks like I will never read many other works I always intended to.
Yet there is a place for gratitude that involves not denial of loss but continued awareness of a larger perspective that keeps those losses in perspective.
I am very grateful for the Amazon Fire table (only S50) and for affordable Audible Books and Recorded Books I download onto it. I’ve been through everything from a new translation of Don Quixote to Chomsky and Chris Hedges to “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. I can still smell the pines and see the deer on my property as well.
Life is always a series of changes and challenges.