Braille Monitor November 2004
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It's All in Your Point of View
by Patricia Hubschman
From the Editor: The human spirit has a great deal of elasticity. Sighted people often express the fear that, if blindness befell them, they would not be able to make the adjustment. My usual response to such a comment is that people mostly sell themselves short. We do not know until the moment comes how much we can cope with and even master.
Patricia Hubschman has been a member of the Long Island Chapter of the NFB of New York since 1998. She is also an active member of the Writers Division. In addition to coping with the difficulties of decreasing vision, she uses a support cane and hopes soon to receive a cochlear implant to improve her hearing. Yet she holds a job and enjoys a supportive family. In the following story she recounts a difficult day and the way she was able to deal with it, thanks to her involvement in the National Federation of the Blind. This is what she says:
It was a Saturday in May when I went to see the low vision specialist. It had been a few years since I'd last gone to see him. As a close friend pointed out, I'd been so concerned about my hearing that I was neglecting my sight. For the past few years I'd been preoccupied with my efforts to get a cochlear implant. I underwent unsuccessful surgery a year and a half ago for the implant. Now I am working with a new doctor at a different hospital and have started all over again. I actually intended to put the ophthalmologist off for a little while longer, but since I broke the glasses I had been wearing (purchased as temporary replacements for the last pair I had broken), I figured it was time to get my eyes checked.
In testing, instead of asking if I could see the letter E projected on the screen across the room (which I never could do anyway) the doctor held up a place card with the number seven on it, told me to cover one eye, then approached me slowly, instructing me to tell him when I could read the card. With my right eye the card and its huge number had to be very close in order for me to see it. With my left eye it could be further away. Right away I knew my vision had significantly changed. My right eye had always been stronger. Next he handed me a plastic card and asked me what I could see on it. I had to hold it very close, and all I could clearly make out was the very large number ninety-five on the top line.
It wasn't difficult to figure out that I wasn't doing very well. I made a crack about not being able to see crystal clear anymore. My eyes were tearing constantly because of the light. He put drops in my eyes and did some more tests, shining bright lights in them and causing them to tear up even more. When he was finished with the testing, he looked directly at me with a grim expression. Then he broke the news to me that my vision had gotten a lot worse. I took a deep breath and turned my head to the side. When I looked back again, there were tears in my eyes. Before I had even sat down in the chair, I had already known what he was going to tell me. While I had been walking from the door of the room to the patient's chair, I had moved very slowly using my white, aluminum support cane with the red tip. Despite what I had already guessed, I was still taken aback by hearing the words. Somehow that made it more definite.
I blurted out the first question that popped into my head: since my prescription was old, could he fit me with new glasses that would help? He shook his head and said that nothing would help. He suggested that I look into adaptive technologies like a closed-circuit TV and a large-print computer program. I already had two CCTVs--one at work, the other at home--and other aids. Suddenly I remembered an upcoming adaptive technology fair I was already planning to attend. I mentioned it to the doctor. Then, without missing a beat, I proudly announced that I was now a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Until that moment I hadn't realized just how much the NFB had helped me. As we got up to leave the room so that I could pick out new frames for sunglasses and eyeglasses, I realized that I was actually not deeply upset about what the doctor had just told me about my vision. I was able to talk in a bright and friendly manner, even joking around while my husband and the doctor's secretary were trying different frames on me. My husband asked me what I thought of a particular pair, and I replied, "Hey, I'm the blind one here; you two pick them out."
As my husband and I were walking back to the car, I told him what had happened in the doctor's examining room. Using one finger, he spelled on my back the word "mess," but he wasn't upset either. With my eyes dilated and teary, we went to the mall. I continued to joke: "Hey, my vision isn't really getting worse; I'm just getting older--though my hearing is definitely getting worse." We both laughed.
When I got home, I emailed my mother to give her the scoop. I told her not to worry, that I was okay with the news. I figured that with my new yellow-tinted indoor glasses I'd be able to see the TV without its flickering. And I could plug my cochlear implant attachments into the set and be able to understand what was being said. Wow, it would be a whole new me. Mom shot back that it sounded like I had everything figured out. "Way to go!" she said.
Where did I get such a sense of humor and positive attitude, this belief in myself and my ability as a disabled person, and enriched self-esteem? Believe me, I didn't always have it. This positive outlook has derived from being a part of the National Federation of the Blind family. It wasn't an overnight change, but it has definitely been worth the struggle.
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