Future Reflections October 1981, Vol. 1 No. 1

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By Laurie Eckery

(Editors note: Mrs. Eckery, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Clair Beach, is currently employed as a full-time homemaker, wife and mother. She and her husband, Jerry (also blind and an employee of the Internal Revenue Service) are the proud parents of a six-month old daughter. Before Lynden came along, Laurie had been employed as a secretary/receptionist.)

For most people, especially eye doctors and parents, the birth of a blind child poses the question: "How can we preserve, restore or improve this child's vision?" A reasonable question, up to a point. Unfortunately, the question can often be perverted into a desperate quest, and the question becomes: "How can we make this poor, unfortunate child unblind?" Fortunately for me, these questions slowly evolved into a new and more positive and realistic question: "How can I learn from the mistakes of the past, mistakes resulting from a lack
of information and a constant exposure to a not so positive view of blindness?"

I was born with deformed eyes and suffered from extreme photophobia (intolerance of light) and glaucoma. My parents, naturally, wanted me to be okay, to see, and to be without pain. Because of the discomfort in my right eye, I was anesthetized with ether. When my parents noticed the frightening hallucinatory effects of ether, and how I would stiffen and cry prior to the recurring visits with impatient and rude eye doctors, they decided that it was more important to raise me as a normal child, not some afflicted entity to be dragged from doctor to doctor in the faint hopes of restoring some of my vision. But my image of myself as someone with something drastically wrong about me was firmly established and was enhanced by experiences during my growing years when my hidden pain and frustration were perceived as willful misbehavior. As for the pain in my right eye, I thought I had no choice but to wait, as some of my classmates put it, "until the eye
grows big and pops." After all, I could see colors, and loved them, and who would want to change that? As long as I had some vision, removal of the eye never seemed to be considered an option.

During my early school years, my left eye "ruptured". It did not have to be removed, nor did it cause me any pain. However, it did deteriorate and the socket shrank in size over the years.

When I was eight years old, I often banged my forehead against objects because of the pain. However, this only increased the sensitivity to light and the acuteness of the glaucoma. It was so intense that at mealtimes I
had a dull green tablecloth rather than the usual white one at our residential school. In class, I sat seperated from the others; at the end of the room with the lights off. At night, I played in the dark. I was afraid of the dark and the situation was getting ridiculous. I had no choice but to see an eye doctor again. As usual, this doctor didn't believe that I could see colors and told my parents that they must have told me the colors of thing, adding condescendingly, "After all, you know these people have excellent memories." (This is no more true of the blind than of the sighted). When I tried to move away from the intensely bright moving flashlight, he became impatient, threatening to take me upstairs to put me to sleep (with ether, of course). As we left, my body shivering and my stomach churning in fear, my mother informed me that there were no upstairs.

From that point, my parents put the decision in my hands. They couldn't decide for me whether or not to have the eye removed, and certainly could no longer bear having me hurt and frightened by insensitive doctors. I feel this was the best thing my parents could have done under the circumstances. They did not stop being concerned or worried, and I knew they cared. Ultimately, their love and support sustained me and helped give me the courage to carry through when I did make the decision to have the eye removed. However, it would be twenty years before I would take that step. To have my eye removed meant "darkness" and total blindness (which I feared); no longer seeing the colors I loved, and most of all, it meant more doctors and all the fear and put-downs that seemed to come with them. These were my worst fears, and dealing with them was a slow process aided by people whom I trusted: people that I wish could have been around to counsel my parents and me and to provide some positive models of blindness when I was a child.

In college, I wore dark glasses which alleviated some of the discomfort; but I also used them to hide behind. I still felt like an ugly, worthless person with something drastically wrong. The only way to change this feeling was to realize that blind people are equal to anyone else. Luckily for me, this is what I learned when I became part of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).

At the annual conventions of the NFB, I met blind people doing everything everybody else does, and feeling totally unashamed of their blindness. Later, I realized, through the help of a friend in the NFB, that by traveling wearing sleepshades, I could get around just as well (sometimes better) as I did with the nominal vision I had. It was a revelation when I walked into my apartment with the shades on. For the first time I understood that to have my eye removed did not mean I would be in total darkness, for without light as a contrast, there was no darkness; thus no fear of the dark. I also realized then that if I really believed that a totally blind person was equal to a sighted person,
and that seeing colors, though a joy, was not an absolute necessity in life, I had no choice but to go through with it. Not to do it was hypocrisy, for the eye continued to give me much pain and discomfort. Further, the time-bomb effect of knowing that the eye could rupture at any time had put too much strain on me for too many years.

I fought my fears again when my eye doctor tried to impress upon me the irreversibility of the surgery and that he could not guarantee that I would be more comfortable afterwards. Once he removed the grotesque eye, however, he understood my frustrations and pain and reassured me that an artificial eye would be amazingly more comfortable. But could I believe him? I still feared and disrtrusted doctors. Then I met Don Torrison. He proved to me that a piece of hard plastic in the eye socket was not uncomfortable, and was able to even improve the appearance of my left eye.

Don Torrison, certified by the American Society of Ocularists, makes and fits artificial eyes at the recommendation of an ophthalmologist (eye doctor). A former sales representative known to have an ability in art, he was asked to paint artificial eyes, and has done so now for 24 years. To make the artificial eye, he first makes a mold of the socket from a soft, waxy material which he removes once it has hardened to the right degree, from the mold, he makes the "stone" (artificial eye) from scleral plastic (white plastic). The scleral plastic is boiled, the front of the "stone" is cut and shaped, then the "eye" is painted on with acrylic paints and sealed with polymer (a clear plastic).
Finally, the eye is fitted to the socket. It usually takes two or three fittings to get the eye just right.

Mr. Torrison fits eyes for anyone from six months to 93 years of age. In children, tumors usually precipitate the need for an artificial eye.
Accidents and glaucoma are the most prevalent causes in adults; accidents being the major cause by far. He sees a growing child every six months and adds plastic to the eye to build it up as the socket develops. He generally sees an adult once a year for polishing and to rebuild the eye should the socket begin to shrink or the eye begin to settle in incorrectly. If an artificial eye is fitted properly by a certified ocularist, it is taken out and cleaned with mild soap and water about once a week (or more or less, depending on individual circumstances) then the eye will not hurt, will not fall out and will last a long time (all great concerns to me).

Mr. Torrison does more than just make and fit the eye. He understands that most people are afraid of being blind, and, especially in accident cases, are concerned about their physical appearence and how the new "eye" will look. He understands that to lose an eye can be traumatic and he tries to help by explaining to his client and his family that there are others like him, and that blind people do not have to be "handicapped" but are capable of taking care of themselves in all ways. He sees the importance of constantly trying to educate the public along these lines.

For more information Mr. Torrison may be contacted at: Torrison Eye Care Room 110, Swanson Professional Building, 8601 West Dodge Road, Omaha, Nebraska 68114.

It has been with relief and pride that I know, and can introduce to you, the National Federation of the Blind, Don Torrison, and a new image of myself! My parents wanted me to be "okay", and now I really believe I am.

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