This post will be a little different to my usual education related blog posts. I have had some recent changes in my vision which have resulted in variable visual acuity and no longer being safe to drive a car. I will talk about my vision changes, adaptations I have made and thoughts and feelings associated with this in upcoming blog posts in the hope that others will be able to learn from my experiences.
My name is Sally and you can find out more about me and my vision by clicking on the links in this sentence. If you read the title of this post – “how I see it” you may think that sight and blindness are concrete or black and white in nature, in reality, this is far from the truth.
I have been on the boarder of the vision impaired world since I was a child. At school I received assistance to read the blackboard and ordinary sized print – at this time corrective lenses were not advanced enough to correct my visual acuity enough to learn without these adaptations. Around 20 years ago optometry had advanced enough to provide specialised contact lenses that would correct my vision so that I could drive.
Driving opened up a new way of life for me, in that, I could pursue a career as an emergency nurse, work in the ambulance service and spend a good deal of time volunteering in my community.
Around 8 years ago I noticed it becoming more difficult driving at night and as a consequence made the decision to stop working in the emergency department and in front line ambulance as night shifts in this area were a necessity that was not open for negotiation. I moved into the education sector and as time passed I made the decision to completely stop driving at night.
In early 2017 I noticed some significant changes in my vision where my visual acuity was consistently below the level to drive. I had a cataract removed which corrected some of my central visual acuity but in turn created other vision issues, for example, increased glare, floaters and “sparkles” (I call this static in my eye) and while colours were brighter the definition of objects in certain light decreased and distortion caused by my retinopathy became more prominent. You can read more about the affect of these changes in the section called my vision.
Despite corrected vision, I had difficulty reading small print at work, was making mistakes in my reading and writing which colleagues were beginning to notice. What I did not realise at this time was how tiring and stressful reading in particular had become. When colleagues would ask how I was, I would say that I was tired, not linking this to my vision. It was not until one of my friends pointed out “you are always tired, everyone is tired” that I began to make the link with vision changes. I came to realise blind spots and distortion were more obvious in close up work and my eyes needed to work harder close up to compensate whereas at a distance my brain found it easier to fill in the gaps.
On reflection this was a cycle, I would make mistakes and be hard on myself, colleagues would notice mistakes, mention them and I would be hard on myself again repeating the cycle. At this point, I did not meet the criteria published in the health industry to be considered vision impaired, although I was experiencing many of the issues associated with vision impairment for example, monocular vision, retinopathy, glaucoma and associated side effects.
This made me question myself, for example, am I imagining vision changes? Each time I felt my vision changed, I visited my optician, we went through eye testing, at times we came up with changes to my prescription at other times we did not. I went through trying different types of glasses, progressive, bifocal, plain, tinted and different makes of lenses in an attempt to improve my acuity. The result was headaches, eye pain, nausea, frustration and many sets of glasses, different types of contact lenses (including occlusive ones for glare) and a rather large bill of over $4500 one year on glasses alone. Unfortunately there was no significant improvement. The lesson I learned from this was, that although it is frustrating my vision is variable, one day things will be easy to see and another they will not and although I did not realise this at the time, accepting this variability was the key.
I was left feeling unsure where I fitted into society, my visual acuity was not bad enough to be considered vision impaired and not good enough to function without adaptation. There seemed to be no place in society for someone in-between normal vision and being considered “blind”. My mindset at this time would not allow me to consider the learning opportunity around vision impairment that this gap provided (to be discussed in future blog posts).
In healthcare we talk about functional assessment, however, all of the documentation I could find online as well as information via opticians and specialists seemed to rely on the measurement of visual acuity to define vision impairment and therefore the entitlement to any vision related support. One of my biggest fears is “failure”, interestingly, what constitutes “failure” seems to be a moving target. At this time, I saw asking for help as a sign of “failure” as I did not fit into the mould of someone who was entitled to assistance. This left me feeling even more “in-between” and excluded from both the sighted and vision impaired communities.
After a frustrating day, full of reading small print and making mistakes at work, I self referred myself to the Blind Foundation asking for assistance, I explained the situation and how I did not fit the criteria opticians and specialist advised but was having many of the issues associated with my eye conditions that make functioning in my workplace difficult.
To my surprise, after providing appropriate documentation and my own account of difficulties by email, even though my central left visual acuity was OK the effects of my eye conditions with reduced visual field meant that I could utilise the Blind Foundation services after all.
Future blog posts will outline my journey in living with, adapting to and accepting the “in-between”.