by Jim Marks
From the Editor: Jim Marks is known to many Federationists for his work in the Montana affiliate, having served for several terms on its board of directors and as the affiliate's vice president. For a number of years he was a wise voice on the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee. For his paid work, Jim served as the director of disability services for students at the University of Montana flagship campus in Missoula and has long been an advocate for helping young people become independent. He has been the treasurer of the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and has been the chairman of the organization's special interest group on blindness and visual impairments.
In this article Jim discusses two trips: one to his eye doctor and the other to his dentist. It turns out that his blood pressure was higher when visiting the former than the latter, and many who have gone blind under the care of a doctor will have a clue as to why. Few blind people harbor long-term anger at their doctor because the medical community could not preserve their sight, but many are angry because that community had nothing to offer but the door when blindness was assured. Here is what Jim has to say:
They say the blood pressure cuff reveals a lot more than the numbers. Sure proved true for me. In the last few weeks, I’ve visited both the eye doctor and a dentist. Both took my blood pressure. At the eye doctor’s, my numbers were very high. At the dentist’s, my numbers were very good. You wouldn’t expect this because there is little to fear at the eye doc’s, while the dentist often includes some uncomfortable procedures.
So, here’s the deal. The last time I visited the eye doctor was in 1985. I am blind, and the eye doctor could provide no treatment that would improve my vision. My experiences with vision treatment were pretty good except that the medical world knows nothing about how to function with blindness and does nothing to educate itself or its patients. Sometimes, eye doctors provide low vision aids, but these still focus on vision, not blindness. When the treatments to preserve or improve vision fall short, the eye doc has no rabbits to pull from the medical hat. When I first became aware I was losing my vision due to an eye disease, I remember placing a huge amount of faith in the abilities of the medical world to keep me from going blind. At the time I internalized all the negative prejudices and stereotypes about blindness. For me it was all about the cure… at least hope for the cure. When my eye doc booted me to the curb, that quest for the cure evaporated.
I turned to the alternative techniques of the blind and positive attitudes about blindness in order to live the life I want. That approach was cemented deeply in my being, and the medical world insofar as vision goes faded into my past. That is, it did until I recently needed to verify my blindness as part of my application for Social Security Disability Insurance. My blindness documentation dated back to 1982 when my eye doc declared me legally blind and referred me to blindness vocational rehabilitation services. My blood pressure numbers at the eye doc’s revealed that I harbor a great deal of emotion about the puny overlap between medical vision treatments and blindness.
For example, a technician at the eye doc’s administered a field test. I cannot see any of the flashing lights, so I sat through two cycles of the test just waiting for the conclusion. Frankly, it pissed me off. My anger came from those long dormant emotions and was not directed at the staff. All were very kind and professional. But I am blind, and the way I define my life really has very little to do with the medical world. So, my blood pressure told the story, and I am still marveling at just how difficult a simple visit to the eye doc was for me. I was my usual cheerful self on the outside, but I was boiling on the inside.
Now that the moment is behind me, I can reflect on it and understand better who I am and where I am going. I won’t be going back to the eye doc anytime soon. Some blind people must do this to prevent abnormal eye pressures and other health issues. I have cataracts on top of the retinitis pigmentosa that causes my blindness, but I will not get them removed unless a health issue crops up. Right now, I have light perception, but I am so good at being blind that I own it, control it, and direct it. Being able to see has very little to do with most of life’s important endeavors. I choose to be so positive that I forget I am blind. Anyhow, thanks for reading through this wandering reflection.