On Going Blind


Isn’t it ironic that a person whose life was devoted to reading books and watching movies should near the end of his journey going blind?

Over twenty-five years ago my eye doctor in Eastchester informed me that I had macular degeneration. He gave me a little graph to see whether my eyes were failing—“Tell me when the lines start undulating as on a roller coaster.” He said there was nothing I could do. That seemed to be the case.

After moving to Santa Cruz I discovered I had cataracts and had both removed–whereupon I acquired a bionic man kind of lens which gave me perfect distance vision. Things were good. However, after an annual check up, the ophthalmologist told me I should see Dr. Brian Ward, a retinologist. Dr. Ward informed me that somewhere along the way I had lost a great deal of vision in my left eye. No roller coaster warning. It seems that we read with only one of our eyes so I had not noticed the change. That was the bad news.

The good news was that about the same, retinologists discovered that by injecting Avastin, an anti-cancer medicine, into the eye, wet macular degeneration could be halted. Prior to this discovery, the wet macular degeneration left black spots in one’s central vision which finally led to total blindness. At this point, my left eye had degenerated to 20/70 but periodic shots of the Avastin kept my right eye functioning at a 20/30 level meaning that I could both read and drive with ease. This situation lasted for a number of years.

But alas even though the wet degeneration could be halted, the dry degeneration continued. Eventually the vision in both eyes degenerated, until my new retinologist, Dr. Howard Chen, informed me I had become legally blind. I could no longer read, drive a car, or watch movies intelligently.

Fortunately, Dr. Chen told me that the degeneration of my eyes would get no worse. This meant I could continue to walk our dog, Uschi, an eighty-eight pound German Shepherd, I could continue to take out the trash, wash the dishes, do the laundry, eat meals without assistance, and even recognize faces close up. Best of all, my saintly wife put me in touch with Audible Books. The world is mine. How amazing how wonderful to hear the great classics read by superb readers and actors who turn each work into dramatic performances. I began listening to books at the rate of one or two a week. In one month I heard five novels by Trollop. I even tried for the third time to get through Gravity’s Rainbow. Even with a clever reader I could not make it. I do not begrudge Pynchon his genius. There was just too much gravity and not enough rainbow to suit my taste. Lately, my listening has turned to histories and biographies. I’ve just finished American Prometheus, two biographies of J.F.K., and am in the midst of Team of Rivals.

From my entire family I received a second blessing in the form of an extraordinary invention called Orcam. This is a handheld gadget that reads in a clear unrobotic voice any text from a book to The New York Times, The Atlantic, or a dinner menu.

A final blessing! Strangely enough, my blindness has improved my prayer life. Somehow, it has deepened my ability to meditate. Furthermore, I feel it has improved the lectures and talks on religion I have continued giving. By concentrating on the subject matter and rehearsing over and over again in my mind what I wish to say and the order in which I wish to say it, I am able to speak I think better now without any notes, giving my presentation more intimacy and authority.

To anyone afflicted with this malady, take heart.

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