As long as I live I’ll never forget that moment. The photo of the tiny sleeping infant nestled in my son’s arms was so precious. My eyes filled with tears as I continued to look at my first grandchild; he was so beautiful. Thoughts of not being able to see him as well as I would have previously didn’t even cross my mind. All I wanted was to hold this precious baby. Believe it or not, if you live with it long enough, forgetting you can’t physically see after sight loss becomes the norm. After the trauma, and accompanying period of adjustment to losing your sight, it seems like there’s a built-in coping mechanism where the brain forgets previous vision. It becomes a mixed blessing that allows you to continue moving onward with your life.
My Journey To Sight Loss
My sight loss story began 11 years ago with one macular hole. The macula provides the sharp, central vision needed for reading, driving, and seeing fine detail. A macular hole is a small break in the macula which is located in the retina, the center of the eye’s light-sensitive tissue.
After the development and reopening of additional macular holes, followed by a series of surgeries and painful recovery periods, my eye problems grew to include ocular hypertension, glaucoma, retinal detachment, epiretinal membrane, cataracts, broken blood vessels and uveitis. Because I had macular holes in both eyes my central vision was destroyed. I went from better than perfect corrected vision of 20/15, to finger counting. It got to the point where I could no longer see the eye chart.
Eventually, I ended up on the receiving end of the “we’re sorry there is no more we can do for you” conversation—I was declared legally blind. The news was devastating. However, it’s important to note when it gets to the point where medical intervention cannot restore sight, there are many resources, tools, trainings and organizations geared to helping people learn how to live with sight loss.
At the time I received my diagnosis of legal blindness I was unaware of all the services available to help me prepare for a life without vision. I had so many goals at work and home and now everything was different. Being faced with the knowledge I would never drive again, losing my independence and remaining unable to recognize the faces of my children nearly broke me.
Putting on makeup, taking medication, getting in and out of the shower, preparing for work, shopping, watching television, walking the dog, being unable to distinguish bushes from animals or trees from people—everything was difficult. There was hope though in the form of my low vision specialist who made the referral to the Bureau of Blindness and Visual Services (BBVS).
There’s Always Hope Even After Sight Loss
Once I began receiving help from BBVS, doors began to open for me. Through the professional guidance I received, I felt I could pick up the remaining pieces of my vision loss and resume my new life as a blind woman. I learned how to use a magnification/screen reading software on my computer. I received items to make life easier like tactile bump dots, 20/20 pens, text-to-speech software, video magnifier, ott lamp, CCTV (a magnification monitor also known as a closed circuit television), audible books, white cane and more.
With the exception of driving, I was gradually able to resume doing all the activities I loved prior to sight loss by learning new techniques and implementing organizational systems to keep me on track. Becoming active in the blind community was huge and impacted me the greatest because I could see that sight loss has nothing to do with being able to live a meaningful life.
Bouncing Baby Boy Brings Bliss
So 3-½ years ago when I became a new grandma or “GiGi”, as I like to be called, the lack of sight was the farthest thing from my mind. When my son brought the baby to my home and he placed him in my arms I was instantly in love. It had been 23 years since the birth of my third son, but the feeling that washed over me as I held my grandson was heavenly. After what seemed like a crash course on taking care of a grandchild after sight loss, the baby stayed with me on the weekends. I think my previous experience as a mom made the task of caring for my grandson much easier despite the fact I couldn’t see as well.
I’ve learned it’s considerably easier to watch an infant as opposed to a 3-½ year old toddler. I’ve done the best I can by baby proofing my condo. I also never let him out of my sight while he’s in my care to minimize any potential risks. Teaching him not to run when we go outside to walk the dog is an ongoing process, but as he gets older he seems to understand my sight limitations.
I cannot pretend to know what the future holds for me or my life with my grandson, but I can tell you I will continue to work to change the misconceptions surrounding blindness. The people we were prior to the loss of our vision, and the things that brought us joy, are still intrinsic to who we are today. Sighted or blind, each of us is living our lives to the best of our ability.