We have really bad vision in my family. I was reminded of this recently, not that I need any reminders, while shredding some old files for my mother.
To support this statement, I offer the above two exhibits. On the left, Exhibit A, is a list of all the bills my parents paid in January, 2003. Exhibit B, on the right, is another list of bills paid in January, 2004, exactly one year later. That is my mother's handwriting you see on both pages and, despite what it looks like, I can assure you she was not several sheets to the wind while she was writing the second one.
I remember, as a kid, squinting at my mother's cursive writing and trying my darnedest to decipher it. It looked nothing like the loopy Palmer Method script I was taught in third grade. Her handwriting was distinctive; so much so, that I blame it for the reason I quit believing in Santa Claus. One Christmas morning, when I was seven or thereabouts, it suddenly occurred to me that Santa's writing on his thank-you note for his annual Christmas Eve treat of cookies and Diet Rite cola looked suspiciously like my mother's. Ditto the writing on the gift tags attached to the presents that were supposed to be from the jolly fat man. Now that I think on it, the diet soda was another dead giveaway.
Anyway, I'm digressing. The cause of Mom's sudden poor eyesight was age related macular degeneration (AMD). The macula is the part of the eye responsible for close-up or central vision; the kind of vision we use to read, drive, pick the pretzels out of the Chex Mix, type blogs, and so forth. There are two types of AMD. The "dry" version is caused by an accumulation of deposits called drusen in the macula. In the "wet" version, the most severe form, blood vessels grow and leak. People with AMD have their peripheral vision, so they are not completely blind, but their central vision is obscured.
My father was the first to be diagnosed with AMD. His disease progressed very slowly, so slowly in fact, that he was able to read, drive, and spelunk through the Chex Mix for years with little or no trouble. My mother's AMD, as evidenced by the Exhibits above, hit her like the proverbial sledgehammer. AMD is believed to have a strong hereditary component and this must be true, because my father's sister and brother were both diagnosed with it. To add insult to injury, my MIL also had AMD. If the geneticists are right, this means my kids and I should be eating truckloads of carrots every week.
When Mom told us about her AMD, Richard and I immediately encouraged my parents to move to Dallas. They knew it was the right thing to do, but they resisted for a number of reasons: they didn't want to be a burden (as if dropping everything to make unscheduled trips to Houston to help them wasn't a burden), they didn't want to leave their home, they didn't want to leave their friends (who they hardly ever saw anymore due to their increasing isolation), and they just couldn't face the stress of a major move. It was an accident that finally forced their hand. My father ran a red light, one he did not see because of his poor vision, and hit a family, including a pregnant woman, riding in a pickup truck. Thankfully, no one was hurt, but it scared the bejabbers out of my parents, as it should have.
When my MIL was alive, she would compensate for her bad sight by stepping into my personal space, that area we humans psychologically claim as ours. I would take a corresponding step backwards to reclaim my territory, and she, of course, would march right back into it. One evening, about ten minutes into this weird little tango, it dawned on me why she was doing this. She's trying to see my face! D'oh! Thereafter, for her sake, I would hold my ground, but it was an uncomfortable business sometimes. My MIL would be yakking away on some topic, oblivious of my discomfort, and it would take everything I had in me not to run screaming in the other direction. I liked my MIL just fine, and we got along well; I just don't care for conversation at such close range I can count the fillings in the other person's mouth.
We have a family card game, a variation of gin rummy, aptly called "Frustration". Every kid born on my side of the family tree is taught to play as soon as he or she is sick of Old Maid or Go Fish. My dad loved this game, and he never let his blindness get in the way of an evening spent playing cards. We used two special card decks we ordered from an on-line low vision store and those, coupled with a fantastic memory, kept him beating the rest of us game after game. I often thought if Daddy had applied himself, he could have done well counting cards at blackjack, back when he could see, of course, but he never did care to gamble.
These days, Mom and I --- her faithful seeing eye dog --- have fallen into a weekly routine. I take her to her doctor appointments, of which there are many. Help her with her grocery shopping, drop her off at the beauty salon, the nail salon, pay her bills, handle her correspondence, take her to lunch or dinner occasionally, and patiently listen to her reminisce about how much better things were in the good old days. I feel desperately sorry for her and wish there was something that could be done to improve her vision, even just a little bit, but she is far beyond any of the available treatments.
Given my age and the lousy gene pool I'm swimming in (my kids are young enough that they are just dipping their toes), I hope that someone, somewhere is able to come up with a cure soon or, if not that, at least better treatments. Honestly, I worry about this more than I worry about getting cancer, and for good reason: I am very nearly stone deaf. Believe me, I would not make a very inspiring 21st century version of Helen Keller.
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