A New Perspective on Macular Degeneration
Posted in ICA News on January 31, 2012 by Pat Pickett
by Brenda J Shelton
After dealing with low vision for my entire life, I came to the conclusion that macular degeneration and blindness are not the end, but the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Attitude and persistence are my best assets in meeting the challenges presented by my vision problems.
I was born with low vision and went through a sight-saving elementary school program. I functioned as a seeing individual until 2000. I was having difficulty reading and experienced a general dimming of what I was seeing. It was as if someone had dimmed all the lights. I went through several diagnoses. I had several surgeries, but the bottom line was I was nonfunctional in my job as a Nursing Home administrator. I retired, moved back to my home town, and began to search for answers on how I could be productive.
My vision was not reliable. I could not see the food on my plate, read more than one or two words at a time or see fingers held close to my face. The lens implants from cataract surgery allowed me to read a billboard without glasses, yet simple things like stepping off a curb or pouring water in a glass could be hazardous. I was stumbling and running into things. My husband and children were becoming anxious and concerned about my safety. The ophthalmologist was not providing answers or solutions. I was referred from specialist to specialist and multiple tests for over three years. I was not getting any better. It was suggested that I had emotional problems, and it was just my imagination. I refused to accept that in the age of technology, there was not help for my problems.
I needed to work and tried several jobs as a cashier, telemarketer, and customer service representative. The problems with peripheral vision, near vision and depth perception were still hindrances to job performance. I was at my rope’s end, totally frustrated with myself … and the world. I went to the state rehabilitation office to see if they could help me find something I could do. I was referred to the Commission for the Blind.
I had not thought of myself as “blind” as everyone was trying to save my sight. Blindness was not mentioned. I met with a counselor from the commission who explained their program and for the first time in many years I saw possible solutions. Someone could help, and maybe I was blind. I saw a few more doctors and had more tests. I was relieved to know what was wrong and understand functionality and safety techniques could be learned. The vision in my left eye was nonfunctional and not repairable, dry macular degeneration. I only saw light and shadows.
Hearing the words “blind in one eye and degeneration in both” were a little overwhelming at first. The counselors were great in helping me realize I had probably been using alternative techniques all my life. They would be there to teach and support me with alternative skills to regain my functionality. All I had to do was the work. I put on the sleep shades and spent the next five months at the state school for the blind. These were difficult months, but the solutions were there for the learning, I saw functional blind persons doing many of the things I wanted to do. So I would cry, curse and even have a meltdown but persisted. I learned independent cane travel, adaptive methods to do personal hygiene, cooking, cleaning, and the use of power tools. I was confident and ready to face the challenge of being a person of unreliable vision when I left the center.
I pursued employment but I believe my health, age and blindness were more than an employer was willing to take on. I interviewed and sent resumes for over a year. I interviewed for jobs that I was more than qualified for and still I was unemployed. I became discouraged. I also became the primary caregiver for my aging mother. I joined the National Federation for the Blind and began to attend meetings and get involved with the local chapter. I still wanted gainful employment. I was unwilling to continue knocking on doors to find a job.
Then, the EBay craze was just beginning, and I understood computers. With an adaptive computer, I opened my store in 2005. I have not reached my financial goals but am learning and making pocket change for now. It is not what I had wanted, but it is something that is working for me and helps fill the days with useful activity. I continue to look for creative ways to be self-employed and help others.