When I was 19, going on 20 years old, I started to lose my eyesight. A disease called Leber’s Optic Neuropathy. This is a degenerative disease that causes blood to stop going to the optic nerve. It kills the optic nerve. I see as though in a thick fog. Nothing is clear, there is not any color. Essentially, I do not see. I perceive light and dark, and when something big is moving close to me, I can perceive that as well.
I first noticed the problem when I was at McDonald’s one night with friends after youth group. I couldn’t read the menu as well as I thought I should. I squinted and looked, but spots were fuzzy and unclear. I closed one eye realizing that my left eye, the better eye, wasn’t seeing clearly anymore. I thought it would go away, but the problem persisted.
Since one of my older brothers had a hereditary eye disease, I guessed I had the same malady. The doctors later confirmed the diagnosis. When I knew for sure that I was losing my eyesight, I knew that I would have a limited amount of time to soak in everything I could.
I treasured everything I saw over those subsequent 8-9 months as my eyesight deteriorated to the point it is now. As I drove down the open country roads, I burned the landscapes into my memory. I sat super close to the TV to see Michael Jordan lead the Bulls to their 5th of six championships in 1997. I did the same to play video games up to the last point I could. I remember no longer being able to see my sister’s softball games.
One by one bits of my life unalterably changed.
One fateful day of playing catch with my friend forever etched itself into my memory. I loved throwing the baseball around and hitting the ball. I could no longer make contact with the bat, yet I thought I could still catch the ball. I had one good eye at this point as the disease attacked one eye and moved to the other. I should have taken into consideration the lack of depth perception being an issue, but I didn’t. My friend threw a ball perfectly aiming the throw at my face. However, I misjudged the ball. Holding my glove too low, the ball whizzed over my glove and hit me smack dab in the forehead. The throw was perfect, but my ability to catch was forever impaired. It crushed me to realize that my athletic days were now over…or so I thought. Since going blind I have run in two marathons and enjoy a plethora of sports activities, just not the same ones that I loved as a teen.
I remember the last day I drove a car. The spots in my vision began getting worse. I didn’t realize how much worse my eyes were until I was driving to downtown Madison, WI to visit a friend at the University of Wisconsin. As the traffic signals approached, I began to panic, because I couldn’t see the signal at the upcoming intersection. Driving alone, I didn’t know what I would do, so I slowed slightly and decided to follow the flow of traffic next to me. If the cars kept going, I kept going. As I neared the intersection, the traffic light came into view. With my heart racing, I made it to the campus to see my friend. Wow, for that moment, I breathed a sigh of relief. Still, the drive home loomed in front of me. That is unless one of my friends at the school would go with me. They didn’t. Cautiously I drove home slower than usual. Whew, I arrived home…safely. Devastated and scared at what happened, I told my dad what happened. He said he would drive me anywhere I needed to go. We would make it. I have made it, but it hasn’t always been an easy journey.
I will write about how going blind effected my life in other ways later this week.