Seeing the world through my eyes

So, how blind are you? I mean, what can you actually see?

Excellent question. It’s one I hear somewhat frequently, right up there with “Have you learned braille yet?” and “When will you get a guide dog?”

Only about 18% of people identified as blind are in complete darkness. The rest of us have some functional vision, even if it’s only enough to tell light from dark or detect the wave of a hand. Some legally blind people can make out blurry shapes, and even read print at sufficient magnification. When I started to get to know other people with visual impairments, I was surprised to discover how many blind people could see better than I could.

When I first came home from the hospital, everything was a dark gray void. Gradually, Gradually, I began to recover some perception of contrast and motion, like a light-colored cord against a dark rug, or ripples moving in a glass of water in the sunlight.

My official diagnosis, approximately one year after losing my eyesight, is NLP (No Light Perception) in my left eye and Hand Motion in the right. That means that with the right eye covered, the left was literally unable to distinguish light from dark. My right eye could perceive and follow the motion of the doctor’s hand when he waved it in front of me, but I couldn’t tell how many fingers he was holding up.

I feel as though there might have been some further improvement in the past year. I seem to pick out contrast better, find more distinctions between dark and light objects, like being able to make out a dark doorframe against a light wall. It’s tricky, though. I’m not sure whether my actual vision is better, or I’ve just learned to better interpret the glimpses I get. I think my brain is doing some of the work, too, filling in information from memory, so that a dark blur on the wall resolves into the clock that’s always hung there.

Movement helps. I was surprised to discover that that really is a thing. A friend’s silhouette might be visible when they move toward me or even shift positions slightly, but blur into the background when they hold still. Conversely, if I’m moving, riding in the car or even turning my head, shades of gray seem to resolve into blurry outlines.

One disappointment for me is that I’ve completely lost color vision. I live in a monochrome world, and I miss color!

Yes, yes. But what is it like? I mean, what do you see?

For those of you old enough to remember pre-cable television, try this:

You turn on the knob and wait for it to warm up. When it does, you turn the dial (Remember that?) looking for a channel. A few channels come in clearly. Most of them are just static. But every now and then, there’s one that’s in-between.

The picture is fuzzy, made up of black and white dots. (Black and white, because we’re really old-school here.) Every now and then, you can see someone’s head and shoulders, but you can’t make out their features or tell who they are. There are clumps of darker and lighter dots. Every now and then, when the camera lingers, you can sort of make out what things are–a building against the sky, a tree, a moving car. Then the picture shifts, and you’re back to static again.

That’s pretty much exactly it, actually.

Too obscure? Okay, try this one:

You’re in a deep-sea submersible. You can see a short distance ahead of you, but anything more than a few feet away is quickly lost in the gloom. Shapes and objects seem to loom at you without warning. Every now and then you glimpse movement, but often it’s gone before you can focus on it and tell what it is. You have to rely on radar, sonar, or dead reckoning to navigate without crashing into things.

So…do either of those help give a sense of what I experience? I think the first is more accurate, but the second might be easier to visualize. It’s not always easy to translate my non-visual experiences into visual terms, but I don’t usually mind giving it a try. Are there any other aspects of my life you’re curious about? If I get some interesting questions here in the comments, I may try to answer them in a future post.

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