Some of y’all know that my partner is legally blind. The best anyone can guess is that it happened by way of chromosomal damage due to his father’s exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam War combat (now used domestically as a garden-variety pesticide on crops that become food that we eat, but I digress…).
What we do know is that he was born with congenital cataracts, requiring three surgeries by the time he was two (or two surgeries by the time he was three? I get a little mixed up on the details sometimes).
What we also know is that during these surgeries, the protocol of the day back then was to remove the cataract-damaged lens and all of the supporting structures, because nobody had dreamed of lens implants back then and even if they had, those structures would have atrophied over time anyway.
And of course, what was thought to be known until very recently is that there was a limited window of time during which the visual centers of the brain developed, during the first six or seven or so years of life, after which that window would permanently close, taking with it any hope of anything more.
It was a case of “congratulations, you’re blind for life. You can see, but you can’t see. You won’t be able to drive, but you won’t qualify for enough assistance to lead a fulfilling life. Your color vision will be fine, but your focus will never be better than 20/200 corrected (with glasses/contacts). That’s the best that you can hope for. Thanks for playing. Have a nice day.”
And for over 40 years, that’s how it was.
But then, a series of interesting events happened.
First, lens implants came on the scene en masse during the 2000s (aka “the twenty-ohs”), and my partner was able to squeak by with the older posterior chamber procedure.
The only obvious benefit was that he no longer had to wear huge, thick, heavy, stand-out glasses or mess with the hassle of wearing and caring for contact lenses.
But his vision remained unchanged, at about 20/197.
We expected that. We knew the reality and the finality, and we accepted them.
We were prepared to accept them for life. But it turns out that we didn’t have to.
Technology has its way of moving forward at an almost surreal rate of speed and level of sophistication. It’s unstoppable, and in this case, that worked in our favor for once. 😉
This time, technological development shone its sun-rays on my partner.
A few pivotal new assistive devices came on the market and thanks to the generosity of the State of Texas, they provided this newest technology to him without personal expense.
One of these is a scope-like device for seeing clearly from a distance. The drawback: it’s not at all panoramic; it’s an extremely narrow field of view. But hey–for the first time, my partner could visualize structures a half-mile away! Awesome.
Around the same time, he began putting some newfound acupuncture knowledge to the test and inserting needles into acu-points designed to enhance eye function, just to see what would happen.
We didn’t know what to expect, so we felt it would be better if we expected nothing. He had nothing to lose other than the time it took to be one’s own daily pin cushion.
Then one day, in July of last year (2016) when I was halfway across the country at a conference in Maryland, I got a phone call that night (after the agenda for the day had been concluded), and it was my partner, with amazing news…
I don’t remember too much, but I recall the words “potential driver’s license” being used in relation to my partner. I also remember the numbers (my Aspie brain is funny that way) – he had met with his vision doctor for a periodic checkup, and his vision had most recently tested at 20/148, after a mere six months of nonsurgical, low-tech, thousands-years-old Chinese Medicine.
But wait–there’s more…
He mentioned that his doctor, after a few more steps, might be able to sign off on a special type of driver’s education course, specifically designed for people in situations like his. And she might be able to hand-walk a special type of license through the state medical board.
He cautioned me that it would take a while, probably a year or so.
Well, fast forward to the beginning of March…
He called me one afternoon to say that he had indeed gone to Austin, the location of the acupuncture school he’s attending, which is also our state capitol, but he had ditched class for the day, a behavior very uncharacteristic of him. Thus, I immediately knew it was for a good reason.
It was. He’d gone to the Department of Public Safety, which issues the driver’s licenses for our state, and he had walked out with the paperwork for a license that functions like a learner’s permit; a licensed driver must accompany him while driving, but He Could Drive.
I came out of my office for a break from exam studying to find him coming out of his doorway at the same time, with an enchanting grin on his face.
He was holding the real plastic card that said “Driver’s License”, with his name and picture on it.
It was for real. This was really happening.
Then, a dear, dear friend happened upon a particular circumstance that, for reasons of confidentiality I won’t go into here, but let’s just say that 1) the most crucial aspect is that my friend is OK, and 2) She Gave Him Her Car.
Nearly a month later, I’m still in amazement, shock, and disbelief, in a really awesome good way.
A few weeks ago, he started puttering around the parking lot of our apartment complex (that’s where the header image comes from), and just this week, since he’s gotten insured on both vehicles, we’ve gone out on real public streets.
All of my many hours of informal-but-excellent driver’s training from my dad (the most talented driver I know) has since come flooding back. All the little guidelines and tidbits and tricks of the trade have surfaced and been parroted out of my mouth.
I figured it would, when teaching my eventual son or daughter to drive.
I never had the son or daughter (which I’m totally cool with).
This is even better.
I’m teaching my partner to drive instead.
He’s 46, so this experience is 30 years overdue.
But it’s happening! Really happening! And it feels wonderful 🙂