Life-changing. How often do you hear this term? I, for one, certainly overuse it. Possibly weekly, at least monthly. “Oh man, switching to decaf, that was life-changing!” If I take careful stock of my history, how many events actually changed my life? Like changed *all* of my life? Just a handful: marriage, kids, relocating to a new city, that time I got hit by a car.
Let’s focus on the car. Today is my anniversary—twenty-seven years. In 1995, riding my bike to work, I collided with a minivan. The word ‘collided’ I think softens the violence. But the van didn’t hit me, I hit the van. The driver pulled in front of me, I slammed into the side. I don’t remember that ‘Oh, fuck!’ moment when I knew I was about to die. The impact erased more than twenty-four hours of memories. My last memory was watching the movie Cobb the night before. I remember thinking, God this movie sucks.”
My next memory came the day after the crash. Monitors surrounded me flashing visual representations of my heartbeat, respiration and what ever other vital signs are tracked while keeping someone alive.
Yesterday, looking at the calendar I noticed that today is the day. I used to make a big deal about December 8th. I would exchange emails with family and friends. Maybe it’s not my birthday, but it’s still notable as my I-didn’t-die-day. 1995 was a long time ago. I’ve mostly lost interest in commemorating the date. But it’s on my mind right now because I can’t see.
My brain injury wreaked havoc on my life, changed my life. My physical recovery from the accident, primarily my neck and shoulder, took years. These joints will never be perfect, but everything works reasonably well now. Good enough anyway. But my brain seems to be in a never-ending decline. If you google traumatic brain injury, you find all sorts of websites that list the long-term effects that might result. To me, the most relevant are hearing loss, vision problems and difficulty relating to others. Yeah, that’s me, I’ve written about all of these in the past, but right now my pressing issue is my vision.
Since my accident I’ve battled with diplopia—double vision. Right now, instead of one image, I see two—slightly offset, a bit to the side, but not quite horizontal. If it’s a small object, such as speed limit sign in the distance, I clearly see two, one diagonally over the other. But usually what ever I’m focusing on is large enough that the images blend and overlap into one big mess. It can be hard to tell what I’m looking at.
The past twenty-seven years have gone like this: My vision splits. I visit the eye-doctor and he prescribes prisms in my glasses. Prisms bend light, so for me they bend the direction my eyes point. With the prism, my eye can be listing to the side, and I still see what’s directly in front of me. Whenever I get new prisms, I see perfectly again. For a while. Every year or two, I need new lenses with increasingly larger prisms. Once, years ago, a surgeon shortened the muscles in one of my eye sockets to realign my eyes to point where they should. I wore glasses with no added prisms for a few years, but the degradation continued. I needed to add prisms again.
For the past two years, I’ve updated my prescription every six to eight months. I’m maxing out the optical industry’s ability to correct my vision. The generally accepted limit of prism in lenses is fifteen diopters. I’m at fourteen now. This was prescribed only seven months ago, and my vision is now dizzyingly bad.
Nighttime is the worst. There aren’t enough clear visual cues to help me pull the images together. This bout of double vision started a couple of months ago. Driving an unfamiliar stretch of desolate highway at night, I kept slowing down because I couldn’t be sure which way the road was bearing. Eli, sitting in the seat next to me said, “You know the speed limit is sixty-five.” I trotted along at fifty or lower. “Dad, are you okay? I can drive if you want.” Frustrated and embarrassed, I kept driving. Since then, things have steadily gotten worse.
I’ve decided to skip my normal prescription update. I think a new prescription will surpass the prism limit of fifteen diopters. Plus, my insurance that would pay for new glasses doesn’t reset until April. With the prisms, coupled with bifocals, a new set of lenses can run six hundred dollars or more. Instead, I’m seeing a doctor at the Wilmer Eye Institute, a world-class facility that happens to be in my area. I’m hoping that in the ten years since I last visited them, a new intervention has been discovered that might slow the continual slide in my vision. Most likely, it’s time for surgery again.
What better way to take stock of this anniversary than frantically trying to get control over my devolving vision. I’ve called the Wilmer Eye Institute four times in the past two weeks, trying various tactics to move my appointment sooner. My limited success still has it on January 24, almost seven weeks away. Driving at night is now unsafe, reading a book is difficult, and I’ve already increased the zoom on my computer monitor by twenty-five percent. I expect the next two months to be a depressing period that includes unrestrained self-pity. Say a prayer for my wife and kids, they’re the ones who need to live with me.