Gaining Perspective Through Vision Therapy

Part 1 of a series.  

'Sorry I couldn’t make it to your presentation, I had to take my son to therapy’.

A seemingly innocent comment changed the direction of my life.

Normally I would have asked Michelle what kind of therapy her son was at but I felt a nudge to keep my mouth shut.  Maybe she was ashamed that her son had to do ‘therapy’.

She continued, . . . ‘he was at vision therapy.  He has double vision.  I was skeptical at first but it’s working!’

I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment.  As Michelle stood drying her hair in the YMCA locker room getting ready to start her shift as an ER nurse, she shared with me the experience she and her son were having with vision therapy.

‘Do his eyes cross?’ I asked.  This was the next logical question for me.  You see, I was born with crossed-eyes.  At 9-months the doctors strapped glasses on me.  They had performed two surgeries in an attempt to straighten my eyes.  Although mostly successful, there was still the problem that my eyes didn't work together.  They never had.

‘No, but he has double vision.  He sees two of everything.  But this vision therapy is helping!’ she replied.

Happy for her but slightly disappointed at the connection I was hoping to make, I replied, ‘Oh, because my eyes don’t work together.  I was born with them crossed.’

‘You should try it!  They could probably help you.  They have lots of adult patients.’

I had to explain.  ‘If I didn’t learn to use my eyes together by the time I was 2 or 3 years old, I never will.’  This is what I had been told by eye doctors for my entire life.  It’s referred to as the ‘critical period’.  It's been a common thought among optometrists and ophthalmologists for years. 

‘No, you should go there!  We're really lucky to have it right here in Mankato.'  

My mind started to reel.  What???  Could this be a possibility?  It was as if she had told me I could fly or realize my long-lost dream of being a professional dancer.

Let me back up.  I have somewhat of a disability but I’m not even aware of it.  My eyes were crossed at birth.  What this means is that one eye is stronger than the other.  When the two are seeing different images, the ‘lazy’ one lets the stronger one take over.  It’s the brain’s coping mechanism to deal with conflicting information.

I don’t see depth.  This may sound a little strange but it’s normal to me.  I live in a paper doll world.  When I go to a 3D movie and put on those funny glasses, nothing looks different to me.  I have no depth perception.  It's a bummer if I want to catch a ball.  I instinctively put my hands out in a defensive posture so I won't get hurt.  The ball hits my flailing hands and falls to the ground.  Your awkward but normal laughter doesn’t make me feel bad. 

It’s just me and my eyes.

It also made learning to drive one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was the only time my dad ever raised his voice.  I remember it clearly.  One evening I was doing my ‘behind the wheel’ with my dad in the passenger seat and my brother in the back.  We came up to a service road just before an intersection.  It seemed to sneak up on me.  The traffic lights of the intersection and the service road blurred together and I slammed on my breaks.

‘What are you doing?!?’ my Dad yelled.  ‘You’re such an idiot’ my brother exclaimed from the back seat.  I had just made a fool out of myself in front of the two most important men in my life.  I didn’t know how it happened. 

I was crushed. 

In my 20s, I rear-ended someone in rush hour traffic and vowed to never do that again.  I proceed carefully and it’s become a family joke.  Once during a trip, I slowed to stop at a traffic light.  My adolescent son sighed disgustedly from the back seat, ‘200 yards, mom!’  I’m never sure if it’s 200 or 20, so I'm cautious. 

No tennis or softball for me.  I love sports and competition but anything involving seeing a moving ball is impossible.  I stuck to swimming.  The black line on the bottom of the pool told me when to turn.  My teammates were used to my crossed-eyes.  They treated me normal.  It’s fortuitous that my eyes are very small and fade into slits as I smile.  No one can see where my eyeballs are facing when I smile. 

I smile a lot.

I have no depth perception.  It’s not something I’ve missed because I’ve never had it.  Plain and simple.  Until now.

I called to see if the Minnesota Vision Therapy Center (MVTC) could help me.  They went through some preliminary questions and I set up an appointment for an assessment.  They referred me to a TED Talk by Sue Barry.  As I watched her describe how beautiful it was to see her first snowfall in 3D, tears welled up in my eyes.  This really was possible.  I could hardly contain my excitement.

About a day later, I received a message on my phone from MVTC.  They wanted to ask some follow up questions to determine if I was a viable candidate for therapy.  By this point, my heart had begun anticipating the joys of seeing like everyone else.  Anxious to find out if this could work, I promptly returned the therapist’s call.  He was with a patient so I got his voicemail.  After leaving a message, I hung up the phone and burst out crying.  ‘I really want to see depth!  I really want this to work!’  I wondered if the prospect of seeing in 3D only to be disappointed was worse than never knowing it was possible at all.  

The therapist returned my call, I answered his questions, and my appointment was set.  The next step would be an assessment.

What lies in front of me?  What lies in front for me?  What will I see as I go on this journey?

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