Since 2012, I’ve known my vision was failing because of cataracts in both eyes. Prescription eyeglasses helped but they didn’t help enough, and in 2013 my eye doctor would not report to state authorities that my vision was good enough to allow me to drive. At the time, it seemed a little silly. After all, I could read most type in magazines and newspapers. During the day, I could drive with no obvious problems. I’m sure distant details were beyond me, and that was important for a valid drivers’ license. At night, however, every light I looked at directly had halos around them — what you see around the full moon some nights — and these were BRIGHT GLARING IMPEDIMENTS to my night vision. I’ve known older people who could not drive at night because of their cataracts; nice friends who could not and would not drive after dark. With me there was no choice. If I didn’t drive at night, I could not keep my job. During winter, the world turned dark at 4:00 in the afternoon, and I had to lock up the store of my employer at 5:00. I must confess that sometimes I had some FRIGHTENING EXPERIENCES. Most of the time I got by. Other times, especially during high traffic I was CHALLENGED by the horrible circumstance, not clearly seeing the centerline of the road and other times not seeing the line on the right side of the lane. I still almost quiver thinking about some close calls. Often when the oncoming headlights were REALLY BAD, I’d slow down so I could pay more attention to staying in the lane, and people would pass me like I was driving five miles an hour though I never did. On the belt line around town I never drove less than 30 in the 55 mph zone — and I admit, that was damn stupid of me — but it was the only way. In the city, going home from the airport, facing occasional long strings of headlights coming toward me on dark streets, I sometimes dropped to 20 mph. By the grace of God, no one touched me during the winter of 2014/2015 which was the WORST. During the darkest time of the year, I even stayed at my employer — not on the clock so there was no pay for staying — so I could allow the rush hour traffic to pass and dissipate before I departed to volunteer work at my AeroKnow Museum at the airport, 10 minutes from my employer, and eventually to home for dinner and bed. I seldom left the airport until 9:30 so the streets would be relatively clear from people driving home after leaving their employers at 9:00. The eye glasses doctor passed me “by a hair” the winter of 2013/2014, but refused when I returned in November of 2014 with another report for her to send to the authorities. During all of 2014 and 2015, I’ve been an outlaw. I HAD to get those cataracts fixed and become street legal again. In APRIL of 2014 I began that process.
The eye surgeon’s office recommended state help. They scheduled my first cataract operation for July 2014. The state helpers told me they could not help me until I tried to get help from the county. The county gave me a form to fill out that required answers from my employer. The positive outcome of the surgeries was predicated on the fact that I HAD TO WORK to LIVE. That was absolutely true. Even with Social Security income, I HAD TO WORK to LIVE. My employer did not take my request for answers seriously, but I could not dare quit my job in frustration. (During this stupidly protracted time I was sometimes LIVID with frustration, but I was determined I would not quit, and he was determined he would not fire me. If he did, he would have to pay unemployment compensation, and that was not an option for him.
July came and went with no surgery. August, the same. September, the same, despite my repeated requests for answers I could share with county who would then work with state and resume toe charitable aid process. In October, employer responded with answers. I hand-delivered the completed forms to county and was told I had waited too long. I would have to re-submit the paperwork, in updated form! So I did.
And I waited. I let my new friends at state know what was going on. Finally, one of them told me in so many words, “Job, we’re not going to wait for county. I’m going to talk to my supervisor. I THINK we can expedite help through a program that provides assistance to the blind. There is no question that your vision qualifies you for it.”
In the meantime, I also could not work when there was significant snow on the streets. I could not risk an accident and have a police officer discover me driving without a license! So I missed four days’ work this winter : $240 pre-tax down the drain.
On December 4, 2014, I had a minor stroke that put me into a hospital bed dor almost three days. Later in the month I talked to my eye surgeon’s office and was told the doctor was on vacation. I would have to have my eyes examined again by the surgeon when she returned. My eyes had surely degraded since May of last year. I had the exam and learned the eyes were worse. Surgery on both eyes would be scheduled for March because the surgical center had access to the Laser equipment they would use for my more critical eye, and all of my charity aid paperwork could not be completed in time for February surgery. (“Job, you have a cataract in your right eye the size of MILWAUKEE! I don’t know how you can see with that eye,” the surgeon told me.) I could see with my right eye, but thanks fo the cataract, I could not read with my right eye.
In February I was notified by mail that I an not allowed to drive. I called the appropriate office to explain I had received the notification and that I was having cataract surgery on both eyes, and that soon I would be “street legal” again. I was told all that doesn’t matter. I MUST submit a report from a medical professional that I am qualified to drive. I will have to wait at least another month — until late April — to have the surgeon or another appropriate person submit that report. That’s because it takes the eyes about a month to recover from the surgery.
I had to get a clearance from my “home physician of record” that stated I was physically okay for tthe surgery: good blood pressure, heart condition and the rest of it. Thanks in part to my new dietary regimen since my stroke (NO more salt for ME! Lots of fruit and veggies; I ate more fruit in the month following the stroke than I had since 1973, I think. I still eat a lot and stilll enjoy it. I passed the pre-surgery physical with flying colors. The cataract operation March 10 on my left eye was a breeze. The difference my my sight before and after is astounding! My left eye technically qualifies me to drive. On March 24 I return for cataract surgery with the LASER on my right eye. I will share an update re how that went later this week.
I am far less anxious about the coming operation than I was about the first . The major adjustment since the first operation has been learning how to give myself eye drops three times a day. THAT took some practice. I WISH someone at the doctor’s office had taken ten minutes and a dropper with sterile water to instruct me. It didn’t happen, but it should have happened. I’m not angry, and I’m ALMOST comfortable doing it since the 10th.
So cross fingers, world. I am eagerly looking forwrard to resuming life as a legal driver, and it will happen not a moment too soon!
Live long . . . . . . . and proper.