I am often asked, “so how much can you see”.  Or I hear comments from time to time from folks who don’t me, “you’re not blind”. Blindness is a spectrum, it’s not a black and white thing, pun intended.

You can see some of my photos and some might say, no way a guy with low vision took that. What you don’t see are the hundreds of shots I take to get that one image.

Take this image for instance.

An image from Brooklyn, looking between two warehouses, which frame the Manhattan bridge. In one of the arches in the bridge in the distance is the Empire State Building. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is a deep blue. Image was taken on November 23, 2019 at around 3.00pm
An image from Brooklyn, looking between two warehouses, which frame the Manhattan bridge. In one of the arches in the bridge in the distance is the Empire State Building. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is a deep blue. Image was taken on November 23, 2019 at around 3.00pm

It is of the Manhattan Bridge, taken from Brooklyn looking back to Manhattan. Perfectly positioned in the arch of the bridge is the Empire State Building in the distance. The lighting is perfect. This is an iconic shot. I’m not he first to take it and I won’t be the last. It is one in a series of about twenty I took. The others are blurry, at a weird angle, the Empire State Building isn’t in clear view etc etc. What you don’t see in the image is my brother, with his hands on my shoulders positioning me for the perfect shot. What you don’t see is the research I did for days before hand to work out the angle of the sun and to pick the right day based on weather reports. We were there for about an hour waiting for the right light, the right time, the right spot.

Below is an earlier attempt.

An image from Brooklyn, looking between two warehouses, which frame the Manhattan bridge. The image is washed out and blurry. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is a deep blue. Image was taken on November 23, 2019 at around 3.00pm
An image from Brooklyn, looking between two warehouses, which frame the Manhattan bridge. In one of the arches in the bridge in the distance is the Empire State Building. It is a bright sunny day and the sky is a deep blue. Image was taken on November 23, 2019 at around 3.00pm

The interesting thing about that photo is it is similar to how I see the world. The glare washes out most of the light so there is no detail. The dark is all blurry and has no detail as things blur into one another. That’s about my world from one metre or so.

I was diagnosed very early in life with vision limited by atrophic myopic maculopathy. In 2013, I suffered a major left eye retinal detachment requiring extensive surgery and rehabilitation. What does that mean in lay terms?

My eyes are egg shaped. The back of my eyes, retinas, have been stretched and damaged. This means light coming into my eye isn’t refracted correctly and therefore the signal to my brain is not clear. The rods (night vision) and cones (colour vision) on the retina are also damaged. A bit light an off-kilter TV antenna. I see worse at night, or in poor light and when I go to put on that blue t-shirt, it may not be blue! My right eye was so stretched at birth that the brain essentially shut it down. Today I have no sight in my right eye.

My left eye, good eye, does all the work. My retinal detachment in 2013 was the scariest time of my life. Not only was I contending with low vision already, the detachment took much of what vision I had at the time. I was in New York as well. It was as if an oil spill had occurred in mt eye. My blurry world was now covered with a thick brown ooze robbing me of any functional vision.

When I say detached, it resembled a spinnaker in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race that has been shredded and torn from all points except one. It was a deeply harrowing and depressing experience. Here we are in the city that never sleeps, and we are first holed up in an eye surgery, then hospital, then I’m told to take it easy for 12 days and look at the pavement. In New York, you look up, the skyscrapers, the sights, the shops, the shows.

The good news was that I was in New York. My eye surgeon has said to me, on many occasions since that day, had I been anywhere else I would have lost the sight in my left eye. The New York-based surgeon was one of the best, if not the best, retinal surgeon in the world. I am forever grateful for what he did for me. He put my eye back together. He described the surgery similar to sewing two microscopic pieces of wet tissue paper back together.

A few days after the surgery the brown ooze is gone, but my sight isn’t what it used to be. The blurred visioned I lived with my whole life was different.  There were cracks in it, a bit like a cracked iPhone screen. Along the seam where the doctor had stitched me up there was scar tissue.

The images below give you an idea of how I see today.

The left is my right eye. Blurred, cracked. The right is pretty useless.

The next images are of retinas, mine on the left, normal on the right. You don’t need to be a doctor to see what is going on.

In functional terms what does this mean. I don’t see detail. I don’t see leaves on trees, sharp/clear outlines of objects, a friend walking past me on the street, the last few chips on a plate of food.

The image below is from our favourite afternoon tea place in New York. Bosie. Sadly, COVID caused its closure. It is a view from a table to the drink and tea cannisters behind the serving counter. The shop is quite dark, so me peripheral vision is very dimmed, so a lot of detail is dark areas I don’t see.  The stools merge into the counter and flatten out, remember I only have one eye, so depth perception is difficult. The drink and tea behind the counter are simply blurred bottles and cannisters to me. The lady serving is lost to me as well, ie I wouldn’t know to get her attention without walking over to the counter.

This I suppose is the biggest problem for me. I know I’m vision impaired. But no one else does. It is not obvious as I mostly get around without a cane and I don’t use a seeing eye dog. From time to time I will use a cane and maybe I need to use one more often to let people know I have crappy eyesight. That is the problem with the spectrum of blindness. Sometimes it’s obvious and at others it isn’t.

Anyway. That is how I see the world.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *