Wide-eyed Wonder: an artist's musings on three-dimensional vision

Some are color blind. I am stereo blind.

Post BRAO Week 7: Settling into a new way of seeing

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I had a rough 6 week appointment, as the retinalogist was incredibly short and curt “You have dead tissue. You can’t do anything about it other than control the medical condition to perhaps prevent future occlusions. See you in 6 months.”

I prefer the medical term, ischemic, which simply means lacking blood supply. “Dead tissue” just sounds too final, like half my retina will now rot away inside my eye! The fact is, my rods and cones underneath the blood-deprived inner retinal layer are doing quite well, actively making abstract patterns which I see when I close my eyes, or in low light. They’ve been doing this since BRAO day 1. Yes, I will paint these patterns some day!

The swelling has gone down slightly and yielded a hair more central vision. But what a difference a hair more central vision can make— I can now see two eyes when I look at someone with just the affected eye, instead of a person’s right eye only. I expect another hair’s worth of gain and am hoping to be able to read with the affected eye in another six weeks. I can already read huge type fairly quickly, but nothing close to 20/20 on the eye chart.

What my brain can do with that hair of gain has been pretty cool. I mentioned before that my brain is patching together a complete visual field. In the last few weeks, the wrinkled area where my right vision ends and the left begins to fill in is smoothing out. When riding down the highway, guardrails are no longer disproportional and incomplete.

I routinely test for eye-teaming by covering and uncovering each eye while looking at an object to see if both eyes remain fixed on it, and by holding a finger close to my nose while looking at the object to see if the one finger becomes two. Almost always, I pass my test when I consciously make the effort to use both eyes, or when I simply think binocularity may be “happening”.

Inside the chicken coop, this poison ivy was easier to find!

I have been surprised to discover my eyes teaming on their own without conscious effort: first when I was trying to take a splinter out of my hand, then when I was cutting the grass with a riding mower and lastly when I was seeking and destroying poison ivy with weed-killer.

All three vision demanding activities are the result of my new diversion from vision therapy: the 5 acre homestead my husband and I bought in April that we are restoring this spring and summer, with the goal to move in and make it home by fall. Even if I had not had a branch retinal artery occlusion, I would have been taking a hiatus from vision therapy to work on this house and acreage. And, once we move, it will be almost an hour’s drive each way to resume therapy sessions.

Immersion in visually demanding situations where “where” is more important than “what” has been a goal of mine all along: break away from the newspaper and laptop and get out in the wide world and SEE. Frederick Brock states

An individual habitually maintaining strabismic posture may, for certain heightened perceptual demands, use binocular posture if the latter is necessary for the successful of the task.1

Finding “where” I left off cutting the grass to successfully guide myself on the riding mower to cut the next swath required “heightened perceptual demands.” Seeking and destroying the shiny and slightly bronzed three-leaved poison ivy amidst the rest of the grasses and weeds and bushes was also an intensively “where” oriented exercise, and using my vision to guide the stream of weed-killer even moreso.

My new quiet spot ...

Yesterday, one week after the retinalogist pronounced my tissue “dead,” I remarked to Patrick, as we were out for a drive in search of building materials “Wow, those trees seem really close to the road— they’re so tall!” I was surprised when Patrick said “They ARE close!” and suggested I was seeing them in 3D. I’m not certain, but they certainly were making an impact on me. I was feeling somewhat enveloped by their overhanging branches as we whizzed down the highway … wondering if they could fall over on the road on a windy day.

It was a good feeling.

1 Frederick W. Brock, “Lecture Notes on Strabismus” p6

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