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

Some are color blind. I am stereo blind.

Archive for the ‘branch retinal artery occlusion’ Category

“Why Don’t You Ask Me?”

leave a comment »

I can’t begin to describe my emotions. This desire to keep working at vision therapy in some fashion has never left me over the last five years, since the March 2011 Branch Retinal Artery Occlusion brought my program with my Developmental Optometrist to an irreversible halt. “You are not binocular” I was informed one year out, with what felt like a firm, conversation-ending “period.” Even so, I sat there and meekly persisted to ask about doing vision therapy exercises, although the visual field in my half-blind right eye had not changed. “You can play around with it …” she offered. Whether this was her intent or not, I received this withering assessment as hopeless, and allowed hopelessness to bury my desire.

But desire simply squirmed in rebellion from time to time at the bottom of its grave. This deep inner writhing has occurred, without fail, every spring when my work outdoors brings fresh binocular-like quales, those take-your-breath-away sightings of something more.

Am a really so hopelessly “not binocular”? Isn’t binocularity a continuum? Are my quales perhaps peripheral fusion or ARC? Can’t I work to become a wee bit binocular?

Who has stopped me from working at it? No one.

Not even God, Himself.

Shortly after the “You are not binocular.” office visit, I suffered a painful irony: In June 2012, my artwork had earned a “People’s Choice” prize that cut me to the quick.

I had to make a special trip out to the gallery to pick up my prize, which turned out not be the badly needed cash I was anticipating (we were tied up with two homes at the time), but a “how to paint” DVD of some smiling unknown artist with his simple barn painting.

About half way home, when I stopped to pick up groceries, I swallowed my “I painted a better barn at this competition!” vanity and opened myself up to the idea that maybe, as an artist, I could learn something from this particular barn-painting demonstration. So I read the back. In all caps, this unknown artist stated:

I LOVE TO PAINT. I LOVE TO CAPTURE THE ESSENCE OF A THREE DIMENSIONAL SCENE IN TWO DIMENSIONS. IT’S MY PASSION.

I don’t cry often, but this was an astounding dart to my heart from the blue. I fought back the tears, threw the DVD on the seat and went grocery shopping.

Enroute home, about 100’ from my driveway, I sputter at God in a howl “What is this, some kind of cosmic JOKE? You KNOW I can’t see three dimensions!!!” This Creator gave me a brain that prefers alternating esotropia. This Creator allowed that tiny blood clot to enter the branch artery of my dominant right eye and stay there. What was He thinking?

As I brought the car to a stop, a question invaded the wound in my heart: “Why don’t you ask Me?”

And so I have continued to ask, haltingly, not for an answer to what this Creator is doing, but to see more with the two eyes He has given me, more than I ever have seen before.

1306lyndarimkebarn

“Kishman’s Barn” oil on canvas by Lynda Rimke. Painted “en plein air” June 2012

When Surrender Resurrects Desire

with 2 comments

In May, after five months of quasi-resignation from a less-than-encouraging January Optometrist’s appointment, I attempted a third and final self-portrait of my Vision Therapy journey where I would express my acceptance of my fate and diagnosis: “You are not binocular.”

It didn’t work. I couldn’t let go of hope.

1305vision_triptych

.

As much as I wanted to depict “Meh,” an attitude of perturbed acceptance of a life without stereo vision, my feelings before the show were much more intense. The triptych was hung above my eye level, which was intensely upsetting to me. My negative reaction was above and beyond reasonable: it felt like someone had smacked a scab on my brain. Why the super-sensitivity?

My brain was talking to me: “This area is not healed yet. Don’t treat the stereo-blindness in your visual center as permanent. This is not scar tissue, Dearie. We’re not done yet.”

A local art critic, Tom Wachunas, summed up the crux of the matter in four short sentences:

Among the more resonant works here are three self- portraits in pencil by Lynda Rimke. They’re simple yet disarmingly candid explorations of her medical condition called stereo-blindness. I get the sense that she’s not looking out at the viewer so much as carefully navigating the act of seeing. The mirror becomes her lens on an inward journey. (1)

And so it is. In spite of my cravings for resignation and closure, I am still trying to “navigate the act of seeing.”

Indeed, 3D-ish quales have returned now that outdoor tasks demand stereopsis from me. The first occurred in late May while pruning the Rose of Sharon: I saw the branches at eye level and below reach out to me. This may have been a protective reaction, as one branch came very close to my right eye, which is blind in the upper inner quadrant of my visual field.

This was just the beginning of several outdoor gardening events, where I experienced enhanced depth while hoeing a row that has to be 1-2″ deep for corn or beans, while weeding, while transplanting.

I am committing to shorter and more frequent blog posts of these experiences, as there is lots to share … for what it’s worth.

Dance of the Red and Green

with one comment

I was inspired today to open my desk drawer of vision therapy tools and dust off my red-green anaglyph glasses. Why? Because NOVA recently featured Sue Barry in their “Secret Lives of Scientists” program, and put out this wonderful teaser of Sue on her trampoline, grinning and staring at a Marsden Ball with her anaglyph glasses as “Clue #1: A Trampoline, a Ball and Hipster Glasses?!”

Image

Oi! Those glasses have been put away for about a year. I recall the craziness of what I saw through them after losing the vision in half my right retina as almost unbearable, but that was when my vision loss was still fresh. I drove myself crazy with them, trying to get confirmation of some fusion in the lower half of my vision in what Dr. Leonard Press referred to as luster: a luminescent glow of combined red and green as seen by both eyes.

But instead of trying to “get luster,” today I am simply wearing them for a few hours and seeing what happens. Dr. Barry has inspired my curiosity!

My strabby friend Sally is also partly responsible for the inspiration to dust off and try again. She also took a hiatus and discovered vision therapy works, and blogged about it. So I got brave and put on the glasses.

As I suspected, when I really want to focus on, examine and “see” something, the thing is solid green. This is because the central vision in my “red” right eye was compromised by the BRAO. So, while eating lunch, my lunch went green when I scraped my bowl for the last bits of Indian food. Reading also was solid green to the right of and including each word I was reading.

I also expect and do see red on the extreme right, where I still have retina and peripheral vision in my right eye that my left eye does not see (because it is blocked by the bridge of my nose)

However I am surprised by the amount of red dancing around, just to the left of where I am writing and all underneath. It comes and goes in split seconds, but it is there, like a dancing sunbeam.

This is more red than I expected. I’ve been pretty certain my left eye was thoroughly suppressing my half-blind right eye ALL the time, because I see no indication of my right eye’s blind condition. I expected a solid-green confirmation of my half blind eye’s total non-use. Instead, I am using both eyes constantly!

This explains the very rare and thrilling experiences of magic that just “happen” on occasion. If sheer thrill could be made empirical, I would bet my bottom dollar the magic is stereo vision. At some point, I will devote an entry to my “sightings” which I record on my iPhone just after each happens.

Image

My most recently “sighting” occurred after finishing a plein air painting session during Paint Oglebay. I worked a solid three hours trying to catch and record a sunlit path in watercolor. As I hauled myself and my gear back up the trail, I felt brain-drained but happy, and said to myself about my empty-headedness “This is when I see stereo.” Instantly, the leaves under my feet appeared cupped. I stopped and enjoyed a hundred little leaf sculptures that were more real than I could imagine. I didn’t need or want to touch them, just look at them in this new reality. Then, slowly, I resumed walking. The movement of the delicate weeds on either side of the path appeared fairy-like. I became completely immersed and enchanted by the world under my feet with sculpted leaves and waving fronds … all moving in what Dr. Sue Barry calls “palpable space.” How can things feel so grounded and yet moving? It was like the best sort of movie depicting a fantasy world with tangible magic in the air. Unforgettable!

Shortly after this experience, I made an appointment for an eye exam with my Developmental Optometrist who had given me 6 months of vision therapy in 2010-11. I haven’t had my eyes examined since the BRAO occurred 18 months ago for reasons mostly financial and partly emotional. I’m now committed to biting the bullet!

I hope to determine whether some vertical prism in the right lens will help my right eye to see more, and improve my chances of gaining some stereo in my central vision. My optometrist had used vertical prism in my first appointment just after the BRAO, and my ability to focus on the Brock string was dramatically improved. Time to find out if an investment is in the cards.

I do have at least one cheerleader: that grinning scientist with a secret who encouraged me in a May 10, 2011 comment on my BRAO post on the Vision Therapy social network Sovoto:

Dear Lynda – brave lady,

    I’m sorry the retinal specialist had such bad news, but the brain can do amazing things.  With vision, we take current sensory input and combine it with past experience and expectation so, while part of the retina may be dead, how the brain will re-interpret your remaining visual input is an open question.  You may see better than the dead tissue would suggest…  If you learn to see in 3D in the lower half of your visual field, perhaps the brain will “fill in” that information to some extent in the upper half.  In other words, you’ll have a richer view of the upper visual field than predicted.  With your resilience and powers of observation, things could be better than the retinal specialist suggests.

    Best,
    Sue

You can link to all the Secret Life of Scientist clips of Dr. Sue Barry here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/secretlife/scientists/susan-barry/

Postscript: at the end of writing this blog post, the dancing red and green have calmed down at times into into a blended red and green that is neither red nor green but lighter, yellower shades of each. Maybe I’m getting some “anti-suppression therapy” happening! One can always hope!

BRAO prevention

with one comment

Before updating on my journey from Flatland, I must diverge. My loss of vision in my right eye was entirely preventable, and I posted a note titled “Blood Clot Prevention” on Facebook on the one-year anniversary of my loss, with the goal of educating women everywhere about the dangers of BHRT (bio-identical hormone replacement therapy):

One year ago, I went to the emergency room thinking I was having a retinal detachment in my right eye, and that I was catching it early and would be “spot welded” and have fully restored vision. Not so. Over the next 12 hours, I watched a brown cloud descend where the blood supply to my retina was blocked by a blood clot that had plugged my artery. The lost blood supply was to a little over half of my retina, affecting my central vision. (A full explanation was posted to my vision therapy friends here http://.sovoto.com/group/adultstrabismicpatientsforum/forum/topics/brao-my-new-challenge )

One year later, the “window shade” remains almost as low as it had descended. Lesson learned: while the percentage of women who throw clots from bio-identical hormone therapy is very small, it’s still a risk.

To honor the anniversary, I flushed the rest of my unused Women’s International Pharmacy BHRT pills down the toilet (after peeing on them. Yep.) I quit taking them the day I lost my vision. A few days later, I called the pharmacist to report my BRAO and she simply said “I’m sorry.” I doubt Women’s International Pharmacy is keeping track of their “statistics” which is extremely unfortunate.

I tried to quit my BHRT  at age 50, and went to my primary care doctor 6 weeks later for what I thought was a horrible case of hemorrhoids. Not the case. Apparently one in ten post-menopausal women (which I have been since age 35) can develop a hideous auto-immune disease called “lichen schlerosis.”

My doctor said “Get back on your estrogen.” When I expressed concern about the risk, she quoted the bio-identical propaganda that there was next to zero risk and I could take the same dose the rest of my life. So what if I had taken it for 15 years already? The prospect of living with lichen sclerosis was 100%. I dutifully went back on my BHRT at the full dose for a 35 year old and the LS cleared up.

Two and a half years later, I throw the rogue clot and … BRAO! Not only did I lose half a retina, but I gained the prospect of untold LS misery without the estrogen. All subsequent hospital tests came back negative, so the BHRT was the sole cause of my clot.

My “catch 22” was a teaching moment for the wonderful residents at Summa hospital, as I had to quit the estrogen cold turkey and discuss alternative treatments for the painful and unmentionable LS. The internal medicine specialist Dr. Rex Wilford was amazingly supportive, and explored another suspect auto-immune enhancing disorder with me: gluten.

“You will have to eat wheat” he said (for any gluten intolerance bloodwork to show up positive.) I had cut back on wheat about a year earlier after reading a Scientific American article on Celiac disease  as a possible cause for my three un-related auto-immune diseases: Hashimoto’s (hypothyroidism), rheumatoid arthritis flare ups and lichen schlerosis.

For two weeks, I ate all the bread I wanted (including Einstein’s bagels, woot, woot!) and could hardly walk from the lichen schlerosis flare-up. $200 worth of ineffective prescription creams later, I got my blood draw (which tested positive for Celiac) and immediately went off wheat. The schlerosis cleared up within 48 hours!

Hindsight is always 20-20. NEVER take a prescription drug that pushes nature around when simple dietary changes are what my body is asking for.

Had I known this, I would probably still be in vision therapy making steady progress towards seeing the world with two whole eyes.

Written by Lynda Rimke

March 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Staring “off into space” with both eyes

with one comment

I caught my eyes at play this morning, while sipping coffee by the fireside in the pre-dawn gloom.

I must have been really staring “off into space” because a light appeared and disappeared. “What??” became my focus, and the light instantly disappeared and I could make out a grocery bag that I had set on the kitchen table. Hmmm-mm.

I closed my dominant left eye (the eye my brain uses in “what?” mode to the exclusion of information from the right). There appeared the light through my half-blind eye— the green clock numbers on my stove! Aha! The bag was blocking the light from the left eye but not the right.

What a happy event, my randomly plopping the bag down and not putting it away last night!

I settled back in my chair and resumed staring “off into space” and enjoyed the flickering green confirmation that both eyes were “on” and working.

Way to go, right eye!

Lynda's diagram

Cat’s Ear and Coffee Cup

leave a comment »

I have commenced to sketch, as best I can, the various scenarios my brain morphs together. Today’s initial sketch for “The Physiological Diplopia Series” is called “Cat’s Ear and Coffee Cup”

One thing that has become of my leaving-flatland-goal + BRAO is Wonderland. Thanks to the three months of Vision Therapy I did have, plus lots of vision research and blogging, I am familiar with aspects of vision that I previously ignored: expanded peripheral vision, heightened motion parallax and physiological diplopia.

Of these three beautiful vision aspects, physiological diplopia is confirmation that my BRAO is not preventing both eyes from working together to look at the same thing at the same time in the same space. In my case, I experience it most 3-13″ or so from my nose, the same distance I was able to create diplopia with the Brock String before my BRAO.

Here is a diagram of this morning’s scenario. Instead of a bead on a string, I was staring at the tip of my cat’s ear just through the handle of my coffee cup which I was holding next to my face about 1:00 from the tip of my nose.

 

111206cat-cup-diag

Next to the diagram is my sketch of what I saw from each eyes and both eyes combined into a brain morph of right and left aspects:

 

The vertical hatching above the right eye cup is my BRAO. Note, when I am using both eyes, I cannot experience physiological diplopia where I have no right-eye vision (this is also true for stereo vision). In this case, in my 3rd sketch of both eyes looking, the top of the cup assumed the left-eye aspect.

The Wonderland experience was seeing my coffee securely held by an open shell spiral that my brain created when both eyes pointed at the tip of my cat’s ear! If I attempted to study the mirage too closely, it vaporized and the scene defaulted to the left-eye image. This is because my left eye has the superior central vision and therefore bears the “what” function of my vision.

I don’t see the brain morph most of the time. Normal people with stereo vision also do not see physiological diplopia unless they allow themselves to, by turning off their own brain suppression. I can’t vouch for how that happens; ask a Developmental Vision Therapist!

* “In an alternating esotropia the patient is able to alternate fixation between their right and left eye so that at one moment the right eye fixates and the left eye turns inward, and at the next the left eye fixates and the right turns inward. Where a patient tends to consistently fix with one eye and squint with the other, the eye that squints is likely to develop some amblyopia. Someone whose squint alternates is very unlikely to develop amblyopia because both eyes will receive equal visual stimulation.” [3]

 

Less than half full

with 4 comments

I lost the moon the other day. When I bent to see it out the passenger car window, the car roof blocked my left eye, but not my right. The moon hid itself in the blind half of my right eye. It was quite a surprise! Thankfully, I don’t normally see things disappear in this way.

It’s been over 3 months since my vision loss from the branch retinal artery occlusion (BRAO) and I am pretty resigned to not regaining my central vision. The blindness in the upper half is a bit more than half, making reading impossible with the affected eye, and eye-teaming by pointing both eyes at the same thing at the same time next to impossible. My tests with the Brock string reveal a partial string in front of the bead that my right eye cannot see without a conscious effort to look above the bead (photo illustration here).

My decision to pursue more vision therapy to gain stereopsis is pretty much settled: if I could read with the right eye and see the Brock bead easily, I would go for it. But alas, I cannot. When it comes to seeing 3D, my glass is less than half full.

I do have one friend who has urged me not to fully resign myself to permanent loss until six months have passed. He also had BRAO and regained more vision in months 4-6. However, the retinologist said the ischemic tissue would resolve in about 3 months, so I’m mostly resigned at this point.

And so I have begun to grieve a bit. When watching the best documentary of Dr. Susan Barry’s (aka “Stereo Sue”) story yet (Imagine: The Man Who Forgot How to Read and Other Stories, Part 3 beginning at minute 11) I felt that I would never be able to see the front end of a Toyota (minute 14:14) with anything close to her jubilation over it’s roundness … I got misty-eyed when the film ended with Oliver Sacks sadness over his stereo loss (Sue’s gain is compaired to Dr. Sack’s loss in part 4). That night the family cat breathed her last, and the next morning the torrents flowed over the dual losses. My husband was relieved to see me cry, finally.

My self-portrait is another step in the grief process. Today, I took advantage of the cracked side of the mirror and left the top of my head in a vignette to illustrate not so much what I see, but how my impairment can feel at times. I’ve felt the need to do this portrait before pursuing my art again. (I still can’t make a nose pop out like it should!)

The good news is that my brain has smoothly pieced together a complete visual field. I actually do see a near-complete picture without wrinkles or cracks, but sadly, this is because my right eye is almost fully suppressed. I am a master suppressor, having suppressed my left eye for no real reason all my life right up to March 26th. I was beginning to overcome this rogue suppression when the BRAO hit. Now, ironically, suppression is helpful.

I only see my blind veil when the left eye is occluded by the bridge of my nose, most often when I turn to look behind my right shoulder to back up the car. At those times, I rely on my recently learned ability to look above what I need to see. Nothing is clear, but movement and large objects can be detected out of the corner of my right eye. Needless to say, I avoid backing up the car as much as possible, and do so very slowly when I absolutely have no choice.

I frightened myself passing a box truck last week. I felt way too close to the truck when I quickly got back into my lane after realizing the oncoming pickup truck was much closer than I had first determined. I felt it was a close call, and I’m sure the other drivers thought I was out of my head!

When not encumbered by driving, my summer hours in the outdoors have been delightful. I attribute this to a ramped-up sense of motion parallax. This week, picking blueberries and pruning are challenging my brain and eyes to orient myself in space. These are visually demanding situations where “where” is more important than “what.” When I make a move, the branches of bushes and trees diverge and converge just like a 2D video game. What fun! I also routinely search for and destroy the random leaves of returning poison ivy with carefully aimed squirts of herbicide, first-person shooter style.

Inside the Northern  Laurel Oak

I really sensed space inside my magnificent Laurel Oak, but alas, a photo doesn't capture volumes of air.

Occasionally, I thrill over my sense of what Susan Barry calls “palpable space” as well as the heightened textures of grass, weeds, and even asphalt. This is probably because I am seeing the world through my “other” eye and the viewpoint and perspective are new. While hanging laundry, I truly sense the space between the moving clothes-lines and pins. Sometimes, I am enchanted by the hollow spaces inside trees, and the “float” of the lily pads on my pond. I can see “under” the wire mesh deck table when I bob up and down in my deck chair in the evening cool. I see the space inside my coffee cup (this I consider to be true stereo). It is all a delight to my inner child.

So much of the world in my new, 5-acre homestead (photos here) is a rediscovery of childhood delights: stars at night and glorious moonshadow; weeds I haven’t seen since childhood blooming in delicate flower at the edges of the pond. We even have bats at sunset, that swoop over the pond in amazing aerobatics as they scoop up their insect meals: another childhood memory from my Nana’s summer cottage in New Jersey. When a cold front comes through, the clouds dance over the house and fields …

I can still be amazed at everything I see. I still SEE, and so my half-empty stereo-vision cup overflows.