Journeys of Vision

It was my first visit to the principal’s office.  How could I have known that I would start a school-wide panic when I told my first-grade classmates that my eyeball was going to fall out?  They clearly weren’t ready to appreciate sarcasm.   Please don’t label me a trouble-maker just yet – you might have done the same thing if you’d been subjected to the merciless stares and questioning after showing up at school wearing a patch over your right eye.

Perhaps the first clues should have been at my Kindergarten entrance exam.  Oh, sure, I could recite the alphabet and count to 100, but when asked to draw a simple stick-man, I drew the figure upside-down and then fell out of my chair.  Was I just nervous? Or was I incredibly advanced, drawing the stick-man for the perspective of the examiner sitting opposite me at the table?  Nonetheless, they decided I was ready for Kindergarten.

Budding experimental scientist that I was at the tender age of five, I can remember suspecting that something might be wrong with my eyes.  I would focus on a target with my right eye, then my left, then both.  Little did I know then that I was testing my own stereopsis.  The target would appear to move (as it should) but it didn’t move quite the same way when I compared my right eye to my left eye.  I told my mom about my observations.  Maybe it was the empirical data I was collecting, or maybe it was just because she noticed me squinting or closing my left eye whenever I was reading, but she decided to take me to see the eye doctor.

Although my acuity was 20/20, I was diagnosed with Amblyopia (a.k.a. lazy eye), which basically means that my brain was favoring the images seen by my right eye and suppressing images seen by my left eye.  I was given a pair of glasses and an eye patch to wear on my dominant right eye.  Of course, it didn’t help that I selected a pair of baby-blue, horn-rimmed cat eye frames, complete with rhinestones, which I had so admired on my grandmother, but turned out to be not so trendsetting for a first grader.  It probably didn’t help that my loving, well-intentioned mother thought it would make it more ‘fun’ to draw an eye on the patch.  You just can’t show up to school looking like that.  I was subjected to unyielding ridicule and interrogation about the eye patch.  It’s embarrassing for anyone.  See why I might be compelled to spark a little excitement with the eyeball-falling-out story?

Anyway, the point is this: after patching my right eye for a period of time, my left eye would get stronger.  And I’d be exonerated from my eye patch sentence!  Yay!  Then, after a period of time without the patch my next eye exam would reveal that my left eye was back to its old tricks…and back to the patch-wearing.  Boo.  This went on for some time, and then I guess the eye doctor must have just given up.  Most optometrists back in the seventies didn’t know what else to do.  And after all, I was doing just fine in school, so it must not be too critical, right?  So, we all just forgot about it.  And, of course, I was all-too-happy to ditch the patch and glasses.

Did I go on to live a “normal” life?  Yes, as far as I knew.  I’d have no idea that the symptoms I’d have throughout the next few decades had anything at all to do with binocular vision.

To be continued….