What first seemed like early morning, “I’m not quite awake” vision blurriness turned out to be glaucoma for Calvin. He reached up to scratch his right eye and realized that he had no vision in his left. “I thought it was a fluke, and that it would go away,” he reflected. But, it didn’t. A trip to the emergency room resulted in the diagnosis of glaucoma in both eyes. Calvin’s slightly-stronger right eye had merely compensated for his left for a while.
Calvin underwent surgery on each eye over the course of a few weeks, and he was given drops to treat his condition. “I felt numb with the realization that I might lose my vision completely.” Over the next 10 years, Calvin had 12 more operations on his eyes. After these, he received six experimental laser treatments and hoped they would at least halt his growing vision loss. Unfortunately, scar tissue had developed, and his eye pressure had increased. “It was such a letdown because my hope had been building for a cure.”
When Calvin’s doctor suggested yet another surgery, he said “No. That’s it.” Those few words-- signaling acceptance of his permanent vision loss-- began the emotional healing process for Calvin. “For me, acceptance was liberating.” It was a long, slow journey, though, and he experienced severe depression the first six months. “At first,” he reflected, “I thought I would have to give up everything I have done or love to do.” Then, he learned about services available through the Hines Vision Rehabilitation Center for Veterans in Chicago. He took classes, received emotional support, and “felt more confident than ever before.”
Calvin received a guide dog, and then he registered for computer science classes at Madison Area Technical College to re-tool himself professionally. While interning as a programmer analyst at Johnson Controls, he took classes through the Business Enterprise Program which trains people with disabilities to own a business. Calvin went on to manage coffee shops in Waukesha and Madison. He later worked at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in its docuScan program, and he currently serves as executive director of Dryhootch Madison, a resource for returning veterans and their families.
After some modest and minimal changes around his home and on his computer, Calvin resumed some of the activities he has always enjoyed--like reading, connecting through computer technology and cooking. He praises his Mother who taught him at age seven how to iron and got him involved in food preparation. “I tell people that my Mom taught me how to do these things so well that I can do them now with my eyes closed!” He admits that returning to some of these activities is easier because he first learned how to do them when he was sighted.
Calvin also found many helpful items in the Council’s Sharper Vision Store, including braille paper and calendars, talking watches, a talking thermostat, a spice carousel, and gifts for others. To increase his confidence and safety in new environments, he received orientation and mobility training from Council staff and through its partnership with the Office for the Blind & Visually Impaired.
Glaucoma may have taken away Calvin’s sight, but it gave him a new perspective on life. “Like so many people who are sighted, I used to judge others by what they looked like on the outside. Now, I really listen to people, and I learn to value them based on what comes from within.”
Acceptance seems to have also brought a greater sense of humor and wisdom into Calvin’s life. When a friend who was diagnosed with glaucoma complained about the “annoying” eye drops he had to use, Calvin offered to lend him one of his white canes. “That made him quiet really fast!” chuckled Calvin.
Calvin also attributes much of his emotional healing to his faith from which he draws “tremendous strength.” At church, he shares his personal story so that others can find hope.
Thirty-five years ago, when Calvin was first diagnosed with glaucoma, there weren’t the medical advances, treatments and educational resources that are available today. Now, a painless, safe and easy test can detect this “sneak thief of sight” during an annual dilated eye examination. The Council encourages you to protect your precious vision and schedule an appointment today!