This is number 14 in my blog series Vision: A Journey

Life was moving along quickly, as it does when one feels busy and happy. And then, once again, I noticed a decrease in my vision. I worried that more degeneration was occurring, despite my eyes being stable for several years. Dr. Ryan, my retinal specialist, ran the usual tests and examined my eyes. He informed me that I had a small cataract growing in my left eye, the one I used for reading and navigating. He recommended an ophthalmologist at my health clinic, Dr. Blatt, to surgically remove the cataract. I was so relieved that this was a fixable problem and not an indication of more vision loss.

I made an appointment to see Dr. Blatt. Although the cataract was small — not big enough to warrant surgery in patients with normal eyesight — he concurred that in my case it might be beneficial to have it removed. He recommended that unlike in most surgeries, where the patient’s lens is replaced with a plastic lens providing 20/20 vision, I be given a lens that would keep me nearsighted. If I had central vision, it would make sense to give me a lens that provided 20/20 vision. But since I only had peripheral vision, in order to read I needed greatly magnified print. I was very nearsighted in both eyes, about -13 on my prescriptions. Dr. Ryan recommended that my new lens change my level of nearsightedness to -3. That would allow me to magnify print by holding it close to my eyes. I was booked for the procedure, yet again, at the Phillips Eye Institute. Although the surgery was quite routine, I was nervous about having another operation on the eye that already had laser surgeries and a detached retina.

All went well and after the surgery, I went home with a patch to keep on my eye until the next day. We were planning to fly to Mexico a few weeks later and, at my follow-up visit, Dr. Blatt advised me to keep my head out of the water in pools and the ocean. I also had to have my glasses prescription changed to accommodate my new, less-nearsighted vison.

My New Magnifier Necklace

I must have read somewhere that it might be helpful to have a small magnifier to use after my cataract surgery. I went to a shopping mall and found a magnifier that I could wear around my neck on a chain. This combination proved to be very helpful, as whenever I needed to read something, I could just lift up the magnifier from where it hung around my neck. From that day on, I have always worn my magnifier necklace. When not covered by a scarf or relegated to my handbag for dressy occasions, it shows up in photos such as the one below from a hiking trip in Ireland. Over the years I have replaced chains and magnifiers many times as they break or become damaged. But I cannot go out of the house without this special necklace.

I find that people often comment on my necklace, asking if it’s a special prism, or piece of jewelry. And when I tell them it’s a magnifier that I use to read print, they often exclaim that they would like such device as well.

A few years after my initial cataract surgery, Dr. Ryan suggested I have the same operation performed on my right eye, despite the fact that I had less usable vision in that eye. He thought that the procedure might provide a little more brightness. Dr. Blatt repeated the surgery and once again it went smoothly. Now I noticed that when I was not wearing my glasses, my decreased nearsightedness (now -3 in both eyes) made the world less blurry and easier to navigate. This has been especially helpful during the pandemic, when my glasses fog up from wearing a mask. I find I can remove them and see well enough to run or walk outside.

Becoming a Grandma

Our son Harlan married in 2008 and in 2010 my life changed dramatically when our first grandchild was born. My son and daughter would provide four more children over the years, all greatly loved. But this little baby was so beautiful and special; I fell deeply in love with him. In the photo below you can see my magnifier necklace, which each of my grandchildren loved to grab and put in their mouths. As they got older, they would hold it up to their eyes saying, “Hello, Hello!”

Venturing Across the World

I started to feel more confident traveling without Michael, especially when accompanied by a good friend or colleague. In March, 2011 I was invited to Japan to give a talk and a workshop to statistics teachers at a conference in Tokyo. I did not feel comfortable presenting on my own due to my disability and asked if my colleague and research partner, Bob, could join me. Our host found the funding to bring both of us, and expanded our activities to last several days. It turned out that Bob’s wife, Rose, wanted to visit Japan, as did my friend Eileen, who agreed to come share a room with me and be my companion.

Our delegation to Japan

We had a great time exploring Tokyo, and even attended a concert that my brother David (coincidentally) gave while we were there. The presentations and workshops went well, and we were treated with kindness and generosity. At the end of a very full week it was time to return home. But at the last moment, things changed.

You may remember the earthquake that occurred in Japan, in March 2011, followed by the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear power plant. That earthquake began just as we were settling into our seats on the plane to head home. We felt helpless and scared. I wondered if the earth would open up and swallow us in flames and smoke, and if I would ever see Michael and my kids again. Fortunately, after about six nerve-racking hours sitting on the runway, our plane was one of five allowed to depart, and we headed home to Minneapolis. I have never been so happy to see Michael as he greeted us at the airport. After the trip to Japan, you would think I would not be eager to travel overseas again, but that hesitation did not last long.

Six Weeks in Europe

My first trip overseas took place when I was 40, so I had a late start. My appetite for international travel now seemed to be in full force. Michael did not share my wanderlust, but had usually agreed to one or two hiking trips in Europe each year. I yearned to spend more time overseas, but given my vision limitations, I did not feel I could travel on my own.

In 2010, while hiking in Ireland with Michael, I chatted with a woman from Australia who was traveling on her own in Europe (along with her golf clubs!) for three months. I was impressed and inspired. I longed to do something like that, but needed a feasible strategy.

After recovering from the trip to Japan, I started looking at travel for the summer of 2011. There were two events I wanted to attend in Europe. In mid-July my small research forum, Statistical Reasoning, Thinking and Literacy (SRTL), was meeting in the Netherlands. And in late August, my international statistical organization was meeting in Dublin. I thought I could secure funding to attend both, and wouldn’t it be perfect if I could stay in Europe for the four weeks in between the two events?

Michael agreed to join me for a few weeks of hiking in Ireland in August. I still needed someone to accompany me the rest of the time, and fly to and from Europe with me. Once again, my friend Eileen agreed to join me. We rented an apartment in Paris for the week after SRTL, and another apartment in Cork, Ireland after that. Then Michael would join me while Eileen went off on her own and Eileen would meet me back in Dublin when Michael returned home.

In preparation for the trip, I bought my first iPad. I used it to follow slides during presentations at the conferences, as my low vision prevented me from being able to view slideshows on screens. The iPad proved invaluable, as it also allowed me to use email with enlarged font, something I could not do on computers in the various countries I visited. As my trip progressed, I also used it (with great joy) to watch videos of my little grandson laughing and beginning to crawl.

I had never been away from home for so long, nor spent so much time in Europe. This trip became the adventure of my lifetime. I even luxuriated in business class flights to and from Europe, which added to the experience. I enjoyed all the places, people, food, scenery, and more.

I was 61 when I had my great European trip. I sensed that this opportunity would not happen again, so I made sure to take lots of photos and savor each moment. I was so grateful for all the people who looked out for me at each phase of the journey. For example, at SRTL, where we were all given rental bikes for the week, they arranged a tandem bike for me and my co-chair Dani, since I would not feel safe cycling on my own.

Dani and me on our tandem bike in the Netherlands

I did not worry about getting lost, finding my way, or being alone in an unfamiliar place. I had my monocular with me to read street signs, and even took walks in each city by myself, which felt very empowering. I returned home at the end of the summer of 2011 recharged and ready to head back to work and spend time with my family.

Next post: Finding my Inner Vision at Esalen

Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, author or editor of books on teaching and learning statistics, as well as cooking.