Can we agree that blindness is one of the most horrible afflictions to strike the human race?
There are many others, of course, and all are terrible. But blindness is of particular concern for me because my dad went blind in 1971 between my freshman and sophomore years of college.
My dad, his dad and two of my uncles were railroad men. I would probably have worked for the railroad, too, if it weren’t for the declining value of the business in the late ‘60s.
Grandpa told me that the railroads were going broke through mismamagement.
“If you or your cousin go on the railroad I’ll beat you both,” he said.
Dad was laid off from the railroad for several months when the railroad yard was closed in my hometown and some of the men and equipment were moved to the big classification yard in Elkhart,Indiana, some 30 miles away.
After a stint selling garbage disposals door to door, he was eventually called back to the railroad and it seemed we were on the right track again. Until his eyesight started to go.
For at least a year, while I was in college hundreds of miles away, dad would drive to work, summer and winter, with his 1957 VW Beetle windows down, listening for oncoming traffic. When he saw a light ahead and heard a motor, he would pull off to the side of the road until it passed.
His rapidly declining eyesight was caused by hemorrhaging in the back of his eyes. The blood stained the mirror that reflects an image. He said it was like someone threw paint on a mirror and you had to look around the blotches to see. He learned that after he was forced to retire early and he went to Chicago for treatment. He was one of the first patients to have a laser beam used to cauterize the leaky blood vessels. Nothing could be done to restore his vision but doctors prevented him from losing his eyesight altogether.
I remember seeing dad standing outside a funeral home one day. Mom and dad were attending visitation for a family member and I had driven from college.
Dad obviously couldn’t see much by the way he stood still, not looking at traffic or the trees or anything.
“Hey, Dad,” I yelled.
He recognized my voice and answered but he couldn’t tell where my voice was coming from.
On another visit home, he was riding in the back seat, mom was in the front and we were driving to my aunt and uncle’s house near South Bend.
Dad kept jumping as he tried to be a backseat driver for me.
“Where are you going?” he yelled, even mom and I knew we were perfectly safe. He just couldn’t see around him except for blotches.
Dad adjusted. He spent days in his room, listening to books, mostly crime mysteries, on a record player he borrowed from a lending library for the blind.
About that time, I started volunteering for a New Ross, Indiana, mission to the sightless. My job was to produce the sound track for a quarterly record for the blind that was sent out to hundreds of people around the world.
Years later, mom and dad are gone, our kids are approaching 40 and one day about two weeks ago I awoke to find about two-thirds of the vision in my right eye was missing.
I let it ride for a day or so until I began to panic and texted Dr. Nicole Bonham. We are friends on Facebook. I hoped it was something minor.
I thought she would text me back later that day or the next but almost immediately she told me to call the office and make an appointment for that day.
I called and apparently she had told the lady who answered to expect my call and get me in.
After a thorough exam Dr. Bonham expressed sympathy when she said I had tears in my retina.
She gave me hope. She “pulled some strings” and got an appointment with Dr. Alexander Izad at Highland Retina Specialists in Terre Haute.
I appreciated her sympathy and told her, “Hey, Doc, I’ve been through a lot in 66 years. Did you know I nearly died with a heart attack in June? God has been with me through everything and He will see me through this, too.”
“That’s just what I was going to say,” she told me.
Dr. Bonham thought Dr. Izad might use a laser to repair my retina that day and said I needed to have someone drive me.
I told Linda, my wife, and she took the afternoon off from the bank on a day when other people were off, too, but Riddell has always treated their employees well just as The Brazl Times treats employees well.
“It’s not good,” Dr. Izad said following the examination. In fact, it was worse than we thought.
The retina on my right eye was detached, causing the big gray area in my sight. And there were tears in the retina in my “good eye.”
We decided the best possibility was for me to undergo surgery at the Wabash Valley Surgery Center five days later.
I told Jeanne Burris, our senior general manager of three Indiana newspapers, and she said, “Your health is most important, Frank.”
I was off work for the week of the surgery and Ivy Jacobs and Carey Fox pitched in with Jeanne to be sure my work was covered.
I am a pretty positive person but questions haunted me all that week.
“What if they laser my good eye and something goes wrong and I never get my sight back in either eye? What if I can’t be a newspaper editor or reporter any more?”
It’s not fair to my wife. She has always been so good to me and I’ve done my best to be good to her.
Linda reminded me God helped us through 11 years of her breast cancer and recuperation and He would see us through this, too.
So I read my Bible. One day I remembered Pastor Mark Thompson was preaching in the Gospel of John so I read chapter 11. I have a Bible app on my phone and read through daily verses.
I follow a bunch of people on Instagram who fill their posts with scripture an other positive thoughts so I was on Instagram every day. And I kept up with my Facebook friends and made positive comments and “likes” when they had something good to say about their lives. But I didn’t post anything about my eye trouble, let it degrade and become my own personal pity party.
One day I got the most incredible email from Matt Huber, director of the Brazil Concert Band.
He had cataract laser treatment and promised me the doctor was right. Whatever he does with a laser will be OK.
I went back to work Monday and had the “good” eye treated with a laser to prevent the retina from detaching on Wednesday. The laser treatment was indeed easy.
I’m on the mend.
Dr. Izad said I can expect to regain about 90 percent of vision in the eye he operated on in eight weeks but it will take up to six months for the eye to improve as much as is it going to improve.
I’m just so thankful I can see with my good eye to drive and to work at the newspaper.
I guess one lesson I learned was that when people seem to be overreacting to troubles, it might be because of fear caused by past experiences.
Pam Fischer is right, “Always be kind.”