When I first met the woman who would become my wife, I noticed that when she became very tired, her left eye would turn in slightly. We would most often call this ‘lazy eye’ even though there are much more technical names for the several different types of conditions this represents. In her case, the proper name is Strabismus. Of course, when you first meet someone it’s probably not a good idea to begin talking about the little things that might be wrong with that person, and only in extreme conditions did her condition ever manifest itself.
Then, soon after we moved to Virginia, she noticed that our 2-year-old son had the same problem and decided to have it checked. The normal checkup by the local optometrist led to a further check by an ophthalmologist. While the ophthalmologist noted our son’s condition, he was much more concerned with my wife’s eyes. Soon afterward, both she and our son had bi-lateral muscle surgery.
This is where this story gets much more interesting. Following her surgery, we had a transition period where she was restricted in many of her normal activities. This was to be expected and I was glad to help her through this period. However, she had exclaimed on several occasions that her vision was very different from what she had always known. I was confused. This surgery was supposed to be tying the muscles together so that both eyes moved together, so why would that be such a major transition for her. Since she had no basis of reference, and neither did I, she couldn’t explain it to me.
She had been doing very well for two weeks and the time had arrived for her to try to drive her car. She was afraid of this next step, but we got in the car, and off we went. Our little country road was fine, and then the connector road to the highway was fine. No problems reported. Then we turned left onto a 2-lane highway and she quickly got us going 55 mph. Of course, there are cars going in our direction and cars coming toward us in the other lane. When an 18-wheel truck passed us in the other lane, she jumped and panicked.
“What? Are you ok?”
“Wow, did you see that truck,” she said.
“Uh, ya I saw that truck coming toward us a while ago, didn’t you?”
“Well, no, not until the last moment when he was right on us.”
I thought it would be a good idea to pull over and I would get us home so we could talk this over. The conversation that followed was a fascinating, almost mind-blowing discussion for me, and for her.
“OK, so explain it to me. Why didn’t you see that truck?”
“I wasn’t looking at it. I was looking at the road in front of me, so I never saw the truck coming toward us.”
“Uh, OK, but no one looks at the road in front of them the entire time they drive. You look at the road, then you look at your rear-view mirror, then you look at the road, then you look at oncoming traffic, etc.”
“Not me, that’s not what I do. I‘ve always looked at the road with my right eye and looked at my outside rear-view mirror with my left eye. Then I’ll look at oncoming traffic with my left eye. But I always keep my right eye on the road in front of me. My surgery tied both my eyes together so now the only way I can look at something is with both eyes. It’s very strange.”
“No, really? We’ve been married for 10 years and you’re just now telling me this?”
“I’ve just always thought it was the way everybody looked at things. What I’m finding is this is a much more restrictive eyesight than the one I had before. I’m not sure I like it very much.”
“Just so I understand this, you process input from your right eye independently from input from your left eye?”
“I never thought of it like that, but yes, I guess I do. So I could see a lot of things that you couldn’t and see them all at once. But, that’s why I don’t have any depth perception.”
“What? How can you drive a car without depth perception? How do you keep from hitting the car in front of you or space yourself properly in traffic?”
“It’s easy, but I do it differently than you do. When I see that Buick in front of us, I know how big it is. When it gets bigger; it’s closer, when it gets smaller; it’s further away. Until two weeks ago, I thought everybody did it that way. Now my brain wants to actually measure the distance between the cars and I don’t know how to do that yet.”
“Ya, whoa! The reason I panicked out there on the road is because I’ve never taken my eye(s) off the road before to look at something else, like oncoming traffic. Since I can’t look at two things at once now, I have to stop looking at one thing in order to look at something else. The whole idea of driving down the road without actually looking at the road, even for a split second, scares me to death. I don’t know how you do it.
“You can stop saying that, this is like the Twilight Zone for me.”
Over time, she and I worked together on ways, all new for her, to look at the world. It was a necessary series of lessons for her, but I probably learned more about eyesight and how it really works than she did. I had to think and answer questions about every possible aspect of seeing things. It was a forced and rapid education for both of us that proved to be extremely interesting for us on so many different levels.
Since she was over 30 when she had the surgery, her mind still processes visual inputs independently with each eye. Our son had his bi-lateral muscle surgery when he was two, so he has never had that problem. I think she cheats sometimes, especially when she drives, but we haven’t talked about it in many years.
© J T Weaver
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