The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission. As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.
It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance. After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.
It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year. Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen. I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.
I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known. Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so. Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.
Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me. I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV. He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes. Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.
Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home. In the dark. From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.
After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic. Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.
I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway. Add to that a thousand glaring headlights. I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.
As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film. It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness. Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road. Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.
It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend. Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.
So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood. When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”
Lovelier words have never been spoken.
To be continued….