“You’re going to the doctor on your birthday and you want me to drive you?” my friend Dilip asked, bewildered at my choice for my birthday morning.
“Yes. I am scared to go on my own.”
Speaking to the visual behavioral optometrist and deciding to come in for an evaluation to see if I was a candidate for vision therapy to develop depth perception, my eyes teared but I did not let on to the doctor over the phone how emotional I was. After the call, I continued making my dinner in the kitchen realizing that my life was about to change dramatically.
I’ve known since reading Dr. Oliver Sacks’ article “Stereo Sue” in July 2006 that pursuing vision therapy to develop 3D vision would alter my life to such an extent that I could not even imagine. Three dimensional vision for me, was the mysterious venue of special movies viewed with 3D glasses, but I had no idea what it was in real life. When I told people that I saw flat, they could not even imagine how I could survive. Some were perplexed and remained quiet in their awe, dumbfounded that I could have enjoyed traveling to over 50 countries without being able to “really” see the true scope of Macchu Picchu or the Coliseum. Others would cover one eye, trying to approximate how I saw the world. I would have to explain to them that even with one eye closed, their brains would fill in the missing information and they might still have depth perception, while I had none. One person even argued with me that my eyes were fine and that I didn’t have to go through the therapy. Why bother arguing with someone who wants to improve their life? Sometimes I didn’t want to tell people what I was going to pursue because of the questions and looks of “Wait, you really can’t see distance? How do you not fall over yourself all the time”. Not wanting to appear as a freak show that people couldn’t decipher, I opted to keep my mouth shut.
When the 3D movie Avatar came out, I wasn’t at all intrigued by the story line, but I was jealous of all of those people who raved about how cool it was to see it in 3D. Though I could still go out and see the film and even try on the 3D glasses, I would feel like the only idiot in the movie theater because I couldn’t see the special effects.
Later, after my call with the doctor, I found myself crying a lot, thinking about why I was so scared to go for the initial exam. Almost two years prior, the vision therapy students at the Optometry School at UC Berkeley had examined me and said that they were surprised at my temporary ability to fuse and said I was a candidate for vision therapy. Given how much I hated driving, I decided that trekking to Berkeley once a week an hour each way would be too much for me. When speaking with to my local optometrist, Dr. K, on the phone, he said that he needed to examine me because UC Berkeley had no experience dealing with patients like me before and that fewer than 30 optometrists in the country had successfully treated strabismic patients to develop depth perception. I was not a “done deal” as the doctor could possibly tell me that I was indeed, godforsaken and had no potential for seeing beyond the plains of my hemisphere.
Logically, I should have been ecstatic that I finally decided to go to the doctor, but I was scared beyond belief. My visit to the Optometry School at UC Berkeley was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I knew very well what images the students were showing through the lenses (a tail and head of a cat) and I was frustrated when I could not hold the two images together for more than a moment. I saw the head with my left eye and the tail with my right eye and as I alternated between both eyes, I could only see the entire cat for a short second. The tests the student optometrists administered were harder than any of the exams I had taken as a student on the same campus. If I couldn’t answer a test prompt as an undergraduate at Cal, I knew it was because I hadn’t studied hard enough, but there was no preparation for me as a patient in the eye clinic. I could either see the two images in stereopsis or I couldn’t. There was no fancy bullshitting through an essay or creativity involved in my answers. Black or white. Yes I can see or no I can’t. Here I was, unable to BS my way through a test or study harder for the next exam. I was exposed and powerless. Trying to maintain my composure, I didn’t ball in front of the doctoral students, but they must have noticed my green hazel eyes turn bright green by the color of my tears.