My Journey To Blindness…

I was born with full sight. No visual problems until I turned 40. Even then I just needed glasses for doing anything up close. Something important as a busy hairdresser.

Before I was diagnosed as legally blind, I was active; either physically, mentally, or a combination of the two. I like to and continue to, challenge myself. For instance; hiking through a rainforest or canyon, flying in an open cockpit bi-wing plane doing aerobatics, flying a glider plane, bungee cord jumping, and I have been certified in scuba diving.

I continue the search.

Skipping ahead several years, I noticed I was having problems while driving a car at night. Objects just weren’t clear enough. Headlights, even dim, were bothering me enough that I had to squint to see while I was driving. At that stage, I just thought it was because I was getting older and it was just a natural progression in life. After all, I’ve heard from many people who were going through the same thing. Again, no big deal.

Then I made an appointment with my Optometrist. A routine exam. I was advised to bring someone with me to drive me home since my eyes will have been dilated.

When my exam was over, my doctor walked me to the end of the hall and reached out to shake my hand. I didn’t see her do it. She was shorter than me, so again, I thought nothing of it. However, she did tell me she was trying to shake my hand and I had to apologize and tell her I didn’t see her extended arm. At that point, she asked me to tell her when I could start to see her hand as she raised it toward my eyes. After several gestures, she informed me I needed to see a specialist and made an appointment for me. When my “driver” asked how the exam went, I told her I was going blind (not yet knowing). She thought I was joking as that was how I would have joked. I just looked at her seriously, and she glanced at the doctor who nodded her head. It still didn’t hit me then. Maybe because the doctor never used the words “going blind”?

After 3 different eye exams in the same appointment with the Ophthalmologist / Vitreo-retinal Specialist, I was diagnosed with RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa). It was explained to me I had lost some of my peripheral vision, enough to qualify me for a guide dog. “But I can see.” That was when I was told about I can see using my direct vision, but not my peripheral. It would also be a good idea to see a low-vision specialist. End of appointment.

I continued to drive. No one told me not to. Then accidents started to happen. Luckily, no one got hurt or killed. Even turning my head to check for oncoming cars wasn’t enough. My last one was on the New Jersey Turnpike as I was about to return my rental car. That one ripped a part of the left front bumper off, making a noise as I turned the wheels. That was when I decided to no longer drive and give up my driver’s license.

When I returned home to California, I finally made the appointment with the low-vision specialist. No sooner had she walked into the office and looked at me than she exclaimed “You shouldn’t be driving ! You’re blind!”. Almost as if I was a child and my mother was scolding me. I told her I gave up my license a few weeks prior.

I decided to tell my clients I was going blind. It may take years, or it may never happen that I will be totally blind. I regret telling them because I lost a few clients with whom I had a good rapport. They didn’t even tell me why, but I knew. I did, however, maintain a good clientele. Some even referred new clients to me.

If they complimented me on their new cut, I of course would thank them and would sometimes add “Not bad for a blind man.” I always got an inquisitive look or chuckle. After all, they saw I was wearing glasses while cutting their hair and there was nothing special (that they could see) about them. That’s when I would point to my white cane. I took that opportunity to explain RP to them. A few brought their friends to me to cut their hair. After the new client thanked me and before I could say anything, their friend would say to me “Shall we tell them?”. Of course, I did.

I would still be a hairdresser if it wasn’t for the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily closing down all non-essential businesses. Even after we were allowed to reopen with restrictions, it wasn’t long before we were ordered to close down again. One of the problems with this whole thing was the landlords still expected their rent and the utility companies still wanted their services paid for while the businesses were forced to close. It was then I decided to close the salon and retire.

When you are blind, you lose friends. Sometimes even family doesn’t know how to act around you. It gets very lonely.

My goal is to get our local community together and do things together, even while we’re still in the throws of the pandemic, there are safe ways to meet (masks). I’m currently making a list of places in Palm Springs where we can go and have fun, and enjoy each other’s company (more on the Activities page).

Hopefully, I will see you soon in one or more of the activities.