SEPTEMBER 1, 1996
by PHIL KEMPIN, Humorist
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was The Petersburg Times, and I couldn't read a doggone word of it. My sight was slipping away before my very eyes. It came not suddenly, but as a thief in the night. Minor wrinkles in straight lines were the first indication. When the distortion worsened, laser surgery began. Over five years the lasers' cauterizing effect would steal my central vision, leaving me a vista similar to squinting through a bowl of concrete colored JeIIo. My peripheral vision though, remains intact, making it unlikely that I will step into an open septic tank, or trample small children, except on special occasions.
Bitter? No. But, hey, how would you react if your diagnosis was something called "pseudoxanthoma elasticum?" A condition that sounds a lot more like a papal encyclical, than it does a retinal problem. Which takes me back to the time when first I heard those two latin terms. The scene: My doctor's office. His "eyeness" is seated across from me. Putting aside my chart, he begins shuffling through his extensive collection of "Ophthalmologists to the Rich and Famous" trading cards. Then, he speaks. "We call your condition pseudoxanthoma elasticum, PXE for short. Presently, it affects only one eye, but..." Arising, he glides to the back wall to level his newly framed GED certificate. "PXE, will eventually migrate to the opposite eye," he continues. "Oh goody, something to look forward to," I say. Checking his Rolex, he declares our visit over. After asking if I have any coupons to redeem, he offers me a Tootsie Pop, warning me against running with it in my mouth. I still look forward to our somewhat regular visits.
Once one's vision reaches total fuzziness, you're assigned a number classifying you as legally blind. A number based on the specific gravity of a Mercedes hood ornament submerged in a liter of prune juice.
Not surprisingly, my eye condition, which is not at all obvious, has inspired some humorous scenarios. There's the one I refer to as "Incident at Woodridge." It began innocently enough with an evening walk in my new neighborhood. As I strolled, I'd made a special effort to radiate friendliness. Passing each new neighbor, I'd energetically wave but, unknowingly, I was repeating my greetings over and over to the very same people. Hey, no stuck up label for me. Better redundant than rejected. Responding to this debacle, concerned residents issued a standard "Dweeb Alert." Phones were automatically activated when my front door opened. Then came the gossip. "I doubt we'll be seeing the new guy on "Jeopardy", anytime soon." "Ya, I'd ask him how long he's had short term memory problems but I bet he's already forgotten." Unison chortles erupt. How do I know all these Things? Ever heard of the Psychic Hot Line?
Being hard of seeing should be dealt with like any other speed bump that falls across your career path. You turn to your faith. You adjust, and you get a hammer lock on your sense of humor. Living in Woodridge helps, too. I even went back to school, and learned the "blind computer" on which this epistle was written. In other words, I'm now back in business.
That's a wrap. For more "Tales of the Legally Blind," send your certified check to "BRILLIANT HUMORIST," in care of Phil Kempin.