The trouble with going blind is you begin not to see. No longer can you drive a car, browse through bookstores and libraries, or read a newspaper or the personal letter you don't want to share with anyone else. You can't see bridge cards, chess pieces, dust on the table, grease spots on your dress or lipstick on your husband's shirt.
You overflow juice glasses, knock over coffee cups, open a can of tomato soup when you wanted cream of mushroom, put cinnamon in the green beans and pepper in the applesauce.
I couldn't recognize anybody, so I began to smile at everybody, until Ginger, the youngest of my four grown children, objected.
"Mama, will you stop grinning at random people? You have every creep in town following us!"
Anyway, I stopped smiling and just tried to look pleasantly aware, even if I wasn't. For me there were many embarrassing moments, like continuing a conversation with someone who had walked away, or standing at a bus stop on L Street, just outside Macy's in downtown Sacramento one day asking the bus driver, "Is this the No. 2 bus?" and receiving his how-can-you-be-so-dumb reply: "The No. 2 bus has the number 2 on it!"
Now the bus driver might have seemed rude, but it was my fault. I don't look blind. Had I been carrying a white cane, Ginger said, "then people would think you were blind, not stupid!"
But I didn't want to look like a poor old blind woman, and I had neither the inclination nor the time to get a white cane and practice how to be blind. I was too busy trying to see.
The blow was sudden and hard to absorb. At first I thought I just needed glasses. The ophthalmologist thought so too. It took him six months and three expensive pairs of glasses to conclude the trouble was in my mind. He even asked my regular physician to schedule me with a psychiatrist.
Luckily, my regular doctor knew I wasn't crazy and tactfully suggested I see another ophthalmologist.
That began my trek to several specialists, all of whom spotted the problem: retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye disease that attacks the retina. But they could do nothing about it. Given no hope by the regular medical profession, I sought more innovative solutions, such as the ophthalmologist recommended by an old college friend.
"She was formerly an expert eye surgeon," my friend said, "in such demand that many of her surgeries had to be scheduled a year in advance. When the diets and medication she prescribed for patients on the waiting list proved so successful that surgeries were no longer necessary, the doctor decided to give up eye surgery and concentrate on the whole person."
I made an appointment what did I have to lose?
"Money," said my husband, Bill, reminding me that she didn't accept insurance. "Probably doesn't qualify for it," he added.
"Because she's innovative, too far ahead of the current mode," I replied, a phrase I was to repeat over and over. But I didn't know that then.
At his first glimpse of the doctor, Bill declared, "She's too old for surgery, had to give it up."
At that time Bill was a logistics engineer at still booming McClellan Air Force Base, a strict numbers man and therefore a doubter. But even he was impressed when he saw a man walking jauntily about the waiting room, swinging a cane and telling the hopeful patient in a wheelchair, "When I came here four months ago, I couldn't even stand, much less walk!"
After much probing, the doctor stuck pins into my toes, fingers and head. I later learned this was acupuncture, a treatment used by the Chinese for centuries, but just catching on in the United States. She scheduled another appointment, gave me several expensive pills intended to stimulate my glands and put me on a very strict diet. As Bill quoted from a cartoon on her wall, "Your diet is very simple. If it tastes good, spit it out."
I came home and plunged into a routine with my new medication and my new diet. It did wonders for my figure, but I couldn't be sure about my eyes. The problem was her office was some distance from Sacramento and what with plane fares and no insurance, the bills added up. As my husband said, "She may not act like a regular doctor, but she sure charges like one."
So I had to cancel the next appointment. The doctor was very nice about it. She gave me the name of an acupuncturist in my area, and advised me to find a good nutritionist.
The recommended acupuncturist said quite frankly that he could not help me. Bill was impressed. "Never thought I'd meet an honest quack," he said.
That was when a good friend suggested I try the Alpha Club, gateway to many remarkable, unbelievable and (all right) questionable adventures, and to Shirley, the friend of the friend who picked me up. Dear, dear Shirley, a friend indeed, one I truly needed. She became well-known to my family. "Here comes your kooky friend to pick you up. Are you guys going to one of your kooky meetings?"
At Alpha Club I met the psychic who read "auras" and used energy fields to heal. I spent time with the Reverend Wrinkle, a professional dowser, you know, one of those people who use "witching sticks" to find water and minerals. He had lost an arm hoboing and one day it occurred to him that he could use the stick to draw out the phantom pain emanating from his missing limb.
I met a doctor who practiced "chelation," a technique that cured ailments by cleansing the bloodstream of toxins and other impurities. He warned me that it would take many expensive treatments to clean my blood of the toxins causing my blindness and directed me instead to the vitamin store he owned. When I got the bill for my vitamins, I knew I'd better forget chelation. I couldn't afford the vitamins.
Incidentally, I'd like to drop a bit of advice here for any new bride: Before the wedding, demand your own bank account. Joint accounts are nice for groceries and even an occasional dress. But when you latch onto innovative ideas, and there's an old-fashioned, straight-laced husband looking over your shoulder well, I had to resort to cashing checks for cash. That way, Bill couldn't tell what the money went for.
For me, the most impressive Alpha Club visitors were a couple who brought lectures from Mars. The Martians had told them of the existence of a United Galaxy. It seems that at one time Earth was the best planet in the galaxy. So good were Earth's inhabitants, we were asked to take in evildoers being rejected from other planets. Earth lifted its lamp in welcome: "Give me your selfish, your greedy, your yearning to be rich."
The idea, of course, was that we would reform the evil newcomers, but it worked the other way around. Earth was corrupted. Our planet became so degenerate, our Alpha club visitors informed us, it was banished from the United Galaxy but now they wanted us back.
A group of Martians taped a series of lectures they asked our visitors to deliver to a radio station to be broadcast to Earth's people. The broadcasts had aired many years before. I don't know how well they were received, but the one played for my Alpha Club hooked me.
We were advised not to identify with anything no race, cause, creed or country. We should identify ourselves and everyone else as just plain, unadorned human beings. I listened, spellbound. All at once everything came together, all I had heard during my search for sight.
Now I saw it clearly: a wonderful, miraculous world where hate and prejudice didn't exist and everybody lived in harmony with everybody else; where cancer and, in my case, blindness would be banished, where there was no pain or suffering. I tried to repeat the lecture to Bill. "It was so profound," I told him, "so spiritual, so "
"Don't tell me you believe that crap!" he broke in.
"I certainly do," I said. "I've never believed this whole universe existed just for us here on Earth. Way out there, somewhere, there must be kind, wise, understanding, noncompetitive beings who love and live together without all the quarreling, the crime or the disease. I believe "
"What was he selling?" Bill asked.
"Are you sure about that?"
I hesitated. "Well, he had tapes available."
"The trouble with you," I said, "is you don't believe anything."
"And your trouble is you believe everything!" he said. "One of these days I'm going to come home and find a note: 'Dear Bill, I've gone on a trip to Mars. I gave them a check.' "
"Would it matter," I snapped, "if I went for free?"
"Not as much!" he said as he turned on his heels and took off for the golf course.
You probably think as Bill does, that I've gone a bit loony. Well, close your eyes and pretend you're blind. Turn around a few times. Now try to find the kitchen sink or the bathroom. All the licensed doctors you've consulted can't help. Some unlicensed "voodoo doctor," as Bill calls them, offers hope. He might be lying, but what do you have to lose? Money? How much is your eyesight worth? Are your eyes still closed? Have you found your way to the bathroom yet?
Bill died in 2006, two days after Thanksgiving. He had developed a bad case of emphysema and was struggling to breathe. Would you believe he consulted one of my "voodoo doctors?" Sadly, voodoo didn't work for him either. I miss him like crazy.
Me? I'm still searching, voodoo or not. What do I have to lose?