By fourth grade, I discovered I had no natural athletic ability. That was a shame, because I loved to watch my older sisters and the kids in the neighborhood play baseball. As much as I begged, pleaded and cajoled them, no one ever wanted me on their teams.
Okay, so I couldn’t hit the ball, catch or throw, but I could run like the wind – at least in my own mind. What no one realized at the time was that I had no depth perception. That quirk turned out to be due to something called amblyopia, or “lazy eye.” My right eye was dominant and I never “learned” how to judge how far away objects were.
Mom took me to the eye doctor’s office every year for new glasses that just kept getting stronger and stronger (think Coke-bottle glasses), but I still couldn’t see very well. Eventually, she took me to eye specialists all the way up in Chicago. Looking back, the amazing thing is that my gutsy mother had never driven in a big city before. She managed to overcome her own fears and take me for monthly office visits for several years.
On the very first visit to the specialist, they discovered the amblyopia, but also that I was near-sighted in one eye, far-sighted in the other and cross-eyed to boot. As a kid I called it “cross-sighted,” because it somehow sounded more poetic to say “near-sighted, far-sighted and cross-sighted.”
Correcting this eye condition is more successful at younger ages. At the grand old age of ten, I was past the threshold of where treatment would definitely help. But they tried. That first day, I had to start wearing an ugly black patch (like a pirate) over my good eye. The theory was to force the weaker eye to do all the work. My vision was so bad that at dinner that night when we had peas (which I loved), I couldn’t keep them on my fork to get to my mouth. Finally, in frustration, Mom let me use a spoon.
Eventually, I used a flesh-colored adhesive eye patch, which was slightly less noticeable, followed later by eye drops to blur my good eye. Over the next couple of years, my vision improved marginally, but not enough to do much good or last permanently.
So now, many years later, how is it? Well, I do drive the car, but when I hear a crash, I know I’ve gotten too close. (Just kidding!) Actually, I tend to over-compensate for the lack of depth perception and allow p-l-e-n-t-y of extra room for passing and parking. I just have to drive forward and backward more times than most people to get into a parallel parking space. Thank Goodness for diagonal parking.
After all these years, what stands out most about this experience while growing up? It has to be the gratitude I feel because my parents made the sacrifice to get me the best medical care they could find. Considering we had seven kids at home, that was no easy task. After all, both time and money were in short supply.
So what was the final impact on my fledgling baseball career? Well, they finally let me play, as long as I was the catcher. Ha! What a joke on me that turned out to be. It seemed like every year I ended up getting hit in the head with a baseball bat for standing too close to home plate. Sure, it might have broken my glasses, but at least I got to play!
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