A Bookwoman’s Vision: Myopia, Cataracts, Glaucoma and Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome

Journal and Eyeglasses

Are you familiar with Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome? Read on to learn about this rare but sometimes devastating visual condition can affect those who have lived in Missouri, Arkansas, parts of Oklahoma, as well as other states.

I have attempted to write this post twice before and I hope the saying about the third time being charmed is true. I am in a state of uncertainty about how to talk about my own issues, especially about my health,  in light of my blog’s focus on books and reading. I don’t want to make this about me — but don’t know a better way to illustrate how vision can shape the worlds of us all, particularly those who love and promote reading. So, I will share my vision story while I prepare for my cataract surgery tomorrow morning.

My vision problems became apparent when I was eleven years old. I remember that my dad noticed that I was squinting and pointed it out to me, suggesting that I try to break what could become a bad habit.  He also decided to have my eyes examined and I was diagnosed with myopia and fitted for glasses. I was also subjected to weekly sessions in a darkened room at the optometrist’s office with exercises that were designed to improve my vision. I don’t remember any positive results from the exercises, but have memories of how tedious and boring they were.

The good news was that I could see beauty in new detail with my new glasses.  The shimmering leaves became visible individually and the fluffy white clouds appeared to take on lives of their own.

The bad news was that I could also see (what I perceived as) ugliness in detail. The only positive effect of my glasses was that they partly camouflaged my pimples and the red birthmark on my cheek. I could also see much better, so I wore them.

Julia Reagan -- Age 14 -- High School Freshman

I had heard the Dorothy Parker trope which was popular at that time: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses.” At age eleven, I had no experience with men (or boys) making passes, but I had hopes for the future.  My glasses didn’t reassure me, and as I entered high school, I became even more dissatisfied with my appearance. I was given permission to experiment with makeup (with strict admonishments when my experiments went too far) and I looked for ways to “accentuate the positive”, as the teen magazines advised.

Very fortunately for me, contact lenses became available and I was fitted for mine in 1963, when I was a junior. Some of my friends tried to wear them without success, but I was determined and fought through the days of getting accustomed to the hard lenses. I had chosen vivid blue lenses, which made them easier to see if dropped and which made my eyes a rather startling color, which I loved.

With my new contacts, new skills in makeup, and the new popularity of hair teased and sprayed into unconquerable heights, I finished high school and entered college with new-found self-confidence.  I thought that my vision problems were over.  They weren’t.

It is true that I had years of uncompromised vision — time enough to complete college, marry and have children, and enter a career as a librarian. I am grateful that my contacts gave me few problems, other than an occasional broken or lost lens and discomfort from wearing them too long or (horrors!) while sleeping.

Then I noticed an oddity in my vision, a certain waviness in the outside line marking the lanes of the highway where I was driving. By this time I was in my early forties and so accustomed to seeing without difficulty that I convinced myself that the problem would disappear.  It didn’t.

I made an appointment with my optometrist and he sent me to the Dean McGee Eye Institute in Oklahoma City. Their tests concluded that the wavy line was a result of Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome, a rare bi-product of a fungal infection that I had as a child.

I learned that as many as 90% of the population in the states where it is endemic (including all of Missouri and Arkansas and part of Oklahoma) have had the infection, which is spread by breathing the spores released by bird and bat droppings in those areas.  (It turns out that people in the construction trades are especially vulnerable, since their work often includes the disturbance of the soil where the bird droppings fall.  My dad was a building contractor and we usually lived near or in subdivisions he was developing.)

Most of those infected by histoplasmosis are not aware of it, because the symptoms are similar to a cold or mild flu.  Occasionally it can spread to other parts of the body and cause serious illness. Rarely, the spores can travel from the lungs to the eye(s), eventually causing vision problems or loss.

What I was seeing was the result of the growth of abnormal blood vessels.  I was told that surgery was an option and that waiting could sooner or later result in the movement of the affected area to the center of my vision.

I decided to wait (for just a while).  Within a couple of weeks, the movement had occurred, and my vision was gone in the center of my right eye.  It was and is as if someone placed a gray splotch in front of whatever I focus on (including any sentence or paragraph I’m reading or any person’s face I’m trying to recognize).  It was final and irreversible.

My eyes adapted and my left eye took over the tasks my right eye could no longer perform. I continued my life as usual until middle (and beyond middle) age took their toll.  Isn’t it amazing how many conditions can affect something as small as your eyes?  I now have four: myopia, glaucoma, cataracts and OHS.

It is time to deal with the cataracts so that I can feel comfortable driving (and reading road signs) when it’s raining, at night, and when I’m out-of-town. I would be dishonest if I told you that this surgery on my left eye doesn’t cause me a little anxiety. I’ve been protective of the full (if flawed) vision it provides me.

At the same time I am a realist — my husband says that I focus too much on the negative. I don’t consider it negative to practice walking with my eyes closed (to see what it would be like to lose my vision completely) or to think about how I could still read if I couldn’t see. (I would use audiobooks or press family members into service to read to me.)  I call it preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.

I am also full of gratitude for the corrected vision I’ve enjoyed and the members of science and medical community who have guided me through my problems.

I am also aware of the many, many people who have dealt with more tragic and heart-breaking health issues than my own and admire the grace and grit that most of them display.  Several of them are in my own family and I imagine that some are in yours.

As for myself, as always, I look forward to seeing more clearly.

 

 

 

 

My Mid-Year Five-Star Fiction Favorites

It hardly seems possible that 2017 is more than half over. I have read 27 books so far this year, which is pretty close to my average of one book per week. As mentioned in the “About Me” section, my reading preferences include southern fiction; books about family relationships and friendships; books with connections to Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas; memoir and history. I do read outside my “preferences” and have discovered many wonderful books and authors through recommendations, award nominees and winners, and reading reviews.

I keep track of my books on Goodreads and would encourage you to connect with me there. My ratings on Goodreads and Amazon are rarely lower than four or five stars, because there are so many wonderful books available that I usually won’t continue with a book that doesn’t captivate me in some way. I have also fine-tuned my selection process to the point that most of the books I read please me greatly. That doesn’t mean that they will please every reader; that’s why I’m happy that there are so many to choose from!

 

The Feathered Bone

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

A young girl disappears on a New Orleans school outing just before Hurricane Katrina.  The tumult and tragedy of the entire city frame the fate of one child during the months, then years that follow.

 

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Flight Patterns by Karen White

Southern women’s fiction at its best.  Two sisters with such a bone to pick that they don’t see each other for ten years, a beautiful mother who isn’t as loony as she seems, and interesting tidbits about beekeeping fill out the plot nicely.

 

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I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

A region and a family in crisis. Beautifully-told story of the Dust Bowl with nuggets of truth and wisdom that I won’t forget.  Oklahoma Book Award finalist.

 

Mudbound

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

A superb book, recently released as a movie and already receiving Oscar buzz.  The story of two families — the owners of a Mississippi Delta farm at the end of World War II and the sharecroppers who live and work on it.  Winner of the Bellwether Prize for fiction (promoting social responsibility).

 

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Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Based on accounts of an adoption ring which operated in Memphis from the 1930’s until the 1950’s. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings are stolen from their parents and turned over to an orphanage without fair representation or recourse.

 

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Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Two families, five decades, two married couples, six children who only agree on their hatred for their parents after the dissolution of two marriages.  Anyone who has been divorced and remarried, been a part of a blended or dysfunctional family, and created their own narrative about the situation will identify with this story and each characters’ interpretations of what happened and why.

 

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The Risen by Ron Rash

A “summer of love” for two teenaged North Carolina brothers comes back to haunt them decades later when the fate of the girl who bewitched them both comes to light.

 

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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

Two women of remarkable intellect are separated by centuries but united through history and seventeenth-century documents. The “weight of ink” takes on new meaning through this absorbing and thought-provoking book.

Are you a member of Goodreads? If so, please connect with me there.  In the meantime, consider commenting on your own book selection or ratings method. Please share with anyone who might enjoy any of these reading selections. 

 

 

 

Is Reading Dying Out? Time to Plant Some New Seeds

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Last week I posted about growing up in a small town in the middle of the twentieth century and how my surroundings contributed to my development as a reader. Of course, we are living in different times, but there is value in examining “seeds to reading” and how we might plant them today. I will suggest a few activities and hope that you will add your own.

Seed #1 — Our Choices Reflect Our Values

As Mary Engelbreit would say, “No matter where you go, there you are.” We are no longer in the 20th century and the definition of “middle class” seems to be in flux. We have the freedom to define our values for our children, and that’s a good thing.

  • Talk to your child about what it was like when you were growing up. Tell them about your favorite books and why you enjoyed them.  Invite them to think about what kinds of books they (would) enjoy reading and why.  Talk about how the world has changed, how it is the same, and how that affects the choices parents (and children) have.

Seed #2 — Reading Parents

  • Let your child see you reading books, magazines and newspapers in traditional formats. You may also read on your devices, but your child knows (or will know) that you do other things on your devices as well. Point out interesting stories and information and relate it to your child’s world.
  • Make reading a part of your daily routine and a part of special occasions, such as family vacations and travel. Let your child see your pleasure in a new book or new magazine at home or on the road.

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Seed #3 — Ready to Read

  • Start with story. Tell your young child stories – simple ones that you make up or remember. They might not understand the story at first, but they will see your pleasure in sharing it. You’ll find that they’ll ask you again and again to hear more about the characters and what they do. Then encourage them to make up their own stories. (Eventually, you’ll probably hear them entertain themselves or others with the adventures of their story friends.)
  • Give your child a head start on reading and loving books by purchasing or borrowing them from the library. Board books are perfect for small hands, and you needn’t worry about chew marks! Picture books are for you to share with your child, to help him or her connect books to story.  Use the words in the book (if there are any) or invite the child to help you make the story up.
  • Buy a set of alphabet blocks and introduce your child to the sounds of letters and building words. Point out the corresponding letters/words in the books you share.

Seed #4 — Beyond Reading Skill to Reading Pleasure

  • As you continue sharing stories with your child, talk about the kinds of stories he/she enjoys most. Make a trip to the library or bookstore and ask for assistance in finding more books containing similar stories.
  • Introduce your child to the other subject areas of the library or bookstore and explain the differences between fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and other reading categories. Check out or buy from a new category.

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Seed #5 — Reading Materials at Home

  • Our homes speak of what is important to us. Make it a practice to have reading materials available in most rooms, in a place that the child can have easy access to them. It’s never too early to start a child’s personal library!
  • Celebrate if books are left on the sofa or a magazine is left open on the dining room table. This means that reading (or a close approximation) is going on.
  • Use holidays, birthdays, and vacations as an opportunity to add to a personal or family collection of books. Buy books for gifts and/or double the pleasure by involving the recipient in the purchase by visiting a bookstore or website for selection.
  • Don’t forget magazines! There are excellent choices for all ages. They are a gift that repeats itself throughout the year if you purchase a subscription and you can choose between mail delivery and electronic format.

Seed #6 — Library: Favorite Destination

  • We have already mentioned visiting the library to choose books. Expand your knowledge of what your library offers your family by paying a visit to explore services. Ask for brochures or fliers and to be put on the mailing list for programs or events, especially those for children.
  • Most libraries have a website with electronic resources, so be certain to include this in your exploration. You may find print and audiobooks for children and adults that can be downloaded to your reader.  Some libraries also offer electronic versions of magazines for a variety of subject interests and for all ages.
  • Make your library’s summer reading program a tradition. School-age children lose some of their reading progress made during the school year if they don’t practice during the summer months. Special events planned by the staff help to offset or eliminate this loss by encouraging children to check out and read books when they attend library programs.
  • Don’t forget events at the library for the younger children. Story times are usually scheduled throughout the year, even “lap-sit” sessions for babies!

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Seed #7 — A Joiner and a “Dabbler”

  • Introduce your child to and support his or her participation in activities that include reading. Scouting, Campfire Boys and Girls, faith-based and special interest organizations often include supplemental activities such as exploration by reading in their planning and programming.
  • Use your home as a studio to explore arts and crafts, purchasing inexpensive materials to create and buying or checking out books to explore technique and history of different media.

Seed #8 — Plenty of Free Time and Minimal “Screen Time”

  • Avoid over-scheduling after school, on weekends, or during summer vacation. We all need “down-time” to relax, dream, play (and read)! Even the most gifted among us deserve a break from lessons and practice – often the time when real creativity is manifested!
  • Set the boundaries for TV-watching, while allowing the child to participate in choosing which programs to watch. Try not to use the television as a baby-sitter! Explore books that have tie-ins with children’s programs or movies and discuss how they are presented and which format is preferred.
  • Technology is an important part of our lives in the 21st century – one that we can’t avoid. Boundaries give us the power and freedom to take advantage of the best that technology has to offer, while leaving plenty of room for the enjoyment of traditional reading formats. Limit the time for playing games that aren’t building skills or contributing to your child’s development and concentrate on those experiences that enhance reading. Be judicious about allowing children to have their own devices and consider those designed for children.

We all need “down-time” to relax, dream, play (and read)! Even the most gifted among us deserve a break from lessons and practice – often the time when real creativity is manifested!

Seed #9 — A Community of Readers

  • Become a supporter, volunteer, and/or enthusiast for organizations that focus on reading, literacy, and a love of books. Join the friends of your library and donate your time and/or money to their activities. Volunteer to tutor a student in reading or other subjects at your local school. Build and supply a “little free library” for your neighborhood. Donate books to the friends’ book sale, to local jails and prisons, or to the hospital. Take literacy training and volunteer to teach an adult to read.
  • Promote your local creative community by supporting local authors, poets, and artists and their work. Purchase their books at local book stores or library events, book signings, and book fairs or festivals.
  • Become a voice for the importance of reading through your local city government, state government and (especially during these times) the federal government. Let your representatives know support of  libraries and museums is part of responsible government and that you expect them to make sure that funding is adequate. Volunteer your help (and donate your money) to local campaigns for library services and/or facilities.

Questions for You: What ideas or practices would you add to help grow more readers in your family? Your community? What are your greatest challenges in promoting reading?

A Special Request: Every blogger appreciates “likes” and “shares” of their content. I am especially asking you to share this post because I need your influence to help make the point about how important reading is to all of us.  In other words, I’m already “preaching to the choir” when I speak of reading to book-lovers, librarians, poets and authors, publishers, and educators. Please share this post with your friends and family who are not part of this group and help us scatter those reading seeds!