57: Through a Glass Darkly

57: Through a Glass Darkly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

  
Through a Glass Darkly

Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind …
~William Shakespeare

“You have the eyes of a seventy-year-old. Have any of your relatives been diagnosed with macular degeneration?” Surely the top retinal specialist in Oklahoma had misdiagnosed my wife’s condition. She couldn’t have macular degeneration at forty-seven years old.

“No,” Pam said. Her voice resounded with confidence, hiding the shock I knew she felt. “I haven’t noticed anything abnormal. What should I prepare for?”

I could see the doctor’s face from my chair off in the corner. Even with the only lights in the examining room being his medical computer and the reflective glow of the eye chart, the furrow in his brow and frown on his face clearly showed the seriousness of the matter.

“There is no cure for dry macular.” The doctor pulled a packet of patient care instructions from a folder on his desktop. “Mrs. Wetterman, you need to check your vision chart at least once a week. If you see any distortion, call my office immediately.” He wrote something down on a notepad, tore off a sheet, and handed it to her. “You need to get on a regimen of vitamins, specifically those listed here. The best science says they help to slow the progression of this disease, but they don’t provide a cure.”

My wife scuffed the floor with her shoe. “I need glasses. I’ll grant you that. But I can read, and I can see to drive. This is so bizarre.”

The doctor shrugged. “Only God knows why you can see as clearly as you do. When I look at your retina, the scarring is severe. Possibly, there’s a small unscarred area that’s positioned just in the right spot to allow you the vision you have. How long this will last is a guess.”

•••

Sixteen years fraught with obstacles and challenges have gone by since that day. For me, being unable to fix her vision has been the hardest part. It’s not like staining a cabinet or making a bookcase. That’s what men do. We fix things.

My wife is strong, loving, and the most intelligent person I know. From the first day I met her, I knew God had set her aside just for me, and that’s what made this so hard. She gave up college when we married to raise our kids and support my career. When our boys were old enough, I encouraged her to pursue a career of her own.

My wife’s a beautiful woman, deer-brown eyes and hair, tall, and graceful. But she’s also dynamic and capable. When our youngest boy turned eleven, Pam started working. She went back to college, obtained her degree, and received promotion after promotion. She advanced within her company to Manager of Credit and Collections, supervising more than two hundred employees in eleven states for one of the largest utilities in the nation, and I supported her every step of the way. But now I feared this disability would steal future opportunities away from her.

She stood up to her physical challenge with the same confidence and determination that made her a success in business. But over time, her condition worsened.

“I can’t see my computer screen as well as I used to,” she said to me one evening in 2003, eleven years after her initial diagnosis. “I’m making stupid mistakes.”

A perfectionist, she demanded excellence from herself, so I went on a mission. I found a product that not only magnified her screen, but also read text and e-mails to her. She could even select the voice she wanted to read to her from a menu of male and female voices. She selected a man’s voice and called him Peter. For the first time in my life, a tiny smidge of jealousy popped up in me.

Regardless, her condition continued to worsen. We’d just returned from a Caribbean cruise in 2004, and the evening after we got back she came to me with tears running down her cheeks. “I need to go back to the doctor. Things aren’t right with my eyes.”

That appointment was life-altering. “I’m sorry,” the doctor said, “but your vision is now such that you’re not going to be able to drive.”

Her lips quivered, and her smile faded. A cloud of gloom settled over my heart. My eyes moistened, knowing she was in pain. I couldn’t tell her I understood that pain. I doubt anyone could understand unless it was happening to them.

“God, this isn’t fair,” I mumbled.

As we drove home, I mulled over her situation. Independent and self-confident all her life, she’d suddenly lost her freedom. Cutbacks at work had already taken her administrative help away. Key reports and correspondence had become harder and harder to read and respond to, even with Peter’s help. Errors cropped up more often. And now on top of it all, she had to depend on someone else for simple things like a ride to work or a trip to the grocery store.

“I’ll always be here, sweetheart,” I said. “Life will be as normal as I can make it.”

Sobbing and a gentle pat on my hand was her response.

By 2006, Pam could no longer see well enough to do her job. She applied for and received Social Security Disability. She could have spiraled into an unending pity party, but she didn’t. Last year when my office had a bowling gala, Pam went. She couldn’t see the pins. She barely could see the arrows on the lanes. She didn’t astound anyone with her score, but she did well enough that a stranger watching her couldn’t have guessed her condition. That’s the strong-willed fiber of the woman I married.

Pam recognizes people by their voices. She doesn’t make out facial features unless you’re right in front of her. I tell her I look like Robert Redford, and she humors me, affectionately saying she loved me in Barefoot in the Park.

I retired this year to pursue my writing full time. Guess who edits my work? My wife. Peter reads my writing to her, and she listens. When something sounds amiss, she reads the large-print text out of the little peripheral vision she has left. She catches things a full-sighted person might miss.

Pam works as a volunteer for Lab Rescue. She’s active with the Sunday school class I teach. Together we can overcome any obstacle life throws our way. At the end of next month, we’ll celebrate our forty-fourth wedding anniversary. We’ll drive to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and spend the weekend. Maybe, if the road allows, I’ll pull over at a scenic outlook and describe the view while she experiences the wind and the sunshine.

I have my share of physical problems, and she helps me with them as I help her with her vision. Do I have questions for God about all the trials we’ve had to go through? I do. But I have all the more awe in the wonder of His plans when I hold my wife’s hand. Does she cry sometimes because of things she can’t do? Yes. But it’s momentary. Then, she and I count our blessings and enjoy our life together.

~Bill Wetterman

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