I received a great book recommendation last week from my sister. The book was written by a friend of a friend of hers (reason #56 why it is good to know someone who is a professor) and is about people with cross-eyes, or strabismus. The book jumped six others on deck because I have the same condition. Before the age of 10, I had three eye surgeries to correct something called accommodating esotropia. Each of my eyes were seeing different images, and one eye was turning inward. The surgery corrected the crossing cosmetically and got me out of very thick (and socially limiting) glasses. But technically, per my eye doctor, my eyes still cross and my eyes don’t fuse the two different images they get.
Obviously this book was fascinating to me. The author, Susan Barry, writes eloquently about a very technical subject. The crux of the story is that after similar surgeries to mine, the author was in a class on vision and learned about stereopsis, which is the ability to fuse two images to see in 3-D. She learned that those with strabismus typically don’t have stereopsis. Admittedly, Dr. Barry’s condition was much worse and slightly different than mine. But like me, she couldn’t see those damned hidden pictures, which is one way to identify to the lack of stereopsis. Later in life, Dr. Berry undergoes vision therapy and acquires the ability to see like everyone else, despite many doctors saying that is impossible. Her change of perspective is nothing short of awesome.
Bottom line, my doctor says I don’t have fine stereopsis either, and that while I see depth sufficiently to live a normal life, I see things a bit differently than others.
Most of you who know me knew that already. But this book was a bit of a shock. Even if I acquired true stereopsis, it wouldn’t be as drastic of a change as Dr. Barry experienced, but still I’m left to ask, “what am I missing?” Technically speaking, do I have a compromised ability to do things? Ask someone who watched me play competitive sports, and they will say yes. More generally, is my overall perception impacted? Hard to believe it is not.
I’ve been wrestling with these questions for a few days–I even called my eye doctor for a mini-consult. I’m certain he believes I’m nuts, talking about this book I read and all. Yet this book will stick with me. It reminded me that I have my own unique perspective, influenced by a lifetime of seeing the world through my eyes, and by some genetics that started me off in this direction.
Dr. Brock, an expert quoted in the book, says this: “It must be repeated here that, before stereopsis is actually experienced by the patient, there is nothing one can do or say which will adequately explain to him the actual sensation experienced.” I think that statement applies to so much more than stereopsis. It is very difficult to share the way you see the world with someone else who, through genes and human experience, sees the world totally differently. There is also “nothing one can do or say” to perfectly explain the experiences of someone who was born of a different gender or race, or of someone who grew up rich or poor. Through the written and spoken word, we try. It’s why we read books, watch movies, study history, listen to others–but there will always be an fundamental inability to see the world exactly as someone else does.
My sister got me with this one. I’m left more aware of my own eye conditions (which is cool) and I’m left more aware of how hard we need to work to just try to understand one another.
On that note, recommendations are always welcome. Use the comments. Thanks for reading.