For all practical purposes, Papa T. is blind. Every now and then he sees a little light or the fuzzy outline of someone or something, but on most days he sees nothing. It’s something he was told as a young man would eventually happen to him, so he expected it at some point in his life. In fact, he planned his life around it. It’s why he chose teaching and educational administration as a profession instead of staying on the family farm where he would have been very content. He knew he needed a career that would position him for a good pension and allow him to continue working as his eyesight diminished. He’s a smart man. But expecting it didn’t make it easy when it finally happened. It’s been very difficult for him to accept as it permeates his entire life.
One of the things we did when his vision went really south a couple of years ago was to contact the local office of the Kentucky Bureau for the Blind. He was hesitant to do it because he felt like he was accepting some kind of state aid, but we convinced him that after paying taxes for sixty years, he was certainly entitled to take advantage of this one service. So he did, and they were wonderful. They came to his house and provided him with two different kinds of canes and showed him how to use them. They also hooked him up with a watch that speaks the time every half hour and other utensils that helped him to sign documents and papers without scrawling across the entire page. They would have taught him Braille, but he resisted that, much to our dismay. Oh well, you pick your battles.
Our goal was for him to be able to function around the house on his own, and the employees of the Bureau were very patient and respectful in teaching him ways to get around. REALLY patient, if you know what I mean. They also set us up with a service that allows Papa T. to borrow a special CD player that allows him to listen to books on tape. They have a lending service that mails him books and magazines every couple of weeks, and he returns them when he’s finished. It’s a library for the blind, and they have a gazillion titles to choose from. Right now he’s working on some Louis Lamore westerns, ‘cause he LOVES Louis Lamore. The books on tape and listening to the University of Kentucky football and basketball games on the radio are his two favorite pastimes, so this service allows him to continue the reading he so enjoyed before he lost his vision. We had to get him some headphones though ‘cause he was driving Mama J. crazy with the volume on his radio and CD player. She couldn’t care less about the Wildcats, so the headphones are a nice compromise.
He always enjoyed the newspaper, especially the sports pages, so Mama J.’s been reading it to him daily for months. She gets tired of reading it word for word, and his diminished hearing means she sometimes has to shout when reading aloud, so that didn’t always work well. Then we stumbled upon a better solution. The National Federation of the Blind has a service which allows you to dial a toll free number and choose any number of newspapers on tape from around the country to listen to. You can set up a favorites list, adjust the volume and listen to every paper in the nation if you like. Mama J. dials it up, gets it going, hands Papa T. the phone and then goes about her business without having to worry about shouting the latest high school basketball scores across the living room. It’s a sweet deal. In fact, sometimes she picks up the other phone and listens to the local newspaper with him so she doesn’t have to read it to herself. We LOVE this service, and it has enriched his life in a big way. Little things mean a lot when your world beings to shrink, ya’ know. I can’t say enough about this service. It’s free, and all you have to do is get your doctor to sign the appropriate form for you. They are also sending him a bible on tape soon.
A couple of other tidbits we’ve learned along the way that really don’t have anything to do with blindness are to have a good relationship with your local pharmacist and use school resources. Papa T.’s and Mama J.’s insurance requires them to order their medicine from one of those online pharmacy companies, which usually works okay, but every now and then there’s a glitch. We have a wonderful neighborhood pharmacist who is a great resource for information and a time or two has filled a mini prescription of medication that the online company screwed up and caused a delay in delivery. In fact, about four years ago, Papa T. went to Cincinnati for a four day trip without any of his medicine. At a loss, I reluctantly called the pharmacist at home on a Saturday night. Her husband called her on her cell phone at Wal-Mart where she was shopping, and she drove to the pharmacy and faxed his prescriptions to a Cincinnati Walgreens. He had his medicine in two hours. You don’t get service like that from a chain. We sent her flowers.
Also, recently we started using flash cards with Papa T. He knows his memory is fading, but as he says, he’s going to fight like smell to keep it as long as he can and wanted some exercises for his mind. We went to the local educational store and bought a bunch of trivia cards for middle and high school students that cover history, science and the arts, and we drill him on those subjects daily. We try to do it in a fun way so that he enjoys it. There will come a day when they don’t work but for now they’re working well. Kind of like a lot of other things around here, but hey, you just gotta roll with the flow and try not to drown in the big waves.
Oh, and don’t forget that old folks love little folks. It’s good for their soul, even if they can’t see them. The touch is enough.