Out of the Whirlpool: The Story of a Suicide Survivor and the Rebuilding of a Life (Part 2)

Sue Martin and her guide dog

In honor of Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT) Appreciation Week (June 23-29), VisionAware is featuring the work of talented VRTs throughout the United States.

Sue Wiygul Martin has worked in the field of blind rehabilitation for over 20 years as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist (VRT), a Low Vision Therapist (LVT), and an assistive technology specialist. Since 2007, Sue has been a Section 508 analyst with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sue is also the author of a soon-to-be-published memoir, entitled Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation, which she describes as “the story of a suicide survivor and the rebuilding of a life.” Part 1 of Sue’s story describes her suicide attempt at age 26, her subsequent blindness, and the long, hard road she follows as she rebuilds her life as a blind person and blind rehabilitation professional.

In Part 2, Sue has provided an excerpt from her forthcoming book, which is reprinted here with permission. In Chapter 26, entitled “Two Clients, One Goal,” Sue describes her work as a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist with her clients George and Gordon as “a transformative experience for me as a teacher and as a human being.”

I think our readers will be transformed too.

Chapter 26: Two Clients, One Goal

Out of the Whirlpool book cover

(Note: You can listen to Sue’s audio narration of the Chapter 26, learn how she recorded her own book, and gain insight into the creation of the book cover [at left] at Sue’s personal website.


I made my way up the snowy path and knocked on George’s door for the first time. He was a quiet reserved man in his mid-eighties. He lived in an old farmhouse on a large farm in Dexter.

George led me through his kitchen and dining room into his living room. He had a hard time hearing me speak. After a couple of false starts, I was able to get the tone and volume of my voice just right and we began our visit. Included in the referral information was a notation that George was having trouble identifying his medicines, one of which was for his heart condition.

When I asked he recited each medication, told me how he identified it, what it was for and when he took it. A little confused by his adeptness at what was supposed to be a difficult task, I asked George to do that again. Again, in his quiet way, he gave me all of the particulars on his medicines. So out the window went the plans I had made for George’s first lesson.

I sat back and we chatted for a little while. I felt like a bull in a china shop with George speaking in his reserved manner and me having to bellow back at him so that he could hear me. In the course of our conversation, I noted several tasks around the house which could be made accessible. I showed him large print materials such as a calendar and address book, gave him a pad of bold lined paper and some bold markers, and asked if he would like a large print check register.

He declined all of these at first saying very quietly that he supposed he could get along. After a little contemplation, George allowed that some of these items might be helpful but turned down the check register saying he didn’t write checks. He told me he knew how much money he had, where it was supposed to go, and therefore had no need to write a check.

As I began to know George better and gained an understanding of what he wanted to be able to do around the house, our work together proceeded. I marked his appliances and thermostat and he allowed that this, too, might be helpful. Explaining that he could have operator assisted telephoning at no charge brought about the same reaction. I was beginning to wonder what, if anything, would really interest George.


I reached into the car for my bag. Throwing it over my shoulder I walked up the sidewalk and knocked on the door. “Hello, my name is Sue Martin,” I began. “Ah, great,” replied Gordon. “Please, come in. This is my wife, Christine. I’ve been waiting for your help for several months. Come on in and let’s get started.”

Coming to work with Gordon was an adventure. I never knew what to expect when I walked in the door. He’d always have a project. One month we’d work on his genealogy program. The next month saw us creating a letterhead which he could use for stationery in his snail mail correspondence. Then we’d be off and running to find a stock quote website which would work properly with his screen reader.

Each new thing we discovered delighted Gordon and he was never stingy in showing his delight. When people ask me to tell them some of the greatest stories of my work I always tell the story of when Gordon received his first email from a family member. I don’t recall, at the moment, who sent that first one but it absolutely thrilled Gordon.

The other great moment was when I placed Gordon’s large keyboard before him. It was an IntelliKeys® keyboard. These keyboards come with standard overlays which can be inserted. You can also create custom overlays. This is what my assistant, Cindy, and I did for Gordon. We used vibrant colors of high contrast to create the overlay. I started to explain the overlay but quickly realized there was no need. With a spreading smile Gordon just began to type away.

To be continued…

Out of the Whirlpool: Part 3

In Part 3, Sue presents the final installment of “Chapter 26: Two Clients, One Goal,” from the forthcoming Out of the Whirlpool: A Memoir of Remorse and Reconciliation by Sue Wiygul Martin. Copyright © 2013. Reprinted with permission.

Where You Can Find Sue