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 of her story, Sue provides an excerpt from Chapter 26, entitled “Two Clients, One Goal,” in which she 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.” In this final installment, Sue learns that her “program has made [George’s] life worth living again” and mourns the ebullient Gordon’s death.
Chapter 26: Two Clients, One Goal
I settled in my usual chair at George’s. I asked him if he had liked to read when he could see and he told me that he did a fair amount of reading. I told him about talking books. He politely thanked me and declined. He said that his only real interest was in gardening and selling his vegetables. Aha, I thought. Now we were getting somewhere. Here was something in which George showed some real interest.
I told him that was great and I could help him figure out a way to still have his garden come spring. He simply said no, he didn’t think that would be possible. I put the gardening on the back burner until springtime and went on to low vision.
George’s macular degeneration was pretty advanced and he had a hard time seeing even the largest size practice materials. He brought home a tiny, very strong hand-held magnifier from his low vision exam.
The magnifier just wouldn’t do in all situations, so I brought George a VoxCom. George or a helper could record a message on the magnetic strip of a small card. It might be the name of a spice or a reminder of the ratio of water to rice and how long to cook them. A rubber band kept the recording with the container, ready to play back in the small VoxCom gadget.
Aside from gardening, and it was still midwinter, it was with the VoxCom that I saw the first bit of emotion from George. He thought that device was so slick. We recorded a bunch of labels and directions for various items around the kitchen and George said that his daughters would help him with the rest of the labeling. The next time I came to see George he had prepared gingerbread for me using the recorded directions on a VoxCom card.
You can read this part of Gordon’s story at That Computes: Teaching Ways to Access the Computer on the VisionAware Peer Perspectives blog.
As the snow began to melt, I pondered George’s situation. I asked him about gardening again. Again, he politely told me that he didn’t think he’d have a garden this year.
I asked what he would be doing now if he were going to have a garden. He told me he would be reading seed catalogs, ordering his seeds, and starting seedlings in his basement or a greenhouse. On my next visit, I brought George a loaner closed circuit television (CCTV) [Editor’s note: also called a video magnifier] to see if it would work for him. I showed him all the functions of the machine and left.
When I returned in two weeks, George was transformed. He was reading absolutely everything with the CCTV. His life was coming back to life. He had ordered his seeds from the catalog and asked me if I could teach him to hammer nails so that he could build his greenhouse. By the next visit, George had his seedlings started in his greenhouse and was getting his tractor ready to cultivate his garden.
We ordered George his own CCTV. After I delivered it in late June, I didn’t see George until early August. He led me into the dining room where he kept his CCTV and told me to wait. He disappeared into the kitchen and when he returned he presented me with five perfect cucumbers. He then patted the CCTV affectionately and said, “Your program has made my life worth living again.”
Ecce quam bonum, see that which is good. So says the seal of the University of the South, my alma mater. I’ve never known anyone who embodied that sentiment more than Gordon. Gordon was able to see the good in everything. While I might have been the teacher, there is no doubt that I learned as much from Gordon as he learned from me. When his family called to tell me of Gordon’s death I had powerful mixed emotions. I began to cry. But I also began to smile. Gordon will live on in my vivid remembrance of the time that we spent together.
“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.