When I was a child, I thought I had a magic power to move the world with my eyes. Since I was cross-eyed, my brain switched from eye to eye, giving the impression that objects were moving.

In the former Soviet Union, I was sent to a preschool for the developmentally disabled because of my eyes. In the US, I had my first eye operation that left me with a lazy eye. One eye focused on the person I was speaking to, while the other eye wandered off, causing people looking at me to be confused. Kids called me “four eyes” and made fun of my thick Coke-bottle glasses. At age 17, I wanted to end the embarrassment. I asked my ophthalmologist for a second operation to cosmetically straighten my eyes. After the second surgery, my eyes appeared to be straight but they were still slightly misaligned. Since my magic power went away because my eyes were closer together, I thought I saw like everyone else.

At age 29, I was shocked to find out that I saw flat and had 2D vision. For the 3% of the population with asymmetrical eyes, the brain cannot fuse the images from the eyes to create a 3D image.

I was furious that none of my doctors had ever informed me or my parents that I was partially blind and that vision therapy could improve my depth perception. For years, I thought I was stupid for having trouble walking downstairs, driving and being clumsy at sports. I wasn’t stupid. I had been neglected by the medical system.

I am part of the 10% of the population with a hidden disability. While going through vision therapy, I struggled describing my condition and how my depth perception and visual acuity were getting better. Some friends and family didn’t believe me because I “looked normal.” It’s hard to recognize a handicap and limitations when the disabilities are invisible.

I speak out about binocular vision issues to un-hide this hidden disability.

Magic isn’t when we move objects with our eyes. Magic happens when we give voice to the invisible.

With a Perspective, this is Susanna Zaraysky.

Susanna Zaraysky, resides in Cupertino and is the author of a book on her experiences.

Seeing 2D in the 3D World 19 December,2016Amanda Font
  • Thank you for your perspective. I have been dealing with the aftermath of a head injury. 5 years of having it be invisible is sometimes as hard as the disability itself. I recently started binocular vision therapy and it’s been incredible. Other than for my physician, no one “sees” my struggle, nor my growth, as I work on this every day. I so appreciate knowing that you, too, have found insight and help!

    • Susanna Zaraysky

      Indeed, sometimes the biggest frustration I had when doing binocular vision therapy is that I had very few people with whom I could share my experiences and delights at the new things I could see. Most people looked at me as though I were from another planet.

  • Long

    I think you are asking way too much from your doctors.

    Last year, I suffered serious retinal detachment and had gone through 4 eye surgeries. While suffering some vision loss, the distortion of my current vision after surgeries is a minor defect after miraculous repairs of my eye. If it happens 30 years ago, I would have been blind. My appreciation comes from my profession in optics and knowledge of human eyes due to my early work in head-mount displays (for virtual reality applications).

    Vision perception is not taking place in your eyes. It is in your brain. Between your eyes and your brain, there is very thick nerve to perform vision analysis before the messages reach your brain.

    Often, we think the doctors should know what they are doing. But, it is just not true. They know far more than we know about medicine but they don’t know every issue related to their fields, not to mention outside their fields. The muscle control of eye, the optics of eye, the detection of light and vision perception are completely different fields. The doctors who fixed your control muscle of your eyes can not predict how your brain adapts the changes.

    • Susanna Zaraysky

      It is not too much to ask eye doctors (both ophthalmologists and optometrists) to be honest with patients and tell them that they are partially blind and the lack of depth perception may impact their lives.

      I had also been to neurologists and neuro-ophtalmologists, whose job it is to study the brain, and none of them told me about my hidden disability. This is not a super rare condition. About 3% of the population has strabismus (crossed-eyes) or amblyopia (a lazy eye) and there are others who also lack 3D vision due to nystagmus, being blind in one eye, cataracts and other vision conditions. If we can’t rely on doctors to tell us the truth, then where will we get the information? The problem is that most eye doctors don’t learn about what it’s like to live without depth perception in their training.

      If a baby were born with reduced lung capacity, it would be imperative for the pulmonologist to inform the parents that the child will have trouble doing sports because of breathing difficulties. Eye doctors should be required to tell parents of children who have vision disabilities which kinds of activities could be difficult or impossible for them to do.

      • Long

        The attitude that doctors are responsible for our medical issues is very unrealistic to me.

        First doctors will not have time to tell us every possibilities of the problems we might have encountered. Second, they might not know all information. Third, even they happen to know something for 3% of population, they also run into the risks of causing unjustified concerns to the patients.

        Further, for vision perception, there are only two methods to detect blindness. One is yourself and the other is field vision test. If you don’t know you are partially blind and the test was not negative, nobody could tell you are blind. Doctors are just human beings. Their knowledge is limited and their time is limited too.

        When you have such rare condition, you need to seek advises from specialists who actually treat similar conditions before. You need to find them. They would not be able to find you.

        I was born with many diseases. My son was born with a rare genetic disease. Often, we were misdiagnosed because of limited knowledge and our own incorrect descriptions. I spent a great deal time to study some related medical articles. I cured some problems by myself and I also heard friends doing the same.

        It is us ultimately responsible for our own health. Doctors are there to help. Don’t blame them.

        • Susanna Zaraysky

          I did go to many strabismus (crossed eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eye) specialists, experts, in the SF Bay Area, and NONE of them told me I was partially blind. They did many tests on me. I did vision tests in my California schools and those vision tests were fine. It turns out that California vision tests do not test for binocular vision. We just had to read an eye chart. It’s possible to read an eye chart with one eye. It’s the same when getting a driver’s license at the DMV. The way to test for binocular vision is to test with red-green glasses or Polaroid glasses with a 3D image that can only be seen if both eyes are working. (I found this out as an adult once I figured out that I couldn’t see in 3D.)

          While it is true that we’re responsible for our health, before the Internet, it was hard for people to do medical research. I was born in a communist country, where books and other materials were censored. I grew up in the US, before the Internet came to be. My parents did not speak good enough English to do medical research on my behalf. Twenty percent of the US speaks a language other than English at home. Those people, along with English-speakers, rely on their doctors to tell them the truth about their condition. Not everyone has the time, intellectual and language ability to wade through medical literature, or energy to read up on every aspect of their health. There was no way for me as a child to know that I was partially blind if my doctors, school vision tests, DMV vision test and parents did not inform me otherwise.

          Doctors have to take the Hippocratic oath, which says “Do not harm.” Not telling patients that they are partially blind and have significant limitations with their depth perception and hand-eye coordination is doing harm.

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