Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sympathetic ophthalmia

Who uses it: Eye doctors
What it means: Blindness in a healthy eye after injury to the other eye. It can happen years after an eye injury, and is the reason eye doctors often recommend that seriously injured eyes be removed.
How you can use it: When an apparently minor wound has major consequences.

Sympathetic ophthalmia was the reason for Louis Braille's blindness. Today is Braille's 197th birthday, so the term seemed appropriate.

My grandmother Lamb taught kindergarten at the Lavelle School for the Blind for more than 20 years. Grandma was strict with her students, and gave them no breaks or special treatment; her job was to prepare these children for an unhospitable world, not to sympathize or cuddle.

She took my sister Kathy and me to school with her for a couple of weeks when we were very small -- it must have been the fall my brother Ed was born, so we would have been not quite four. I don't remember much about it, but I remember the Braille flashcards, and the Braille labels on the 78 RPM records she'd play. At one point I could recognize several letters in the Braille alphabet, but it was a game I soon got bored with, since I was already reading print.

Fewer and fewer blind people read Braille now, because so much is now available in electronic formats. That's a blessing, but it also seems like a loss -- one more skill deemed unnecessary, like knowing how to use carbon paper.

For what it's worth, today is also World Hypnotism Day. I'm not kidding. I once volunteered to be part of Flip Orley's stand-up hypno-comedy set, and I remember the feeling of being hypnotized as extremely pleasant -- but he'd told me I would, so of course I remember it that way.

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