Mom and I were sitting in her room. Outside, the birds were swooping to and from the bird feeder. I could see the male cardinal in all his brilliant glory, feeding and daring any other birds to try to join him. A chickadee appeared, landed, and was immediately chased off by the cardinal. I was watching idly, thinking about nothing, enjoying the birds, when Mom suddenly said, “I just figured out something! If I look off to one side, I can see the bird.” She sat, entranced, and commented again about how wonderful it was to be able to see better.
Mom has macular degeneration. The part of the eye that sees detail when we look directly at something is called the macula, a part of the retina. When the blood vessels that supply it become brittle and thin, deposits called drusen appear (I already have drusen, and have been taking AREDS formula vitamins for 10 years, hoping to slow the progression of degeneration). Gradually the detail vision gets blurred, colors fade (can you tell I just read up about this?), and it becomes almost impossible to see much when the eye is looking directly at an object. However, peripheral vision is not damaged, and it was the peripheral vision that Mom had discovered. You can try it yourself: choose an object, look at it, then move your eye just to the left or right of it. You’ll find you can still see it, and that the object is identifiable. The urge to look directly at the object is strong, for that is how we get the fine detail, but when Mom “looks at it” she can’t see much of anything.
I was delighted, thrilled, that she could see the cardinal, and that she was enjoying it so much. We sat, and fortunately, so did the cardinal. It was such a pleasure to find something that Mom could DO and enjoy, and make the passing of her days a little less gray and dull. There are birds she can’t see much of even using her peripheral vision, such as sparrows and juncos, whose coloring is too drab. I wondered if she would remember she could use this trick of looking to one side, and determined that I would remind her of it often. To my surprise she has, on subsequent days, told me again about how much better she can see things. I’m happy to hear about it over and over. May her days be filled with feisty red cardinals.