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Out of the dark: Fort Madison woman rediscovers her independence through non-visual techniques and new friendship
By Shoshana Hebshi
When Karen Cox agreed to attend the Iowa Department for the Blind’s Senior Orientation week, her main focus was learning to cook again.
After losing much of her vision due to side-effects from lupus and medication, Cox, 57, often mixed up recipes, leaving out key ingredients and causing her husband some gastronomical displeasure.
Cox, a Ft. Madison resident, also had trouble seeing in the dark. Her vision had become so bad that she didn’t feel safe leaving the house past dark.
But, after spending an intense week at the Department’s Orientation Center, learning non-visual techniques for household tasks and mobility, she gained confidence and made connections with a dozen other seniors dealing with blindness.
It was these connections that prompted her and her rehabilitation teacher from the Department, Susan Howard, to re-launch a defunct vision loss support group in Ft. Madison.
“I think you can learn so much from each other,” Cox said. “It’s bad enough to have an affliction of whatever it is, but knowledge to me is power, and the more knowledge we can gain from each other the better.”
Cox is a natural people-person. Warm and bubbly, she often cracks jokes and pokes fun at her own disabilities. During Senior Orientation week, she recalled a story about mistaking another man in a hot tub for her husband and putting her arm around him.
But her severe vision loss and battle with lupus is no comic relief. Cox, who previously started a lupus support group, believes that connecting with others dealing with similar issues will help her in the long run.
“I like support groups,” she said. “I think it would be nice to learn some things and to bounce ideas off of each other. Everybody’s going to have different experiences and ways to support each other.”
Cox does not hide from her disabilities. When she could no longer work as a bookkeeper because of her vision loss, she retired. She also gave up driving—which has been a difficult thing to surrender. But she hopes the support group, which began in mid-December, will spark connections, including ride-sharing.
I love laughter. Of all the sounds I’ve heard laughter is the one I think is most universal. Everyone responds to it even when we try not to be affected. One of the by-products of blindness in my life is laughter. When things happen that I don’t anticipate I could cry. Laughing is a better choice. Laughter is one of those alternative techniques I find most valuable.
Is there anyone out there who hasn’t battled a snow drift and lost? Raise your hand if you’ve talked to someone who has left the room. Better yet, talked to someone who was never in the room?
Funny things just happen when people can’t see. It’s a given. Certainly in my early days of blindness things weren’t so funny. In fact they seemed pretty miserable. I quit my job, moved back home, and spent hours wondering what would become of the life I planned. There wasn’t much room for laughter.
Laughter came back into my life in the IDB’s Orientation Center. One day one of the teachers papered our doors with newspaper. I woke up and saw a classmate trying to repair the newspaper barrier after she ripped through it. I asked her what she was doing and she innocently responded, “Putting it back up. I thought it was supposed to be there.” We laughed and I helped her remove it.
In the following months it was war. There were sink sprayers rubber banded in home ec, toilets Saran wrapped in the restrooms, door knobs greased in the halls, and anything and everything else our ingenious minds could dream up. Still, we learned while we laughed.
By the time I left orientation laughter was just a part of life. I made so many mistakes I had no choice but to laugh at them.
I was a college student at the University of Iowa then, and I was fighting the battles of talking to teachers about testing methods and note taking, of getting text books on tape and learning how to maneuver through them, of meeting people who called my cane a stick and made blind jokes that weren’t funny (at least not as funny as mine).
Just when I thought I was through the worst of these trials, I fell twice breaking my left hand and my right wrist. I remember one professor’s face when I (already a burden because of my blindness) went in with my hand in a splint, my arm in a cast and told him I thought I might need some extra time. For a man who had the answer to every question including those not even thought of at the time, he was dumbfounded. I had to laugh.
I’ve decided that living as a blind person is sort of like starring in a sitcom. Sometimes I catch something in the peripheral line of sight I no longer possess and scare myself. Even though no one else is there it makes me laugh. I laugh when my husband, Kevin, and I discuss who is least likely to damage the van on those rare occasions when it needs to be pulled into the garage. Both of us know the odds are about even.
I’m glad that there is always something to laugh about. It helps with the tougher times.
There’s also value in those who dare to laugh with me. They become the important people in my life. I choose to subscribe to the old adage, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Cry and you’ll have to spend a lot more on makeup than necessary.” Well something like that… Let’s face it, blindness can be funny and we’re the comedians in this show. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh.