DAVE VORLAND: It Occurs To Me — Thoughts About Being Half-Blind

I’ve been legally blind in my left eye for as long as I can remember. There is a tad of vision on that side and, unlike with my right eye, it is perfectly sharp. That bit of vision on the left has served me well, for example, by detecting the motion of passing cars before they come into the right eye’s view.

My parents were unaware of the problem until I was 5 years old. That’s when Mom and Dad were shocked after a mosquito bit me on the right eye lid. The swelling caused it to close, and I began stumbling over the furniture.

The folks were far from wealthy, but they found the resources to take me on the train from Harvey to Minot, N.D., to be examined by a well-known ophthalmologist and surgeon, Malcolm McCannel (a building is named after him at the University of North Dakota).

The problem, he said, was something called “lazy eye syndrome,” which basically had caused the brain to shut the eye down. Surgery would be required to repair the problem. A date was set, and a few weeks later, I was back in Minot with MNom, this time for 11 days in the hospital.

I awoke from surgery blind, I thought, but it was merely the effect of goggles over my eyes. Soon I was up and around.

In my ward was a kid who had been kicked in the head by a horse. One night, I was moved to a baby ward. In a couple of days, I was allowed to wander around the floor.

Funny what one remembers from more than six decades ago.

A new friend had braces on his legs, the result of polio. One day they took off his braces and put them on a cute boy of about the same age. Turned out that kid didn’t have polio — they were shooting photos of a child actor for a March of Dimes campaign.

Anyway, the only lasting effect of the surgery was that I could no longer wink with my good eye. Still can’t.

But there was one unfortunate consequence — my parents would not allow me to play baseball, lest I be hit in my good eye by a pitch or line drive. This was back in the day when the World Series radio broadcasts were played during classes at Fram Township School No. 3.

EVERY kid wanted to play baseball.

But it turned out mom was right.

Years later I ran into Vernon Keel (still a Facebook friend) when we were both employed at the UND. He had a patch over one eye; I asked what had happened.

“Well, “he said,” I just returned from Minneapolis. They have a new laser surgery technique to repair eye damage.”

“What was wrong with your eye?” I asked.

“Got hit with a baseball, “ he replied.

I immediately called my mother and thanked her for not allowing me to play the game.

I recently told this story to Dr. Gerald Gaul, my ophthalmologist at the North Eye Clinic in Grand Forks, N.D., where I still go for an annual vision checkup required by a mild case of diabetes.

Medical science no longer supports the notion of a “sleepy eye” syndrome, he said, assuring me that my parents’ delay in seeking help had nothing to do with my partial blindness. I was born with the defect.


Now in old age, I recall with regret the needless financial sacrifice my parents made for me back then. How they paid off what must have been a staggering bill is beyond me.

But they did.

And when they died within two weeks of each other in 1991, they didn’t owe a dime to anyone.

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