Being thankful

24 12 2020

Every Christmas I take a moment to reflect on what I’m thankful for. This year, one thing stands out above ALL others because without it, there wouldn’t be a lot to be thankful for. What is it? Politicians! (Yes, really!)

Politicians who put the good of their country and its people above all else, and who take science seriously. Specifically, the decision by Australia’s politicians, especially Western Australia’s Premier, Mark McGowan, to go hard, go strong, and go early on dealing with COVID-19, and to be transparent about why, and with a united bipartisan approach, at least early on.

Locking down our borders (international, interstate, and intrastate) has saved countless lives, and continues to do so (Western Australia has gone more than 250 days with NO community transmission [yet] and Australia’s total death toll from COVID in the past 9 months is around 1000 [see below for comparisons], with 800+ of those from the Victorian outbreak alone). We’ve also been incredibly lucky, but early and tough decisions had a lot to do with that luck too, and that can’t be ignored, especially in light of how other countries are coping (or not) as a result of their decisions or lack of decision, or decisions that were countermanded or were ignored by too many of the population.

In addition, the federal govt’s stimulus package of $750 per week (for 6 months) for ALL employees of companies whose turnover dropped by 30% or more meant that the unemployment rate was nowhere near as high as it could have been. And the increase in payments to those who were unemployed helped them pay their bills. While some of these measures and eligibility may have changed, the fact that they were there for the first 6 months helped keep an awful lot of people from going under. Added to that our nationwide healthcare system, which prevents almost all Australians from going bankrupt just because they get sick.

Some industries, businesses, and individuals and families have been hit very hard, and may never recover. Other industries are booming—I heard some $40 billion each year was spent on travel by Australians, much of it overseas travel. For those who still have jobs, that money is now being saved or paid off the mortgage, or being spent on other big ticket items, such as upgrading cars, houses, etc. Sales of new and used cars have gone through the roof, and the building industry (new builds, renos) is inundated with work. Other industries have benefited too, such as IT companies helping businesses and individuals set up for working from home, anyone who makes perspex screens, courier and delivery companies. After an initial rocky start, local tourism has benefited too, with people holidaying at home and discovering the wonders of their own state.

But in the grand scheme of things, the measures taken back in March/April have kept us safe and in a bubble of ‘normality’ (for example, I haven’t worn a face mask since March/April and nor has anyone else in my state—yet).

Those measures taken 9 months ago bought us time—time to assess, time to recover, time to implement measures that needed time to prove successful in other jurisdictions, and time for a vaccine to be developed.


Comparisons, using death rate per 1 million people as at 23 December 2020 (figures from: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths):

  • UK: 1018 deaths per million
  • US: 985 per million
  • Sweden: 819 per million (by comparison, Norway is at 77 per million)
  • Canada: 387 per million
  • Australia: 35 per million
  • New Zealand: 5 per million

And with that, I wish you all as festive a season as possible, under what for many—especially my family and friends in the US—will be a really difficult time.

(And right when I was finishing this, Santa just came up the street on the back of the local fire truck, siren blaring, giving out lollies to the kids! It’s 35C in the shade right now and even hotter in the sun where he is—he must be boiling in that suit!)





A musical childhood, with dog and a kind nun

14 12 2020

I was chatting via email with a good friend in the US earlier today and something came up about music (he’s a professional muso as well as a retired programmer). I mentioned something about having forgotten the music theory I learned way back when, which prompted him to ask me how I knew about music. Which then got me delving into the memory banks of my childhood growing up in a small country town in Western Australia (about 800 people), where the only people who taught music were the nuns from the local Catholic school. I didn’t go to that school, but I did music lessons (classical piano) after school at the manse.

I did piano lessons with the nuns from about age 7 until I was about 13 or so, and with that I had to sit the AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board) exams in practical and theory. From memory, we had to go to Bunbury (big town!) once a year to perform our practical examination on a grand piano on stage at the Railways Institute, with the examiners, parents, and other students sitting in the audience (it was TERRIFYING, even though the audience was very small). I can’t remember how the theory exams were administered. I think I got to about Grade 6 in practical and about Grade 5 in theory. You had to have at least Grade 7 at both to get your AMusA (pron. ay-muss-ay) to enter into the music program at high school and/or university.

I remember almost NONE of the music theory now, though I can still draw a treble clef without hesitation 😊 (and yes, I just drew one just now to test that I still could!). And I haven’t played piano for the past 30 years, though if you put me in front of a piano now, I MIGHT be able to knock out the first few bars of Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’! I had my piano from childhood until about 1990, when I moved and there was no space for it. I lent it to my sister for my niece to use (my niece was quite musically talented—she went on to play cello and sing). Unfortunately, my sister and her husband were doing renovations and put the piano out in a covered area near their pool. A big storm came and the piano got badly water damaged and destroyed. Such a shame—it was an old German piano, with a wrought-iron frame. In the right light, you could see patches in the beautifully polished walnut panels that showed where candlestick holders had been, so it was likely from the 1890s or thereabouts, perhaps even earlier.

Back to the nuns…

The music room at the manse was at the end of a corridor. A door opened to an outside staircase to allow the music students to come and go without going through the manse. If someone hadn’t finished their lesson, you waited at the top of the stairs until they came out—you never went into the manse except to the music room. Most of nuns who taught music were absolute harridans. One was particularly vengeful and nasty—if you played a bum note, she hit you with a steel ruler, edge side down and then you were expected to play it note perfect even though your hands were screaming in agony. Classical piano wasn’t easy to play at the best of times and kids don’t have a very large hand span to stretch to make all the notes in the chords.

I clearly remember one lovely nun—Sister Bride—who was young and kind. My boxer dog, Cassie, used to try to follow me to my music lessons after school, and mostly I could tell her to go home and she would. But one day she just wouldn’t. Having a dog at the manse was a huge no-no, so Sister Bride made sure she shut the door to the outside stairs so that Cassie could stay on the landing until I’d finished. Sister Bride must’ve heard the rattle of the Mother Superior’s rosary one day and realised that I’d be in trouble for having Cassie there, so she called Cassie inside into the music room and hid her under her habit!!!! A minute or so later, Mother Superior poked her nose into the music room to see if all was OK. Sister Bride and I giggled a lot after she left. Cassie was a good girl and didn’t make a sound under the full habit of Sister Bride (the nuns were ‘brown joeys’—sisters of St Joseph, who wore dark brown, full-length habits, and a full pristine white wimple). Sister Bride left not long after that —I really don’t think she was cut out to be a nun—and I have no idea what happened to her. The rest of the nuns were either unmemorable or were nasty bitches who didn’t like kids much.





Follow-up to cataract and laser surgery

12 12 2020

For background as to how I got to here, see my previous posts on:

I went to the new optometrist (recommended by my ophthalmologist) yesterday. He spent a good hour or so with me and I had tests and images taken of my eyes that I’d never had before. One used a concave instrument with a heap of concentric circles, and was used to assess the curvature of my cornea. I felt very comfortable with him and he ‘got’ the issues I had with living with a strabismus my whole life. Other optometrists have sort of ignored my voice on that.

Bottom line: With prism lenses (one vertical, one horizontal), he reckons that he should be able to correct my wonky vision to about 75 to 80%—he said nothing external will get me to 100%. That’s much better than I currently have, and if the new glasses are as good as the tests yesterday would indicate, they should help with my medium- to long-distance vision (TV watching, driving). He also did some testing for glasses for computer work, but we won’t go there just yet—the magnifiers seem to work OK, and I can zoom in for most programs. However, because I’ll have two different prisms, I still need to be careful driving and watching TV—scrunching up in the recliner will be out as I need to sit straight to get the full effect. And for driving, I’ll need to be careful at T-junctions and do a full turn of the head for the ‘look left, look right, look left again’ procedure.

Oh, and to add to the mix, the curvature on my corneas is different, and likely has been all my life, contributing to my wonky vision. The left one is relatively normal and smooth, but the right one showed a ‘butterfly’ shape on the retinal image, indicating that it’s a bit wavy on the external edge, resulting in the image splitting as it goes to my retina. Lenses are one culprit for this splitting too, but as I have new lenses now (as a result of the cataract surgery), that’s ruled out. So with the wavy edge on the cornea, it’s possible I may need to have further surgery to correct that, as indicated by my ophthalmologist earlier this month. But we’ll see how the glasses go and see what he says at my next appointment in 6 months’ time. (BTW, ophthalmologist is a bloody hard word to type!)

Update 4 January 2021: I popped into the optometrist today for him to formally put the script through so that I can take advantage of this year’s medical rebates. I asked him to test my eyes again, as I believed they had gotten worse in the 3 weeks since I saw him. They had. He had to increase the prism effect in the right eye from 1 to 2 (whatever that means).

Update 29 January 2021: I picked up my new glasses yesterday. They made a little bit of difference, but not a lot. The optometrist told me not to wear them that day, but to start afresh tomorrow. I only need them for medium to long distance activities/views, so I won’t wear them for computer work. In fact, wearing them at the computer was worse than using my magnifiers. I did try them while watching TV last night and the vision with and without was very similar—not a lot of difference, and certainly not a 75% improvement… maybe 10%? I just put them on now (afternoon) to look at the view in the distance, and they do make a bit a difference, perhaps a 25% improvement on looking at that same view without classes. Again, certainly not a 75% difference. The optometrist asked me to wear them for 10 days and if I didn’t notice much improvement to come back. I told him that I certainly didn’t want to be coming back every month or so for new glasses! Meantime, I had to pop into the ophthalmologist’s rooms to correct some info from the optometrist, and I was able to bring forward my June appointment to mid-February, just a few days after I go back to the optometrist. By then, I’ll know if the glasses have helped, and/or if my vision is worse than it was in December and January, and the optometrist will have sent his results through. The optometrist said the corneal work that might have to be done would likely be something called a corneal ablation, something that takes about 30 mins in the specialist’s rooms (in Perth), with most of that being prep time. I’m not sure I’m happy with the idea of more eye surgery, but I’m certainly not liking the deterioration in my vision.

Update 16 February 2021: I went back to the optician late last week and to the ophthalmologist yesterday. The prism lenses in the glasses have certainly helped with driving by reducing the ghost images and making things clearer (a BIG bonus!). However, there’s still minimal difference between wearing the glasses and not wearing them when I watch TV. The ophthalmologist said that the corneal images didn’t indicate that any corneal surgery would help as he believes this is all still related to the strabismus. Essentially and in lay terms, he said my eyes have never played well together, with each competing against the other for dominance. The dominance is an order of magnitude measured in millimetres or less, but it means that my eyes are in constant conflict, resulting in images that go in and out of focus in mere seconds and parts of seconds. He didn’t think that further strabismus surgery would help either. He did offer to refer me to someone for a second opinion, but I trust his judgement on this. The bottom line is that it may take some months for my brain to adjust to the new ‘abnormal’ of the glasses and the lenses from the cataract surgery, and that he doesn’t predict further deterioration. He recommended that I see the optician again in 12 months’ time and if my eyesight has deteriorated further to get a new referral back to him. The real bottom line that I took away (my words, not his) is that this is it and not much else can be done for me. (One other thing he mentioned when I said how bad my grandmother must have had it—her eyes were quite divergent by the time she was 90, with one looking at the ceiling while the other looked at you—was that in some ways she may have been better off because her brain would’ve ignored the messages coming from the wonky eye and only processed those from the ‘normal’ eye. In my case, both eyes want control of my brain.)

 

 





Reminiscing

3 11 2020

It’s 4:45pm Tuesday 3 November 2020 in Western Australia right now, and the first votes on the day of the election in the US will start in 3 to 4 hours’ time. Let’s step back 4 years’ ago…

In late October/early November 2016, I was part of a quilting tour group to the US. We spent 21 days there, finishing up with nearly a week at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Our trip took in the major cities of Boston and New York, and the magnificent fall colours of some New England states before we headed to Houston. We did a lot of travelling by bus through small towns in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York state, and Pennsylvania. Political yard signs were everywhere we went (they are rare in Australia).

We flew out of Houston to Dallas and back to Australia on the eve of the election (Monday 7 November 2016). It was a troubling time politically, and we all felt the occasional ominous (and incredulous) undertones of ‘what if?’ while we were in the US, especially in Texas.

All the pundits said it would be a landslide for Hillary Clinton, so there was hope too—hope that the US would set aside the other aspect to the ‘only white men’ precedent set for presidents prior to President Obama and elect an incredibly qualified woman.

I landed in Sydney around 7:30am on Wednesday 9 Nov 2016 and had a few hours to wait before my flight to Perth. The TV news channels in the Qantas lounge were doing wall-to-wall US election coverage, but as it was early in the counting, with the west coast etc. still to come in, no clear winner had emerged. Almost everyone was watching the screens, which was unusual.

I boarded my 4-hour flight to Perth. On arrival, I exited to the baggage claim area. Like every other flight, baggage takes a while to come through, so people mill around talking, waiting, checking their emails/messages, etc. watching the TV screens, and generally making the ambient noise of a crowd. But not this time. It was dead silent. You could hear a pin drop and the collective intake of breath and see the shaking heads and hands over mouths as it was clear that in those hours that we were in the air, the unthinkable had happened.

Remember, this was in Australia, a completely independent country from the US and on the other side of the world from it and not at all directly touched by the actuality of the election, just the economic and geopolitical aftermath that all countries experience when they are tied militarily, economically, and socially to another country. The shock was palpable.

In those four years since, so much has changed in the US, which I consider my second home. I’ve visited the US at least 40 times since my first trip in 1985 and my second in 1993, with annual visits (sometimes twice a year) since 2000. I was last there in 2019, and much of the hope and positivity I was so familiar with had dissipated. In its place was fear and despair, especially about the injustices wrought on those who look different to the ruling class, and concerns about the entire system of government and its three branches. There was also a lot of anger and rage, not overtly, but just below the surface. And poverty. Every small town I’ve travelled through over the past several years has had many stores boarded up, empty streets, rundown dwellings, but right next to those signs of abject poverty have been huge pristine white-painted churches with neat-as-a-pin carparks and not an inch of flaking paint to be seen (again, especially noticeable when you wander the backroads of Texas). And all this was before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on jobs, livelihoods, and a quarter of a million lives, plus untold millions more who continue to suffer from the ravages of this virus. The only stimulus check for Americans came in May, for $1200. For those who would find it hard to pay a $400 bill (some 40% of Americans in 2019, long before coronavirus), I can’t imagine how they have been surviving and coping for the past 6 months. My guess is they aren’t.

COVID-19 prevented me from going to the US this year, but I have no doubt the underlying simmering and festering of a country that has been so turned on its head by one man and his henchmen is far more pronounced and obvious than 4 years ago.

Update: 8 Nov 2020: I woke this morning to find that sometime in the six hours I’d been asleep, the election result had been announced and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be the next US President and Vice President. All day today, I’ve seen videos of jubilation in the streets of America, Tweets and messages of support from leaders of all countries of the world, positive headlines, and in many cases tears of relief from those marginalised by the current president who feel that a massive weight has been lifted from their shoulders. I just hope that the next 70 or so days between now and the inauguration are incident-free and that the current incumbent leaves without issue. Yes, that’s probably a vain hope. Massive rebuilding must be done to reassert America’s place on the world stage, and to combat the many decades-, and sometimes centuries-old problems it has regarding race, disenfranchisement, health care, and the current issues related to coronavirus and massive unemployment. This will not be an overnight fix, especially as the vote was very close, so half of those who voted will not be happy, but for today, the rest of the world celebrates the imminent return of democracy in the US.





1985 Jaycees Five Outstanding Young Australians in Western Australia

21 10 2020

I was going through some memorabilia and came across the list of finalists for the Jaycees Five Outstanding Young Australians in Western Australia for 1985. I was one of the finalists, though not one of the five eventually chosen. 

Because I can find nothing about this event anywhere on the internet I thought I’d add scanned images of the program we got on the night the awards were presented. In addition to the images, I’ve also listed all the text from this program so that it is searchable for future researchers, and added extra information about some of the nominees (in square brackets), where known.

 

Cover page

Text:

1985 Five Outstanding Young Australians in Western Australia

Co-ordinated by: Mandurah Jaycees

Sponsored by: Amatil Limited

Presented at: Bussell Motor Hotel, Bunbury, Saturday 31st August, 1985 [NOTE: The Bussell Hotel in Bunbury was destroyed by a fire in 2002 and was replaced by what is now known as the Parks Tavern] 

 

Inside: list of nominees

Those in bold were the ones I ticked in the list back in 1985, and I assume they were the five winners for that year. Click the image to view it larger.

  • Christine Bailey — for her teaching and community work
  • Christine Barbara — for her contribution to the development of children
  • John Bond — for his religious leadership and community work 
  • Rhonda Bracey — for her contribution to youth education [that’s me!]
  • Peter Clarke — for his technological contribution
  • Rodney Congdon — for his courage and perseverance in overcoming his disabilities [October 2020: a Google search 2020 showed he worked for the Activ Foundation for more than 35 years] 
  • David Couch — for his contribution to youth and community
  • Bradley Delavale — for his contribution to sport
  • Paul Dixon — for his contribution in drama and the arts
  • Gavan Forster — for his contribution to the building industry and community work [October 2020: he was Director of Housing for the Master Builders Association of WA for many years]
  • John Fussell — for his contributions to swimming and training of asthmatics [October 2020: a Google search indicated he passed away in January 2015 during a competitive swimming event]
  • Lee Hennessy — for her voluntary community work
  • Gail Jamieson — for her contribution for the care and development of young children
  • Jeff Leisk — for his contribution to sport [October 2020: was a motorcycling and racing competitor and champion at state, national and international levels, and a motorcycling hall-of-famer]
  • Chris Lewis — for his contribution to sport [October 2020: champion Australian Rules Footballer, playing in the inaugural West Coast Eagles team for 215 games]
  • Brian Manning — for his voluntary community work
  • Barry Marshall — for his contribution to medical research [October 2020: went on to win a Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2005 for his groundbreaking work in discovering the causes of stomach ulcers; has a library named after him at the University of Western Australia (formerly the Science Library)]
  • Monica McGhie — for her courage in overcoming her disability and the promotion of the the cause of the disabled [October 2020: mouth artist; continues to fight for the rights of the disabled; born without arms or legs as a result of thalidomide]
  • Jane McGibbon — for her outstanding contribution to the care and training of the handicapped
  • Frank Parleviet [should be Parlevliet?] — for his overall balanced lifestyle and community work
  • Glenda Pickersgill — for her contribution to sport
  • Lyn Russell — for her contribution to adult training and education
  • Susan Ryan — for her community work and work with the underprivileged
  • Rosemary Sambo — for her contribution to sport
  • Bronwen Scott — for her contribution to surf lifesaving
  • Enzo Sirna — for his community work [October 2020: CEO of Corporate Services / Director of the National Trust of WA]
  • Jenny Werner — for her outstanding contribution to deaf and blind work
  • Ronald Williams — for his contribution to sport.

NOTE: These descriptions and spelling are verbatim and reflect the words used at the time. 

 





My teddy went to the teddy bear doctor

21 10 2020

I’ve had Ted, my teddy bear, all my life (or very close to it; pictures of me with Ted when I was an infant: https://rhondabracey.com/2010/03/14/i-found-my-bear/). For the last couple of decades he has sat on a shelf looking a little the worse for wear. His arms, legs, and neck were quite floppy where the wood wool that was used to stuff him oh-so-long-ago had either compressed or disintegrated completely.

I’ve been watching the UK TV show ‘The Repair Shop’ for a while now, and the two teddy bear restorers there have done such wonderful work, giving life back to tired-looking (and in some cases, almost wrecked) bears, that I decided I should really get Ted rejuvenated as well. I found two teddy bear restorer places in Perth, but only one responded to my enquiry via their online form within a few hours (BTW, several months later and I still haven’t heard from the other one!). So after sending Brigit a picture of Ted, she gave me an approximate quote and we arranged a time for me to come to Perth to drop him off. I was impressed with some of the website photos of the restorations she’d done, and after meeting her I felt comfortable leaving Ted with her for the month or so before she could get to him.

A few weeks later and he was fixed (including a new growler!). My sister brought him down to my Dad’s 90th birthday and gave him back to me (though she did say he was so handsome she might keep him — some sibling rivalries never die!). Ted can now sit up on his own and Brigit added a lovely black bow giving him a certain extra charm.

He was always a handsome and kindly bear. Now he is even more so.

For those in Western Australia, he went to Brigit at https://www.brigitbears.com/. The cost for the restoration was around $100 and the growler was another $30, which I thought was a small price to pay to give him many more decades of life.

Before

Notice how his neck and the tops of his arms and legs have lost filling, so Ted was pretty floppy and couldn’t sit up without support (he’s in a bookcase shelf in this photo)

Side view showing poor Ted and how he couldn’t sit up properly

After

Sitting in the passenger seat of my sister’s car on his trip down south
Ted can now sit up by himself, but as he’s so top heavy, I’ve rested him against some furniture
What a handsome Ted! Brigit cleaned his paws too, and surface cleaned his fur




Rhythm quilt top

9 10 2020

I just finished making a quilt top, using a pattern called ‘Rhythm’ from Lo & Behold Stitchery: https://www.loandbeholdstitchery.com/

I used a white spotted batik for the sashing and borders, and many hand-dyed pink/purple fabrics that my friend Flora gave me a few months ago, plus some batiks and similar fabrics in the purple/pink colourway to make up the 16 different fabrics needed.

This top is classed by the pattern maker as a ‘small throw’ but it’s actually quite big, with the completed top finishing around 60 x 64 inches.

Next steps: Find a suitable backing fabric, sandwich it with batting, quilt it, then bind it. I’ll likely bind it with a combination of the remaining pieces of the purple/pink fabrics, perhaps scattered with some of the white. Or maybe just all white, as I have enough (I think!).

Quilt top in layered rows of graduated pink, purple and white fabrics




My eyes: Living with strabismus

27 09 2020

Warning: Very long post, and likely only relevant to those with an eye condition called ‘strabismus’. I wrote it to document my life living with this eye condition, and to provide background information to my ophthalmologist. I am NOT involved in the medical profession, and this is NOT a medical column. Please see an optician or eye specialist for anything to do with your eyes.

For more information on strabismus, see:

*********

Something’s wrong

I was raised in a small Western Australian country town. Everyone in the town knew pretty much everyone else, and because we were the only bakers in town, my family knew everybody, including all the teachers. At school, my best friend and I vied for first and second spot in the class throughout our entire primary school lives, and fittingly, after such a long rivalry, shared equal dux of the school at the end of Grade 7, our final year of primary school. I turned 12 that December.

The reason I mention my class position is that one of my teachers in the latter years of primary school sat the ‘bright kids’ at the back of the room, where we could get on with our work relatively unsupervised while he kept a close eye on the ‘naughty kids’ that he seated at the front of the classroom. My memory of this is a little hazy, but it seems there was a relief teacher and I’d left my seat to go closer to the blackboard to read what was on it and I got growled at. Mum says she’s pretty sure that I complained about getting into trouble at school (I NEVER got into trouble… yeah, I was that kid) and asked me why. She talked with my usual teacher and realised that my eyes might need checking.

Early testing

We lived a good hour and half’s drive from Perth, which is where the optician that my parents and grandparents used had his rooms. Whoever I saw said that he couldn’t do much for me until I’d seen a specialist (I presume an ophthalmologist). And so began the long trek to and from Perth, every Tuesday I think. It seemed like it went on for months, but as a kid you have no sense of time, so it might have only been a few weeks or even just a couple of visits. I can’t recall much of which specialists I saw or what was discussed, but I clearly remember having several sessions with an orthoptist. Why do I remember those visits? Because, among other things, I had to put birds in cages and they kept jumping out! Let me explain… One of the instruments the orthoptist used at that time was something that enclosed your head and that you peered into. Everything was black except for lit outline images of a distant bird and a cage—possibly one image for the left eye and one for the right, though I can’t recall the details. I had to hold onto some controls and adjust them until the bird was in the cage (i.e. combining the two images my eyes were seeing into one). I’d do that, the orthoptist would record the result, and then seconds later, the bird would be outside the cage again WITHOUT ME TOUCHING THE CONTROLS. My eyes couldn’t settle and hold that image, and I’d have to do it again. And again. And again. I’m sure there were other tests too, but I clearly remember putting that damned bird in the cage and it jumping out again!

After all these tests, someone at some point said I needed to have an eye operation. I doubt I was part of that discussion, but as a kid of 11 or 12, that’s not surprising.

My first eye operation

No-one really told me what was going to happen in surgery—it was something vague like ‘stretching the muscles on the inside of the eyes to match the strength of the muscles on the outside of the eyes’. What my young brain processed was that my inner eye muscles were too strong and would ultimately result in me becoming cross-eyed, and that’s why they had to do the surgery. I hadn’t noticed any crossing prior to the surgery, but it was explained to me that this is what would happen if they didn’t operate. What I learned much later was that the operation was cosmetic more than anything—it was a way for my eyes to look ‘normal’, but the vision pattern was already set in my brain.

I have no idea who the eye surgeon was, but I recall it was done in the old St John of God Hospital in Belmont (in Perth). And this bit I don’t recall at all, but Mum remembers it clearly and thinks it’s the source of all my fear of anything coming near my eyes and of eye surgery—Mum said that when she and Dad came to pick me up, I told them how frightened I’d been before the operation because I was left alone in the operating theatre, wide awake, for some time prior to people coming in and then going under the anaesthetic. No doubt the big light was on, there were stainless steel carts and trays of instruments, and all the paraphernalia of an operating theatre—scary stuff for a kid from the country!

I recall coming out of anaesthetic and vomiting several times and having a really sore throat (tube down the throat?). My head and eyes were heavily bandaged, and obviously I was blind. The nurses (nuns?) expected me to be able to eat the jelly and ice cream with a spoon, without helping, so you can imagine what that was like. But my biggest memory is of being blind and in the bandages, and alone. I don’t know how long I was in hospital all bandaged up, but it felt like a month (it was probably only days). Mum and Dad lived too far away, so they didn’t see me again until they came to pick me up. Of course, I couldn’t read (my great love at the time) or do anything at all so I just lay there in the blackness. I do remember a song on someone’s radio, and if I ever hear it these days, I’m taken straight back to that time and place.

After the bandages were removed, I was a mess. My eyes were red and bloody for months, and the bloodshot look (so pretty… NOT) didn’t die down for a year or two. I had lumpy stuff on my eyeballs on the inner corners of my eyes, likely where the cuts had been made. I had to wear really strong sunglasses everywhere for a while (weeks? months?), even inside the house and in class. When you’re almost a teenager, you remember this stuff—people stare at you because you’re different (who wears sunglasses inside? why are your eyes always red?) and so I have clear memories of this.

Family history

I now need to segue a bit into family history. Strabismus is believed to be familial—it runs in families, but not everyone gets it and not every generation gets it. With corrective techniques applied early enough, it can be treated and forgotten about, though it’s possible you may still have to wear glasses for the rest of your life. So where did mine come from? Likely from my paternal grandmother, Nana B. But her strabismus wasn’t obvious until she was much older. She wore glasses all her life and I recall that one lens was very thick at the bottom and the other very thick at the top, no doubt trying (vainly) to correct her double vision. By the time she was in her 80s, her strabismus was at the point where one eye would look at you while the other was looking towards the ceiling—it was a bit disconcerting! She never had any corrective surgery, just her glasses, but that was a product of the times and places she grew up in more than anything else. By the time I had my operation at 12, she was deemed too old (at 64) for a similar operation.

Now, because strabismus runs in families and because it CAN BE CORRECTED NON-SURGICALLY if caught early enough, it’s vital that children are tested early on, preferably before they turn 3 and at the latest by 5 or 6 (see the links above). With strategically applied patches and/or glasses, most instances of strabismus can be corrected if caught early enough. However, by the time a kid reaches teenage or adult years, surgery may be the only option and it’s not guaranteed to correct the vision, just the cosmetic straightness of the eyes. (Again, check the links above and consult with an optician or ophthalmologist—I am NOT a medical person.)

Life with strabismus

So, what was (and is) it like living with strabismus? For many things, no different to anyone else. But for some things, there were a lot of differences, many of which were because my eyes and brain processed images differently to other people. I only realised this in my 40s when I worked for a 3D software company and did a lot of research into how people see. When that light bulb came on, everything just clicked. So many things that I had struggled with all my life suddenly made sense and could be explained by my wonky vision (not a technical term!). What the articles linked to at the beginning of this post don’t tell you is how everyday things that other people do naturally just don’t come naturally to you. And when you’re a child, this can result in bullying, name calling, or just exasperation by you and those helping you that you can’t ‘get’ how something is done.

Some of the characteristics/symptoms of strabismus that I’ve had all my life include:

  • double vision (in my case, one strong image and a ghost image above and to the right of that strong image)
  • compromised or lack of depth perception
  • compromised or lack of binocular (3D) vision
  • compromised or lack of distance perception
  • motion sickness as a result of motion parallax (might also be known as optical flow), such as looking out the passenger side window of a car when it is in motion, or trying to read in a moving car with the landscape flicking by fast at the corner of your field of vision, or viewing an IMAX theatre movie! (seriously, I can’t do that—I had to walk out of one because I was so disoriented I was close to throwing up)

In real life, these vision issues manifest in all sorts of ways. (Note: Not all these situations may be JUST a result of my vision, but my vision would play a part.) For example:

  • Sport, particularly ball games, was (and remains) a horrible experience:
    • I need to state up front that my family was never ‘sporty’—we didn’t follow sport, we didn’t play sport (though my parents played social tennis and golf at certain points in their younger lives), and sport wasn’t part of our extended family’s lives either. However, I had to play ‘sports’ at school, and I also played netball outside school as a kid and teenager; I suspect I was forced into this, because I certainly didn’t want to play.
    • I was crap at netball. So bad that when my girlfriends were playing A and B grade netball, I was in D or E grade. I was useless at catching the ball, let alone making a shot for goal, so was always relegated to the least useful defence position where I could do the least damage. I was called ‘butterfingers’ often because I couldn’t catch a ball coming through the air (depth/distance perception + double vision = two balls + two sets of hands = something isn’t going to work). I have a wonky (broken) little finger and a wonky nose to show for it to this day. The end of school meant the end of netball, thankfully.
    • One other sport I ‘played’ at school was golf. I came home after the first time (I think I was about 13) and Mum asked how many I hit. I said 33… on the first hole! Then she asked if I’d included the ones I missed. I was horrified! You had to count the ones you missed too??? Needless to say my golf career began and ended badly. Why? Because when you have bad depth perception and double vision, you really don’t know where the ball is on the tee or ground in relation to the club or your body. I replaced lots of divots and dug the ball out of the ground numerous times. And there were innumerable ‘windies’. Because golf wasn’t really supervised when I was in the later years of high school, I just took the opportunity to use it as an excuse to go for a walk and chat with friends.
    • In later years I was asked at various times to give tennis, squash, volleyball, and sailing a go, purely social of course, and often with work colleagues, despite my protestations that I was useless and could I serve the drinks instead? I loved sailing and volleyball wasn’t too bad. But tennis and squash were complete disasters. With tennis, a small white (later yellow) ball coming at speed against a blue sky trying to meet the sweet spot on a racket just didn’t work for me. Again, I could see two balls, two rackets, and had NO idea of where the ball was in time and space, so there were lots of misses or hitting the ‘wood’ of the racket (including during serving). I had better luck with a tennis ball coming off the ground (including for serving), but no-one wants to play ground strokes all the time. Squash was a complete disaster and I only attempted it once or twice. This time, a TINY TINY ball at superfast speed bouncing off white walls—my eyes couldn’t cope and I had no idea where that ball was.
    • In later years, I’ve played pool with my husband. He’s good and I’m not, yet still he perseveres. I can line up a shot, I can see the angles, I can see where the cue needs to hit the white ball to achieve the desired result. And then I execute. Invariably I’m a degree or two (or more) out of alignment and the shot certainly doesn’t go where my brain told me it should go. Occasionally I fluke it, but most of the time (80% or more) my shots are wayward.
    • In summary, I had years of horrible ball game experiences, but at the time I had NO IDEA that my vision might be contributing to my hatred for sport. I just thought I was useless (as I was told by other kids often enough). Aside: If you’re a teacher, especially in primary school, NEVER get kids to pick their own teams. Kids know who they think of as useless and we’re always the last picked, and often with comments that we overhear such as ‘we don’t want her on the team, she’s got butterfingers’, ‘she’s a klutz’, ‘she can’t catch’, ‘do we have to have her?’. Teachers must hear these comments but do nothing about them. It is cruel in all respects, and certainly doesn’t do the unwanted person’s self-esteem any good at all.
  • Heights and open spaces at height are traumatic:
    • Where do I start? Let’s start with open stairs, particularly metal stairways with metal mesh treads, open air for risers, and open metal handrails (or no handrails) whether inside or outside (though outside is worse). Bad depth and distance perception means that going up a flight of open stairs is particularly frightening. I can usually make one flight to the landing without a problem, but about halfway up the second flight, I start to ‘freeze’ and have to use every ounce of mental will to get up those last 6 or so steps. I have ‘frozen’ many times on stairs like these, and if you’ve never experienced your body ‘freezing’, I certainly don’t wish it on you. What happens is that your hands grip the handrails so tightly you can’t open them—and nor can anyone else. And your body stops and starts to go into a sort of paralysis, whereby you can’t move, no matter how much (logically) you might want to. Eventually (it could be seconds or minutes), your brain starts to release the muscles and you can make it those last few steps. But not without a lot of trauma and exhaustion and a promise to yourself to never do that again. And that’s just one set of stairs—if there are two or three stories of open stairs, then I’ll leave because I just can’t do it.
    • Glass elevators inside or (worse) outside a building. Nope. If there’s absolutely  no other choice and I really want to do this, I’ll go inside the elevator and literally hug the only solid wall and shut my eyes tight and fight off the mental demons. I’ve also been known to tell complete strangers that I’m terrified and that’s why I’m hugging the wall. That said, I’ve discovered over the years that I can turn around very slowly and look out from my position on the back wall as long as I look straight out and never down. It’s still traumatic. I consider going up the CN Tower in Toronto (twice) a major achievement, albeit hugging the inside wall in the external glass elevator as though my life depended on it. Again, depth/distance perception + speed of the elevator throws my perception out. I’m OK in fully enclosed elevators where I can see four solid walls and a roof—it’s the glass ones I have trouble with.
    • Ski lifts, chair lifts, gondolas. I’m slowly getting better with some of these, but I still can’t go on an open chair lift of any sort (see open stairs above). I can do an enclosed gondola/cable car, but as long the sides are high enough that I don’t feel like I’m falling, there’s a seat to sit on (e.g. Christchurch, NZ; Sulphur Mountain, Banff, Canada), or the gondola is big enough that I can keep well away from the windows if standing (e.g. Palm Springs, California).
    • Escalators. I’m OK on escalators and travelators, likely because there’s a handrail and half-walls on either side that make you feel relatively enclosed. That said, I have trouble getting onto either—that moving step thing with all those lines means I have to stand and watch for a few more seconds than most when getting on one. And then my first step is tentative, but once I’m on it, I’m fine. Again, depth and distance perception at play here.
    • Rides at theme parks, fairgrounds. I’m fine on a carousel or a Ferris wheel, probably because of a combination of these: they either go slow, have a predictable rhythmic pattern, I’m enclosed or I have something to hold onto, I can see the horizon and can look out not down. But any other sort of ride or roller coaster, particularly a fast or spinning one that disorients you? Nope. Just a BIG NOPE. My first experience of one of these was the Wild Mouse at the Perth Royal Show when I was about 17. It was so traumatic I still remember the name of it! I collapsed on the ground once I got off and couldn’t move for some minutes. I vowed never to do anything like that again. Fast forward to my 30s and I was in Los Angeles with my husband. We were at Knotts Berry Farm and we’d got there early so he could ‘do the rides’. I’d told him a long time before (and reminded him then) that I didn’t do rides, but he insisted I wait in line with him for Montezuma’s Revenge (yep, I still remember the name of that one too). Unfortunately, once you’re in line and get to the end of it, you can’t go back and there’s no way to get to the exit platform on the other side of the cars. I had to go on the ride. I’ll spare you the details, but that 90 seconds was the most terrifying of my life. When we got off, I literally collapsed and had to be carried to an area away from the eyes of those waiting to get on the ride. The ride staff wanted to call an ambulance for me, but after sitting on a bench for half an hour, I was OK, though still traumatised. I think my husband had bruises on his arms where I had grabbed him, for weeks! Suffice to say, he’s never asked me to go on a ride with him again, which suits me just fine. My disorientation on rides is severe.
    • Tall buildings/skyscrapers. I’m fine working on the 30th floor of an office building, provided I’m not right up against the window. Looking out is OK, looking down is not. I’ve been to the Top of the Rock (Rockefeller Centre in New York City) and once I saw there was a big parapet wall on the outside level, I was OK going out there. The CN Tower in Toronto was another story, though. Back in the day, you stepped out of the elevator onto a carpeted floor that went straight to a floor-to-ceiling wall of glass and disappeared into nothingness—needless to say, I hugged the solid wall all the way round! I wasn’t going anywhere near that window. Again, I could look out but not down in any way.
    • Rock crevices and open gaps. I recall an incident when I was about 16. We went up to Kalbarri in Western Australia, and my parents and sister and I went clambering over the massive rock platforms at the base of the red cliffs (at Red Bluff?). I was fine, running over the rocks, jumping over the crevices between them; fine, that is, until we had to come back. Somewhere in my brain I must have registered that some of the crevices I’d leapt over dropped down a long way to the ocean. Yep, I froze on a rock near one of the crevices! I was stuck like a limpet, and no amount of verbal cajoling or physical means could get me to move. Dad tried to prise my hands off the rock but he couldn’t budge them. He didn’t know what to do, and I doubt he’d ever seen that before; I doubt any of them had seen it and I think they thought I was playing some sort of prank. Eventually, my brain must’ve told me that I’d jumped over it on the way out without issue, so it must be OK to jump over it on the way back too, and released the muscles holding me in place on that rock. But I didn’t go back over that crevice—instead, I walked up high on the rocks to avoid it altogether. I guess the old depth and distance perception was at play here too. Another thing about this ‘freezing’—you cannot do anything, you can’t move, you can hardly even talk, and you have no control over your body. It’s horrible.
  • I can’t see in 3D:
    • I have some binocular vision, but I don’t see like others do. I’ve now worked for two software companies whose main product was 3D software! One converted 2D movies to 3D; the other created 3D images of geological data. I was the only person in both companies who couldn’t ‘see’ the 3D effects. One time at the 3D movie place, the content converters had worked on a section of a movie and were very proud of what they’d done with the 3D rendering. All the staff were invited into the screening room where they all put on different types of 3D glasses. The content people proudly showed off footage of this massive golden ball (spacecraft?) coming through the darkness and supposedly into the mini-cinema. Everyone gasped and moved back as the ball rolled over them, and tried to touch it. And I couldn’t see it. I could see the ball and saw that it got bigger on the screen, but I couldn’t ‘see’ it come into the room as the others could.
    • It was while I was working at that 3D movie conversion software company and realising I couldn’t see 3D that I started to research how people see, and importantly why some people, like me, don’t see things in 3D. As I said earlier, I was in my 40s when I discovered that what I had was called a strabismus (that’s the first time I think I heard the word), and as I researched some of the symptoms and characteristics, suddenly everything clicked into place. It was the first time that things like not being able to identify a fast yellow ball coming through the blue sky because there are two of them and two rackets, made sense. I ended up only working at that company for 6 months or so, but my time there was an epiphany for me. Finally, I had an explanation for why some things were so hard for me, and had been for all my life; things that others took for granted and who got frustrated with me when I couldn’t do them (yes, I got frustrated with myself, too!)
  • I use other visual cues and glasses to make sense of my place in the world:
    • Despite not being able to see 3D effects, I must still have some binocular vision, though my time at that 3D movie software company made me realise that I’ve been using all sorts of other visual cues all my life to make sense of my world and to compensate for the aspects that are lacking. For example:
      • I know that a person has a rounded shape, because I’ve hugged people.
      • I know the shape and dimensions of a vehicle because I’ve driven one and washed one.
      • I can see cars when I’m driving without any problem—I just see two of them (well, one main one and a ghost image for the other, so it’s not two complete images)! Driving during daylight hours wasn’t an issue with my strabismus because of all the other cues I use subconsciously, like how far objects are away based on how things meet at a point on the horizon (vanishing point) and therefore an itty bitty car on the horizon is further away than a much larger vehicle not near the horizon.
      • Night-time driving? I avoid that where I can because I have few other visual cues—high beam is a necessity, where I can use it. Headlights are dazzling because I see four of them when there are only two.
      • Hitting a tennis ball that bounces off the court isn’t too difficult because intuitively I know how tall my body is, how long my arms are, where the line markings are in relation to my body, and because there’s more contrast with the ball against the background of the court than there is against the sky.
    • Glasses. I think I’ve tried them all! I’ve had prism lenses, half glasses, multifocals, bifocals, glasses for distance (more recently as I age), and magnifying glasses for close work (again, more recently as I age). I’ve always had at least two pairs of glasses—clear and sunglasses, and as I’ve got older, I now have magnifying glasses scattered all over the house for computer work, sewing, quilting, reading, doing crosswords, checking things on my tablet, watching TV, etc. All have improved my vision somewhat, but none have totally corrected the issues with my sight—double vision is still an issue, as is the depth and distance perception stuff, but as I said, I subconsciously use other visual cues to help me with that.
  • Tiredness makes the double vision worse:
    • Watching TV. Watching TV with me is interesting! As it’s something I do at night, I tend to be tired, and a comfy chair puts me well into sleepy mode. Even when I’m alert I can’t watch TV sitting straight and upright in a chair. If I’m on a sofa, I’ll be semi or fully prone on one side and watch TV sideways. If I’m in a chair, I’ll screw my body round like a pretzel, twist my head on an angle, and watch TV like that. If I’m getting tired, I’ll close one eye (usually my right eye). Why? Because the more tired I am, the greater the separation of the two images I see. If I’m very tired, I’ll have the main image of the 55″ TV in one position, and the ghost image totally separate from it (not overlapping at all), way off to the right and slightly above the main image. By closing one eye, I only have one TV to watch.

Other eye surgery

My first eye op was when I was 12. The next was a five years ago when I had a blepharoplasty to remove some of the excess skin from my droopy eyelids; see https://rhondabracey.com/2015/07/16/eyelids-before-and-after/

Then in July 2020 I had cataract surgery (see: https://rhondabracey.com/2020/07/04/cataract-surgery/). My initial response after surgery was how bright and clear everything was, and yes, I could see distance stuff much clearer and without glasses. However, I had some smokiness above everything I saw, especially from my right eye, but I had to wait 6 weeks before I could see the optician (this allows time for the eyes to settle after cataract surgery).

Six weeks after the surgery, I went back to the optician to see if I needed new glasses (I believed I did for distance as the smokiness seemed to be getting worse and was compromising my ability to see clearly in heavy or fast traffic situations, under some circumstances). I was his problem child! I don’t know how many lens combinations he tried, asking ‘1? or 2?’ and getting ‘they’re both bad’ from me, especially for my right eye. Eventually, he decided on a combination he was happy with. The glasses arrived 2 weeks later and I put them on in the store. My first reaction was that they didn’t work and seemed to make my vision worse (especially in the right eye) than without the glasses. I was advised to ‘try them for a week’ and come back if they still didn’t work. I went back and the eye tests done by the optician the second time showed that my vision had got worse since he tested me only a few weeks earlier. He told me he couldn’t do anything more for me and I would likely need a laser procedure done and referred me back to my ophthalmologist. The degree of deterioration was such that my eye doctor saw me within a week (the original appointment was for January 2021!)

Guess what? I’m one of about 20% of people who have issues after cataract surgery, where the vision becomes cloudy and fuzzy. There’s nothing wrong with the new lenses—it’s the capsule holding the lens (the eye doctor likened it to cling film, and in some people the cling film becomes like bubble wrap). This cloudiness can occur anywhere from weeks to decades after the surgery, or, in most cases, not at all. In my case, it was probably days. Instead of the double vision I used to have (main image with a ghost—almost outline—image above and to the right), I now have a different type of double vision, where everything has a main image and a smoky image directly above it. I’ve tried to draw diagrams of how I used to see with just the strabismus and how I now see after cataract surgery.

How I saw any object with strabismus: There’s a main image, then to the right and above, there’s a ghost image of the object

How I see the same object after cataract surgery: The main image is clear, but it has a smoky image immediately above it. This is fine for one object, but now think about that with multiple cars on the road, all moving at speed, and all with smoky duplicate images

Representation of how I now see an eye chart without glasses (right eye mostly). There’s the main line with quite a bit of smokiness and blurriness, and a duplicate line above it with much more smokiness. Yes, even with one eye closed I have double vision out of the other.

The eye doctor did all sorts of tests, some of which I’d never done before. I also told him that my left eye was now exhibiting some of the same smokiness, though not to the degree of the right. After doing all his tests, he said that it likely could be fixed with the laser procedure (YAG capsulotomy), and that he’d do both eyes right then (this was last Thursday, 24 September 2020).

The procedure took just minutes, was totally painless, and I could resume normal activities immediately afterwards. The lifting of the cloudiness is expected to occur after 24 hours. But as usual, my eyes want to do their own thing!

Update: 24 hours later and my vision was perhaps marginally better, at best (that could have been wishful thinking).

Update: 48 hours later, and there’s still no change.

Update: 72 hours later, nothing’s changed—the smokiness is the same as it was before the laser surgery.

My next appointment with the optician isn’t for another month, and the follow-up appointment with the ophthalmologist isn’t until early December. I hope I’m just a late bloomer and that there’s some improvement in my vision by then. And I need to remember that I’d used compensatory techniques for decades to live with my ‘old’ eyes—perhaps expecting instant change is just wishful thinking and over time I’ll develop new compensatory tricks to deal with how I see the world.

For me, cataract surgery might have solved some issues with my vision, but has created others. This saga continues… I’ll update this blog post if there’s any radical change.

Update 3 December 2020: I visited my ophthalmologist again today for the follow-up appointment. Repeat surgery is out of the question—too risky and he wouldn’t do it. However, he suggested a different optician who is very experienced with prism lenses (it seems my most recent glasses weren’t prisms—as he and I both expected—and are hardly any different to the ones I first got after the cataract surgery, and make little difference compared to no glasses at all). So the next step is a different optician. If that doesn’t work, he’ll see me again in 6 months and we’ll go from there—one possibility is corneal laser surgery in Perth. Blog post on my visit with the new optometrist: https://rhondabracey.com/2020/12/12/follow-up-to-cataract-and-laser-surgery/





Online workshop: Improv BOM

20 09 2020

Back in April I was meant to be in Texas for a week-long quilting workshop (a short detour on my way to Utah for my conference). Of course, none of that happened, but the teacher of the workshop, Sheila Frampton-Cooper, has now segued into online teaching and recently started her first improv quilting course, a block-of-the-month (BOM) course over 12 months. But these aren’t traditional blocks—they are improv blocks and the first lesson (over several 10-min videos) showed us how to do freeform curved piecing, WITHOUT pins, and the more usual straight pieced blocks. I’m familiar with straight pieced blocks as I’ve made a lot of improv quilt tops using scraps, and all have involved straight piecing.

With the lockdown restrictions in place in California where Sheila lives, she’s done it all herself—all the filming (3 cameras!), sound, lighting, mixing/editing, etc.—and the result is fantastic and super professional! I watched her first lessons for Month 1 on Friday and made my first blocks this weekend. My DH reckons they look like licorice allsorts, and I have to agree!

Sheila’s Improv BOM class is here: http://fiberartworkshops.art/.

blue, green, red, orange, yellow and navy/black fabrics

My colour palette; the ‘black’ is a very dark navy/black

My first two straight pieced blocks

 

My first curvy pieced blocks

Licorice allsorts! (Photo attribution: By Ali K – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12459893)





Community Quilts 484 to 496

24 08 2020

The latest batch of community quilts are now quilted and ready to go back to Perth for binding and distribution to charitable organisations. I’m NEARLY at 500!

(Apologies for the shadow lines through them. Unfortunately, the best place to hang them is on the clothesline outside and in full sun, but that means that the other lines cast shadows over the photos.)

Community Quilt 484

Community Quilt 485

Community Quilt 486

Community Quilt 487

 

Community Quilt 488

Community Quilt 489

 

Community Quilt 490

 

Community Quilt 491

 

Community Quilt 492

 

Community Quilt 493

 

Community Quilt 494

Community Quilt 495

 

Community Quilt 496