Teaching with Strabismus
Hey, y'all. This post is pretty personal to me, but I know others have dealt with, or are still dealing with, the same thing so I thought I'd take a minute to share my experience.
A little background
A condition called strabismus runs in both sides of my family. It's essentially a misalignment of the eyes. When I was born, my left eye turned in quite a bit. This can cause issues with balance, depth perception, and double vision.
By the time I was 2, I had already had 3 surgeries to try to correct this. As a kid, you could kind of tell that my eyes weren't all the way straight. And because of the surgeries, I had lots of scar tissue my eye. Kids at school would ask me why my eye was yellow. Super fun.
Post surgeries, I developed a lazy eye. Which I don't think is a fair term. I'm not really a lazy person. I prefer to think of the other eye as being an over-achiever. You know like that one kid in the group project that wants an A so they take over and everyone else just zones out. Same thing.
So as I get older, the misalignment became more pronounced. My right eye would look straight ahead (and do all the work), but my left eye would look up and out. I've heard several adults call me "the girl with the eye," and had students tell me my eye was creeping them out. Also super fun.
I rarely took pictures of myself, and when I did, it was always from the upper left so my eye didn't stand out as much. (This picture is actually pretty good. It was usually more pronounced.) You can see some of the scar tissue on the inside of the left eye and that the left eye is open wider and sticking out more.
The worst was teaching the first few weeks of school. Before I learned everyone's name, I would point to kid to call on and they would turn and look behind them to try and figure out who I was looking at.
So, I started memorizing my class list as soon as I got it so that all I had to do was match a face to the name. It made that awkward first couple weeks of school not nearly so bad since I now knew all my students by name by the middle of week one.
I'll learn every kids' name in the whole hallway if it helps prevent the dreaded,"are you looking at me?" look. I kind of deflate every time a kid turns around to try and figure out who I'm looking at.
Both of my daughters have the same condition, and they've both had corrective surgeries. They are young adults now and I don't see any misalignment in their eyes anymore.
Being that I am over 40, I didn't think there was much more anyone could do to help me. I thought that ship had sailed. But I went to the eye doctor recently just to get some glasses and she referred me to a specialist.
I was hesitant at first--I mean, the specialist was in a pediatric office. But she assured me that she also can correct this issue in adults. (I did see other adults leaving her office--without children.)
So we scheduled the surgery for the beginning of summer break. We went in early in the morning and the first part of the surgery took about two hours. Then, a couple hours after I woke up from the anesthesia, they took me back to the OR to do adjustments while I was awake. That was a good thing since it helped prevent double vision, but it was also pretty...cringey (I won't go into details, cringey is as close as I can get without grossing everyone out. Not fun at all. I'd rather go through labor again than do that over.).
The recovery wasn't too bad. My eye was a pretty bruised and swollen. It looked like I got into a fistfight. And muscles that were adjusted during the procedure were sore. But a little Tylenol and ibuprofen was all I needed. And an ice pack for the swelling.
I couldn't drive for a little over a week. There was some double vision. And when I tried to look to the left, I felt like sensory overload. Like my eyes had too much to drink to but my brain was completely sober. And I kept running into things. Like I wasn't already clumsy enough. But that only lasted a few days.
Please ignore the resting b!tch face. I was one day post-op and I wasn't exactly feeling comfortable.
Was it worth it? Absolutely. My eye is still a little red, and it's not quite perfect (it probably never will be), but I don't have any plans to have additional surgery to make it any straighter. I do, however, feel more confident, people can tell I'm looking at them, and close friends and family have all commented on the improved alignment. (I really had no idea my eyes were so small. I was always focused on alignment and not the size.)
Just the fact that I'm less self-conscious and can hold eye contact with new people makes it 100% worth it. Maybe I'll even take a selfie or two. Now I just have to wait for the kid test in the fall (kids are so honest and blunt): Will my new students be able to tell who I'm looking at? That will be the biggest success indicator for me.
I know this isn't my typical teaching post, but I hope you gained a little understanding from it. And if someone you know has a similar misalignment issue, please, please, please do not call them "the one with the eye." No one likes that.
Please, just be kind.
If you have any questions about strabismus, lazy eye, the surgery, or the recovery, feel free to reach out.
As always, have a wonderful week and I'll talk to you soon.