Skip to Content

Tucson Adventure

January 13, 2005 • Darrell Shandrow Hilliker


This article is, in part, a follow up to “The Opthomologist’s Office” posted on January 10. It should not be necessary to have read that article in order to understand this one.


Yesterday, my sister Michelle took the entire day out of her busy schedule to drive me to Tucson for my appointment with Dr. Brick. I thank her for doing this. I am also very glad that I was accompanied by my mom and my niece Wendy. These circumstances help to turn a potentially negative, upsetting day in to a nice family outing. The only downside was that Karen had to work and was thus unable to join me on this adventure.


We left my house shortly before 8:00. The trip to Dr. Brick’s office was uneventful, arriving at around 10:30. Seeing Dr. Brick’s office after nine years brought back many old memories. It was nice to see Dr. Brick and Esther, the only one of his staff who was working for him back when I used to be one of his regular patients.


I have been a patient of Dr. Brick’s since shortly after moving to Tucson in 1980. I was seven years old. Dr. Brick always took the time needed to treat my eye conditions thoroughly, was always available in emergencies and would perform unorthodox procedures to save my right eye. An example of such procedures took place in 1984, a year or two after the first cornea transplant in my right eye. I saw Dr. Brick at University Hospital on a Sunday morning! I was experiencing excruciating pain and mom noticed that my eye didn’t look right. On that same Sunday night, Dr. Brick performed surgery to essentially glue the surface of my cornea back on to my eye! Dr. Brick performed three cornea transplants over the years. I sure wish I would have visited him before I underwent this last surgery in November!


Yesterday, Dr. Brick told me I should probably have held off on this cornea transplant. Dr. Dao did a nice job on the surgery, but my cornea is clouding and there are problems with the healing of the outer surface. Dr. Brick changed my medications, giving me a new steroid ointment to apply at night in addition to the eye drops I am already taking. He told me about his associate, a doctor who previously worked in Boston. There is some very promising new research in to stem cell based cornea transplants. These are still a few years away, but they hold the greatest promise of significantly increasing my sight and making the improvements last. An appointment will soon be scheduled to visit with his associate. We are giving this new ointment about a month to see if the condition of my cornea improves. I can look forward to another trip to Tucson in the very near future. Now that I have visited with Dr. Brick, I feel a bit more positive about my current circumstances and about the future of potential improvement in my sight.


After my appointment with Dr. Brick, we decided to visit a museum. It features paintings from some artist who passed away recently. He was apparently a famous local painter of Southwest scenes. I don’t know. I’m not very interested in that sort of thing. I’m glad Wendy got to see it; it is something she has wanted to do for a long time now. I stayed in the car and talked with Gloria on the phone.


It is amazing, the things one can remember. I happen to have a good memory of telephone numbers. When I was a child, some thought I had a “photographic” memory. I know that is not the case. Adulthood and the attendant complexities of life have demonstrated that my memory is far from infallible. But, yes, I do still seem to have a nack for remembering details such as telephone numbers from twenty or more years in the past! This memory enabled my call to Gloria!


In the fall of 1987, I enrolled in public high school as a Freshman. Before that I had attended the Arizona State School for the Deaf and Blind. I refer to that institution as the “braille jail”. My numerous eye surgeries necessitated that I receive a large amount of my elementary education at home. This circumstance, along with my mother’s absolute insistance that I receive a proper education, enabled me to enjoy a level of success I would not have been able to achieve at ASDB without positive intervention. My local school district and ASDB staff resisted my attendance at public school, claiming that I wouldn’t be able to handle the high expectations and teasing from other students. I proved them all wrong and Gloria was a big part of that!


As my Freshman year began, I found that the claims of my detractors and the doubters were largely unfounded. Teasing was practically nonexistent and I excelled in all my classes, achieving and maintaining straight A’s in all subjects, including a public speaking class, where even some of my supporters doubted I could succeed. I succeeded on my own merits, but accessibility was also a key enabling factor. Gloria provided much of that accessibility to information!


One of the accomodations I received in high school was a teacher’s aide who would attend classes with me. The idea was to insure that I received access to the same information provided to my sighted peers. This often turned out to include additional tutoring in subjects such as geography, mathematics and science. Gloria began working with me in the second semester of my Freshman year and stayed with me throughout the rest of my secondary education. After my graduation, she continued working with blind students another ten years until her retirement four years ago. While in the beginning she attended all my classes, by the end of my time in high school, she attended only mathematics and worked with me exclusively during one hour of each day spent outside the mainstream classroom. This “resource room” hour was essential for me to be able to assimilate the information provided in my mainstream classes and to receive the additional tutoring and special blindness skills I have used every day of my life.


Though Gloria was hired as a teacher’s aide, she did more for me than any of my officially employed teachers. She read a lot of articles and books to me and made the worlds of geography, mathematics and science accessible! In my public speaking class, my mom and Gloria both spent many hours verbally reading the encyclopedia, magazine and newspaper articles I needed to conduct the research necessary to draft speeches and engage in debates. They also worked with me to improve my presentation of the speeches through hours of editing and rehearsals. In geography, Gloria and I talked about the locations of countries around the world, explaining and sometimes actually constructing tactile maps. In addition to working through thousands of algebra, geometry and trigonometry problems with me, making sure I thoroughly understood every concept being taught in class, Gloria and I constructed X-Y graphs and other diagrams as needed. The same thorough treatment was given to general science, biology and physics. I owe my current and future success to many people, but my mom and Gloria are most certainly at the top of that very long list!


Dear Gloria!

I’m glad I was able to remember your telephone number. I’ve thought about you often over the years. Visiting Tucson triggered many wonderful memories. I’m glad I called you and we talked for almost an hour and a half! You helped to make the world of education accessible to me and you did much more! You did more for me than you or I will ever realize. Though I don’t tend to explicitly use the algebra, geometry and trig skills you helped me attain, I know they are working in my life on a daily basis, as I troubleshoot and think through the solutions of all manner of situations at school, on the job and even in my personal life. I can’t thank you enough for all these things.


I also miss you! As I deal with issues of accessibility to technology here at work, I wish I was back in high school and that you were right here, next to me, so that you could read to me the information on the screen which JAWS doesn’t tell me, so I could have a real, interesting, successful career! If I had enough money, I’d hire you back, so you could again fill these needs in my life and so that we could again have our long talks about a wide variety of subjects spanning everything from girls to politics to your native Burma! I now depend mostly on a computer to help me make the world more accessible so I can conduct the business of my life and do my job. It falls far, far, far short of you!


I know you have retired. You no longer work with blind students in an official capacity. It sounds like your life is nice and calm now. You deserve that and so much more. I wish you and your family the very best and I am confident that we will now stay in touch.

Love,

Darrell


Though the appointment with Dr. Brick was the reason for the trip to Tucson, the telephone conversation with Gloria was definitely the climax. Of course, the nicest part of all of this was that mom, Michelle (sis) and Wendy accompanied me and made all of this possible. We ate lunch at a nice Mexican food restaurant and drove past the house where I grew up and where Michelle and her children lived for several years with us, then I returned home shortly after 5:00 in the evening. I thank sis for treating me to breakfast and lunch and for driving and mom and Wendy for accompanying and supporting me on this trip. Though I offered several times to treat everyone breakfast and lunch, it was not accepted. I need to find a way to repay their kindness and moral support.


I am at work. I’m sitting here in the telephone queue by myself while my colleague is out to lunch and a doctor appointment. The phone hasn’t rang all this time. I’ve been watching my e-mail and our case management system for any new activity. Nothing is happening. That’s a very good thing as I have been silently crying over here by myself while thinking about and composing portions of this article. The tears are finally starting to dry and my colleague has just returned. I left my lunch on the table this morning so he picked up something for me on his way back to the office. It is thus time for me to eat lunch and freshen up so I can finish the rest of my shift.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.