Jean Courcy of Waterford Maine became legally blind in 2009. His sight got bad in about 2006, but he denied it to himself and everyone else. After several snowmobile events when he was blinded by the falling snow and became airborne before landing hard, he began to wake up to reality. At about this time an optometrist told him to hand over his driver’s license, but Jean got assistance on a second eye test and continued driving for a while longer.
Jean has two talents which are particularly useful to anyone with vision loss. He has years of experience with hand skills like carpentry and electrical work, so he is confident adapting his visual methods to touch and muscle memory. He can’t measure by eye how far apart to place the nails in the gazebo he’s building, so he uses a block of wood to measure from one nail to the next. He taps a new nail between his fingers to position the tip in the wood, then removes his fingers before banging it home dead straight.
His second talent is his friendly extrovert nature. He’s a person who doesn’t wait to be noticed or have fun. Recently he boarded a bus from Boston. He used his white cane to mount the steps. The bus seemed pretty packed. ”How am I going to find a seat?” he thought. He took off his dark glasses, folded his cane, and sat down in the driver’s seat. “I’m going to be your new driver today,” he announced. A lady leapt to her feet and said “I don’t think so!” Jean said, ”I’m just kidding!” and everyone started to laugh.
During his working years, Jean didn’t think much about medical problems. He didn’t get his eyes checked, and damage from glaucoma became irreversible before he knew there was trouble. (Getting your eye pressure checked every year only takes a minute or two and is painless. It’s the number one sight loss prevention everyone should do.)
Jean and his wife Elizabeth bought some acres of land by a small river in rural Maine when they “retired” from their previous lives in southern Massachusetts. A few years later they purchased a diner. There aren’t many better ways to get to know your neighbors than hanging out a sign on the main road offering a convenience store and meals. After three years Jean’s sight became too much of a concern to continue frying the bacon, and they closed the diner. Instead Jean went back to home projects: splitting logs for the woodpile with a log-splitter that he runs off a truck battery, raising a vegetable garden, building the house they moved into, and now making a beautiful 24-foot screened-in gazebo, something Elizabeth has always wanted.
Jean is a navy veteran from the Vietnam War era. Once he accepted the seriousness of his condition, he became an active advocate for his own eye care and personal recovery and, more recently, for all Maine veterans with eye problems. After a successful independent living training at the Veterans’ Administration Medical Center, West Haven, Connecticut, and several eye surgeries, he came home with five pairs of spectacles for distance, TV, and close work , as well as an iPad and a reading lamp.
Jean has just become President of the Maine Blind Veterans Association. He has been volunteering with the vets for some time now. He is an “ambassador” for V.A. vision services since they can’t advertise themselves. He talks to veterans about the benefits he has found from attending the Medical Center. Veterans are often afraid to go, sometimes fearing that this may be a shortcut to the nursing home. With permission from the veterans, Jean calls them at home. He always gets the spouse on the phone as well, so they both know what is on offer, and can discuss everything together afterwards
“Vision loss has been a blessing, believe it or not,” he says” I was drinking too much and not going to church. I was out of control.” When he lost vision he had to do some sobering and soul searching. “ I’m really a kind person and a God-fearing person. I got myself right with God and with myself. I became content, happy with what I am.”
Jean’s biggest fear about vision loss is waking up one morning to find he is useless – that he can’t go out on his own and has to have everything done for him. He’s a long way from that.