General Pollock's Plea to those with Vision Loss

Contributor:  Gale Pollock
Posted:  01/16/2013  12:00:00 AM EST
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General Pollock, since you retired from your career in the Army, you’ve been concerned about those with vision loss.  Explain to us how you became interested in working with these individuals.

Oh I’d be happy to explain my interest in those with vision loss.  Before I was promoted to general officer, I went down to Capitol Hill to observe the Army, Navy, and Air Force Surgeon Generals during congressional testimony so I would know how that process worked, because it would be a requirement for me once I was promoted to general. I wanted to learn about the process before I had to do it myself.  It was early in 2004, and the docs presented about the Iraq and Afghani war casualties, and the care we were providing for service members was far better than in previous wars.  In Vietnam, for example, we were only able to keep about seventy percent of the severely injured alive, and now we were keeping over ninety percent of them alive.

So the physicians had good news to report.  But when they completed their testimony, Senator Inouye from Hawaii asked, “What are you doing for the blinded troopers?”  The docs looked at each other and replied that, “Well that’s not a problem.”  And Senator Inouye recoiled as though he had been struck, and then simply said, “Oh, really.”

Every hair on my nurse body alerted, and I wondered, “Here’s a man who has hundreds of hours on the battlefield, sacrificed an arm, received the medal of honor.  What does he know about the battlefield that we don’t?”  So that thought just grew in my brain and has never let go.

After I was promoted, I worked with the staff and looked for an answer to his question.  And we learned that ten to thirteen percent of all combat injuries involve the eye.  Not all of them result in blindness, it may simply be a corneal scratch and most of us have experienced a corneal scratch, but it’s still a very uncomfortable experience.  I also learned that the blind are just the tip of a huge iceberg of those with vision loss from disease.  Every day in America, people are receiving a diagnosis that will eventually result in blindness.  But very few people know that the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta considers vision loss one of the top ten disabilities in America.

 
So tell us what were some of your first discoveries and realizations about those who struggle with vision loss.

My discoveries about the struggles with vision loss began with discussions with our soldiers and their families after eye injury in combat.  For those who are blinded or potentially going blind, they described an actual withdrawal by the members of the healthcare team, because the healthcare team members did not have answers to the soldiers’ or their family members’ questions.

Our challenge is that our healthcare system is focused on a cure.  And at this point in time, there are no cures for severe or total vision loss.  These patients and those who love them, and the healthcare team, need information about the specific things that can be done to make each day easier.  This concept was easy for me to wrap my head around as it’s what we call in nursing a “nursing care plan”, because our goal as professional nurses is to help you live the highest quality of life possible in spite of your illness or disability.

So I set off to figure out what specific information is needed at the different points along what I call the vision loss continuum.  May I explain what I mean by a vision loss continuum?

Of course.

Thanks.  I explain it as, vision occurs along almost like a ten point line, where ten is perfect vision and zero is no vision.  Most of us enjoy close to a ten because either we’re young and have healthy eyes or because we can get glasses or contacts or surgeries to bring us close to a ten.  However as some eye diseases begin, for example glaucoma, macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, our vision starts to slide down that continuum.  If our vision is then around a seven or eight, there are certain devices and tools that allow us to function well, but those tools will need to change if our vision loss progresses to a five, a three, or to a zero.  And we need to make people aware that assistive devices, modifications of our homes and our workplaces, and some classes to teach us new skills will allow us to maintain a high quality of life so that we’re engaged with our families, our workplace, and our communities.

 

Why do so few people seem to know about this common experience?  You mentioned earlier that the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta places vision loss as one of the top ten disabilities in the United States, so is this a problem in other countries? 

One of the things I learned is that many people withdraw from life outside their home if they have severe vision loss.  And with eye disease, we don’t see the disease in someone’s eyes so we don’t know that they’re struggling.  So as they isolate themselves and they don’t talk about their challenges, we think that the person we love who is struggling is the only one, and we don’t know who to go to, who to ask for help.  And because of that isolation, there are millions of people in America who struggle every day with their daily life activities because of vision loss, and not only struggle with their vision loss, but they struggle with depression because they’ve so isolated themselves.

And this is not just a problem in the U.S. because no country is immune from eye disease.  People struggle in every country around the world from this challenge.
 

And General, what direction are your energies taking you to address this national dilemma, or international dilemma?

Well first, I’m trying to take this information to the public, so that they know as an individual or as a loved one who’s struggling, that they’re not alone and that information is being made more and more accessible to assist them to overcome this challenge.  I started a company that will provide specific information to help anyone along that vision loss continuum so they remain engaged in life and activities in spite of vision changes.  But information is really key.


Okay, and so what are your goals to tackling this challenge?

Well, I have a couple.  One of the most important goals, as I mentioned, is getting the information out, so that if you’re struggling with vision loss you know you’re not alone.  Because as we feel isolated it’s very easy to become depressed, as we don’t know anyone else who has overcome the challenge.  So first, lots of people have the same vision challenges, and we can assist one another to learn new things and overcome fears and frustrations.

Second, I want to encourage those with vision loss to remain active members of their families, their neighborhoods, their workplaces, their communities.  Just because our eyes don’t work does not mean our brains don’t work.  Because there seems to be a fear or a stigma that we’ll be treated poorly if our eyes don’t work.  And so again, we withdraw.  But it’s time to destroy that fear and overcome the stigma.  And it will, that change will require that more and more of those with vision loss come out of their homes, remain in the workplace and in communities.

My third goal is I want the technologies that support those with vision loss brought into the twenty-first century.  Because some of the companies that developed these tools years ago don’t understand how large their market really is, they haven’t updated them.  But now with microtechnology, we can develop tools that are not obtrusive and ungainly.  We’ve accommodated so much change in how people behave and what they look like, years ago you never would have imagined that people would walk down the street, across an airport, sit in a restaurant with headphones or earbuds in.  Society has evolved, and I want the same improvements in all of the tools that exist for those with vision loss.

And I think finally, I want people to know that they’re not alone.  I am happy to be a voice for them to start to make this happen.  I spent thirty six years in the army committed to the military and making sure that anyone injured or ill could live at their highest possible quality of life.  And after my retirement from the army I’ve committed that passion to the community of those with vision loss.  So I ask, you know, join my team, and let’s make this happen sooner rather than later.

 

This interview has been published in conjunction with G4i Development Group

 

Gale Pollock Contributor:   Gale Pollock


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