On my 16th birthday, I asked my mum if I could drive home to earn some night driving hours on my permit. It was raining lightly as I pulled up to a green light where I needed to make a left turn. I was having a hard time judging how far away the oncoming cars were and I asked my mum, who was in the passenger seat, is it OK to turn?
She said it was, but I was still feeling unsure and rather slowly committed to the turn. I remember there were so many oncoming lights and I couldn’t tell where the oncoming traffic was. My mum started yelling at me to speed up and my step-father in the back seat started yelling at me to stop. Caught in indecision I did neither.
The wreck nearly totaled my mum’s car. My mum and step-dad were fine, but I had a laceration on my lip that required stitches, and still shows up as a faint scar. The driver of the other car had diabetes and went into anaphylactic shock. Two years later, he sued us for medical damages until our insurance company agreed to pay out the $100k limit.
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A few months after the accident we learned I had keratoconus. One of the primary symptoms of keratoconus is the presentation of a large aura around bright lights, and it’s worse in the rain. I didn’t know enough about driving at night to know that what I seeing wasn’t normal. The change in vision was so slow I never realised I had a problem.
My mum and I went to our local optometrist to get my glasses prescription upgraded and he suggested we go find a specialist because he suspected I had keratoconus. Later on, my specialist was greatly surprised that the optometrist had correctly diagnosed this rare corneal disease.
We were lucky to live within an hour drive of a University doctor who was a keratoconus researcher, so I was soon able to get appropriately fitted hard contacts. The hard contacts are used to created spherical lens over the conical cornea so that incoming light refracts properly.
Things went along generally well for several years until I moved to another state. This began a several year period where I had poorly fitted contacts. The level of light sensitivity was so bad that I was not able to look towards the ceiling in my office as the fluorescent lighting was painful. I purposely chose my home so that I would be driving west towards work in the morning and east towards home at night, never driving into a sunset or sunrise. Eventually, I stopped going out at all unless very necessary.
Eventually I gave up on non-specialists and found another corneal specialist. On my first visit I asked him if he could just do a corneal transplant as I couldn’t take the pain any more. For reference, corneal transplants have a 90% chance you’ll come out with the same or better vision, and it takes a year for vision to normalise. So, you have to wait a year to find out if you were the unlucky 1 in 10 to actually end up with worse vision! Not a thing to do lightly.
The doctor instead got me to do a process called “piggy-backing” which is where one wears soft contacts under the hard contacts to basically protect one’s eyes from the trauma of the hard contacts. This was a huge relief. Most of my light sensitivity went away.