When Perception Fails, Learn to Laugh

When Perception Fails, Learn to Laugh
From The Amazing Kreskin and Jeane Dixon to CBS's The Mentalist, we have all been drawn into the realm of ESP (extra-sensory perception). But how many of you are familiar with its counterpart, FSP (faulty-sensory perception)? Is it possible that you or your family might be afflicted with this disorder and if so, do you know how to cope with the symptoms? Some insight follows.

My first encounter with my own FSP came at the age of six, while in the first grade. I got my face slapped by my teacher for being a wise guy, and totally ruining a hand-colored drawing meant for display. My crime - I used a loud purple for the sky color, and a lovely shade of brown for the grass. The color scheme was not intentional. A few years later my ophthalmologist discovered I was COLOR-BLIND!

Naturally, with this kind of introduction into my own FSP regarding color, I was a little leery of allowing another of my sensory faults to be diagnosed. So in grade two, when the school nurse visited our room to administer the Eye Chart Test to the entire class, in the comfort of a large-group setting, I did what any young, self-conscious student would do. I cheated.

Ironically, I perceived early in the testing procedure (while those at the beginning of the alphabet took their turns) that I could see fine with my right eye, but trying to see that old eye chart with my left eye was fruitless. I also observed the school nurse started on the same horizontal line with each student, every time. So, I memorized that one line.

As fate would have it, when it came time to my turn in the spotlight, she threw me a curve. After my correct answers on her first chosen line, she pointed to a LARGER line, above the one I memorized. Sure enough, I was caught and a note was sent home. My parents made an appointment with the eye doctor as soon as they could.

Amblyopia or "lazy eye," caused by a defective optic nerve was the diagnosis. Today, if discovered early, a procedure to force the poor eye into functioning can be moderately successful. But remember, my disability and was hidden for the first seven years of my life, so the chances of success for me were minimal at best. The late diagnosis didn't prevent my doctor or my parents from going on an all-out blitz to help me in my visual impairment. They attempted to compel me into wearing a patch over my good eye. This was supposed to force the bad eye into functioning.

Being a huge Pittsburgh Pirate fan in my youth was not enough to overcome my inhibitions regarding displaying this black patch with a black elastic band. I took it off promptly and stuck it in my pocket as soon as I got out of my parents' sight.

They soon tried another approach.

My new patch was made of a soft, flesh colored material with a glue-like adhesive on one side. The only purpose of the adhesive as far as I was concerned was to rip out all eye lashes and eye brows under the patch. And, although I was color blind, I realized early on that this patch did not match my skin tone at all. Similar to the original Clearasil Blemish Ointment, this patch didn't match anyone's complexion, particularly not my easily tanned skin. Because I was hyperactive and always sweating as a kid, the patch didn't stay on long either.

That wasn't about to stop the therapy however. The doctor fitted my face with a pair of eye glasses (too narrow for my wide head), where a new plastic flesh-colored eye patch (shaped like a cup) was placed over one lens. This was intended to look more natural I guess, but you can bet the farm I wasn't about to wear that Cyclops-like apparatus in public. So, I wore the useless glasses (minus the patch) to school, and tried placing the plastic cup over the lens while at home.

I still wonder today what the passing motorist was thinking as he drove by our house one day while I wore those glasses with the patch in place. I had one of those wooden paddles, with a small hard ball attached by a long, elastic rubber band. I repeatedly tried to hit the ball with the paddle with my good eye covered, but my attempts were futile. To complicate matters, the buzzing sound of the elastic band combined with my poor vision caused the inaccurate perception that a large carpenter bee was harassing me during this wild, arm-flailing escapade. And of course the more I attempted to chase the monster bee away, the more the red ball (which I didn't realize was red) resembled that demonic bee, bent on his attack of this disadvantaged youth. This all took place on our front porch. It was miraculous that I didn't cause an accident.

My FSP wasn't just confined to my eyes. Because of numerous inner-ear infections as a kid, I lost a substantial percentage of hearing in my right ear too. I recall one day, I was trying to locate a leak in a basketball in the back yard. I pumped air into the ball, and was listening closely to pinpoint the area where the hole might be. Naturally, I had my good ear next to the ball. With my poor ear exposed, I could have sworn I heard someone call me from the woods next to the house.

"Hey oh, hey oh," I discerned from the woods high up on the hill. I promptly answered like Ed McMahon on the Johnny Carson Show, "hey oh, hey oh."

This verbal exchange continued during which time I was also attempting to dribble that flat basketball in the yard. I repeatedly pounded that ball toward the ground as hard as I could while yelling at the top of my voice, "hey oh, hey oh."

When I discovered that surveyors were working that day in those woods and trying their best to communicate with one another, I had to laugh when I realized later what they might have been thinking. In their eyes, I was no doubt a mentally-challenged youth, talking to himself while trying to learn to dribble a ball. I was also sporting those fashionable, narrow-framed eye glasses with the plastic cup-like patch aligned over my good eye.

In spite of my faulty perceptions, I distinctly heard some giggles coming from the woods, so I sprinted into the house to avoid further embarrassment.

FSP occurred with other members of my family too, particularly with my brother.

As I visited one day to help him cut wood at his house, I wore a tie-dyed, reddish-pink tee shirt. He promptly questioned, "Why did you decide to wear camouflage today?"

Add to that the time he screamed at the local convenience store in town, "Help, call the police, someone is stealing my car from the parking lot."

As he continued out the door, he realized his vehicle was still parked where it was supposed to be, and that another car, similar in make and model was leaving the premises after the driver purchased gasoline.

"Never mind," he sheepishly admitted as he tried to slip unnoticed out of the store.

FSP sufferers may also experience a varied combination of symptoms with their disorder. When my brother and his family vacationed in Florida, they stopped to dine at a popular fast food restaurant. He suddenly jumped to his feet, proclaiming, "Look out, that plane is going to crash into us - everyone hit the floor!"

Seemingly unconcerned by the imminent disaster, the patrons just stared at my brother, ignoring his warning. Then the crop-dusting plane went right over the establishment and continued to the large farming fields close by. The fact that my brother was under the table at the time only made matters worse.

The best antidote for FSP afflictions? Learn to laugh. Laughter is the best medicine.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA