There’s Always a Rainbow

Norman Geister is just weeks away from finishing his Manufacturing Technician technical degree at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau. He’s 49. His motivation for going back to school? He can still see. “I’m not wasting any more time,” Geister says.

Just over a year ago, Geister felt exceptionally tired over the course of a weekend. After sleeping from 6:00 p.m. until 2:00 p.m. the next day, Geister woke up and started to get dressed for work. He noticed floaters and worms in his vision and was immediately referred to his community hospital’s emergency room, with the fear that he was having a stroke. He spent a week in the hospital feeling dizzy and experiencing blurred vision. The Eye Clinic of Wisconsin in Wausau found that the arteries in the back of his right eye were plugged. Geister was then referred to UW Health Eye Clinics for answers.

Geister met with Kimberly Stepien, MD, associate professor and vice chair of clinical affairs with the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at UW-Madison. Dr. Stepien specializes in retina, macula, and inherited retinal degenerations. After many tests, the diagnosis was Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease, or VKH for short. VKH is suspected to be an auto-immune disease. It can affect many parts of the body, including the eyes, ears, nervous system and skin.

Geister’s partial blindness has stopped progressing, for now. It’s very much a wait and see process, he notes. After the initital diagnosis, he visited Dr. Stepien every three months. Currently, he visits every six months.

His sight is still blurry, with depth perception issues and floaters, but Geister has figured out how to manage pretty well. He’s been in machining and welding for a long time, so he is comfortable knowing where he can make allowances for his eyesight. For example, he has learned how to adjust his right eye while welding, closing it to various degrees, so that he can hold a straight line. Geister also uses a magnifying glass in his work and studies.

In talking with Geister, you get the sense that this ability to adjust is what gets him through this. “There’s always a rainbow,” he said. “Something good always comes out of it. Whether the blindness comes back and hits again, I’ll modify again. I’ll adjust.” And it’s easy to imagine that he will. Geister will finish his degree in May and is looking for a new opportunity where he can practice his welding and building skills.