Ben Van Zanten could no longer see. There, in his hospital bed, Ben was blind.
He had been through this before. This was not the first stroke he had suffered. The previous one, which struck him seven years earlier, had left him half blind in each eye.
But now, he saw nothing.
“I couldn’t see at all,” said Van Zanten, a 74-year-old Lake Wildwood resident. “I mean, I’m totally blind and I’m scared to death. The only thing I see is maybe a red color.
“I wasn’t able to see my son, my wife.”
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His doctor told Dorothy, his wife, that the couple should get used to Ben’s blindness, that it seemed as though his condition wouldn’t change.
“I told him ‘Obviously, you don’t know the power of prayer,'” Ben said. “We prayed and prayed and two days later, my eyesight was back to where it was before the second stroke. I walked into that doctor’s office the week after and he was just shaking his head at me, saying ‘It can’t be.’ I’m a Christian and that’s my testimony. I consider it a miracle.
“It’s a miracle that I can see to play some golf again, as terrible as it may be.”
That’s right. He’s still out on the course.
His two strokes couldn’t keep him away – nor could his bout with cancer, or his heart attack.
“You know,” he said, “you gotta do something.”
He’s been doing this, driving the ball down the fairway, for more than 50 years.
He moved to western Nevada County from the Bay Area in 1985, after working for the Kraft Foods Company for 31 years, including 25 years being responsible for all sales and products – except for cheese, anyway – in the 11 Western states.
Once he retired and had more time to devote to his game, he was getting pretty good at it. He dropped his handicap index to 13 about 14 years ago, when he was playing as many as three rounds per week.
Nine years ago, though, that changed.
“I was in my workshop, I do some woodworking and things, and I remember that I had this appointment to see our (golf) pro about a lesson,” he said. “Then I got this terrible headache – across my forehead from left to right. You know, you get a headache, you take an aspirin. I took the aspirin, but the headache stayed.
“It got so bad that when my wife came home, she saw that I was in bed. It took three days later to diagnose that I had a stroke.”
He was off the course for about three months, returning in a hurry to come back and finish out his term as then-president of his men’s club.
The stroke had left him blind from the left side of each eye. The diabetes-related neuropathy in his hands and feet caused a tingling sensation, which made gripping a club somewhat cumbersome.
But, still, he played.
“I continued to play golf after my stroke, even though my handicap went up to about 20-25,” he said. “I still played three times a week and enjoyed the game.”
And he continued to do so for the next seven years, until one day while working in his front yard when he slipped and fell.
“I really jarred myself,” he said. “Later that night, I was to go out to dinner with friends and the next thing I know, I get real dizzy.
“We went to the hospital and there it was. It was diagnosed as another stroke.”
Considering what he’s been through, he says, he’s physically pretty good now.
“My balance is poor and the physical limitations are starting to set in, but I still try to play,” he said. “My eyesight is still half-gone – the depth perception is the worst part, if you’re off a half-inch or so, you top the ball or dig in the ground.
“It makes it tough, but I’ve got to keep trying.”
He now plays once or twice a week, nine holes per round, as a member of Lake Wildwood’s 9-hole men’s group.
And, at least on one recent occasion, his health problems were all but forgotten – when his drive landed in the cup for the first hole in one of his five decades of teeing off.
“I’d been close before,” he said. “Actually, I had one on No. 16 one day, but when we got to the hole the ball was hanging about halfway over the cup.
“The guys I was playing with told me that it was a gimme, but that I missed the putt. It’s a pretty ruthless group I’m playing with.”
As cliché as it might seem – and though he admits to being quite a competitive person – it doesn’t matter if he wins or loses, or even how he plays the game.
What matters most, he said, is that he’s still playing.
“I do some volunteer jobs now and make the most of every day – though I’m sleeping more than I used to,” Van Zanten said. “Life is good. I’m a firm believer that God won’t give you more than you can handle. And I’ve handled this so far.
“Two strokes, a bout with cancer and a heart attack, it doesn’t matter. I’ll keep going, tomorrow or the next day.”
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