This is part of my column One-Eyed Mama where I share the everyday miracles I encountered in my life while dealing with vision loss and an empty nest – both at the same time
When it’s a matter of love, obstacles appear smaller somehow, and not just to people with visual impairment. This is a lesson I learnt earlier this year when, for the sake of my child, I overcame a physically challenging journey – something I wouldn’t have thought possible before.
It was January, and Toronto had just had its worst snow blizzard in years. The streets and sidewalks were covered in knee-deep snow that stood stubbornly firm in the sub-zero temperatures.
I was in Canada for a short while with my daughter, helping her set up base in her new city and home. “Use the opportunity to get your eye checked by a specialist,” my family coaxed me. So, I took an appointment with a retina specialist in the North York district of Toronto.
I’d met retina specialists in Delhi too. But none of them was very encouraging about surgery or scope for improvement for my quirky left eye, which – for the past year or so – has been seeing the world the way Claude Monet would have painted it.
But perhaps the technology is different in Canada, my family reasoned, and maybe they can offer a solution. And though I resisted the idea of surgery and was not too inclined to meet yet another doctor, I went ahead with the plan to visit an ophthalmologist and seek a third (or fourth?) opinion.
Going from my apartment to the doctor’s clinic required about an hour’s journey on foot and subway. The plan was for me to cover the distance to the clinic on my own, and then my daughter would accompany me for the journey back home because retina scans require eye drops that reduce vision for about eight hours.
However, once my appointment was over, I learnt that my daughter couldn’t make it in time as she had been delayed by some important work. If she left it halfway and came over to accompany me home, she would have to travel long distance once again the next day to complete it. I didn’t want that for her.
So, I took the call to walk home by myself. Mind you, I’ve already lost sight in my Monet eye, and with the pupil-dilating eye drops that had been put in, my overall vision was just a white blur. And yet the alternative – to put my daughter through so much trouble – was so unagreeable to me, I decided to take my chances. Here’s what I learnt.
A country’s progress can be easily judged by its safety and infrastructure for women and those with disabilities.
Despite barely being able to see anything, I was able to make my way using the underground walkway network from the clinic to the subway station. There were very few people around as shops and establishments were closed on account of the Omicron wave in the city, and I was mostly by myself. But one is not afraid to be a single woman traveller with low eyesight in such places. I made my way unhurriedly, holding on to railings as I walked.
At the subway station, I was able to use escalators to make my way down, and could make out the LED signs on the trains to know which one to board. While on the train, which was mostly empty, the audio announcements alerted me to my station coming up.
Once I got off in the heart of downtown Toronto, I made my way across the familiar underground walkway system – called ‘The Path’ – to avoid walking in the snow. However, it was unavoidable in the last stretch, and I walked super-slow, my eyes blinded in the daylight, but just about able to see the traffic lights for pedestrians turn red or green. I finally entered my apartment building with a huge sense of accomplishment.
I marvelled at the complete sense of safety I felt in a big city despite my obvious vulnerability, and the sheer convenience of public transport for even those with physical challenges. My own country India has a long way to go to offer those with special needs this level of dignity of life, standard of living, and equality of movement.
Having said that, and having had to manage my needs by myself for a while in the mega-city, I also realised that India does have something to offer those with disabilities (who also have enough financial resources): an abundance of domestic helpers and support staff. In some cases, such as for the elderly and those who need 24-hour support, I would say it’s well worth the move.
The second thing I learnt was that when you’re on a mission, obstacles lose their bite.
For the past year, as my eye lost its clarity, I had been flagging in my work. My speed became slower, especially since all of my work is related to looking at things on a computer or reading books, and I could no longer trust my eyes. After a point, I wasn’t able to do the same things I had been able to do with ease earlier, and I just gave up.
Trying to convince me to go for surgery, the doctor asked me, “Don’t you want to work at your 100 percent capacity?”
Her question struck me into silence for a moment. Did I want to work the mad hours I used to? And at what cost? Though she was recommending surgery, the doctor also informed me that it did not guarantee my old, sharp eyesight back and it came with risk of retina tear and future repair surgeries. So, did I want to take the risk in order to be able to work again at my previous capacity?
Even as I mulled over the answer, I found myself braving all odds and walking home by myself with barely enough vision to make out blurry shapes and colours. All because of the love of my daughter.
Accha betoo (Okay my dear), so your bad eyesight doesn’t allow you to work but it’s no trouble when you have to do something for your kid? Hah! The voice in my brain teased me as I reached home that day.
Wow. That was a wakeup call. What I had termed a major physical setback was actually only a minor matter when it came to fulfilling my heart’s calling. And if I was using it as an excuse to shirk something at work, then that work couldn’t really be my heart’s calling, could it?
Perhaps, instead of blaming my Monet eye for the detour from my career path, I should thank it for making me realise I need to recalibrate my direction.
Sometimes, even losing eyesight can help us to see our truth.