How I Almost Lost My Eye and Went Blind (or, Learning to See)

This post was originally written in July 2010.

bandages1I’m five years old, in the first grade, and I can’t see a thing. Nothing. Just blackness. But I can hear my mom. She’s crying, almost hysterical, and trying to do her best to hold it together. The doctor in the emergency room is explaining stuff to my mom that I’m having trouble understanding, but I know what it means when he says that I may lose the eye, and if that happens, there’s a good chance I’ll go blind. And I’m freaking out. Completely freaking out. But at the same time, I’m holding a lot of it inside, because in my five year old mind I know that I’ve got be strong for my mom, because if she sees me break down, she’s going to break down even more, and between her and our alcoholic neighbor who drove us to the emergency room, I can’t handle any more adults around me falling apart. So, I do my best to remain calm, even though the doctor is whispering to my mom that there’s a good chance I’ll be blind.

It was one of those stupid accidents that happens to kids. I’m playing in the backyard with my friend from down the street, when he throws a toy boomerang at me. It hits me right in the eye. Not above the eye, or below, or in between on the bridge of my nose, but right smack dab in the middle of the eye. It hurts like nothing I’ve experienced, and the world goes completely black, but I can still hear everything. My friend is crying louder than me. And like I said, my mom is hysterical. She calms down a bit by the time we get to the hospital—although not that much—but by the time the doctor is telling her I may go blind, she is a complete wreck.

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In a world of darkness at age five.

My eyes are bandaged, taped so tight to my face that even when I open my eyes two days later, no light is coming in. I’m in a hospital bed, enveloped in total blackness, and even though I’m only five—almost six—I’m trying to imagine what it will be like to live the rest of my life this way. When you’re five, it ain’t all that easy to comprehend a life of total blindness. Mostly, I think about all the television shows I’ll never get to see again, or the comic books I’ll never get to read. I think about how I’ll never see Batman again. I love the live-action Batman show, and all of my favorite comic books feature Batman, and the thought of never seeing Batman again has me terrified. But the severity of it all really hits me when Friday rolls around. Friday night was when the Planet of the Apes television series aired, and the only thing I loved more than watching syndicated episodes of Batman was watching anything that had to do with Planet of the Apes. The only problem is that I can’t see. And as my mom sat beside in the hospital room, describing to me the episode that I couldn’t see for myself, it all really began to sink in.

I’m not sure how long I was in the hospital, although if memory serves me correctly, I missed something like 19 days of school. One of the first things I remember seeing when the bandages finally came off was the kid I shared a hospital room with. His name was Scott. I never knew what was wrong with him, but I always suspected he was sicker than I was, because the doctors came in and checked on him more often. And when I finally saw him, I was surprised that he didn’t look like anything I had imagined.

Believe it or not, I think about Scott quite often. His imagine remains burned in my brain as one of the most important things I’ve ever seen in my life, because he was one of the first things I saw after being told I might never see again. He was tiny, and pale, and had this head of curly blond hair, and he looked like some sort of ghost to me. But we had shared a hospital room for over a week, making him one of the most real things in my life at that moment in time, and when I finally saw him—even though he looked kind of like a ghost to me—it felt like I had woken from a nightmare. When I was discharged, I made sure my mom brought my favorite outfit for me to wear, and that I take a picture with Scottie. That’s how important he was to me.

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Me and Scottie when I was released from the hospital. I had my mom bring my bow tie, because it was a special occasion.

I don’t talk too often about the accident, or how I almost lost an eye and became blind, but like the little kid I shared a room with, I think about it often. I was so young at the time that it might be difficult for some people to accept that fact that the incident gave me a renewed purpose in life. And to be honest, much of that may be something that I’ve created in my own mind over the years. At the time, I was just thankful that I could see. I didn’t mind the fact that I had to rest my eyes on a regular basis, or go to the doctor what seemed like all the time. I was just glad that I could see. And though I could not have articulated in a way that I’m about to articulate it now, I was determined to never take for granted the things I saw.

What happened to me when I was five had a profound impact on me that I’m just now starting to fully comprehend. So much of my life has been build around the things I have seen. But when I refer to the things I’ve seen, I mean more than the simple sensory perception of sight. I’m talking about the bigger picture of seeing and questioning and understanding and communicating and engaging with what my sense of sight registers. To simply see the world is one thing. To enter into the world you see, to try and make sense of it and to process what you’ve seen in a larger context of your existence and existence of others is something else altogether.

Plenty of people have the sense of sight, but they take for granted much of what they see. In fact, they see very little. Images flash by on television screens or computer monitors, words line up on the page, and life itself all passes through their field of vision, and yet somehow they never really see anything. And as much as being blind terrified me as a kid, this other type of blindness scares me even more.

I will forever remain thankful that my sense of sight was not taken from me. I was lucky that I almost lost my eye when I was five, and that I was threatened with a lifetime of living in darkness, because it made me appreciate what I have all the more. In response to what happened to me nearly forty years ago, I have learned to see. And every day I learn to see a little bit more.

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