A few weeks back, my friend texted me from the States and asked, “What would be the worst part of being blind, do you think?” I love that about him—he always asks me thought-provoking questions that really challenge me to think about things to which I’ve never really paid much attention. This week I’ve been thinking about the irony of that conversation, and how I would answer that question now that I could answer from firsthand experience.
A few days ago I didn’t want to write this blog. I’m not sure why . . . maybe it was too fresh, too real. Also, in all honesty, it was difficult for me to read on a computer. But just a few weeks ago I vowed to blog more, to share updates, to be free. Plus, I know many people are worried about me, and this is a fairly major event in my life, so here’s my best attempt to share it with you.
I’m sitting on the bench at the station in my town trying not to cry. To hide my emotions, I rest my head in my hands. I blink back tears and open my eyes. Then I close my right eye. I can no longer see my feet with my left eye. I hold up my hand to test my vision. I can only see it if it’s within several inches of my face, and even then it’s very blurry. The tears start to come in earnest.
I’m now in a car on my way to Kumasi. I try to take in all I can with both eyes, but it’s hard to keep the left eye open, and it doesn’t do me much good anyway. I think, ‘What if these are the last views I will ever see with my left eye? A tro tro ride. Soak it all in. Time in limited.’ I think of the beautiful things I saw just two days before at the UNHCR camp in Brong Ahafo. How could my eye have been fine then and now I’m blind?
I decide I can’t think like that, so I tell myself, ‘It’s got to just be the drops that makes everything so cloudy. I’ll get to Accra, Nana will tell me I’m fine, and once I stop taking these drops I will be able to see again.’ Still in denial, I tell myself ‘This can’t be how going blind feels. Everything is bright, behind a cloud, not dark like true blindness.’
What if it is real, though?
I start thinking about what this could mean for me, for my service. I tell myself I’ll have to make a decision, that there are two options. ‘No,’ a voice in my head says, ‘there’s only one option: Ghana.’
Darrie’s question pops in my head and I chuckle to myself a little bit. The worst part of going blind is not being able to see where you are going.
I am rushed from Kumasi to Accra. The Peace Corps doctor examines me and says, “Well, there definitely is some infection going on, as I suspected.” He pauses, won’t look me in the face.
“Is there something else going on as well?”
“. . . You have an appointment with the eye doctor tomorrow morning. Let’s let him make the diagnosis.”
The eye doctor makes pleasantries while looking at my right eye. He switches to the left, and mid sentence exclaims, “Mamma mia! Oh my . . . no, no, no, not good at all.” He sits back in his chair and tells me extreme damage has been done to my cornea. I ask how to fix it. He shakes his head.
“I’m afraid the damage is too extensive at this point,” he tells me.
“But changes in my prescription can help me see better, right?” He tells me glasses can’t make the cloudiness any better. I ask about a cornea transplant. He tells me the damage is too deep, it won’t help.
“So, my vision will always be like this?” I ask, adrenaline surging, voice breaking.
“Let’s see if the steroid drops help, but most likely, yes.”
Disbelief. Grief. Adrenaline still surging. “I need you, now,” I text my friend Adam, before leaving the office. He calls instantly. Adam and Paul meet me at the Peace Corps office and I tell them I’m blind. “C’mon,” they say. “We’ve got gin.”
Paul and Adam have seen me through all my darkest moments in Ghana, some of the hardest moments of my life period. This time, we sit on the kitchen floor in the home of an FBI agent I had never met sipping gin and tonics and eating cake out of a pan. The boys do their best to make me laugh and think of other things. A few times I say things like “How am I supposed to take the GRE with one eye?” or “How am I supposed to climb Kilimanjaro half-blind?” (“You keep the ledges to your right side” Paul tells me). Pretty soon, even I can’t stand my self-pitying. One eye is all you need to climb a mountain. One eye is all you need to read a computer screen. I’m determined to not let this stop me. Still, I don’t know what I would have done without them there by my side in my moment of need.
I’m back in the PC doctor’s office and he tells me I have a flight booked to Morocco in twelve hours. “CD Mike will be accompanying you,” he tells me.
“So, sounds like we are going to Morocco together,” the country director says when I go to his office. “Don’t worry, I’ll be your seeing eye dog.” He’s making light of the situation to make me feel better, but I also know he is coming with me so that if the second opinion confirms the original diagnosis, I won’t have to hear that I’m blind all alone again.
Driving through the Moroccan countryside, CD Mike points out various things and teaches me a little bit about the history of Morocco. The bright sun hurts my left eye, but my right eye takes it all in. Morocco is a beautiful place. If only the knot in my stomach would unclench so I could enjoy it.
We arrive at the clinic in Rabat and the Regional Medical Officer is waiting on the sidewalk. He takes my hand and guides me straight into the examining room and tells me we can deal with checking me into the hospital later. The doctor comes and begins her examination. Eventually, she sits back and says, “Who told you you will lose your vision? Don’t worry, it’s not true.”
CD Mike is noticeably cheerier when he comes to visit me in the afternoon. He brings me a coffee and a fresh squeezed orange juice. I’m still reeling from the past few days of intense emotion, but its good to have company.
I’ve been at the clinic for two days and there has been no improvement. The Regional Medical Officer begins talking about plans to send me to Washington DC. I’m torn. If I go, it means that things aren’t going well for my eye, which is very bad. But at the same time, I can’t help but kind of want to go to America, to see my family, to be home. Ultimately I decide I can’t think like that. The best thing for me is to be in Morocco and begin to heal. The doctor gives me yet another eye drop to try.
“Today your eye is really better!” Dr. M’Rabek tells me, obviously relieved. The latest steroid drop is working, the cloud over my cornea is beginning to recede. A new flood of emotions, most of all relief.
I will go home to Ghana Saturday morning. My eye is almost all cleared up. My vision won’t ever go back to exactly what it was, but it’s close. I can see again. I can see much better than I ever thought I would, and I am so grateful. Everyone has gone above and beyond to make sure that I will be ok—my country director, the entire medical staff at Peace Corps Morocco, my wonderful ophthalmologist, all the nurses here at the hospital. All of them have exceeded my expectations and provided me with the best care possible.
And to answer Darrie’s question:
One day one of the nurses took out her phone and began to show me videos of her wedding. The traditional garb, music, and dancing were all incredibly beautiful, and she and I laughed continuously for 10 minutes as she tried to pantomime her way through explaining how Moroccan weddings work. The worst part about going blind, I decided, would be losing the ability to fully share experiences with others. If I was blind, I could still listen to the music and listen to her try to explain things in French, but I wouldn’t be able to see her hands tattooed with henna, to watch her be lifted on a platform onto the shoulders of four dancing men. It just wouldn’t be the same. I’m so grateful that I haven’t lost that ability after all.