I’ll be seeing you
A few years back, I directed a production of The Miracle Worker, a play about Helen Keller, the deaf and blind Alabama child who found the gift of communication through her teacher Anne Sullivan in the late nineteenth century.
An audience member told me after the play one night that she found herself wondering how she would handle it if she were to lose even one of those precious senses, let alone two. I’m sure many of the audience had similar musings.
All five of our senses are marvellous gifts, each in its own way. If I had to rank them, I suppose I’d be prepared to lose smell first, then touch, then very reluctantly taste. A few years ago, I wrote a column in this space recounting my favourite sounds. I would very much miss the laughter of children on a playground, the purr of a cat, the pounding of surf on an oceanside beach. Ironically, though, it is only my most cherished sense, sight, that I have come close to losing.
I blame my parents, because I spent much of my formative years curled up in an easy chair, reading, paying little attention to my posture or to adequate lighting. I was fairly low maintenance otherwise, so I suppose they were prepared to ignore my pronounced myopia and curvature of the spine. I largely ignored these issues as well, until they suddenly came back to bite me big time as soon as I became a senior.
After we left Uxbridge in 2015, my furry friend Lacey and I were exploring a hilly trail in a park called the Shaw Woods, near our new home in the Ottawa Valley. After a couple of hours, I started seeing some large black floaters as I watched TV. Then, next morning, a black veil started to crawl up my left eye, blocking my vision. Not suspecting the seriousness of the situation, I decided to bring it up at an optometrist appointment a couple of days later. The optometrist took one look and sent me to an ophthalmologist in Ottawa. By the next day, I was on the operating table; my left retina had detached. If I’d delayed action even one day longer, I probably would have lost my vision entirely in that eye.
I mostly had myself to blame. Despite my near-sightedness, I continued to take my vision for granted, continuing to read in low right, and stubbornly refusing to wear sunglasses on bright, snowy winter days. But there was also a specific theatre-related injury…
In the early 90s, in Whitehorse, I was playing the villain in a highly-stylized piece that required me to engage in a wooden-sword fight with the young hero. One performance, the other actor decided to show off for his girlfriend in the front row, and ignore the important fight choreography we’d carefully rehearsed. As a result, I got whacked mightily upside the head with a sword, blacked out for a few moments, but stupidly carried on. The next morning, I saw a few lights. My family doctor suspected there might be a small tear in the left retina. Since there was no ophthalmologist in Whitehorse, however, we decided to wait and see if things repaired themselves. The lights disappeared after a couple of weeks, so we let it go. Almost 25 years later, I paid for that mistake.
Then, only a couple of years after my left retina detached, in the fall of 2017, I found myself back in Whitehorse. I was directing the premiere production of my own show. I was probably wearing a few too many hats, and things became highly stressful as we grew closer to opening. Then I had a bad fall in the first snow of the year. Two days later, I woke up with a black veil over my eye, the right one this time. And this time, I knew what it meant.
Whitehorse still had no ophthalmologist, no ability to treat my problem, so I had two choices: Vancouver or Ottawa. Either way, I would miss opening night for the first time in my life. And either way, the flight had the potential of damaging the retina even further. I chose Ottawa, because the surgeon would hopefully be the same one who’d saved my left eye two years before.
So now I have two compromised retinas being held in place by “scleral buckles”, silicone bands that will be in there for as long as I’m around. If I had to rely on my right eye, I’d be in trouble, because (probably due to the air flight from Whitehorse) there’s a large black “macular” hole right where your face would be if we were having a chat. Thankfully, my left eye is just fine, and usually compensates magnificently for its more disabled partner.
I was reading recently that among the top 20 highest paid doctors in Ontario, about a dozen were ophthalmologists. Fine with me. Because the other day, I saw the season’s first carpet of trilliums along one of our lakeside trails. And that night, one of the most spectacular sunsets in recent memory. Both of which I would have missed if not for my scleral buckles.
By the way, Lisa and I are moving back to Uxbridge in just a few weeks. So very soon, hopefully, along Brock Street or in Elgin Park, I’ll be seeing you, literally and thankfully.