40. Insight Without Sight

40. Insight Without Sight

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Insight Without Sight

The best way to predict your future is to create it.

~Author unknown

At fifteen, I couldn’t wait to get my first job. Then I’d have extra cash to go out with my friends. The occasional Saturday night babysitting job wasn’t reliable. To me, a regular paycheck seemed like a step toward adulthood.

My enthusiasm didn’t waver, but the routine act of going for working papers almost crushed my spirit. My parents had dropped me off at the clinic where applicants took their physicals for working papers. Although I also longed for a learner’s permit, night blindness prevented me from driving. Since my vision was clearer during the day, I easily walked inside by myself. I wanted this adventure to be mine, and mine alone.

For a brief moment, I felt grown-up. Then the doctor began the examination.

He looked into my eyes with a bright light. “There appears to be something wrong with your retinas. I suggest your parents take you to an eye specialist,” he said.

Suddenly, I wished they were there with me holding my hand. He paused for a long moment. He cleared his throat before continuing in an ominous tone. “I suspect you have a retinal disease. If you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

I swallowed hard. I blinked as tears pricked my eyes. The doctor had an unusually tough bedside manner, even for the 1960s. Doctors take an oath “to do no harm.” Yet, they must know that words can cut like a knife. Where was the door? I hated this mean man and his cruel verdict for my future — a future that was just budding. I wondered whether to believe the man wearing the white coat with the MD after his name. It was a glimpse at how the public, even a doctor, regarded people with disabilities. Couldn’t a blind person work and have a productive life?

For a week, I barricaded myself in my room. My parents may have viewed this as moody behavior in a normal teenager’s life. I wanted to confide in them. Yet, I couldn’t give voice to such a scary thought. Besides, I was determined to prove the doctor wrong.

My parents did take me to specialists. Several eye doctors peered into my eyes, with conflicting diagnoses. Some of them thought my vision would never get worse. All the doctors predicted that my vision would never improve. Many years later, after much time and money spent seeking an accurate diagnosis, it was determined that I had retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that slowly robs a person of sight.

Night blindness made me afraid. Sunsets were beautiful, but they signaled a switch being turned off in my vision. Still, during daylight, I could walk without assistance. I could read, but not for hours. My eyes began to tear and words slipped off the page when I read more than a few pages.

As the years passed, these symptoms were more troublesome and frequent. Unfortunately, during my school years, audiobooks were not available to legally blind students like me. Mom offered to read to me so my homework would not suffer. Books remained a huge part of my life. No matter how tired my eyes became, I never gave up reading. I knew the names of writers as well as I knew the most popular music stars. Their words were a powerful tool. I wanted to imitate them. Writing brought me some emotional release each time I wrote about my own feelings.

Over the years, I did find employment. Salad girl at a cafeteria was my first job. Though it was entry-level, I learned the important skill of looking customers in the eye. My self-esteem soared as they praised my friendly manner to my boss. Next, during college, I sold sandwiches at a campus café. After getting my degree, I was hired by an insurance agency. The job brought a regular paycheck but no satisfaction. My sight, though, continued to deteriorate. As I descended into the permanent fog of blindness, the idea of a professional job never left my thoughts.

My mid-life crisis differed from my sighted friends. I trained with a guide dog, got a talking computer and learned Braille. And I continued to write. Then, an important phone call from an editor changed my life. An article I penned appeared in a local newspaper. The newspaper, to my delight, continued to print my work. Next, a book series published several of my essays. The writing bug bit me, and I lit up with each acceptance. On the page, readers never knew of my blindness unless I chose to reveal it. For me, finding my voice through freelance writing gave me the pride and satisfaction I sought so many years ago. Now, I have numerous essays and articles in print. The highlight of my writing career is a children’s book. It features my beloved guide dog and our adventures together.

Should I be thanking that misguided doctor? By falsely predicting that I could never do productive work, he fueled my motivation to succeed. He set the bar too low and focused on what I wouldn’t be able to do. Instead, I proved what I can do.

~Carol Fleischman

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