52: Writing a New Dream

52: Writing a New Dream

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Writing a New Dream

Renew your passions daily.

~Abbe Yeux-verdi

“You’ll be blind by the time you’re twenty-five,” a doctor at Children’s Hospital predicted. “Your blood sugars are much too high.”

I started hearing the phrase “diabetic retinopathy” at the age of six when I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic. This condition causes fragile blood vessels to grow and rupture in the back of the eye, and can lead to progressive blindness. Due to the early onslaught of the disease, the risk of developing this devastating side effect was very high. The frightening phrase reverberated in my head to the point of obsession. The thought of going blind became my biggest fear, my worst nightmare and my eventual nemesis.

It consumed me. It devoured me. No matter where I was or what I was doing, it hovered overhead like a dark cloud, waiting for just the right opportunity to break open and shatter my world. As I sat in classes from grade school through business school and on to my job preparing cases for judges, the noose around my neck tightened.

Looking at everything through crystal clear vision, it was impossible to imagine a world without sight. How long would I hold onto my 20/20? When would it happen? Where would I be? The chilling words of that doctor from all those years ago haunted my subconscious. “You’ll be blind by the time you’re twenty-five.”

Painting was my passion, my sanctuary. Losing myself in tranquil settings of picturesque landscapes filled me with peace and serenity. Painting was my haven, the only place I could escape where those threatening words couldn’t reach me. But the minute I put my paintbrush down, there they were, sucking the life out of me.

As fate would have it, the first bout of blindness came when I was twenty-one. I had just put the finishing touches on my Tuscan countryside, a landscape dotted with vineyards of rich ruby red, deep purple and amber. But just as I sat back to admire my masterpiece, a huge splattering of black paint appeared on my canvas. Confused, I blinked several times, wondering where the paint had come from.

Slowly but surely, my brain received the message. It wasn’t paint covering my canvas; it was blood covering my retina. My worst nightmare had just come true. I had just had a retinal hemorrhage.

Dumbfounded, the paintbrush slipped from my hand and rolled across the floor. I couldn’t breathe. Feeling boneless and completely numb, I sank into a chair. Then the tears spilled. “No! Not yet! It’s too soon.”

“What happens now?” I asked my retinal specialist. “I see spidery webs everywhere I look. It’s alarming. What can be done?”

“The hemorrhage is in the right eye,” my doctor said. “Your left eye is fine. The blood vessels are leaking. The blood is internal. Eventually, the blood will be absorbed by the body. The main risk is that scar tissue can form which will hinder the vision permanently. Only time will tell how much vision you’ll get back. But the good news is, you will never lose the sight in your left eye.”

He was wrong. Precisely three months after my twenty-fifth birthday, I had a massive hemorrhage in my left eye, my good eye. For the next twenty years, vision came and went. I went through numerous eye surgeries in an attempt to keep my vision. And through it all, I continued painting through magnification. As long as I could paint, there was hope. But after one final operation, I lost the battle and all remaining vision. And I buried all dreams of painting. Despondent and disillusioned, I enrolled in a sixteen-week program for the blind and visually impaired. I learned mobility, personal adjustment and the use of a computer with adaptive software. A whole new world opened up to me through this program.

“Jaws and Window-Eyes are leading software for the blind,” my instructor told me. “They convert components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech. This allows for total accessibility to Windows-based computer systems.”

“You mean I can use the Internet? E-mail? Microsoft with all its tools and features?” Hope soared for the first time in years. No longer would I have to use thick glasses to read or magnification to make print larger. I could type at the pace I once did and the disembodied voice would narrate what I typed on the screen. Amazing.

“That’s right,” my instructor said. “By learning how to use hot keys to control the mouse, you can use Microsoft Access, Excel and PowerPoint. Whatever you look up on the Internet will be narrated to you through modern technology.”

For the next several years, I learned that when one door closes, another door opens. There is a plethora of opportunity available for the blind and visually impaired through the gift of technology. Not only do I have a speaking computer, but I have a speaking watch, alarm clock, calculator and glucometer to independently test my blood levels. Believe it or not, I even have a gadget that identifies money and color.

I went to the local college and obtained a certificate in medical transcription. I graduated top in my class with high honors. But my heart wasn’t in it. Transcribing did nothing to fill my creative muse. But during my classes, my life took yet another unexpected twist when I discovered my passion for writing. And after a long and winding road—and three publications, a new dream has resurrected. Today, instead of painting my pictures on canvas, I paint my pictures with words.

~Sharon Donovan

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