While our country was dealing with prolonged lockdowns and uncertainty due to COVID-19 in the summer of 2020, I was in and out of the hospital for multiple, unrelated health issues. It all began with an emergency gallbladder surgery at the end of May, but my health crises quickly became more serious.
I had begun having eyesight problems in early 2019, though it wasn’t until the summer of 2020 that it became clear that I was slowly (and then not so slowly) losing my eyesight. As the months passed, my eyesight began to dim. By mid-June, I could no longer drive safely. In early July I couldn’t see properly out of my right eye. August rolled by, and I couldn’t see or read anything for more than a couple of minutes at a time. By September, I couldn’t see anything out of my right eye—it was completely black—and my left eye was quickly headed the same way.
I went through all the stages of grief in a relatively short amount of time, with depression hitting me hard before my diagnosis. As someone who prided herself as being an independent woman, it was hard for me to accept that I needed help to do the simplest tasks. Even trying to go to the bathroom required me to ask my mother’s help to make sure I didn’t bump into or trip over something. I clung onto my faith with a ferocity I didn’t know I had in me. In a time when I thought I would go completely blind, my faith helped me move on to the final stage—acceptance—even before I was diagnosed.
It wasn’t until October 2nd, at my first appointment with a neuro-ophthalmologist, that I was diagnosed with a severe (but rare) vitamin A deficiency that causes optic nerve atrophy. By that time, I was completely blind out of my right eye and nearly completely blind out of the left as well. If I hadn’t gone to the emergency room that day, my neuro-ophthalmologist said I would’ve lost my eyesight completely.
I spent a week in the hospital trying to recover as much of my eyesight as possible with vitamin A infusions. I received daily vitamin A injections at home (from nurses who came to administer them) for the rest of October into mid-November.
I slowly began regaining some of my eyesight, but not enough to do things for myself. I had begun hoping that things would get better, but then my eyesight got worse and I lost sharpness and clarity. It was a difficult time that ended up being an incredible blessing in disguise. While I lost a lot—my sense of autonomy being the most difficult loss—I gained so much more than I could’ve ever imagined.
Losing my eyesight opened my eyes (no pun intended) to the beauty of life. While I could no longer see the beauty of nature, my other senses became more finely tuned. I could hear things more clearly, being able to distinguish voices (making it easier for me to identify people) and instruments in songs I’d been familiar with for years. While I could no longer see the flowers I loved, I began to experience them through the sense of smell. Food, likewise, became a new passion of mine, thanks to both the senses of taste and smell. I began to distinguish the differences in fabrics and other things that we don’t normally notice unless we have to pay close attention to them. I was experiencing life in a brand new and exciting way that enriched it exponentially.
The biggest blessing that came out of this loss was that I became more attuned to the goodness and beauty in people. We live in such a chaotic and intense time in history that it’s so easy to overlook the good in humanity. So often, only the negative seems to be highlighted. Through the help and generosity of nurses, doctors, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, I saw that there is still so much good in this world. Contrary to what seems to be popular belief, people really do step up to help if you give them the chance. Asking for help doesn’t show the world that you’re weak; it shows that people are compassionate and will offer their strengths for the benefit of others.
There was no longer room for any superficiality in my life. Losing my eyesight meant that I could no longer judge people by their exterior appearances. Instead, I saw the beauty of their hearts. I could hear the love and compassion in the voices of those who reached out to help, even if it was simply to open the door for my mom and me to walk through. I became more attuned to how people truly felt—versus what they said—by listening to the tones of their voices and how they verbally expressed themselves. I noticed that people are more vulnerable than they show, which in turn makes me feel even more compassion toward them.
Although I’ve regained maybe 70 to 80 percent of my eyesight (it’s hard to gauge these things), I still haven’t recovered enough of it to be able to see people’s faces properly. I no longer know what my mother or friends look like. I don’t know what I look like either. But none of that matters. Instead of worrying about looking my best, I now focus on being the best version of myself. Instead of worrying about making a good visual and superficial impression on others, I focus on being kind and as helpful as I can be, despite my visual impairment.
I don’t know if I’ll ever regain my eyesight completely, as optic nerve atrophy is usually irreversible. Whether I stay visually impaired for the rest of my life or not, I know that I will be okay. More than that, every day I’m reminded of how blessed I am and how beautifully my life has been enriched by this physical limitation.
I may still not be able to cook for myself or walk down unfamiliar stairs due to the lack of depth perception. I may need help from others to do many things I once did myself, but I know that there will always be a generous soul that will be happy to help. I may have to learn new ways to enjoy things I once did—such as using audiobooks to indulge my inner bookworm—but I now see every obstacle and challenge as a new adventure on this wonderful journey that we call life. To quote my literary twin, Anne Shirley, “Dear old world, you are very lovely, and I am glad to be alive in you.”