For three weeks I have been living without properly seeing anything. I cannot see my face in the mirror. I see shadows. An occasional glimpse of a much older, wizened woman—who bears very little resemblance to the Sheila I knew. She was a well-preserved, charming, kempt octogenarian. Now she looks a bit more like a witch. I comb my hair but have no idea what has happened to it. Wispy hair comes to those who cannot brush properly. This new incarnation of me stumbles around even in familiar lit rooms, feeling her way.
The world is a continual gray; in indifferent lights the gray simply shifts and lessens, but nothing is clear. If I squeeze toothpaste out of the tube I have to feel with my fingertip and stop when I think I have a reasonable amount, though thankfully I find my teeth to brush them with ease. A leveled tablespoon is measured by feel. My thumb tells me when the cup is full. During the first days I was immobilized by fear, but my eyesight has now improved enough so that I can hesitantly move about. I recognize familiar items of clothing and toiletries by feel. So I manage to shower and dress myself, though garment choice is haphazard. Fortunately, black T-shirts and jeans are my favorite summer wear.
I actually used the subway by myself, with the greatest care. Because there were no station announcements, I urgently asked people to be sure that I had counted the stops properly. My fellow passengers were very nice. Every time I got on a crowded train, I was immediately given a seat. I must really look old! This subway ride on the No. 1 train of the IRT was a triumph, but by the end I was totally exhausted. One would not know that the train had carried me! Both my children live in buildings with elevators and I could not send myself upstairs. I have since memorized the appropriate buttons and I’ve also learned that there are Braille markings on elevator buttons—something I did not know. But the uncertainty with which I proceed is pitiful. The situation has gotten better, and the ophthalmologist cannot predict how much better it will get.
I bravely set forth to the drugstore around the corner from my daughter’s house. It was a Duane Reade, which meant it was really not a drugstore but a supermarket, and I wandered about amid the canned soups trying to find the proper pharmaceutical. After a while I gave up and asked for help, and a young woman found what I wanted. I paid her, trusting to her honesty, because I could not see the numerals on my bills or her change. And then I made my way back. So these heroic efforts, while they were indications of independence, also showed me that I am very dependent.
In a month I have moved from total blindness to semi-blindness. Initially I could not read anything I wrote, no matter how large. Today I can read two-inch print made with black marker. I don’t read it with ease. I have to slant the page to catch the light appropriately. I am using my macula, the eye doctor explained, and I am finding which area works; this eye disease destroys much of the macula, and the poor sucker who gets it is left to improvise with what is left. Had I learned to touch type 65 years ago when I took a secretarial course, I could write and write. But alas, I never learned, and hunt and peck will not do in a dark world.