Sometimes stories come to me from the strangest of places – the back of my retinal screening van, for one!
How unassuming the moment of Sudden Story. It began with frustration, because the lady had driven to her appointment and so wouldn’t be able to have the drops which would dilate her pupils, so in between each photograph of her retinas, we waited (and waited, and waited) whilst her irises gradually got over the shock of the incredible flashbulb needed to obtain clear images for assessment.
With her head firmly in the chin-rest so I could monitor her, and in the midst of idle conversation, she suddenly announced that she’d had terrible trouble with the drops when her son was a baby and had needed them. He had been born with cataracts, and was operated on at 6 months old.
I responded that I’d heard babies could be born with cataracts, and invited her to share more about it (her pupils were staying stubbornly tiny).
They hadn’t known, you see, that he was born almost blind. They’d felt there was something a little unusual about him – the way he didn’t smile at people or seem to seek out their faces, or the way he responded sort of oddly. But there was nothing they could put their finger on.
She was a good mother, and when she noticed that he LOVED the headlights of passing cars, she would wait until nighttime and bundle him up in his pushchair to go and do her shopping, watching as he kicked and giggled with delight at what she now realised was one of the few visual experiences of his young life.
He got an eye infection and was taken to the doctor. Routine, she thought. Nothing to be too worried about, she thought.
The doctor referred him to the eye unit of the local hospital, with an urgent appointment for the very next day, because her baby boy could see almost nothing. The doctor didn’t know whether the defect was with the eyes or with the brain, but he knew it needed to be dealt with QUICKLY, because enough of the child’s most formative time would already have been impacted by his lack of vision.
She took her tiny son home, and spent an agonising night wondering what on earth would happen the next day, and what could be wrong with her baby, and whether she would suddenly find herself trying to raise to adulthood a boy who couldn’t see.
At 8.00am the next day, they arrived at the eye unit for investigation.
Cataracts – he had cataracts (thank God it wasn’t his brain!) and would need surgery.
Twice, the tiny boy went under the knife to have his opaque lenses removed. His mother comforted and cared for him as best she could, and he came away from the hospital with teeny-tiny, MASSIVELY thick glasses, with sturdy elastic straps to hold them onto his tiny face. She was just thrilled to pieces that he could SEE.
Once his eyes had healed, as was the norm, it was decided to give him long-wear contact lenses – soft ones, which wouldn’t need changing often.
She recounted how it would take three nurses to put them in; one to lay across his arms, one to hold his thrashing head, and one to hold his scrunched-shut eye open as he bawled and screamed in fear, and administer the lens.
She told us how there ensued years of this torture, and of the struggle of him having constant eye infections (because yeah, babies do things like rub their eyes when their hands have food or mud or paint or whatever on them) and treatments. She told us with a laugh about the check-ups and the awful, stinging drops, and how he would see the dropper and cry and close his eyes, and how she would trick him by telling him “Look, there’s Fluffy!” (the neighbour’s cat, who he loved) and the drops would be swiftly popped in when, duped again, he opened his eyes to look.
She giggled and told us how it had taken him the longest time to cop on to the ruse.
In spite of all the trauma and heartache, she laughed. Delightedly.
Because her son is now a strapping, capable man with, artificial lenses he chose as a teenager, and a full, independent life.
Because she wasn’t left wondering for months what was wrong or how she could possibly afford the procedures and treatments, or even whether they were available to her.
Because the free, local, NHS healthcare system had supported the family so well.
Because her son can SEE.
Can you imagine the anguish and hopelessness felt by families where treatment options for children are not so straightforward? Or how great the impact of raising a (curable) blind child? What would you do if it was your child?
Sightsavers.org* is a UK-based charity operating internationally to help rectify as many as possible cases of preventable blindness, including congenital cataracts. FIND OUT MORE HERE.
*Not a sponsored post or anything – I’m not affiliated with them – they’re just doing GOOD THINGS, and I want to share that.