A Sight For Sore Eyes
The Lighter Side to Facing Vision Loss
A couple days ago, while I was over at my sister’s place setting myself up to
wash and cut the tops off a 5-lb bag of organic carrots, my sister instructed me to pick up the bag off the second shelf in the fridge. I “looked” (I do this with my hands most of the time now as I can’t see detail) for several minutes. My fingers felt frozen. Even so, I wasn’t ready to admit defeat. My sister waited. After several minutes, she looked back to see what was detaining me. “Amy, you’re in the freezer!”
Yep. My sister has a full-length freezer that looks just like a refrigerator. The fridge and freezer sat just a foot apart with the fridge situated about six inches closer to the wall.
No wonder my fingers were tingling! Any longer and I’d have had frostbite.
I giggled. You would think my fingers would tell me I was looking in the wrong location but cold simply felt cold to me. I thought my other senses were supposed to get sharper.
Hey God, I need a portable ‘sense sharpener’ here. You got any lying around you can give me? A second-hand one will do just fine.
Most of the time, I catch myself “seeing” better by touching these days. It’s a new phase in my vision loss. In the murky darkness of a few rooms, I find I do it unconsciously. I look for my earrings by patting the top of the dresser. I feel for the curved handle of the scissors in my pen container. I find my pajamas by a quick sweep of my dresser—both easy-to-detect—silk or flannel. I grope for my watch on the kitchen counter. But I learned (the hard way!) not to feel for the sharp knives in the dishwasher. I just wash those by hand.
I even feel for the wall many times around the house. Sometimes I imagine what I look like with a camera following me. Like when I miscalculate the stairs and think there is another step. I feel for the banisters, then I lift my leg very high and bring it down, stumbling forward a little bit. (Okay, that doesn’t happen too much at home but it does in public if I don’t have my cane to help me “see” the number of total number of steps I have to maneuver).
Or, if I’m in public (and without my cane), I touch something every five yards. For example, at the bank, I feel for the counter, the rope post, the pamphlet table, the door, and the wall. I think I look a little weird so I try not to forget my cane nowadays. If I do run into someone when I’m reaching for something solid, I let my hand drop immediately (without even smoothing the stranger’s tie or sleeve, mind you) and say, “Oh, sorry, I forgot my seeing-eye cane.”
Who is going to understand that?
I remember when I first got my cane more than three years ago, using my cane felt awkward and I “put on” a little bit as if I couldn’t see my environment. I used to have a little fun watching people’s expressions. Now, “I reach out and touch someone” (not the Hallmark meaning of the term, either) by accident.
I remember one funny incident when this look-alike phenomenon was just beginning. I was making tea for my Egyptian husband and his best friend, a Lebanese man. Making tea from “scratch,” (the tea leaves) in the Middle East is a big thing a wife is expected to do. After doing this several times when our Arab company came, Ihab turned this responsibility over to me. Finally, he trusted that I could represent him well.
The Egyptian custom is to add copious amounts of any ingredient served to guests to show your hospitality. Since Ghassan was Ihab’s closest friend, when I made the tea, I added extra sugar to let him know how fond we were of him. I steeped the tea extra long, added fresh mint and handed him a steaming tall cup (although traditionally Egyptian tea is served in small Turkish glasses, we sometimes did things in the American way).
I still remember Ghasssan’s expression as he took a huge gulp then sputtered and spit it out, (unfortunately all over the cakes I served).
“What’s wrong?” I asked in English.
Ihab gave me a shocked look as he took away the tea.
I followed him into the kitchen and he walked over to where we kept the sugar and salt. The lid to the salt container was ajar.
“Oh no!” I couldn’t help but laugh. They looked the same to me. “Honey, I think we confused the sugar and salt.”
He broke down and laughed as well. “We?”
Back then I was in denial regarding my sight difficulties, so I made several excuses, “I was in such a hurry to make your tea. Or, maybe the two containers got switched. But I wanted him to know he was extra-special…”
He patted my hand. “Don’t worry. He’s used to your concoctions.”
I still laugh when I recall Ghassan’s horrified expression and the tea that ruined all our little cakes (fortunately, store-bought ones).
Now I have a legitimate reason to explain my “look-alike” mishaps.
For the rat I mistook for the cat at Khan el Khalili, Cairo’s oldest market, and called over to me.
And if only I’d known then what I do now, I’d have been forgiven for mistaking the ample-sized, smiling-faced lady in the Chicken Tikka for Ihab’s mother.
Of course, reaching out to touch someone then meant shaking her hand and kissing her cheek. “Misa al asal, umm Ihab,” I said happily.
While the attention from a foreigner delighted the woman, it dismayed my husband, when, red-faced, he had to somehow explain my gushing greeting to the woman’s husband.
The greeting I’d given the woman, literally translated as Happy Honey, (like honey from the comb), a friendly slang greeting between close friends or family meaning Good evening, and I addressed her as mother of Ihab. Of course, what would her husband have thought? Who would think I would ever mistake someone else for Ihab’s mother!
I might as well enjoy this phase of my vision loss (and keep petitioning God for a portable senses sharpener) as I collect stories of mistaken identification.
Whether it’s a freezer or a fridge, a cat or a rat, a stranger or a mother-in-law, life is never dull in my world.
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