Turning a blind eye to vision of the future



One of my abiding memories of my early school days is my father picking me up outside the school gates, on his bicycle — my mother having put an old cushion on the crossbar to make my journey across the city more comfortable.

We were heading right across ‘town’, as it was back then, to the rooms of Dr O’Donoghue in the Georgian confines of Merrion Square. Rooms I remember with chaise lounges, fine oak bureaus and dark, heavy drapes where the dying light of an evening would attempt intrusion. That, and the creaking floorboards, whose simple, understated mathematical ratio went back to the reigns of the first four Kings George of England.

Dr O’Donoghue was my eye doctor, my ophthalmologist, who, as a private practitioner, had been looking after my ‘lazy’, almost sightless, eye since first spotting me as a year-old baby with my mother anxiously waiting in Temple St Children’s Hospital and kindly removing me from the public list, such was his interest — then a young professional — in my particular condition.

My effectively useless, bum eye and my wearing of glasses to correct my deficiency have defined much of my countenance for much of my life, the mental landscape of my childhood haunted with derisive echoes of ‘specks’, ‘bottle top’, or ‘old four eyes’.

I learned to live with it, the name calling and the physical shortcomings — the latter largely excluding me from the sporting world of formative years and from any notion in my secondary school years of wanting to be an airline pilot.

My glasses, my spectacles, down the years — the many years — have become my constant companion; if not permanently perched on my nose, then never far out of reach; the first ‘go-to’ in the morning from the bedside locker and the last item removed at night.

From bifocal lenses to varied focals, tinted to light-sensitive, my every-other-year change in style (a new prescription permitted my indulgence) became a fashion statement that, down the years, saw me adapt varying guises from John Lennon to Elton John to Elvis Costello to finally just plain old me.

The eyes may well be the mirror of the soul but they are also fundamental tools for the working journalist. We, who practice our trade on this remorseless and relentless treadmill, need our eyes to observe and watch and then to record and explain an evolving story. He’s a good journalist, my editor would say, he’s a great eye for a story. Or, my editor would say, we better keep and eye on that story. Or, who’s watching the news?

Or CNN anchor Erin Burnett: “All eyes are on Taiwan tonight.”

And so it goes…

I was out some weeks back for dinner with an old friend I literally had not laid eyes on in 30 years. Not long after we had settled in, I noticed an aura of gold and black light surrounding her persona as she chatted away opposite me. Then, suddenly, and with no warnings or signs or symptoms of any kind, the sight in my right eye went poof! and disappeared. A black veil of darkness descended over the eye, the one that had been lazy all its life.

A consultation the next day with my local eye doctor saw me off to the Mater Hospital. I had had a stroke, which brought no debilitating consequences at all bar the long black veil of blindness. An operation some days later — by a Dr O’Donoghue! — opened up the right side of my neck and cleaned out the carotid artery to avoid a repeat episode.

As I write, I am still blind in my bad eye. The chances of any sight returning are negligible. But, I am okay: I never used that bum eye much anyway, my other eye being the stronger with years of over-compensating for the lazy one. I like to think, though, that that old eye, with its lifetime of shirking responsibility, in finally giving up on his distorted views, guided the rogue plaque towards itself, rather than my brain, and laid down his life for the corporal body.

Had plaque reached my brain, the possible consequences don’t bear thinking about.

I am okay. Really. And I’m not alone. There are an estimated 246,773 people in Ireland who are blind or visually impaired. At the end of the day, in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Meanwhile, what the future holds for me and my one-eyed world remains to be seen…

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