|Rich rewards in visual memories
I AM now nearly 18 months old. It is as if last March I was given a second century to start all over again.
My new century brought change. Soon after my hundredth birthday I nearly died. From being unconscious several times I had to learn to walk again. But I still have the power of speech and feel compelled to use it.
Writing this column with the aid of Bernard Miller gave me a new lease of life.
From all over the world individuals, media and organisations have been contacting me, helping me feel that I am fulfilling my obligation to spread messages, to say things I know many others think but don’t find reflected in mainstream media.
In another change, over the past few weeks I have lost most of my remaining sight.
Becoming nearly blind has taught me how important all the other senses are. From those who are blinded or deafened early in life I have learned that it is so much easier to adjust and learn new skills when you are young.
Two wonderful friends handicapped from birth – one blind, the other deaf – showed how amazingly successfully new methods have helped them to study, pass exams, achieve and lead normal lives. Whereas years ago deaf children could never learn to speak well, now, with the aid of television and specialised graphics they can learn to speak normally.
Communication skills are now taught as subjects in university. Remarkable scientific advances have led to technical skills risking usurping the tender loving care that was the basis for all nursing years ago.
If TLC is replaced by technology then often the illness or handicap is treated but not the person as a whole.
Slowly and painfully I am learning to adapt to my poor sight and deafness, to accept all the help I need from family, friends and the wonderful nurses, carers and other staff in the home that looks after me now.
One agonising lesson has been that trying to do more than one thing at a time, even a simple thing, may result in disaster. For example, for the first time I am receiving help to make my breakfast.
Last week a very kind carer painstakingly put together some cereal and fruit, peeled and cut up with yoghurt.
It was all beautifully prepared and on a special tray on my knees when the phone rang. Always eager to speak, I tried to answer... The breakfast bowl slid off the tray, splashing the food all over me and the carpet.
I got into real trouble and was taught the lesson that I can no longer do two things at once.
And of course I couldn’t clean it up myself. So now the telephone must ring with its specially adapted volume and callers must leave messages or ring again.
I think most women who have been mothers and housewives have learned to do several things at once. It’s a habit which is hard to break.
Now I realise the complexity of different tasks we normally take for granted. Moving around my own room is like navigating an obstacle course.
Two weeks ago I walked into a door frame. Fortunately I couldn’t see the magnificent bruise on my forehead. Others could.
The challenge of putting things away or, even more awful, finding them again; using tools and equipment that I have always taken for granted, even finding and being able to turn down the volume on the radio when the phone rings.
On most modern equipment, even so-called disability devices, knobs, buttons and other controls are so small, fiddly, difficult to see or feel, and frequently do not work in intuitive ways.
Friends try to help me find new ways to meet the challenges.
When, like me, you are disabled late in life, you learn how so many of the senses interconnect. No longer able to see, I still expend energy struggling to pick out any visual details. As a result, I concentrate less on listening, so frequently do not hear as well as I should.
My sense of touch is less acute than it was. That makes operating many everyday devices even more difficult and would make it impossible for me now to learn Braille.
It is difficult to describe how frustrating it is to be unable to read for myself now, whether for pleasure or in order to function in today’s complex society or even to edit this column.
Yet I am lucky enough to have a rich store of visual memories to draw on. They have always enriched my life and inspired me. Now I need them more than ever.
More and more I am reminded of Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’, the poem which we almost all know and which I have loved all my life.
It has real meaning for me now, particularly the last part which goes:
For oft, when on my
couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive
They flash upon that
Which is the bliss of
And then my heart with
And dances with the