I have recently embarked upon a degree in Special Education. One of my assignments was to write about a time that I felt disabled. Here is what I remembered as I began to write (it turned out to be longer than I intended):
When I was six years old, I underwent major eye surgery. Born with a lazy eye, I had experienced double or blurred vision since the day I came into the world. In August of 1990, that finally changed.
As a precocious six year old, I was convinced there was nothing wrong with me. I liked picking out glasses but I hated going to the eye doctor. He gave me tests I could not pass and it was infuriating. He’d ask me to point out the object closest to me but they all looked exactly the same. I’d shake my head to indicate that I could not do it. He would get a look of disapproval that cut to my heart. I learned to guess the answers, and then to memorize them, since I had to take the tests so many times. Sometimes my guesses would be right, more often than not, they’d be wrong.
All of this occurred before I had even entered kindergarden. That year my eyes became so bad that the doctor prescribed a patch over my weaker eye. I got to pick it out and I picked out a packet of beautiful rainbow patches, disposable so that I would get a new one each day. It stuck to my eye and was uncomfortable- not to mention that it obstructed a whole half of my field of vision. Still, I was confident on my first day of kindergarden.
I will never forget how those kids stared and laughed at me. The crashing of my self-image remains crystal clear in my memory. I was humiliated. They laughed and laughed and there was nothing the teacher could do about it, the damage was done.
I learned to throw my patch away before entering the school. I had to keep it on in the car with my mom, but before I went in the door, the patch was off. I can still picture the crumpled rainbow against the inside of the black trash bag. I'd try to drop it in casually so that no one would notice.
Obviously my vision got worse. It became hard to see anything and I could not read at all. The doctor warned my mom that my eyesight was deteriorating and that he was afraid I would eventually lose sight in my left eye. So, he suggested a fairly new surgery where the muscles in my eyes were cut and reattached, forcing them to work together and not allowing the shifting of my weak eye.
My mom agreed and I was excited. All the attention and preparation made me feel like a star. I couldn’t wait to go to the hospital, I even got to ride in a red wagon into the operating room. I had no idea the nightmare that lay ahead. It turned out that I was allergic to the anesthesia that they gave me. I woke up in a panic, screaming and kicking; trying to pull the IV out of my arm. I was terrified. What made things worse was that they had bandaged my eyes and I could not see. It would be like that for a week. I finally settled down but the darkness was still frightening. I wanted so badly to rip off the bandages.
The week that followed was excruciating. I could listen to movies but not watch them, I ate mostly ice chips and crackers. I was in pain a lot of the time.
But, when they finally took the bandages off, I could see. I looked out the window and saw light filtering through gorgeous green leaves. It was like nothing I had seen before and it was so beautiful.
However, all of the blood vessels in my eyes had been broken and I had to wear sunglasses because my appearance scared the other children. Again, I was an outsider to those my own age but I knew that I was going to get better. And I did. The surgery worked and I could see far better than before. I still only had limited three dimensional vision but over the years that has improved.
Looking back, I am so grateful for the support of my parents and the wisdom of my doctor. I wish that I could erase my fear of hospitals or the dreadful memories of being laughed at in school. I wish that I could prevent that experience for all of my students. No one should ever feel like they are less than human because of a disability.