BY: COIRE LANGHAM
Since I woke up mostly blind in the hospital, my idea of vision has been changing.
The doctors told me, “Your eyes are fine. Something is wrong with the optic pathways in the brain.”
What I’ve been learning since, is there is a lot more to seeing than just left, center or right field. It’s hard to describe ‘not seeing’ to those with ‘full sight’, and I’ve struggled to find the words to express what I could see and not see to family, friends and therapists.
The doctors told me that my vision would never improve, yet I am learning about sight in ways I have never thought about before. Almost a year after my tumour was removed, the brain continues to surprise me.
My right optic nerve was severed, and I lost over 50 per cent of vision in each eye. But nothing could prepare me for the mess my vision became. I had double vision, nausea, flashes and hallucinations.
The faces of people have been eclipsed by an unknown blankness which consumes everything. It’s a blankness that is so subtle, I could never see it. Like a parasite, it constantly steals from my sight – it takes part of every room, and half of any clock. It removes door handles, steals the fork I just set down, and takes away the first part of words, numbers and oncoming cars.
When I look in the mirror, I see a strange brown-eyed amalgamation of features whose sum I once recognized as me, but no longer. The integers have changed slightly but the sum is way off.
I can no longer see the love written on my wife’s face.
The triumphant, mischievous, unbounded, joyful face of my three-year-old as she sneaks out of bed is eclipsed and jumbled beyond meaning. Like the vestiges of an intense fire, structures are displaced, sunken, and twisted to the very edge of recognition.
Through all of this my perception of sight is changing. I see like music is heard, all at the same time. Shadows are hard to separate from their substantial counterparts, the minutia of details are a sea of information that is unable to unify into one fixed image.
Yet light is coming back into my visual world and it is so bright I am unaccustomed to it. The starkness of bright light and shadow is a sea of information that is overwhelming, but enjoyable at the same time.
There is a plum-tree in flower on the way to the hospital, and it takes my breath away each time I ‘see’ it. It literally feels good to look at, a riot of white and pink blossoms burning in the sky.
It’s like stumbling upon a bonfire while walking in the woods. The darkness is banished so completely it is hard to look at the flames and embers raising skyward.
It’s a phenomenon and a joy. I stand and smell the flowers, and they smell good. Visually, they are chaos in pink and white, blurred and doubled and shadowed and screaming, like a throng of rabid young children.
I am left nauseaus and dizzy, but I like it. I had much less of an understanding of the immense joy of sight, and though I’ve lost a bit, I am discovering a new understanding of the myriad of ways to enjoy it. Some plants are an absolute visual starburst of three-dimensional joy. A cacophony of visual stimulus.
That is what is changing, I think. When I’m tired and the borders of what I see all run into each other, like a bad impressionist painting, depth is helping me separate the world. I am perceiving depth more, just like when you loose a tooth and your tongue becomes preoccupied with exploring the new hole in your gums.
I see the space between objects, that strange new empty space that suddenly makes sense and conveys so much meaning. I missed depth terribly and never knew it was gone. We live in a highly visual world, more than I ever knew. Perhaps I am becoming more aware of the hole in my vision and cognitive of how some magic of existence has leaked out through it, and is gone.
Coire Langham suffered a brain surgery and TBI over a year ago and lives in Toronto with his family – who are indispensable as he navigates a changed world. He enjoys the prospects of new community inside BIST, and drinking tea.