This First Person article is the experience of Mark Selvidge who lives with a brain injury. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.
Sitting in my optometrist’s office for a regular appointment, all I could see was half of the eye chart and the world on my left side.
Most people have peripheral vision. They can see out of the corner of their eyes.
It might seem insignificant. After all, it’s not like I was completely blind. I can turn my head and still see the world to my right.
But as the doctor adjusted a prism on the right side of my glasses, I felt a rush of hope.
Today might be the day that I would finally see an extra 40 degrees on my right side — the part of the world that I had been missing for the past 21 years.
When I was 11, when I should have been enjoying my childhood with friends, I was fighting for my life. My family was involved in a car accident, and my sister Nicole died. I sustained a traumatic brain injury. The first few days were touch and go while I was on life support. I don’t remember much of that time, but my parents say I was basically unresponsive for three weeks.
When I slowly regained consciousness, I felt confused and scared because I didn’t understand why my body could not move.
That’s when the hard work began. Much like an infant, I had to learn just about everything all over again. I had to learn how to swallow, how to direct my gaze where I wanted to look, how to speak, how to eat and drink, how to dress myself, how to walk, how to think.
I wanted to be independent and put in hours of hard work coupled with tears and frustration at endless physio and occupational therapy sessions. When the dust settled, I was left with a partial right-sided paralysis, some shakiness on my left side and some visual impairments, which included the complete loss of peripheral vision on my right side.
After my accident, I was literally missing out.
I remember my health-care team would tell me to keep scanning my eyes to the right so that I could at least identify hazards. Even though I struggled with my disabilities initially, I tried to push the boundaries of my limitations and, with lots of support, I became fairly independent.
Over time, I came to accept my disabilities. Today, I speak to elementary schools and have written a children’s book about how my brain injury makes me different. I learned how to ride a bicycle again and took up sports like rock climbing, tandem skydiving and ziplining for fun.
But even in those great moments, sometimes I feel sad because I could only see half of what life presented before me.
When a woman to my right flirted with me, I’d miss it and boy is that a bummer! I would bump into people if they were even slightly on my right side where I wasn’t looking.
A basic rite of passage for many teenagers also eluded me: I could never get my driver’s licence because of my visual impairments. I know I could ask for a ride from my friends and family, but I don’t want to feel like I’m inconveniencing them. The bus doesn’t always travel where I want to go. I could take a cab but sometimes the rates feel like highway robbery. I miss the independence that extra 40 degrees would have given me.
So over the years, I explored various options to expand my right-side peripheral vision. I experimented with concave and convex mirrors in front of my left eye, and a video camera and screen combination mounted on my glasses. That last one looked somewhat silly even to me.
When my latest doctor suggested a new fresnel prism, which can stick onto the lens of a glass, and was used by other people with traumatic brain injuries, I figured I might as well try it.
So that’s how I found myself in the optometrist’s office. I was cautiously optimistic. I had been let down before and didn’t know quite what to expect.
When that prism clicked into place, and I could finally see again out of my right side, it felt different. Suddenly the world to my right sharpened into focus. I could see! Well, I could see more of my world. I could now see the fan that was to the right of the eye chart. Wait … I could also see more of the optometrist.
Wow, wow, wow!
I started crying. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I just could not believe my eyes.
It’s been three months since I got fitted with my new glasses. I still have a disability — that hasn’t changed. But it does mean I don’t need to turn my head to see what’s happening on my right. And that small change has big impacts.
In these past few months, my neck has been getting less of a workout! Having this extra vision makes me feel more confident in navigating my daily life.
I still can’t drive. I still need to be an advocate for myself and feel compelled to share what it means to live with a disability. But I also have hope that with ongoing improvements in the technology of autonomous vehicles, changes in licence regulations and my own determination, one day I might get behind the wheel and drive.
In the meantime, I’ll relish in seeing the world to my right once again.
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