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With my new glasses, I got so much more than the ability to see the world fully

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. 

I cannot. 

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.

A portrait of a smiling girl and boy.
Mark Selvidge, right, and his sister Nicole pose for a portrait in 2000. (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

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. 

A boy surrounded by stuffed toys and balloons reclines in a hospital bed and makes the OK hand symbol.
Mark Selvidge’s mom charts his recovery in hospital after his accident. (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

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. 

A man climbs up an indoor rock climbing wall.
Mark Selvidge has gone rock climbing in Squamish, B.C. (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

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.

A pair of glasses sit on a laptop.
Mark Selvidge’s new glasses allow him to see an extra 40 degrees to his right — the part of the world that he had been missing for the past 21 years. (Mark Selvidge)

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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