It was officially a bad night. I haven’t rested well, which leaves me worried that it might not be a grain-of-sand day today. But, doing a mental body scan I quickly assess that my fingertips aren’t quite as numb this morning. That’s okay, one step at a time, I tell myself. Because of this improved sensitivity I can actually leaf through the magazines I can hear rustling on my bed when I move my feet. Of course, this will just be a habitual act, a normal everyday activity that has opened back up to me this morning. I have no expectation that I will be able to actually see anything. I just want to pick one up and feel the shiny texture of paper between my fingers. I want to do something normal. Idly reaching for the top magazine, I find myself staring dumbstruck at the cover. Pulling it closer still I discover myself nose to nose with a grey, blurry face. The fact that I can identify this muddy, swirling image as a face is amazing! Squinting hard I realise that I know who it is. Incredulously, I stare into the ghostly eyes of Judy Finnegan. I never thought seeing the face of a breakfast-time TV presenter could give me such joy, but this is the outside world creeping back into my life, and Judy Finnegan has just landed on my crazy planet.
Mum and I rifle through the various discarded papers, testing what I can and can’t see. Adverts and broadsheet headlines with bold, dark text miraculously drift in front of my eyes. I proudly and deliberately read out several sensationalist headlines, the paper held so close to my face that it muffles my voice. We work out that the higher the contrast the more detail I have. I don’t see any colour yet, but can distinguish some vague tonal differences. My fingertips are definitely becoming suppler as the morning progresses. They now feel less bulbous and cumbersome, and I flex my hands into fists, smiling inside. I can’t wait for the next visitor to arrive so I can tell them; I think it’s fair to say, this is officially a grain-of-sand day.
It doesn’t take long for my door to be smartly swung open, and my nose automatically wrinkles as a wall of cologne billows across the room. My new visitor tells me where he has just flown in from, before he tells me his name. With a sinking feeling I can tell this isn’t going to go well. ‘Cologne Man’ requests that I follow him down the full length of the corridor to where there is apparently an eye chart hanging on the wall. Propping open the door, he sets off at a brisk march, tap-tapping ahead of me, and I hear his shoes slide to an impatient halt at the end. The Italian leather soles tell me he’s at least a registrar, perhaps even a consultant. Hand gripping my stick, I clench my teeth and slowly force my numb legs to move in something that resembles a walk. It takes me five long minutes to reach the eye chart, during which time I can hear the impatient swishing of his shoes on the floor. By the time Mum and I arrive I am exhausted and dizzy, but also determined to read his eye chart.
Leaning on my stick and fumbling in my dressing-gown pocket, I try to find my glasses. ‘Don’t bother with those,’ he snaps. My hand freezes in mid-air, but I slowly lower it. ‘Can you read the middle line?’ he demands, causing me to stare in disbelief at Mum. ‘Have a go at the top,’ her voice whispers, as she touches my arm. Squaring on to the wall I fumble again for my glasses and put them on, and stare at where I think the elusive chart must be. I stare so hard I can feel my brain ache. There is a suffocating anxiety twisting itself around my head as my mute concentration turns to frustration. As I start to take a step closer ‘Cologne Man’ shoots his arm out, ‘No, you need to be that distance away!’ ‘What?’ I can hear my mum finally find her voice. ‘She was blind a week ago and you expect her to read an eye chart? Does it really matter where she stands?’ ‘Cologne Man’ relents, but even when I am allowed to touch the thin cardboard, no shapes appear through the mist. ‘Cologne Man’ lets out a frustrated breath, and I sense him finger the ID chain around his neck. Turning my head, I seek out the space where I know his eyes must be and whisper fiercely, ‘I can see. I saw Judy Finnegan this morning. I just can’t see your stupid chart.’ He is obviously taken aback, and I have to admit I am quietly delighted. ‘Yes, young man. I think it’s about time you lot started thinking a little more laterally!’ Mum blurts out, emboldened by the man’s obvious confusion.
The moment passes and, somewhat browbeaten, ‘Cologne Man’, to his credit, apologises and suggests we start over again. He leaves my room half an hour later scratching his head and smiling at our jokes about how he might clinically record my sight, given that Judy Finnegan’s face doesn’t feature on the Snellen eye chart. It is a grain-of-sand day…
Excerpt from Patient H69: The Story of my Second Sight by Vanessa Potter which tells the mind-boggling story of my lost and regained sight. Available through Bloomsbury.