The gift of sight

“You’re undergoing a completely painless procedure, Nikitah,” remarked the surgeon. I was in the early stages of a panic attack and the stress ball, handed to me alongside the request to please remain calm, seemed unable to ease my rising discomfort. Eyelashes taped down, eyelids clamped open, vision bathed in a blur of anaesthetic drops; the current situation had quickly escalated the ranks to join the top five most unpleasant moments of my life. The distress I felt was topped only by my mother’s account of an incident that took place four months before, where I had drunkenly spooned her in bed and woken up the following morning without a single memory of what I had done. That was until she decided to share the story, several days later.

Laid down in a surgical chair, the outline of the man who’d just spoken towered over me against the artificial orange light of the laser which, in a few minutes’ time, would reverse the last fifteen years’ deteriorated vision. I have always writhed at the thought of an eye intrusion, unable to open my eyes underwater let alone attempt to put a contact lens in. I was therefore a full-time glasses wearer and decidedly not a big fan of the idea of eye surgery. The fear of declining the operation and going blind, over the fear of opting into the operation and going blind, was the twisted logic I used to convince myself to sign my name on the forms and agree to have my excess eyeball burnt away with a laser.

An illustration of 7 eyes on a yellow background.

I held onto the surgeon’s promise that for the first time since childhood I would be able to read the clock on the wall unaided, but my doubts exaggerated in size each time they bounced around the insides of my head. You can’t do this! What makes you think you can do this? The irrational thoughts multiplied at every synapse they crossed, jumping from one extreme conclusion to the next. This is going to end badly. You are going to go BLIND. I could hear strange sounds escaping from my mouth. It was the language of the deranged, a senseless communication of fictitious eventualities that existed only in the confines of my head. His voice washed over me, the cold wave of the present bringing me back to reality.

“Your vision is being restored, just think about how amazing the rest of your life will be because of it.” He paused, as though the sharp implement he was using to scrape away the surface of my bare eyeball had only now necessitated the moment’s concentration. “If you’re acting like this now, what will you do when it’s time for you to give birth?” The monologue concluded, condescension replaced with a silent finality, sure that he had delivered the last word.

Of all the supposed ‘amazing’ acts afforded by a glasses-free lifestyle, the highlight of a woman’s life of course remained the miracle of childbirth. A 22-year-old girl should only ever aspire to be a mother, and, as he had declared during an earlier consultation, this particular girl (me) should expect to finally attract the love of her life without the burden of a heavy glasses frame sitting atop her overly made-up face, in his opinion. “Who said anything about giving birth?” I replied. “I’ll adopt.” The other women in the room broke into laughter, for what he had forgotten was that childbirth was not an obligatory undertaking and, despite being visually compromised, the opportunity to denounce his outdated views on womanhood was too good for this girl to miss.

An illustration of 3 gloved hands holding surgical tools. The text in speech bubbles reads "calm down!" in capital letters.

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