By Carol Goar
Sometimes when Verna and I are chatting with Buster curled at our feet, I take out my notebook. It reminds Verna that I’m writing about my experience as a Vision Mate. It gives me a chance to fade into the background.
One day I asked her if losing her sight was the worst thing that had ever happened to her.
“Oh no,” she said, surprised. “It was losing my sister” (who died of a brain tumour at 56 years of age).
What was her happiest moment?
“When I graduated as a nursing assistant from Brantford General Hospital.”
Verna is 77 years old. She has spent three quarters of her life with no vision in her right eye and blurry images in her left eye, but she doesn’t count this as a major hardship. To her, blindness is a condition, not a defining characteristic of her life.
I asked her what advice she would give to a person experiencing vision loss. (Every 10 minutes in Canada, someone begins to lose their sight. Over the next decade, the prevalence of vision loss is expected to increase by 30 per cent.)
“You’ve got to try to keep going,” Verna said. “And, you need a sense of humour.”
What would she advise a sighted person?
“Get your eyes checked,” she said. “Ask questions.”
She wishes she’d had done that decades ago. Early detection and treatment of eye conditions could help prevent major vision loss or blindness.
When Verna developed a corneal ulcer in her right eye as a teenager, her doctor didn’t know what it was. She didn’t ask for an appointment with a specialist. Her eye became infected.
“I never had a chance for surgery,” says Verna. I was blind (in that eye) by my early ’30s.”
The medical system let her down again decades later when she developed cataracts in her left eye.
“It reached the point that I couldn’t walk to the end of my driveway,” Verna recalled.
She wanted to have the cataracts removed but her doctor kept giving her eye drops and telling her to wait. When she finally got a referral to an eye specialist in London, her eye was so badly damaged that only a small portion of her vision could be saved. Verna is not bitter but she doesn’t want anyone else to make the same mistakes she made.
Today, thanks to CNIB, she takes advantage of the latest technology and knowledge about vision loss. CNIB staff visit her regularly to ensure Verna's assistive devices are up-to-date and her home is as hazard-free as possible. Her family doctor – a new one – has no hesitancy about sending her to specialists.
Verna’s attitude makes the biggest difference. She is relentlessly positive. She is grateful for the good things in her life. She praises the people around her – from the Red Cross driver who takes her to adult recreation therapy to the pharmacist who delivers her medications to the door. Yes, she’s almost blind, but that’s a small piece of her story. She’s a proud grandmother, an accomplished gardener, a seamstress, a cook and a generous friend.
Learn more about volunteering for CNIB and our Vision Mate program here, or call CNIB on telephone 1-800-563-2642.