Blind like me

Hand-And-ShadesIn 1961, journalist John Howard Griffin published Black Like Me, an account of his experiences as a black man in the Deep South. What made the book unusual was that Griffin was actually white, but with the help of a dermatologist, he was able to darken his skin and pass as a black man.

Not surprisingly, he encountered the same intolerance and hatred that all black people endured in the Deep South in the 1950s. It was such a powerful book that it was made into a movie by the same name and starred James Whitmore.

What brings this book to mind is the fact that for the past three weeks, I have – like Griffin – entered a foreign reality. I didn’t change my skin color. Instead, I found out in some small degree what it is like to have a disability.

A sucker punch

A few weeks ago, my right eye spontaneously hemorrhaged and I was rendered blind in that eye. Ten days later, I suffered a detached retina in the left eye. The result of these events was that I could not see well enough to drive, read or do much of anything.

For three weeks, I was basically shut down because of my inability to see. I had to rely on friends to drive me to doctor appointments, to buy groceries for me and even to visit my aging mother, who is in a rehab hospital.

It was a terrifying experience. I felt helpless, dependent and vulnerable. I felt shut away from the world and was frightened that my eyesight was permanently compromised.

Unlike people who live with disabilities day in and day out, I knew there was hope for me to recover. And for the most part, I have. A surgeon restored my eyesight in both eyes and gave me a black eye as a souvenir from the surgery.

Like Griffin, I found out for a brief period what it was like to walk in the shoes of someone who has many more obstacles to overcome than I do. (As an aside, for several years, Griffin was blind from an accident while serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He eventually recovered his eyesight.)

The pain of limitation

I realize that many in the disability community will look with disdain at my meager experience with disability. They might even call me to task for comparing my three weeks of near-blindness to anything that a permanently disabled person might endure.

And they will have a point. I don’t claim to understand fully what it’s like to be legally blind. I only got a taste of it and found out that disability is limiting, painful and lonely.

I’m guessing that many people go through periods in which they can identify with people who have disabilities. Surgeries, strokes, and other afflictions can cause temporary or even permanent physical and mental limitations.

I’m wondering if anyone reading this blog has had a similar experience and what you learned from it. Please let me hear from you if you did.