Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Amazing Grace

Whenever a church choir belts out “Amazing Grace,” there is an emotional stirring that is felt by most individuals of faith.  Even if the song is not sung in perfect pitch, there is a spirit that rouses inside us as though the faith of each individual vocalist creeps under one’s skin while those words of praise are sung to a higher power.  
I have often felt this same emotional connection to that age old, familiar hymn.  Now, though, my connection to this tune has become even more concrete and no longer rests in Christian constructions alone.  The line “was blind, but now I see” is not merely a metaphor for me.  Those lines are now a reality for which I am deeply appreciative.  Now, when I hear that song sung by the church choir, or faithful companions, I am not only filled with faith; I am also flooded with profound gratitude.  

I wasn’t born blind.  I possessed sight in my youth, although I had poor vision, with my first pair of glasses at age eight.  At that time, until my early twenties, glasses were able to correct my vision.  However, at age twenty-two, I developed an especially uncommon optical disease known as keratoconus.  I had never heard of this ailment until receiving my unfortunate diagnosis.

Keratoconus affects the structure of the cornea and creates distorted, narrow vision.  The shape of the cornea gradually changes from its normal round shape to a cone shape.  In its early stages, keratoconus can be corrected with contact lenses created to flatten the cornea and fix the corresponding vision problems.  As the disease progresses, the cornea becomes more conical and contact lenses will not stay in the eye.  Traditional glasses cannot correct the misshaping of the cornea.  Therefore, conventional solutions to vision difficulties are incapable of addressing severe keratoconus.  

As my own corneas became more conical, my vision unquestionably deteriorated. In an attempt to simplify my condition to others, I would often explain it as such: “Imagine that a normal cornea is the shape of a dime, and that is your viewfinder.  My corneas have become so severely misshapen that I view the world through the tip of a needle.”  

I eventually was declared legally blind; there is a difference between full blindness and legal blindness.  I could still function quite efficiently given my disability and thus the vast majority of individuals could not comprehend the severity of my vision challenges.  Lasik was not an option, though most of my coworkers at the time continued to misunderstand my illness and actually made such comments as, “Why are you taking FMLA? I didn’t miss any time when I got Lasik.”  To answer those empathy-absent individuals, I took medical leave because I had two full corneal transplants.

When explaining this surgery to my students, who were quite curious about my illness, I would question them, “Have you ever seen the movie The Eye with Jessica Alba?”  When most of them responded affirmatively, I informed that I had the exact same surgery her character had – also the same as Woody Harrelson’s character in Seven Pounds.  There was one slight problem with this explanation, though, which was that it inevitably led to this follow-up question: “Oh, do you see dead people now?”  
Much to the disappointment of my former students, there are no ghosts hanging around here; I did not receive the past visions of my donors.  However, I do most assuredly possess immense gratefulness for their donations.  Without donors, I would now be fully blind. Rather, as the old tune states “now I see.”  In fact, I see incredibly well; I don’t even need corrective lenses any more.  Such results are quite extraordinary, and my eye surgeon still refers to me as his “miracle patient.”  
While his praise is welcomed, it’s not the real reason I celebrate that man.  Because of his capable hands, I can now see my own laugh lines and gray hairs forming.  Such signs of aging do not bother me because I simply feel blessed with the regained ability to perceive such fine details.  Because of his capable hands, I can now witness the grin which appears on my young son’s face when I enter the room.  Because of his capable hands, I can now read all of my beloved books without need of a magnifier.  Because of his capable hands, I can now see the butterflies that light on the flowers in my backyard, and I can see each delicate bloom and petal.

I didn’t realize how much I had missed all of this until my sight was restored.  I had merely learned to adapt and knew that my life lacked details.  I accepted that as my normal and just figured out a way to function.  I suppose that’s what we must do in such circumstances -- just “make it work.” Therefore, I made it work for many years; now I get to be constantly amazed. I appreciate my sight more for having temporarily struggled. Subsequently, when the voices ring out at church “was blind, but now I see,” I say a silent hallelujah.  While it was a man who literally worked to remove my failing cornea and replace it with a donor, I know that God is the one who gave him such capable hands.  I am grateful, and I am blessed, and I am now able to see my blessings in all their brilliance every single day. 







  1. I've never heard of this condition. I'm so happy that you were able to have surgery and now can see.

    1. I had never heard of it either until I got it, and I got it in its most severe form. I am so happy all is well now too. Thanks a bunch!