“Looking but not seeing is the hearing but not understanding of the eye.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
Before my fall, there were two things about myself of which I was certain:
I had great eyes and thick ankles!!!!!
I had big blue eyes that were framed in long dark eyelashes. I used my eyes to engage people, flirt with them, speak with them, argue with them and laugh with them. My eyes were my contact with the world. Thank goodness they say that eyes are the centre to one’s soul. Imagine if it was: You can tell a person’s character by her ankles!!!
When I was twenty-one, I went overseas for the first time. I worked as an au pair in London. My weekends were spent at the theatre. I saw Glenda Jackson in a three hour show. She was brilliant. And to my utter delight, she had large ankles! Glenda Jackson and Gaynor Young Unite!!!!!
Then I had my fall.
The Gaynor with the magical, flirtatious blue eyes had an abrupt change. I now have only 40% eyesight with no peripheral vision. Added to which I was also completely deaf. I didn’t look at the world in the same challenging manner of old. After my fall, I was confused and frightened by the world presented to me. It was different in all manner of ways. I couldn’t see a person’s whole face, I saw up to half their nose and that was it. This new world wasn’t a place I was familiar with. The fear I felt was revealed in my eyes.
My left eye, I now refer to as my squonk eye. Whenever I am tired or stressed this left eye droops and halves in size. That is why I need to get on my bed in the afternoon, take off my Cochlear Implants and close my eyes for an hour or two. I remember working with the director, Maralin Vanrenen, on my show My Plunge to Fame. We would get to a certain point in rehearsals and she would say: “Okay, your eye is telling me that it is enough work for you today.”
“No, M, I can carry on,” I protested.
“Gaynor, ‘to bed, to bed, perchance to dream…’ she finished with a quote from Midsummer Nights Dream.
Over time, I have now got used to my eyesight. In actual fact, because my eyesight is so limited I now notice things more. I will say to my friend, B: “Look at the that shape of that tree, it’s just like an eagle. And with the blossoms just starting, it looks as if it has been caught in the snow.”
“I’ve often driven past that tree and I haven’t seen the eagle, but you’re totally right!”
That tree is always known as our Eagle Tree!
Colours, shapes, sights mean so much to me now. It is strange how when something is partially taken away from you, the sense you have left is heightened.
I am now middle aged. Glory, I remember my parents being middle aged and that was old as far as I was concerned. And now here is their ‘middle aged’ daughter wearing glasses! They are tortoiseshell with a blue inner lining and are actually quite funky! In June, my funky glasses and I went to spend a month in glorious (Brexit excluded!) England with B and John Royce. My friend Tammy Bonel Garner tool one look at me in my glasses and said with delight: “Gaye, you look just like Harry Potter’s older sister!”
About ten days into my stay, my left eye became swollen and quite painful. B being B, wasn’t having this and so we took a trip to Cromer Minor Injuries Unit. A nurse looked at my eye and told me I had two sty’s. I was given some antibiotic cream which I had to put on my inner lid. She said that I must begin by placing a warm cloth over my eyes for five minutes. Once I had done this then the cream must go on. B was not satisfied with merely this ritual and so got onto her glorious Google!
“It says you must rub your sty’s with a gold ring. That is guaranteed to help. Also, we must put warm tea bags on your eye.”
“Surely just doing what the nurse has advised is enough?”
“I think we must do all we can to get your eye right.”
And with that she slipped off her Grandmother’s beautiful gold ring and I sat there while Grandma was smeared all over my left eye. I lay there with frikking warm teabags on my eye but unfortunately the sty’s continued to smile out at the world!
Five days later, we went up to Nottingham to visit B’s parents. My stied eye was up and flourishing. We were advised to visit the Eye Hospital. Here we were dealt with by a doctor who knew exactly what she was doing. She made me sit with my chin balanced in this small white receptacle. I stared ahead while she examined both my eyes, I tried to tell her that it was just my left eye I was having problems with. She quietened me and continued her examination. Eventually she informed me that I had an infection called Blepharitis in both eyes! Lots of eye bathing and drops followed. By the time, I flew home to South Africa, two healed eyes shone out at the world.
Mums had been concerned about my eyes while I was away and so had booked me in at the eye clinic just to check that my eyes were Blepharitis free. They did a whole load of tests and said that indeed I was infection free but I needed two cataract operations.
Cataract. Obviously I had heard the word. Countless people had cataract operations. All of a sudden, I was one of them. I wanted to know all about these things called: Cataracts!
Cataracts are an eye condition caused when the lens of the eye develops cloudy patches. Over time these patches usually grow bigger, causing blurry, misty vision. This is indeed the case with me. My eyesight on this iPad has not been working well. I was amazed to discover that the first cataract extraction was performed in 1750 by the French ophthalmologist, Jacques Daviel. The major cause of cataracts is old age. This ‘middle aged’ cataracted individual gave a resigned laugh!
I discovered that Monet suffered from cataracts that grew progressively worse between 1912 and 1922. Surgery was suggested but Monet stubbornly refused. When reflecting on the experience of his vision deteriorating, Monet recalled:
“Colours no longer had the same intensity for me…reds had begun to look muddy…my painting was getting more and more darkened.”
A comparison between Monet’s works with and without cataracts reveals the “overriding yellowing cast and loss of subtle colour discriminations.”
He feared his abilities as an artist could be compromised by the cataract procedure. This was one stubborn man and let’s face it, an artist terrified of losing that which enabled him to paint – his sight.
The image on the top left was painted when Monet had a moderately progressed cataract in 1915. The image on the top right provides us with the perspective of how Monet would have seen the picture. Much against his will, Monet, finally gave in and succumbed to a cataract operation. The lower image shows us the great detail and contrast that Monet was capable of seeing, and subsequently creating, once the cataract was removed in 1926. Once more, he used the gentle blues and greens reminiscent of his earlier ponds and gardens. He could see again!
Sight is an extraordinary thing and so incredibly important.
I am also deaf. Before I got my life changing Cochlear Implants, the world I lived in was a grey cocoon. I felt as if I was being blocked out from Life. Research has been done on deaf and blind people from birth. They were asked which they would prefer to be. The overall consensus was that they would prefer to be blind. This was a shock to me. I would have thought that sight would be more important than being able to hear. Then I thought, how does one explain the word ‘transcend’ to a deaf person??? I was lucky in that I became deaf at the age of 28. Imagine being deaf from birth! Being able to hear enables one to make sense of the world surrounding you.
Because of my 40% eyesight I am unable to drive. This has caused me tremendous frustration. Then something occurred which changed my whole way of seeing things.
A friend of mine was bringing me back from the shops when we saw it – the rainbow! It was a full arc of a rainbow that went from one end of the earth to the other.
“Lisa, pull over and stop the car! Please?”
She stopped at the side of the road and I just stared. I have seen many rainbows before and their colours of blue, purple, green have always delighted me. This rainbow outdid them all. The colours seemed to collide straight into your heart. I sat there and thought: ‘Gaynor, don’t you ever forget this. Store it up and remember!’
And store it up I have.
Whenever I am coming back from the shops, carrying my bags of shopping and cursing the fact that I am unable to drive, I stop. Put down my bags, take a deep breath and I remember.
I am still able to see my mother’s gorgeous smile, a child’s first steps as he learns to walk, Perdita, my dog, running joyfully to greet me, a sky full of stars, a field overflowing with Sunflowers. I am still able to see the wonderful sight of a sky shimmering with a rainbow.
I pick up my bags with a smile in my heart.
I can see rainbows.
I can see!
I am no painter but I hope what worked for Monet, will work for me. I am having my first cataract operation today, the 11th October and the next on the 25th.
My sight will be restored.
I don’t know what I’ll do about my ankles!!!!!