About a week ago our local blind society was kind enough to lend me a pair of specially modified glasses. The glasses had been simply but ingeniously modified to allow me to see the world as my wife sees it. She has virtually no peripheral vision on her right hand side and the idea was for me to spend a day learning what this felt like, so I could adapt better to her needs. The glasses, by the way, look like this.
Wear them all day, I was advised when I was given them. Round the house, getting dressed, outdoors. My wife was anxious about the outdoors idea, but I was determined to get full value from the experience. In the meantime, I put them on indoors. The right disappeared. After a few minutes I had pretty much adjusted. Then my wife pointed out that I had done this by angling my head to the right, which doesn't really work for her. So I had to master the art of facing forward and fighting my brain's instinct to adjust my perspective in order to be able to see properly. Then I started bumping into things. And falling over things. I had to feel around to find the bathroom door. After a bit of experimentation, I realised that a good idea was to use cues on my left to find objects on my right. It was becoming slowly apparent to me why my wife is so particular about where things go. The left is a map for the right, and if either is wrong, the map collapses. I collected a few bruises (it is, in fact, possible to 'walk into a door'. I had no idea) and my wife was duly a picture of sympathy and concern. Really. Then we had to go out.
I had been getting used to the experience indoors. My familiar environment had become very unfamiliar and I was struggling to find my way around my own home. It was confusing and weird. Outdoors was worse. Outdoors was terrifying. I mean it. After a while your brain seems to forget that the bit it can't see is there at all. It's genuinely eerie, because you can hear people and activity but it seems to be coming from a place you can't quite detect. Almost as if the voices were in your head. Periodically a person cuts in front of you and the affect is of someone looming out of nowhere and often suddenly appearing within inches of you. You slow down and your movement, especially moving to the right, becomes very tentative and anxious. I took to carefully extending my arm if I wished to move to the right, as you might in an era before cars had indicator lights. I hugged walls and stuck to the right of everywhere. Moving through a car park was nightmarish. Which side to go? Whichever side I chose there would be cars careering out at me from the other side, and I would have no notion at all that they were there. After a while my wife and I had to go off in different directions, and I decided to attempt moving around by myself. Walking through a shopping centre is not so bad because the glasses are a clear giveaway that you are either disabled or strange. It occurred to me, however, that my wife's partial sight is not obvious to the passer by, and that if I hadn't had the glasses as a visual cue, I would probably get all the jostling and bumping that she endures. People generally move around the world according to their own needs, and expect everyone else to adjust their course accordingly. If people drove the way they walked roads would be carnage. And it never occurs to people that you might not be able to see them, so they drift left and right as it suits them, and you are your own problem.
By the end of the day I was glad of a second day off. To be fair, I had cut off a perfectly working eye, which confused the hell out of my brain. I was tired and sick and generally not feeling great. Being half blind was no fun at all. The overriding problem for me, though, is the one thing I couldn't replicate. When I sat down to read a book for a while I cheated and took the glasses off. As I knew I could, whenever I wished, whenever the lack of vision got too much. The great problem that I could always sidestep was not being partially sighted, but being permanently, irrevocably, partially sighted. Walking around with a bit of the world missing every day.
It is often very tough being a carer, and it can feel very isolating. But once again I am given a timely reminder that it is much worse being the person who needs the care.