Blind World Magazine

What do you do when you wake up and find out that you're blind?

September 25, 2005.
New York Daily News.

Extraordinary New Yorkers tell you what it takes to reinvent yourself when catastrophe strikes.

Six years ago, Jeremiah Taylor of Yorktown Heights, N.Y., entered the hospital for what he assumed would be routine back surgery. When Taylor, now 58, woke up, his world had changed forever.

I was having two lower disks removed. My blood pressure went too low, and because no blood was getting to the optic nerves, they died.

When I woke up, I told my wife, Jo-Ann, I couldn't see, but they thought it was just the effects of the anesthesia. It was probably 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when I finally said, "Look, I can't see," that they ran some tests.

My reaction was certainly calm at the time. It wasn't like you see in the movies. I wasn't in shock or depressed. I was married just a year, and in fact my first conscious thought was, "I don't want this to affect my life." I wanted to deal with it right away and just go on. I wanted to get home as quickly as possible and be in surroundings I was more aware of. So in about three days I came home from the hospital.

I wasn't totally in the dark. I have no vision, but in my left peripheral sometimes I get a little light - you can call it dark gray. As a few weeks went on, I was able to pick up different shadows in different places at different times of the day, and that was a big help to let me adjust.

My wife handled it very well. She was pretty proactive in getting information about what to do. It's such a global thing. You have to learn everything you've done in a different way.

I started to receive mobility training, how to maneuver with a cane. You have to get over the fear of moving - how to get down a flight of stairs and find a doorway and how to get out of the house. How to travel, how to get on the bus. I had to learn how to type so I could use the computer. You have to learn how to cut your food. You have to learn how to dress.

I got rid of most of my clothes because they were making me nervous: You don't know where they are, so you just want one or two pairs of pants. That changes as you get more comfortable with choice, but at the beginning, too much choice is just no good.

Initially, you learn to label different clothes with different pins - like a pin with one bead could be a black color, a pin with two beads could be green. After a while, you learn by the feel of certain clothing what it is.

You have to learn how to use a lot of technology and be comfortable with it. I wasn't too much of a tech guy before I lost my sight. I couldn't type and I really didn't use a computer much. I never saw a Windows screen. I never went on the Internet.

Now, I work with a computer all day long. I have a software program that reads the screen so you can navigate through different programs. And I have a bar-code reader that allows you to label clothes. When you place the pen over the label, it reads back the information to you.

The hardest adjustment is you lose independence. When you travel with a cane like I do, you have to constantly ask people, "Where am I?" You have to have the kind of personality that you don't mind asking for help. And you realize, the minute you lose your sight you lose your privacy as well. Everyone knows you can't see. And the people with you also, in a way, lose their privacy. Like my wife and I, we used to do a lot of ballroom dancing together. And we still dance together very well, but now she leads me onto the dance floor. You can't be inconspicuous.

It's hard to deal with not knowing what to do with your time. You can't look out a window, so I spend a lot of time on the telephone to help me get through the day, because my wife wanted to get back to work and a normal routine as soon as possible. That's why I wanted to get back to work as soon as I could, as well.

I started my own business out of my home a year ago. I'm a blind person selling advertising, which I think is funny. I also do recruiting for the Yellow Pages industry and training salespeople to go beyond their comfort zone - to do things they don't want to do to achieve their goals, which is basically what I had to do when I lost my sight.

The biggest awareness of the change in my life came when I had grandchildren and I couldn't see them. One's almost 4 and one's almost 1. It's a little more comfortable with my 4-year-old because he talks to me, he'll sit in my lap and we can play games - I'll throw a ball, or he'll throw a ball toward me.

In the case of my wife, I was always aware of her appearance. She was very much into health and we worked out together, so we were always close on that level.

When we go out now she tells me what she's wearing so I kind of have an idea of how she looks and I have my arm around her so I know how she feels. I really don't think about the fact that she looks different now. She looks as beautiful as she did six years ago!

We've adjusted very well. We have a very busy life. We do a lot of activities, and she's very supportive of me. We go snowshoeing, we go dancing, we work out together. We go to the beach all the time. I swim, I've tried a rock-climbing wall with someone guiding me. So we have a good life.

And I can't see that I've lost more hair, so that's a plus.

For more information:

The Associated Blind Inc., a nonprofit that assists people with physical disabilities to achieve financial independence through mainstream employment. (212) 683-4950

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