Monday, April 08, 2013


God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. –Serenity Prayer I once knew a woman who used a TV reader. It had a camera to take a picture of a page and a big screen where letters were magnified in large proportion, so large that only a few of them could be viewed at any given moment. She kept it in her livingroom, close to her kitchen. While her husband was in charge of the family finances, she used it every day to read books, magazines, knitting patterns and recipes. Later, when more day-to-day responsibilities fell to her, she read the daily mail in its entirety with its assortment of letters, notices and bills. The reader came from the CNIB. She came into possession of the thing when she was in her late 70’s, a time when her glasses had more than disappointed her. She had age-related macular degeneration, they said. It would rob her of her central vision—her reading vision. These days I think often of this woman because I am meeting others like her. “I think I need some new glasses,” they say to the ophthalmologist. “You have age-related macular degeneration,” he says in response. “Glasses won’t help.” “I just think I need glasses,” they say to the technician in the ophthalmology clinic. “You have age-related macular degeneration,” says the technician. “Glasses won’t help.” They come to me. “What is your eye condition?” I ask. “I can’t remember the name,” they say. “I just think I should be having some new glasses. My glasses haven’t been changed in six years.” Early dementia, I say to myself in my best Clinical Counsellor language. Maybe depression too. Then I begin a conversation about the people they are, the things they love, the way they deal with problems, the things they have learned and taught and lived through. They sparkle, they shine, they laugh, they cry. They give me advice. They ask me questions. Doors of conversation that seemed closed are opened. Anything becomes possible! When an hour has passed and it is time for them to leave, I venture into a conversation that was impossible an hour earlier. “You know,” I say, “I work for the CNIB and I think we have some magnifiers that could help you. Would you like me to arrange for you to have a look at them?” “Oh thank you,” they say to me. Graciousness and gratitude fill the room. “I don’t think I want to be referred to the CNIB to look at magnifiers. I just think I need glasses. It’s been six years since they last changed my glasses.” I think of the woman who read bills and recipes under high magnification for the last 20 years of her life and I wonder what made her different from them.

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