I Was 14 When My Mother Went Blind In An Instant
A baffling condition threw my mother into darkness and changed my family forever.
I was barely a teenager when my mother went blind. She was driving on the Canterbury Highway in Sydney when it happened in a matter of seconds. The road signs started to blur. The letters started to vanish.
She pulled over quickly, reached for her phone and dialled the first number before it fully disappeared.
My dad answered his phone.
“You have to come pick me up, I can’t see,” my mother said.
She was blind and frightened, crying frantically as she rubbed her eyes, hoping her vision would return.
My father rushed her to the hospital, but her case only baffled the doctors, who did a multitude of tests but were confused by the results.
They asked my mum so many questions: Do you have asthma? Do you smoke? Are you taking any medication? They performed a blood test and urine tests but they all came back clear. She was as healthy as any 44-year-old mother-of-two.
So how was it possible for her to just suddenly lose her sight?
When a wave of people flooded the room to examine my mother, she sat in a chair, clenching onto both armrests and the hope that she would see again.
Our family was in shock, and our mother was in darkness. Anyone who walked past her became ghost-like figures, similar to those in distorted mirrors you see at carnivals.
Soon, very sadly, my mum lost her will to live.
One of two children, my 17-year-old brother told me it was time for us to step up, and without hesitation, I obliged. I left school and vowed to do whatever it took to support our family.
I was asking myself to grow up way too quickly and felt lost, confused, almost blind myself. I didn’t know how to feel or what to say, so I chose -- subconsciously perhaps -- to block it out.
I’ll never forget how empty I felt. Like a zombie, exhausted and spent. But I tried not to show any emotion in front of my mother so I turned on the shower and disguised my tears.
Laying out all the alternatives, the doctor informed Mum that she might need to undergo an eye transplant in both eyes. Without a moment’s hesitation, my Dad offered one of his eyes.
The doctors were still baffled and could find nothing to compare the condition to in any of their textbooks or experience -- until they put the word out and discovered the story of a nun in Spain.
The Sister had the same symptoms as Mum, so they decided to treat her the same way, starting her on oral tablets, Panafcortelone, at a high dose, the only difference being that the nun had the steroids injected straight into her eyes. Mum was told that method would be the last resort if the tablets didn’t work. The only downside was that she could go blind permanently.
The high-dose tablets also increased her risk of getting Leukaemia, as the treatment would deteriorate her bones, but that was a risk she was willing to take.
Inflammation swelled her body as the steroids took hold. It affected her mentally and physically. Her weight fluctuated, her eyes deteriorated and she felt helpless, a burden on her family. She sat in silence.
My life had changed so much. Instead of going out with friends I would cook and clean. I looked after a home, a home that was now filled with uncertainty.
But after eight months of treatment, the unthinkable happened. Almost the kind of miracle you might expect a Spanish nun to preside over. My mother’s sight returned, as did our lives and the happiness in our household.
Eventually the doctors told us my mother had suffered from similar symptoms to a rare eye condition known as Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada Syndrome, that only two people in the world had at the time, her and the nun. Two people, worlds apart, unaware of the connection they shared.
My mother’s year in darkness was nine years ago now. But she is as grateful today as she was then that her eyesight has returned and she can see the people who adore her and who would have given their eyes for her to see again.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to.
This post first appeared on June 27, 2018.