Sunday, March 24, 2013

Windows to the Soul

As I’m listening to the Internet radio this afternoon, “Take on Me” by A-Ha came on and I was instantly reminded of May 10th, 2010.
“You listen to A-Ha?” some might ask with a snicker, considering the band was a momentary big deal way back in the mid-eighties but is now unheard of in most North American circles. So bear with me, if you will, while I explain the connection of nostalgia between that song and myself. 

Firstly, the video for “Take on Me” influenced my desire to become an animator, a very important decision in the course of my life as I had, up until that moment, been studying at University to become a teacher. Secondly, that same song was also playing when I met my future husband on the very first day at Sheridan College. He popped in a cassette tape on his car stereo, while driving me home that afternoon instead of making me take a bus, prompting a conversation which began with me asking rather incredulously, “You like A-Ha, too?” and ending up with him rather gentlemanly making certain I was walked to my door with the promise of meeting up again the next day. 

But bringing us back to May 10th  2010, I had missed A-Ha’s only other concert played in Toronto during their inaugural about 20 years earlier when I was 16 or so, and thanks to a quirk of fate, very nearly missed seeing them again, this time on their farewell tour. 

You see, I had bought the tickets the second they'd become available several months previous, was elated to have scored floor seats about ten rows back from the stage, had arranged for my very kind brother and sister-in-law to watch my son for that evening. I was excited and all ready to go...until about two weeks before the concert date, I woke up half blind.
Imagine, if you will, opening your eyes in the morning and you can't really see half of what you're certain you could when you went to sleep the night before. What would you do?
Well, blinking didn't help clear up the problem. Closing my eyes for a few more minutes didn’t chase away the blurry, shadowy, glittery blob which covered the right side of my vision. So, I placed a call to my doctor and another call to work with the somewhat lame-sounding excuse of, “Um, I don’t think I can come in today…I’m having trouble seeing.”  

At the doctor’s we determined many things; the problem wasn’t the result of a stroke or some kind of psychological fit, it wasn’t full-on blindness, it wasn’t completely debilitating. It was, however, getting worse; very slightly, but noticeable by me when trying to read.  The doctor couldn’t make a determination. I needed tests done. She’d get me looked at fast, she said, and placed a few calls with colleagues.

I went home, bewildered for the most part. I could still see enough to go through my daily routine. The mental struggle to see around the glittery/blank/shadowy spot, however, soon began causing headaches and the most intense fatigue of my life. I tried my hardest to keep reading and keep writing on my computer, to keep driving and living my life like ‘normal’. I went to work, cooked dinner, did laundry, and pretended everything was fine. I was determined to be strong and not give into the fear of the unknown which plagued me with every squint and blink of my eyes.  

But when the tests came back to say there was a lesion in my brain, disrupting my right visual pathway, I could no longer pretend fearlessness.  My doctor, with the grace and kindness she possesses, wrote a note explaining to one and all that I was not to work or drive until further notice and that I was to rest as much as possible until a cause for this troublesome lesion could be determined and a course of action taken to cure it. 

“It could be a tumor,” she said, “We don’t know for sure. The CT scan will give us some clues. You also need an MRI.”

Oh s*it, *gulp* and all of those types of things passed through my mind. What was wrong with me? Would I lose a chunk of my brain, or even worse, my life? This couldn't be happening. I had a 6-year old child for God's sake and a husband who needed me. This couldn't be happening. And why now? Why when I had this concert to go to, which I had waited so long to see, why throw this at me now? I couldn't understand it. There are no reasons when these things happen. Sometimes life just gives you the short straw.

In the spirit of optimism, I joked with the nurse at the hospital that when URGENT is written on your chart paperwork in big red letters, it’s probably a bad thing. She stared at me and said, unsmiling, “It’s better than CRITICAL.”

True. Very true. And because my headaches weren’t acute and I could still see a bit, I wasn’t CRITICAL. I was allowed to go home and wait for the call to go in for my CT scan, which could be anytime from a day to a week. For someone who’s sick, that’s an eternity of time to sit and wonder and start praying for mercy while the fear of the unknown grows inside until it becomes so obnoxious it infects the people around you too. Because that’s what happens when you’re sick and you don’t know what’s wrong. A thousand ‘what if’s’ invade your mind, a thousand doubts afflict your body, and the people closest to you go through it all too, just as scared by it all as you.

 May 10th arrived shortly thereafter, the day of the concert. I suppose it’s fitting they called me in for my CT scan that same morning, because A-Ha’s music seems to have been there for many of the important times in my life. I was sent home with the understanding that until I had my results and the doctor had spoken with me, I would continue to rest and not do anything exciting. Concerts were definitely out.

Um...right.  Or rather, wrong.

At that point, I made the decision that I was done with being terrified. Sure, it was scary, but if my fears came true and the situation was, in fact, ‘the worst’, why would I want to miss the chance to live my life to its fullest while I still could? What point was there in putting my life on hold for 'what if's'?

Half-blind, weak and emotionally exhausted, I went to the concert anyway. I stood in the packed hall, propped up by my husband’s strong arms so that I literally would not tip over, and squinted and cheered and fell in love all over again. The experience was unbelievable, probably the best night of my life (aside from my wedding and the birth of my son.) Even though I couldn’t see them very well, A-Ha was ten rows away, performing “Take on Me,” and at my side, the man who made it possible for me to be there and who has stood by me since the day we met, holding my hand when I’ve needed it most, and even when I thought I didn’t. I couldn’t have imagined a better combination to help me face the fear and begin to heal.

“You have MS.” My doctor said a couple of weeks and several more tests later. “The partial blindness will clear up in about 6-week’s time. Chances are good you’ll never have a full attack again.”

Whew. Bullet dodged. Not a tumor. No one had to crack open my skull and take a piece of my brain out. I was going to be, in medical terms, relatively fine.

And luckily my doctor was right. I did slowly get my vision back a few weeks later, and my life a few months after that.  So far, other than some blips on the radar, for the past nearly three years my vision has stayed fairly clear. Its true, I make silly, embarrassing type-o’s—a lot of them. I stumble with words when speaking and writing. I gap-out. I’m slower with finishing stories than I ever, EVER, wanted to be (this simple blog post, for instance, has taken me all of an afternoon and the better part of an evening to write). But I’m okay, and even if I go half-blind again or if some other crisis happens, I’ll still be okay. 

Because I’ve never forgotten what I learned at that A-Ha concert on May 10, 2010 with the music deafening my ears and the crowd of fans screaming along to the songs, and my husband at my side. Vision, true vision, does not come from what we see with our eyes, but what we see with our soul. Life truly is what you make it, so love it, no matter if the world goes black at times. Appreciate every second.
Losing my sight opened my eyes to the strength I have inside. Would I have learned that lesson if I hadn't gone to the concert that night? Maybe, maybe not. But I do know, one of the things that got me through the almost paralyzing fear, was having that concert to go to, and for that reason, as well as many others, I will always smile when I hear A-Ha singing, “Take on Me."
Thanks for stopping by.


  1. You're a brave lass Kate. Very inspiring.

  2. Thanks, Shehanne :) xo And thanks very much for stopping by today!