Seriously, though…
Credit: Timothy Muza, StockSnap

Seriously, though…

March 18, 2023 Trevor Plumbly

There doesn't seem much point in bluffing it these days – the audience is a bit more limited and most of my mob know the script. It’s a shame, as I quite enjoyed the pretend years, shuffling around tentatively, wielding the cane like a staff of office and quietly enjoying muttered asides like, “It’s amazing the way he copes.”


Over the years, I've found lots of people tend to say superfluous stuff around blindies. My least favourite is, “I can't imagine what it’s like!” I usually reply, “Darkish.” There's nothing like flippancy to end pointless conversation. However, the technique got blown apart recently when my grandson asked the same question. Blindness is not a dinner-table topic in the Plumbly household; I tend to restrict my views on sight loss to BLVNZ or these pages. Truth be told, I dread the inevitable “Is it genetic?” and “Will I get it?” I skirted the problem, quite cunningly I thought, by posting him some of the pieces I'd written over the years, hoping a few grandfatherly ramblings might take the edge off things…


On the bright side

Cunning, I discovered, is a bit wasted on today's youngsters. When he turned up a week later and re-opened the interrogation, I got the impression today's teenagers have a more retentive train of thought. “You treat it like it’s a joke,” he said, “Why don't you write about the serious side?” The simple answer is that I can get enough reality second-hand without producing my own, and 'blindy moments' are far more fun. Like a young bank teller asking for driving licence ID before spotting the white cane and muttering, “Oh shit!” After I’d stopped laughing, she recovered enough to ask if I'd found a park OK – so who needs serious? I'm no stranger to accusations of treating sight loss lightly; it’s not that I'm trying to minimise anyone else's struggles, it’s just my way of dealing with it. However, some situations leave me convinced technology and retinitis pigmentosa are out to get me.


What the doctor ordered

Fortunately, I don't often need to phone the doctor, but when I do there's always been a shared reassurance about the process. But not anymore! This time, instead of the chirpy receptionist's, “How can we help today, Trevor?” I got a machine listing options. For me, options are OK in supermarkets and restaurants, but when they crop up as numbers on a screen I can scarcely see, I reckon it borders on selective torment. The problem was pressing the option I wanted, and aside from its inability to answer questions, the thing lacked patience. Before I could react to the change a disembodied voice intoned, “Press 1 for appointments… 2 for prescriptions…” all the way up to six. I naturally hesitated, so it promptly repeated itself as if I was a bit slow on the uptake and constant repetition was all it was going to offer.


Optional insanity

Facing what is lightly called a 'challenge' these days, I opted for the lateral-thinking approach. The automated voice seemed to operate on infinity mode, so a process of elimination looked like the best way to go. Fortunately, since I don't have a debilitating illness, time was on my side. The index-finger jab, which always produces some sort of reaction from my keyboard, failed abysmally. I felt I was close, but the voice continued to drone out the options. Next up, I used a two-fingered glide technique interspersed with random downward pressure, which quickly took me out of the mechanical monologue and into 'flight mode', without even leaving the armchair. Once back on terra firma, I perfected a multi-jab three-fingered stabbing attack at anything that faintly glowed. This eventually worked and I was able to blurt out my request for a prescription renewal. I briefly considered asking they include Valium to help me endure future calls, but the possibility of being shoved back into the options menu overrode any enjoyment I might have derived from that.


Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand

The new year sees a re-energised Plumbly – 'I shall not cease from mental strife' as William Blake sagely put it. Indeed, as I write, the brain seems to be the part of me closest to full working order. I will face 'challenges', not least the thin-ice phraseology non-medical folk clutter their sentences with. With law changes in the mix, it’s likely I and heaps of other blindies will become 'mainstreamed', 'enabled' and even 'empowered'. There will be debates, amendments and papers written using all manner of well-intended terms such as ‘transitional’ and ‘aspirational’. I'm looking forward to being part of this year's verbal snowstorm, if only to discover whether I'm actually 'disabled' or 'handicapped'. Once they get that sorted, I'll invite Sam back for more discussion. Meantime, if you spot an old boy in Ponsonby nursing a white cane and a confused expression, don't worry, it’s only me worrying whether to take sight loss seriously or not!


Born in the UK, our ‘white-caner’ columnist, retired Dunedin antiques dealer Trevor Plumbly, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa more than 20 years ago and now lives in Auckland.