Design gets it in the eye

Sight is priceless for us all. Janice Kirkpatrick tells us about the day her worst nightmare nearly came true, in the private view that could have been the final view.

I resolve never to whinge about working again.

I’ve been fairly lucky all my life. Years of mucking about with horses, kick-boxing, bikes and idiot friends have left me with nothing worse than fond memories and a few scars. I have burst bones, fallen from bikes, horses, cars and down quarries, been threatened with guns and knifes, almost blown-up and beaten up. I have the utmost respect for doctors and I keep well away from hospitals.

The one thing I worry about is losing my sight. I have regular eye tests and always ride with my visor down. I never change scalpel blades without my specs on. I wear hypo-allergenic mascara. I don’t stare at the computer screen all day. I wear good quality sunglasses. I am insured against blindness. I am insured against the possibility that I may never work again, never earn again, never be able to pay the mortgage again.

So what? Everyone pays insurance and no one really believes it will happen to them.

My experience of blindness comprises a colour-blind brother, people with collecting cans and the odd pavement encounter with white sticks, labradors and Roy Orbison specs. I try not to think about what it must feel like to be blind, it’s too awful to imagine. All my life I have enjoyed near-perfect sight, until Monday 23 June.

It’s five o’clock. I’ve worked the weekend and Monday feels like Friday. I have a presentation with a new client on the south side of the city – murder to get to at rush hour. The car has a soft back tyre and needs petrol so I decide to take the bike and unearth a portfolio small enough to bungee on to the pillion seat. My own bike is in the garage, and they have kindly loaned me one which doesn’t have convenient bungee points. My elastic net is too small. I remember seeing blue elastic bungee ropes with black plastic-coated hooks which would stretch across the bike. I find them alongside car polish and chain lube in the kitchen. I take my specs off. I’m tired and whingeing. I decide to fix the presentation to the bike before putting my leathers and helmet on.

I carry the portfolio and blue elastic bungee ropes into the car park. I place the folio on the pillion seat, hook one bungee on to the right pillion footrest hanger and stretch it across the portfolio to clip it on to the left hanger. It’s a tight fit and won’t go around the metal casting that holds the hinged footpeg. I flip the stubby metal footpeg down and hook the bungee around it. It’s quite a stretch but just grips. I think it should be more securely fastened, just to be on the safe side. I start to unhook it, it slips off the tapered end of the footpeg and lashes, hook-first, into my face. I can’t see out of my left eye. The adrenaline rush nearly knocks me over as my brain computes that something has happened. I see stars and circular rings of smoky light but no picture. I’ve gone and done it now.

My partner, Ross Hunter, drives me to the Accident Emergency. He’s on the wrong side of the road most of the way. I’m keeping serious panic under control and feel my voice getting higher and higher. I realise that my world may never be the same again. I try to open my eye and keep repeating that I can’t see. I’m too scared to let him see it. I don’t want to hear that my eye looks like a scrambled egg. The traffic at the cathedral is blocked in both directions. I decide to make a run for the hospital on foot. I fall over because I have no depth of field.

I tell the receptionist I am a blind designer. She gets a doctor. The doctor looks like someone from ER. My eye isn’t punctured. He issues an urgent call for the ophthalmologist. I’m in luck, an ophthalmologist was taking a short-cut home through the AE, he’ll see me now. I don’t feel lucky.

The waiting room is the Somme. Everyone is staring at me. I feel remote. I see orange light as blood bubbles up in my eye. I am scared. Two hours later they try to hospitalise me. I convince them I live nearby but will succumb to any demand that will restore my vision. I would deal with the devil.

There is bleeding. Amazingly, I have no corneal damage. I need bed rest, no movement. The hospital has no anaesthetic eye drops left. I feel I have been kicked in the face by a horse. I send Ross across the city to find a pharmacy in a Govan supermarket. I sleep for three days. I can’t drive or exercise for a month. I should slowly mend.

My temporary new world is a strange and unhappy place. I can’t look my friends in the eye when I talk, my behaviour is misconstrued. I feel misunderstood. I can’t drink, can’t dance, can’t run.

I only feel normal when I watch the television because I don’t notice my distorted depth of field. I can’t drive. I can’t ride my bike. Everything I see has close-ups of eyes; models and actors staring, glancing, looking, watching, expressing and communicating in a way I can’t. I feel inadequate and powerless. I don’t want David Bowie eyes.

I want my sight back quickly. I want my life back. I can’t wait for long shifts in the studio. Designing is now a privilege. Nothing else really matters.

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