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Blind but with vision

(Editor’s Note: August is Sight Saving Month in the Philippines. The observance is meant to stimulate public awareness on the rights and welfare of blind persons. You too can be instrumental in helping the blind reach their full potential.)

It is believed that a disabled patient’s stubbornness and his caregivers’ indifference towards his needs ensure poor delivery of rehabilitative care…taking a deeper insight into these seemingly negative attitudes will allow us to utilize them positively… and successfully.

My 16-year-old son, Mikey, takes care of his Lolo Jose at every chance they are together. During the time his Lolo Jose was confined in the hospital for a blood clot in the brain, he worked on his high school essay while tending to him. Since he typed it in my laptop, I could not help but read it — and I am very glad I did. Following is his essay:

Most say you lose half your life once you go blind; some people say living without the sense of sight is useless. But my grandfather never lost hope despite the fact that he could not see. He is Lolo Jose, my grandfather on my mother’s side. He has been blind for most of his productive years. As the father of five siblings, he never let his being blind become an obstacle. In order to send my aunts and uncles to school, he made a living out of industrial fishing. He does the carpentry work of his children’s school projects and made them read to him instructions of any tool, equipment or machine that needs to be fixed or installed. Until today at the ripe age of 83, he remains unstoppable in doing laundry with the washing machine and fixing appliances even if he has already undergone a hip surgery for an accidental fracture. My mom always told me that she never thought of Lolo being blind as he finds his way in the house naturally, bathed and dressed her and her siblings effortlessly and had the unexplainable instinct to identify by footsteps alone who was in the room with him.

Every two years we visit his eldest daughter in Philadelphia. I have always known that traveling is a burden for Lolo Jose but because he knew how much my Tita Jo would love to see the entire family, he never declines the invitation. My daddy has tasked me to be with Lolo Jose during these family trips and I serve as his live walking cane. Being sighted and not knowing how much guidance my Lolo needs, I hold him with my left hand on his left arm with my entire right arm wrapped around his back up to his right shoulder. I believe that this is also the best way I can protect Lolo who mommy told me feels embarrassed with the thought of numerous “prying” eyes looking at a “blind” man. I always go to the bathroom cubicle with him, in order to make sure he’s alright.

Through those times that we were together, I came to learn that my Lolo wants to do things independently and feels uncomfortable with being overly “protected”. I distinctly remember several occasions when I offered help but Lolo seemed distant and cold. One unforgettable incident was last Christmas when Lolo woke up during our first day in Tita Jo’s house. A bit disoriented, he thought he was in his house and was on his way to his bathroom. Seeing that he was going around in circles and could not find the bathroom, I helped him out. He got mad at me and said “Alam ko itong bahay ko. Hindi mo ako kailangan tulungan”.

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I felt slighted by his response. All I wanted was to keep my Lolo Jose safe. I wanted to make sure he is alright. I just wished to help him. Every time I’m with him, I do not know why but I can’t stand seeing him groping his way to reach for things, exerting extra effort to find his food on the plate. Those were torturing moments for me and until now I found it difficult to understand why my mom and her siblings extend little assistance to Lolo’s needs. (End of essay.)

Thirty years ago, as a teenager, I expressed the very same sentiment which generated tremendous guilty feelings in my heart. I never quite understood why Mama allowed Papa to do tasks that even sighted people find challenging and sometimes dangerous too. I disliked Papa’s stubbornness for independence and seemingly know-it-all attitude which I rationalized as the reason why my siblings and I kept a distance from him.

As a mother to Mikey now, I realize the essence of why my Papa and Mama brought us up that way. Papa subliminally insinuated in our minds that the presence of disability does not mean loss of ability but utilizing other abilities. Mama consistently rubbed on us the attitude of providing discriminative care instead of pity and tapping the potential of remaining abilities. Indeed, they have been successful in inculcating these virtues in us because me and my sighted siblings have gravitated towards professions associated with uplifting of disabilities, and my blind siblings have chosen the same challenging path our Papa has taken — my sister into jewelry making and my brother into construction supply.

I am very thankful that Mikey has chosen my laptop as the medium for expressing his thoughts on his Lolo Jose. Accidental or not, I have found the perfect timing for explaining the reason for our seemingly indifferent attitude towards his Lolo Jose. And I hope, just as his Lolo Jose has hoped in his children, Mikey will see disability as an opportunity rather than a barrier and reinforce his belief that life need not be lived in the dark as one can be blind yet possess vision of a bright future.

(Dr. Penny Bundoc is adviser of Resources for the Blind Center in Naga City and advocate for equal opportunities and rights of the visually impaired.)

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