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Jul 6, 2020 Guest Posts Susie Elelman 256 views

The eyes are the mirror of the soul

This modified proverb is first credited to Cicero, a Roman philosopher (106-43 B.C.), where it’s believed that a person’s thoughts can be determined by looking into their eyes and I place a lot of credence in that theory.

Having the gift of sight is something I never take for granted as I watch on a daily basis how my nephew Matthew, who is legally blind, deals with life and the limitations that come with little or no vision.

I know first-hand how tough it can be living with hearing loss but of all my senses, I would definitely find being visually impaired the most challenging to my independence, which is why I have the utmost admiration for those who are living without sight.

One of those people I hold in high esteem is John Thompson, who used to be the switchboard operator at the Tallawarra power station, south of Wollongong. I met John when I first started my media career at WIN TV in the 1970s. Despite being blind, John was heavily involved in the community and President of his local Apex Club and I would sometimes get to be in his company at various events around town.

I’ve noticed when one of our senses is compromised, we invariably develop a heightened awareness of another.

In my nephew’s case, Matt seems to have acquired supersonic hearing to compensate and for John Thompson, he could instantly recognise people’s voices.

Whenever I phoned the power station or saw him in person, all I had to do was say hello and John would immediately recognise it was me and mine wasn’t the only voice he could decipher in an instant.

John had a wicked sense of humour and I remember one night in the early 1980s, when I was reading the WIN Nightly News, we were both at Dapto Leagues Club for a big event. John made me laugh so hard when he told me he felt it was time he bought a colour TV to replace his old set. When I asked him why he would bother to get a colour TV he said it was because he was sick of listening to me in black and white.

John was one of the first people to show me how losing your sight didn’t mean you couldn’t still live life to the fullest and make a wonderful contribution and help others he believed were far worse off than him.

Having been blessed with 20/20 vision since birth, it was a hard adjustment for me to make when my eyesight started to deteriorate. While I could still see things that were far away, it started to become harder to read a newspaper or order off a menu in a restaurant, let alone take a quick look at the price on a swing tag in a dress shop before the sales staff could accost me.

I remember Mum always said, “You’ll know when you need glasses because your arm won’t be long enough” and of course she was right.

According to my eye specialist Dr Con Moshegov, who I regularly interviewed on my radio program on 2GB, our vision generally starts to deteriorate in our mid 30s but we often don’t do anything about it until we are in our 40s.

I hated wearing glasses to read and it wasn’t a vanity thing as I had some very stylish glasses that I wore. Although back then women wearing glasses were rarely seen on TV and if you did need to wear them, then they had to be fitted with a special lens to stop them flaring from the studio lights above. It was more the inconvenience of wearing glasses that I disliked. I didn’t enjoy having to always search for my glasses and ended up having a pair beside the bed and in various other spots around my home.

Whenever I worked on radio, TV or emceeing I always had two pairs with me, just in case, because without them I couldn’t have done my job. And it was lucky that I did carry a spare pair on more than one occasion.

I remember once while emceeing the wedding of two good friends of mine, I went to go up on the stage and tripped and fell face first. I had my reading glasses in my hand, which were made of a fine wire with two small lenses that hung from the sleek frame and you could barely see that I was wearing anything. As I fell I put my hands out to break my fall and when I hit the ground, my glasses crumbled in my hand and cut deeply into the cheek of my palm.

The glasses were so mangled that I couldn’t put them on so I doubled back, quickly grabbed my second pair from my handbag and at the same time took a serviette from the nearest table and wrapped it tightly around my hand to stem the blood flow.

That’s when I decided to get rid of my glasses once and for all and I booked in for laser surgery. It’s a painless operation that takes less than fifteen minutes and the results were remarkable and not just for someone like me who couldn’t read the small print anymore.

On the day of the surgery, the young woman booked in before me was running late, it turns out she was so nervous she was pacing around outside plucking up the courage to go through with it. While we were waiting for her to arrive I got to chatting with her friends, who had turned up to support her. They were telling me that she was only 18 and her eyesight was so poor she couldn’t ever go swimming in the ocean as she couldn’t see the waves breaking.

She finally arrived and was asked by the nurse, who came out to take her into theatre, to leave her glasses with her friends. As soon as she did she had to hold on tightly to the nurse to guide her across the reception area. A little later as I was being prepped inside by the same nurse, I saw her walking back from her surgery and she was looking all around in absolute amazement exclaiming with sheer delight about everything she could now see. This was despite the blurry vision she had from the drops they put in your eyes before the surgery.

I mentioned this to Dr Moshegov as I took my place for the same surgery and he grinned from ear to ear telling me how she’ll be even happier when she wakes up in the morning as she’ll be seeing even better and he was right. When I woke up the next day I had perfect vision once more.

Laser surgery is great when you’re younger but my eyes did continue to worsen as I aged, so a few years ago I went back to Dr Moshegov and had total lens replacement surgery on both my eyes, which again is a simple operation but you are not awake when they do this one. Once again I have 20/20 vision and can even thread a needle without needing a magnifying glass.

There are lots of other eye issues we all need to be aware of such as glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration and in my case, floaters.

I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to have regular eye check-ups and at my recent annual appointment with Dr Moshegov I mentioned I could see spots and what looked like spider webs in my field of vision, which turned out to be floaters and I underwent some simple treatment to remove them.

To make us all appreciate and look after our sight even more, I’ll leave the last word to one of the most famous blind people in living history, the remarkable US author, political activist, and lecturer Helen Keller (1880 – 1968), who was the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Of all the senses, sight must be the most delightful.

Take care…cheers susie

About The Author - Susie Elelman

Susie Elelman is an Australian television presenter, radio broadcaster, and author, most famous for her appearances on daytime television in Australia. She has been an ambassador of the Australian Menopause Centre since 2016 and it is a pleasure to have such an influential figure support our work.

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