You only value something when you no longer have it!
I have lost loved ones, I have lost material objects, have been picked pocketed and have lost good friends. But 22 October of 2016 was a day that I pray will never happen to me again. It was the day that I lost my vision.
Let me rewind the story and share with you my own experience and point out, how fortunate we are today because of science, technology and the innovative ideas of few people. It’s been almost an year now and recently two of my colleagues asked me how I am feeling and inquired about my eye condition. Hence the memory of the shock and pain.
I have been suffering from a condition that steadily degrade and destroy my retina. For those of you familiar with the anatomy of a human eye will know that this is the area where the photosensitive nerve cells capture light and helps us recognize images. The diagram below gives you a quick biological anatomy.
If you are familiar with digital camera technology, this is like the CCD – charge coupled device, an integrated circuit etched onto a silicon surface forming light sensitive elements called pixels. In my retina, a pin head size point called the Fovea of the right eye is badly affected. To make a long story short, no central vision. That makes reading and recognizing objects a tremendous challenge.
An Year ago, the condition was getting bad and I had to undergo a procedure called Photodynamic Therapy, a cold laser treatment of the eye to take a preventive measure from making a bad situation worse and to buy time from a gradual but complete loss of vision. The photo here shows how badly my retina is affected.
Scared, anxious and with a worried mind, I started to search the net, read, watch videos and consulted experts to understand how this procedure is done, what will be the possible results, drawbacks, what my options are, which country or hospital is best and the cost etc. I found that the chance of achieving my goal, that is controlling the situation has a 60% success, I will be visually impaired temporarily and there is a high chance that something can go wrong and I may not have vision again.
In my research, I found that a group of people ( most of them blind) have developed a cleaver applications that run on iPhone to assist and make life easier for the visually impaired and for the blind. KNFB Reader is this app. I watched videos how two blind persons demo its capabilities and how they can practically deal with day to day life. It was $99 and one time purchase. Combined with Siri, KNFB reader proved to be a remarkable tool. I practiced and learned how to use it, voice control it and understood what I needed to do for improving accuracy. Next was the issue of dealing with the constant flood of emails and my work. I found Windows Narrator and Cortana a fantastic combination that can help me with this part of the challenge.
Knowing that I have some technology support, morale support and assistance from my family, on 22 October 2016, I bravely went to SNEC ( Singapore National Eye Center) for the procedure. Soon after, I was blind. 8 days I had to be in complete darkness. No sunlight, no bright light and was confined to my hotel room. I realized what isolation means for prisoners. By the third day, I was bored to death. I grabbed my phone and got Siri and KNFB to help me. First was simple tasks like reading the time, room service menu and finding my medication. Soon graduated to reading mail, doing simple replies to text messages and e-mails. By the end of that week I was doing longer e-mails, reading documents with a great deal of difficulty and trying to get to a near normal life. During this ordeal, I was mid-way of an important on-line course and a couple of urgent deals to follow. None of them suffered and I was able to manage all my work with a great deal of effort. Visibility started to improve by the 6th day, on the 11th day I purchased a plastic magnifying card to read printed documents and only use the KNFB app if I can’t still make out things. Fortunately, the procedure had worked and I was able to restore the damage to some extent. A lot more to be done but this was already good. I managed to save one eye.
Advancement of technology and science has helped people like me and others with worst situations to navigate difficult times and enjoy life. Today we have companies building implants that will allow visually impaired to navigate the world. When I was a kid, I enjoyed a TV series called ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ ( Played by Le Majors). Science fiction at its best back in the day! The Character had a bionic Arm, Leg and an Eye.
Many decades later, Cannon has produced something very close to this bionic eye. I am sure, with continued funding and dedication of passionate engineers, we are not far from the day of walking in to a hospital, getting a bionic eye implanted and walking out to experience how beautiful this word is. I am truly grateful for all those people who have tirelessly worked to make iPhone and KNFB became an Eye for my Eye.