With my new glasses, I have more than the ability to see the world fully

This first-person article is Mark Selvidge’s experience of living with a brain injury. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see the frequently asked questions.

Sitting in my optometrist’s office for a regular appointment, all I could see was half of the eye chart and the world on my left side.

Most people have peripheral vision. They can see out of the corner of their eye.

I can’t.

It may seem insignificant. After all, it’s not like I’m completely blind. I can turn my head and still see the world to my right.

But as the doctor adjusted a prism on the right side of my glasses, I felt a rush of hope.

Today could be the day I finally see another 40 degrees on my right side – the part of the world I’ve been missing for 21 years.

Mark Selvidge, right, and his sister Nicole pose for a portrait in 2000. (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

When I was 11, when I should have been enjoying my childhood with friends, I was fighting for my life. My family was involved in a car accident and my sister Nicole died. I suffered a head trauma. The first few days were thrilling as I was on life support. I don’t remember much about this period, but my parents say that I was practically unresponsive for three weeks.

When I slowly regained consciousness, I felt confused and scared because I couldn’t understand why my body couldn’t move.

That’s when the hard work began. Just like a baby, I had to relearn just about everything. I had to learn to swallow, to direct my gaze where I wanted to look, to talk, to eat and drink, to dress, to walk, to think.

A boy surrounded by stuffed toys and balloons lies in a hospital bed and does the OK hand symbol.
Mark Selvidge’s mother traces his recovery in hospital after his accident. (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

I wanted to be independent and put in hours of hard work through tears and frustration in endless physiotherapy and occupational therapy sessions. When the dust settled, I was left with partial paralysis on my right side, tremors on my left side, and visual impairments including complete loss of peripheral vision on my right side.

After my accident, I literally missed it.

I remember my healthcare team telling me to keep scanning my eyes to the right so I could at least identify the dangers. Although I struggled with my disabilities at first, I tried to push my limits and with lots of support I became quite independent.

Over time, I ended up accepting my handicap. Today, I speak in elementary schools and have written a children’s book about how my brain injury makes me different. I learned to ride a bike again and took up sports like rock climbing, tandem skydiving and ziplining for fun.

A man climbs an indoor climbing wall.
Mark Selvidge rock climbed in Squamish, BC (Submitted by Mark Selvidge)

But even in those great moments, I sometimes feel sad because I could only see half of what life presented before me.

When a woman on my right flirted with me, I missed it and it’s a shame! I’d hit people if they were even a little to my right where I wasn’t looking.

A basic rite of passage for many teenagers has also eluded me: I was never able to get my driver’s license because of my visual impairments. I know I could ask my friends and family to drive me, but I don’t want to feel like I’m intruding on them. The bus doesn’t always go where I want to go. I could take a cab but sometimes the fares look like highway robbery. I miss the independence that an extra 40 degrees would have given me.

Over the years, therefore, I have explored various options to expand my right peripheral vision. I experimented with concave and convex mirrors in front of my left eye, and a video camera and screen combination mounted on my glasses. The latter seemed a bit silly to me, even.

When my last doctor suggested a new fresnel prism, which can stick to the lens of a glass and has been used by other traumatic brain injury sufferers, I thought I might as well give it a try .

That’s how I ended up in the optometrist’s office. I was cautiously optimistic. I had already been disappointed and wasn’t sure what to expect.

When that prism clicked into place and I was finally able to see on my right side again, it felt different. Suddenly, the world to my right came into focus. I could see! Well, I could see more of my world. I could now see the fan that was to the right of the eye chart. Wait… I might as well see more of the optometrist.

Wow Wow Wow!

I started crying. I could not believe my eyes ! I just couldn’t believe my eyes.

It’s been three months since I got my new glasses. I still have a disability — it hasn’t changed. But that means I don’t have to turn my head to see what’s happening to my right. And this small change has big impacts.

A pair of glasses sits on top of a laptop.
Mark Selvidge’s new glasses let him see an extra 40 degrees to his right, the part of the world he’s been missing for 21 years. (Mark Selvidge)

Over the past few months, my neck has trained less! Having this extra vision makes me more confident to navigate my daily life.

I still can’t drive. I still need to be an advocate for myself and feel compelled to share what it means to live with a disability. But I also have hope that with continued improvements in autonomous vehicle technology, changes in licensing regulations, and my own determination, one day I might get behind the wheel and drive.

In the meantime, I shall enjoy seeing the world again on my right.

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