Craig's Take: Memoir was race against worsening vision loss
Published Friday, October 28, 2011 7:14AM EDT
I started work on my memoir about a lifetime in the news trenches nearly 15 years ago when I still had relatively useful vision.
I worked on the book in the intervening years in fits and starts but as time went on until I finished the book in late April, it became a race against the enveloping darkness of vision loss.
In the mid-seventies at the age of 35 I was diagnosed with glaucoma, which is a painless but incurable eye disease.
It is caused by a pressure build up in the eyeball, which unreleased, squeezes the blood supply in the optic nerve, eventually leading to blindness.
In television terms, I think of it as a weakening and eventual disconnection of the cable between the camera and the TV screen at home.
In most cases, glaucoma is an ailment of older people and usually before vision loss becomes complete in those cases, the grim reaper gets them.
I cannot, of course, know how long I've had the ailment before it was diagnosed but even when I started writing the book in my late 50s, I could no longer read small print. I soon realized what a great benefit the digital era and computer science had become in my life.
For the first few years as my sight slowly diminished, I was able to adjust by making the font on the computer larger.
That went along fine in those periods when glaucoma takes a rest while it gathers strength for a new offensive, which it does from time to time, requiring the skilled surgeons at the Ottawa Eye Institute first to use lasers and later cold knife surgery to relieve the pressure in my eyeballs.
In the last 10 years however, despite their best efforts, I first lost central vision in one eye, then a few years later in the other, which meant I was using peripheral vision to see and thus lacked any visual acuity or sharpness.
When people ask what I now see, I tell them the world is ill-defined sloshes of colours and shapes without detail. People are moving shadows who I can often not identify until I recognize their voice.
I can describe it best as something close to the paintings of the 19-century French Impressionists. If you like Monet you would like my world, which is not so bad.
However, it meant I was no longer able to read anything, even on the computer.
But fortunately, however, there is computer software for the visually-impaired called Jaws, which reads everything on the computer screen aloud to me.
For instance, when I am typing an email, it also tells me what words I am printing, letter by letter.
In the last year of intensive writing while I completed the memoir, I don't mind admitting it has been a laborious process.
When I wanted to make changes in the copy, it could sometimes take five or ten minutes to find the line I needed to amend and as I wrote, I had to focus carefully on the letters I was hitting while creating a word, and sometimes forgot which letters I had punched.
I owe a lot to a patient editor, Jan Walter, who sometimes had to translate what appeared to be Egyptian hieroglyphics, which wasn't what she had signed on for.
Other times, I did what I am doing now to finish this book, which is dictating it into a tape recorder and playing it back for someone to type out for me.
When I appear on television, although I have thought about what I want to say beforehand, everything I deliver to camera is ad-libbed since of course I cannot read a teleprompter.
The CTV crews have created a small yet intense portable light which is placed on the camera in the studio so I know which direction to look toward.
When I have to do voiceovers, which is reading a script over video, I write it myself but a producer repeats it to me through an earpiece and I voice it aloud for the recording.
On the street, my enemies are stairs and bicycles and I worry about the coming revolution of electric automobiles. To say the least, I'd like to hear them coming.
Taken in all, however, it is not nearly as difficult as it sounds and I try to persuade people who are newcomers to the world of Mr. Magoo that visual impairment, if approached optimistically, is no more than a nuisance.
CTV's Craig Oliver will answer readers' questions during a live chat on CTVNews.ca on November 2 at 1 p.m. ET. Be sure to join in.