He is 50 years old and has been living with a glass eye for 49 years. Happy. “Life does not only have two sides”, he says, but he doesn’t feel handicapped. KinderAugenKrebsStiftung thanks a man who was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was 1 year old, for a very personal, beautiful story about life with a glass eye.
Life does not always have two sides….
Today in the age of 46 I look back on my life with a smile on my face, a life which I have lived with only one eye.
My aunt discovered a spot on my eye 45 years ago simply by chance and thanks to a doctor I was shortly transferred to the clinic in Essen. There I was diagnosed with a rapidly growing retinoblastoma, which developed in both directions, thus also in the direction of the optical nerve. Within a day my left eye was removed and I from then on have lived with a glass eye.
The first time I actually understood my handicap was by means of a picture when I was five years old. On the picture I looked from bottom to top and I noticed me being cross-eyed. My mum explained me the situation as well as she could and I was content without having actually understood it. My eyes moved differently than in other children, I was sure of that, but due to the fact that my glass eye also moved thanks to the remaining musculature, no one really noticed and the “cross-eyed looks” were accepted.
This was probably the best that could happen to me, since I never felt handicapped at the time or even disabled. Especially, I tried out a lot of sports in my school time, the more dangerous the better. Always aiming for the best certificate and for success. I especially liked ball games. Since I was seven, I have played tennis and handball and never have had the feeling not to be able to properly catch or hit a ball. My team colleagues never actually noticed my handicap and I was thus equally involved in rights and duties. No specials for me – no reason for it.
I unconsciously compensated for my missing three-dimensional sight. My brain compensates for that in a way that I am still fascinated abut. Technically I would have to see my surroundings like a picture in front of me but it’s not like that. I can even watch 3D movies, but need the silly glasses to get rid of the shadows.
However, I did get to know the limits of my “physics” during a dinner that my parents gave for friends. Us children were in service and I was asked to pour in wine. I did feel uncomfortable with that task even in the age of 8, but let it be unnoticed and eagerly, poured more wine in. Of course it came as it must have, and I spilled some wine, since back then I didn’t have the experience and the tricks that I now have. The following chain reaction, the glass tipping over and so on, let me leave the room ashamed. I never again wanted anything like that. Today I use the shade of the glass and bottle to “hit the glass” or I shortly lean the bottle on the glass. Most people wouldn’t even notice.
In the age of 13, I came into a boarding school due to the separation of my parents. From now on the world of sports opened wide for me and I also got to know a certain manual dexterity in myself. Volleyball and Hockey, Squash and skiing became my favorite sports. I was an average student, neither really good nor really bad. But in sports I exceeded and ambitiously tried to always be the best. Through intuition and observation I made it to school champion in different disciplines. At the same time my sharp vision helped me with difficult handcrafts such as model constructions and the like.
During puberty the other gender became more important to me too. First I ignored it and compensated for it with my sports, but had my first girlfriend in the age of 15. It became different from now on. I started to feel ashamed about the eye. I caught myself looking starred eyed in conversations and move my head instead of the eyes. Typical question like “why me” came into being. In the collective, I was indeed accepted but also, kind of a loner. Was that about me or the glass eye? One or another commentary I was able to ignore with sovereignty but somehow, the situation annoyed me. My girlfriend back then never said a word about it.
Next to sports, which were the most interesting part in boarding school for me, I was given responsibilities for younger students. For one part, I became a tutor but also I was given other duties. Since I had started surfing and this way refreshed my prior knowledge about sailing, I was shortly entrusted with guiding the nautical sports. Guiding this group was a lot of fun. I loved the water, on the one hand enjoyed watching the development of my schoolmates concerning sailing – on the other hand I felt satisfaction in the function of being a leader. Within a short period of time, I received all sailing licenses there were, from the so-called “A license” to the sailing boat license to the “BR licence”. Unfortunately, my handicap caught up with me, since I was not allowed to pull water skier. There are worse things and besides, I enjoy hanging on to a boat and riding the waves way more…..
After an exchange year in Canada I actively started with artistic gymnastics in 12th grade. We were a group of boys, more or less talented, but with a lot of enthusiasm and our teacher a grinder. He managed to provoke and train me to my last bits. Since I had always been, possibly due to being one-eyed, very ambitious to be better than the others, he trained me to be my best self. This concerned not only my physical abilities but also my mental strength at the time. On the physical side coordination was no component of seeing, but of body control and thus, I managed every exercise on parallel bars, the high bar, rings and on the floor.
Next to artistic sports, squash belonged to my favorite sports. In squash, I was able to burn myself out in the shortest time and besides, was able to mentally test my squash partner. I loved these situations. By turning my head pretty fast, I compensated for the missing visual field. Of course this was pretty risky, since I didn’t wear eye protection. I was aware of this risk but it was often conquered by my ambition. In my studies, I held on to this sport and only due to deteriorations in my back, I stopped. Ever since I stick to my “old” favorite sports of my childhood, skiing in winter, windsurfing and sailing in summer as well as going to the gym regularly. Especially in skiing I realize that I also rely on my hearing senses besides my vision and mainly use the left side of the track, whenever I am not in between the trees and bushes, embedded in snow. Snowboarding is a special challenge, as I cannot completely compensate for the missing sight. But because I wouldn’t want to miss it, I mainly snowboard when tracks are less full.
Of course I was a fan of cars as a young fella. I drove Mokick since I was sixteen and got my driver’s license with my A-level without any complaints. Estimating distances does not cause any difficulties and thanks to my good reaction times I have driven without any accidents so far. My disposition to drive fast was eventually taken away by “Flensburg” and I now believe to be a more defensive driver (My wife possibly thinks differently…). My shoulder view is a bit more intensive than in other drivers and I use the mirrors more often. All in all, I compensate for my missing special vision and only feel uncomfortable in the car when it’s heavenly raining or snowing.
My ambitious time in boarding school ended with excellent grades in sports and other than that an “okay” (round about grade C) in my A-levels. My priorities were pretty clear. After some internships, I started my studies in Münster. In the beginning, my study time wasn’t equally balanced with extensive parties and I used a lot of my time with partying. I moved in a legendary flat together with my best friend who still is my best friend today and so we fully enjoyed study life. However, even though we didn’t stop partying or doing sports we slowly learned to appreciate the serious side of life. We still went on surf trips and did sports, but focused more and more on a successful graduation. My girlfriend became my constant companion and pushed me in the right direction. She gave me support and self confidence and tried to hold me back from large stupidities. She accepted me with all my mistakes and revealed a certain mindfulness concerning my eyesight. This way, my eye doctor’s visits as well as my visits in Wiesbaden to my ocularist Müller&Söhne became more regular again. Today, she has been my wife for almost 24 years and also, she is the mother of my two sons. My children were extremely often tested for retinoblastoma in the Clinic of Essen, since the two of us did not want to take any risks. Of course that proofed to be very difficult, as babies neither especially like to fly all the way from Munich to Düsseldorf without having had anything to eat nor then being kept still for some time. They were checked under a general anesthesia just like I was back in the day. They were and still are free from any diagnoses. That won’t change any longer – in the age of now 16 and 20. The medical check-ups, anyhow, stopped quite some years ago. My tumor physically still exists – but is kept fixed with Formalin, so that the results of the genetic screening couldn’t say for sure that it wouldn’t be inherited.
After my first class degree, I started my career in the area of counseling and due to my qualifications on the technical and economic side, logistics became my area. My ambition soon became my driving force again and within eight years, the small counselor became vice president. The high mobility and especially the numerous flights and the bad air involved irritate my eyes immensely. I have nearly chronic conjunctivitis and I am always accompanied by eye drops. Since I am not especially occupied with cleaning the glass eye, practically never take it out, and because I mostly quickly rub it with my hand instead of an antiseptic cloth, I have to live with these complications. In my vanity, I notice that my eyelid does not close properly anymore once I am tired. That is especially the case in the evenings and is due to missing tear fluid that I sometimes compensate for with artificial tears. Additionally, I do not get any younger and so I just recently got my first glasses to help with my age-related long-sightedness (apart from round about 100 sunglasses that I love in every shape…).
Today in the age of 50 I look back on my life with a smile on my face and thank God, my aunt and the doctors that I still have my eyesight, because I love life. Disadvantaged? I don’t think so!
01.09.2010 | Leading Spirits