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‘Soon, we shall have a house full of blind people’

TODAY is January 1, 2020, an important year the whole world has been looking forward to. It has been the subject of our discourse locally and internationally, since 1999 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) commenced the global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness – Vision 2020: The Right to Sight.

The great plan of action sought to promote “a world in which nobody is needlessly visually impaired, where those with unavoidable vision loss can achieve their full potential.” It’s time to take stock how well we have done.

Sadly, Nigeria has fallen behind in its promise to deliver. There are still hundreds of thousands of people with blinding cataracts in our midst who with simple cataract surgery can have their vision restored.

Then the events of the last few days have been quite disturbing. I won’t bother you with these. I try to brush them aside but they keep echoing in my head. This isn’t me, ever so boisterous! Friends have asked if I ever have sad moments. “Yes, I do once in a while,” I have replied.

Today is one of such odd days. I am all alone and by myself sitting in front of a huge mirror. I see my face in the mirror and take a glance at the photograph of my late father hanging on the wall by the mirror. I am stunned at what I see. The guy in the mirror bears a striking resemblance to the picture on the wall. I can’t believe it! It’s me – a mirror image! I am always being told that I look like my father. I never paid attention to it until now.

I am 50 years old today. The picture on the wall was taken on my father’s 50th birthday. What an uncanny coincidence! My father had glaucoma and was almost blind at 55. He could still manage to see his way around, but had tremendous difficulty driving a car. After a few small, lone accidents, no-one told him he should give up driving.

Now, I am scared. It seems I have taken after him in looks and all? I was told I had glaucoma  five years ago. Am I going the same way? My father had lost his sight completely by the time he was 65 years old.

“How much longer do I have to keep my sight? My paternal uncle and aunt (my father’s older brother and his younger sister) were blind much earlier, but because they lived in the village where blindness was associated with age, they never visited a hospital and the cause of his blindness was never known before they died. Now, I am thinking it must have been glaucoma and that’s even more frightening.

I’ll find out from my eye doctor if glaucoma is hereditary. It looks plausible. If my father and his siblings had been blind from glaucoma, then there must be a strong genetic link in our family. I am worried about my children.

Can I really wait until tomorrow? What will the doctor say? I can hear my heart beating very fast. All of a sudden, I hear an orchestra of voices and claps, led by my wife and children singing, “Happy Birthday to you.” It catches me by surprise. My wife had told me she was going to see her sister several blocks from our house and would be back towards evening.

Our children – two – are supposed to be in far-away Canada and had told me they would not be able to make it for my birthday but would come to celebrate with me at Easter. In the orchestra, singing and dancing are my children, my brothers, sisters and friends. I quickly realise that I have been fooled. A surprise party is the offing. It is a happy reunion. Soon, I forget all about glaucoma.

It is now 11:50pm., all the guests are gone. I can hear our son discussing, in a low tone, with his mother. I strain my ears to get a gist of their discussion. I think I hear the word ‘glaucoma.’ I spring to my feet. “What about glaucoma?” I ask. “Dad, calm down. I don’t want to spoil your day, I’ll rather tell you tomorrow,” my son replied. “Debola, it’s too late, spill the beans,” I said emphatically. “I have glaucoma,” Debola said. My knees buckle under me. I crash into the sofa. “Daddy, remember that I collected a sample of your blood when I came last time.

“I collected Desola’s and mummy’s too. Except mummy, we all have the gene for glaucoma.” My head is spinning. I feel faint at the confirmation of my suspicion. His words hit me like a bomb. I am utterly confused. So many things are going through my head right now. Soon, we shall have a house full of blind people. My wife will have her hands full taking care of the blind…etc. etc.

“Daddy, calm down. I know what is going through your mind. You told me four years ago, how you watched your dad go blind. It was a painful experience for you! Neither you, Desola nor I, will go blind. This is the year 2020 and I’ll show you that glaucoma is no longer such a dreadful disease and no-one needs to go blind from glaucoma,” he said reassuringly and added, “It’s almost 2:00am now. Let’s go to bed and continue our discussion in the morning.”