After a thorough examination of his eyes, which took a few hours, finally, Doctor Montgomery, a leading ophthalmologist in the country, said, ‘Mr. Carlisle, I have good news for you. After assessing your eyes’ conditions, I believe we have a high chance to restore your sight.’
‘Is it possible? Doc.’
‘With the current advancement in medicine, especially gene editing, we can correct your faulty genes and so let your eyes regenerate healthy photosensitive cells in your retina.’
‘You mean, I can see again? Doc.’
‘Yes. I should mention that this is still an experimental procedure and is not available to the public. But if you are interested, I will refer you to the biomedical department of the university I lecture.’
‘What’s the chance of getting my sight back? Doc.’ Carlisle asked excitedly.
‘Um..., we had been successful in restoring sights in our animal subjects, Rhesus monkeys, which their eyes are very similar to us, humans. We have had only three human volunteers with a hereditary eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, similar to your condition, and all subjects partially, up to sixty percent, regained their visions.’
‘Yes, sixty percent. At sixty percent of a normal vision, a person can do most of his usual things independently, but it required wearing glasses.’
‘It sounds great. I am happy to take part in this experimental procedure.’ He replied eagerly.
Samuel Carlisle’s vision began deteriorating when he was just five years old, and by when he reached ten, he was totally blind. He still remembered how his life changed by going blind. Initially, it was hard to cope with daily life challenges. But as he was young, he quickly accepted his condition and adjusted accordingly. Though blindness had its own challenges, now at fifty, he was at peace with his disability and enjoyed his life. He worked as a telephone operator in a call center, married, and had two healthy teenage sons.
Now he was given another chance to regain his eyesight- an opportunity to see his wife and children for the very first time. Therefore, with no hesitation, he took the offer. In the worst-case scenario, if the experiment yielded nothing, he would stay blind as he had been for the last forty years. And he was at peace with that.
Dr. Montgomery disrupted his chain of thoughts. ‘In this procedure, we first numb your eyes by using an anesthetic drop. Then we will inject a carrier virus, a harmless virus that carries the healthy version of your mutated gene directly into your eyes.’
‘How long will it take for me to see?’
‘It varies from one person to another. We expect you to sense light in about two weeks. By the end of the fourth week, you will start seeing shapes. In all test subjects, eyesight gradually improved in the twelve to eighteen months period. We have seen no improvement after this time.’
‘You lost me, doc.’
‘Sure. What I want to say that your eyesight will improve during the first 12 to 18 months. For example, if you gain sixty percent of your vision in the first 12 to 18 months, it won’t improve further after that.’
‘I understood. And I am in. I like to see my wife and children.’ Samuel informed him of his decision immediately.
Early morning, on the procedure day, Samuel arrived at the hospital. After having a lengthy consultation and signing a few consent forms to exempt the hospital and the university from liability for any damages. He changed into a gown. Samuel was blind and couldn’t see the gown and its color, but he imagined it white. ‘How does the white color look?’ He asked himself, but he couldn’t remember. He was happy. He was going to gain his sight, to see colors again, to see his family members.
Later a nurse came and checked his body temperature and blood pressure. Then she apologetically pricked his finger and checked his blood sugar level. After the medical staff satisfied with his general health. A man, possibly strong, pushed his bed toward the operation room, which was far. It took a full ten minutes and quite a few turns to reach there. ‘Why they make hospitals like a maze?’ Samuel asked himself. ‘Maybe they want to make it difficult for a frustrated patient to find his way out and escape.’ His answer brought a gentle smile to his face.
In the operation room, Dr. Montgomery greeted him. After the medical staff prepared him for the operation and connected a few devices to his body. Dr. Montgomery explained, ‘Mr. Carlisle, I am going to drop a numbing medicine in your eyes. I am afraid it will sting a bit.’
‘Sure. I am fine with that.’
After dropping a few drops of medicine in his eyes, Dr. Montgomery asked, ‘are you OK, Mr. Carlisle?’
‘Though his eyes burned like hell, Samuel responded, ‘I am good.’
The procedure was short, about fifteen minutes, and by noon he was discharged from the hospital. As he was warned, Samuel experience mild pain in the balls of his eyes. The pain soon disappeared in a day or two. On the tenth day, Samuel felt some flashes in front of his eyes, and by the fifteenth day, he could distinguish between light and darkness. The next day he began seeing shadows. It was exciting. He was going to see the world again. Though he was born with healthy eyes, Samuel had little memory of seeing the world outside. After a long time living in darkness, his visual memory was faulty and tainted with his own speculation and perceptions.
By the end of the month, Samuel began seeing objects, and by the end of the year, he could see and recognize faces. He was amazed by watching TV programs, though he couldn’t follow the motion pictures, as they were changing too fast for his eye to register, and he had still relied on his audio inputs. In fact, his visual cortex was left undeveloped due to a lack of visual stimuli. By the end of the eighteenth month, he had his eyesight restored at eighty percent of a healthy eye. It was an outstanding achievement for the research team. Samuel was the first human subject that showed that much improvement.
But having his sight back had its own challenges. He found himself in a world he couldn’t comprehend. As he had sight for his first few years of life, even after this long time, Samuel could still recognize several objects, despite never had remembered seeing them, but other aspects of vision left him confused.
The sunlight was too bright and gave him bad headaches. He preferred to walk on the street with his eyes closed, using his white cane instead of his vision. For him, it was hard to recognize objects he was seeing without touching them. Samuel lacked the interconnectedness of sight and touch, the connection that was naturally developed in sighted people.
Worst of all was depth perception. Samuel could see an object, but guessing how far that object was from him was a tough job. It took a good few weeks before he could pick up a glass of water without toppling it over. Seeing was like learning a new language. He had to learn to see, to comprehend his surrounding environment. The transition from blindness to the world of light and visual imagery was tricky and time-consuming, and Samuel’s adjustment was much slower than his expectation. After a while, his enthusiasm was replaced with frustration. The dissatisfaction took him down the slope of anxiety and depression. Now there was no sign of the happy, active, and outgoing Samuel. He had transformed into an anxious, grumpy, and bad-tempered person. And his mental status was deteriorating.
After trying to take his eyes out a few times, he was admitted to a mental hospital and kept under 24/7 observation. He had a straitjacket on to stop him from trying to scratch and harm his eyes. Samuel’s wish to see the world cost him his sanity and freedom.