Sensory Imperceptions

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
January 26, 2017

Have you ever wondered which of your senses you could stand to lose if you were forced to sacrifice one? (A sort of reverse genie-in-the-lamp thing?) Glen and I have. Why, I don’t know. Maybe it’s human nature to flirt with fears we think are unlikely to come true. But sometimes we’re compelled to ask ourselves: What would it be? Touch, taste, hearing, smell, vision?

Glen says music is too important to him to give up his hearing. He wouldn’t give up touch; he’s an engraver. Smell is already off the table; after hitting his head in a fall off the back of his welding truck years ago, his olfactory nerve was so damaged he lost most of that sense. (Katie and I noticed it was missing before he did, so evidently smell wasn’t that important to him.) His sense of taste was only blunted by the loss of smell, not eradicated, and he’s happy to hang onto what’s left. So Glen’s choice would be to give up his sight.

As for which I’d choose, I don’t really know, but I can tell you for sure it would never be sight. I wouldn’t make a successful blind person. There’s no real evidence to back up this claim (thank heavens). Sometimes one just has to take things on faith.

I’ve worn glasses from the time I was 5, just entering 1st Grade. I remember being fitted for them, and wearing my brand-new glasses out of the optometrist’s office. The ride home in the car was breathtaking. For the first time in my life, I could distinguish between turkey vultures and airplanes in the sky. I was astonished to see individual leaves on the trees, rather than a vague green mass as we drove by. Apparently I exclaimed in amazement all the way home, kind of like the fifth little piggy.

Then, when I was about 20, soft contacts came into my life.

[cue the swell of stirring music]

In those days, soft contact wearers had a small plug-in appliance in which to heat up the contacts nightly for sterilization. We also dissolved little salt tablets in distilled water to make our own saline solution. Caring for the lenses required shopping, expense, preparation and forethought, but even so, they gave me the greatest sense of freedom I could imagine. Being able to see without glasses hanging on my face thrilled me even more than going off to college did. From then on it’s been my habit on most days to get out of bed and pop two thin, flexible pieces of plastic onto my eyeballs, even before I make coffee. Everything in life is easier with my contacts in. Way better than with glasses. I don’t trip and fall as much, and I don’t (often) step in questionable substances. Odd as it sounds, I’m less anxious when my contacts are in place. Whatever Glen may claim about it, for me, clear vision is irreplaceable.

People who blithely have their eyes operated on just to keep from wearing glasses or contacts are asking for trouble, I think. Glen did it about twenty years ago, after too much tiny text reading for college compromised his vision. “Are you nuts?” I asked him. “You’re cutting on your eyes!” Of course it all went perfectly, depriving me of the chance to say, “See? Look what you've done!” (Which he wouldn't be able to do, not anymore.)

A few years ago, an ophthalmologist asked me during a routine checkup if I’d thought about laser surgery. “You’d be an excellent candidate,” he said. I stared at him, appalled. No, I wouldn’t. What if something went wrong?

I’m sorry to say, though, that cataract surgery is probably in my future. My mother and her mother both had to have it. When my mother had hers in the 1990s, techniques had modernized and recovery was easy and short. As I recall, it was basically out-patient surgery by then, no lengthy bandaging required. I hear it’s even easier now.

However, when my grandmother did it in the 1960s, it was a pretty big deal. She had to lie as motionless as possible in a hospital bed with her eyes covered for what seemed like days. Maybe it was days. I remember visiting her in the hospital and feeling a cold horror creep across my skin at the sight of her, helpless in her bed. Wondering how desperate she must’ve been to put up with that bandage-induced blindness. What kind of trust would that necessitate? If I’d been trapped in that bed, my other senses would have gone into anxiety-induced overdrive. Imagining soft footsteps approaching my bedside. Faint, warm breath tickling my ear. The cold tip of a steel blade against my throat. *shudder*

What brings all this up now? Last week I was a bit late to my annual eye appointment.

By fourteen months.

By the time I got into the exam room, the anxious scold in my head had already diagnosed me with cataracts, scheduled my surgery and fitted me for a pair of thick, black shades. Luckily, that turned out to be way off the mark. Not sure about the rest of me, but my eyes, at least, are in great shape.

As Glen will tell you, though, I still mistake airplanes for turkey vultures sometimes. I did it just last week. He never does, of course. Thanks to his surgery, his sight is perfect. But what’s important is the view we see together:


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10 comments on “Sensory Imperceptions”

  1. Very thought provoking. I have been aggravated with by couple of floaters ( my first--another perk of advancing age) over the last two weeks and have been thinking about the gift of sight a lot.

    Bryan-College Station has an event upcoming called Dining in the Dark in which a three course meal will be served by sight inpaired waitstaff in the dark, and dining will be in the dark.. For fund raising and awareness.

    And, was that not an incredible sunset last evening!!!

    1. Oh yes, I've heard of events like that! Very intriguing, but I know I couldn't stand to dine in the dark. I would be worried about what was making its way into my food. Hair, insect legs, such things as that. Just anxiety and paranoia on my part. What else is new? 😉 Sometimes I get little bitty floaters, but they go away pretty quickly. My mother ended up with one that was the shape of a kidney bean and khaki green. And the size of a pencil eraser. I think that's when she finally had to go in and do her cataract surgery. Something fun to look forward to, eh, Darla? Oh well. At least we can enjoy spectacular sunsets in the meantime, can't we? And whoever has to do the cataract surgery first tells the other one all about it!

  2. Love it. This is all very interesting, and very nicely written ....although jeepers creepers! it did make me squirm a bit. 🙂 That is typical though, and as I've said before, just one more thing that I admire about your writing: you don't skirt the ewwww topics!
    I was relieved to get to the section that reported that your peepers are in good order.
    So, just curious, do you and Glen ever sit around the front porch or dinner table and discuss what additional sensory ability you would like to have (if you could wave a magic wand and get your wish granted)? Or what superpower? At our house there is deep interest in all superpowers, so that question comes up from time to time.

    1. We have talked about it on occasion, but I seem to be more interested in that sort of thing than Glen is. I guess he feels super enough as it is. 😉 But I'm kind of greedy, Claire. I want invisibility AND the power to fly! If I had to choose between the two, I guess I would have to choose flight. Because if you could fly high enough and fast enough, you would essentially be invisible to the people who wanted to see you anyway. Right? But if you were invisible you could do all kinds of things for free. Tough choice! What's the consensus at your house?

      1. No consensus- it varies. The possibilities seem endless, once you get talking about it. What comes up most often is the ability to fly, or to become invisible at will, or the power of instantaneous healing. There are all the magic abilities in Harry Potter (just being able to "accio" would be so convenient). Sometimes there are votes for the ability to manipulate lakes and rivers (like Arwen in Lord of the Rings), or to control the wind or weather (I'd love, for instance, to be able to call up a lightning bolt for extra emphasis when I need to make a point about something, or create some proper winter weather). Time travel is another good one, or the ability to dematerialize and then reappear in another place (Paris for lunch!). I also have always envied Samantha's ability to instantly snap up a cute new outfit in Bewitched.

        1. Oh goodness, I've been thinking much too small. I had in mind your standard out-of-the-box comic book superhero, with concomitant powers. If we're including magic, I'll have to rethink this. So many possibilities!!

  3. Wow, picking one of your senses to lose, what a prospect. I think that choice would be impossible to make. In real life, such a loss would be thrust on us, no decision required. That's kind of how I think it ought to go, by forced circumstance and not by choice. Even trying to imagine what it would be like to not have one our senses, very difficult to conjure up. No sight, no smell, no hearing, no touch, no taste . . . awfully hard to really "know" how loss of any one of those would really feel. So, thank you very much. I'll not play that game. Won't go there. And for sure, I will do my utmost to protect each of those precious senses. That's the only thing that, forgive me. makes any sense.

    1. Very true, John! I sometimes think the reason I am such an anxious person is because I must get a peculiar kick out of games such as these. Constantly imagining horrible scenarios that are – – I pray – – unlikely ever to come to pass.

  4. Your imagination is what makes you such a good writer. I remember our pondering this question on one of our visits. Can't wait to see you.

    1. Thank you, Denise; it's a question that I guess is always in the back of my mind. Along with all the other what-ifs knocking around in there. I can't wait to see you either!!


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