A Gift in Disguise and Its Everlasting Effect | Avrohom J. Rothstein, RN, BSN, EMT

Shortly after I was born in 1974, my parents received the news that I had no sight in my left eye as a result of a rare congenital disability called PHPV. As any parent would, they scrambled to find the best eye doctors in the U.S.A. for a cure for their son. After many consults, they realized that I would never see out of my left eye. Moreover, there was a chance that my blind eye would be needed removal to save my healthy eye.

Who does a father turn to after receiving such horrible news? Aside from visiting many world-renowned ophthalmologists, my father made a pact with God. In return for saving my left eye, my father would recite the entire Book of Psalms weekly. It is now more than thirty-eight years, and not a week has passed without my father repeated the complete Book of Psalms. Spiritual strength doesn’t stop a parent from feeling guilty about their child being born blind. Is there something my mother could have done differently during her pregnancy to protect her intrauterine fetus? As it turns out, PHPV is a simple, yet an uncommon congenital disability, where the eye does not develop normally. There is nothing my parents could have done to prevent it.

Wow! It has been so many years, and I still remember my father taking me to an ocularist to have an artificial eye made. The ocularist would have me sit on my dad’s lap while she tried to force a fake eye into my tiny socket. Just the thought of it makes me cringe. As a last resort, I had my eye fitted in a hospital under general anesthesia. That was the last time I wore a prosthetic eye, until my teen years.

The famous Psychosocial Theorist Erik Erikson would have had a field day performing a longitudinal study of my life-development. Growing up with a small blind eye was not a walk in the park. From the time I was an infant, I began to feel the world hated me and was being punished by God with blindness. My parents were scared to death and did not know or understand how to comfort me. I didn’t trust those around me. Likewise, as a toddler, I recall thinking that I was going to die since nobody would explain to me what was wrong with my funny looking eye. The amount of shame and doubt that enveloped me lasted through many stages of my life. Even to this day, there are times that I still feel isolated and struggle with intimacy issues. The feelings of “I can’t do it” or “Why would anybody want me.” still hovers over me sporadically.

Going back a few years, if I had the choice, I would have preferred to be homeschooled rather than go to yeshiva and have kids poke fun of me daily. For example, I recall kids asking me if I was terminally ill. Oh wait, maybe that was my fear! Can you imagine all the adults in your life trying to pretend you weren’t blind or merely turning you to the side when taking a class picture to avoid snapping a picture of your little broken eye?

In essence, being blind has had a real impact on my life. Maybe not so much physically; however, mentally, it deeply affected me. I recall trying to manipulate my teachers into giving me a quarter of the class’s homework because “I couldn’t do it.” Any time I had difficulty doing a task, I thought to myself, “It sucks being blind.”

At the tender age of 15, I decided to try again and have a new prosthesis made up for me. Later in life, I met a fantastic ocularist named Daphne Archibald from Toronto, Canada. Over the years, not only did Daphne make one perfect after the next, she helped me “see blindness in a new light.”

One day, Daphne handed me a profound article titled “Just a Car with One Headlight.” The story is about a young boy named Henry, who is born with vision in only one eye. Henry’s mother showed him the man on the cover of the June 1967 Times Magazine. The man on the cover was Moshe Dayan, the military leader of Israel in the “Six-Day War.” With love and determination, Henry’s mom told him, “Henry, Moshe Dayan had one eye just like you. If he can lead a small nation to victory against overwhelming odds, you can also do anything you want.”

During my teenage years, I had many concerns. Would I go to college and have to take my eye out at night? In particular, would a girl want to marry me with an artificial eye? I won’t forget the time Daphne enlightened me with this life-changing the lesson, “being born with one eye is a gift in disguise, if a girl wants to marry you, she will do so because she loves you for who you are as a person, not only for your looks.” Incidentally, there was a time that a girl refused to go out with me because “I had a glass eye.” That took a toll on my self-esteem.

In hindsight, I would embrace the opportunity to reach out to other families and patients and educate them on how there are life-span consequences of not facing and dealing with an illness on a physical and psychological level at any age. Avoiding life derailments is paramount that trauma or other life-changing events be dealt with as soon as they develop or manifest themselves. According to Erikson, the earlier in life, we deal with a crisis, the higher the chance of reducing the vulnerability in our next life stage. The bottom line is that it is never too late to turn an adverse event into a stepping stone into the future.

As an individual was rapidly approaching Middle Adulthood (mid-life crisis), I have the benefit and ability to contribute to society (generativity) versus becoming stagnated and stuck in life. On a personal level, my goal and dream are to stay in school and get the best education available. I know that my gradual growth will eventually lead to Erikson’s final stage of Integrity versus feeling despair and unaccomplished in life. Albeit missing a few steps, if at the end of the day my pain and suffering can help others lead to a better experience, Erikson would agree that I made it to the finish line of life development in the first place!

Subsequently, being blind gave me the ability to see beyond the surface in my relationship with others. There are times, even to this day, that I struggle with many overwhelming emotions knowing that I have a physical deficit. However, uniquely, being blind is a beacon of light and a “true gift in disguise.”

Avrohom J. Rothstein, RN, BSN, EMT

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  1. That is one of the most inspiring stories I have heard. We all have imperfections- some are external and some are internal. Our goal in life is to overcome our challenges. What you have accomplished is amazing!
    You are a hero!

  2. Thanks for sharing your story and offering much needed chizuk. May we collectively all be zocah to v’sechasecah einunu bshovcah l’tzion b’rachmim.

  3. I grew up with you in your teenage years in Toronto and just want you to know that we all have insecurities because I thought you were an amazing, nice guy – and I never thought twice about your eye issues. This is why I agree with you so much. We ALL need help with any insecurities etc. May Hashem help that you continue growing maychayil el Chayil and continue to grow in every aspect of your life. – An old friend from Toronto. So proud that you are so open about your vulnerabilities – gives all of us chizuk.

  4. That’s why it’s so essential to greet every person pleasantly, for who truly knows another’s worries? Each of us can ADD light to another’s life by treating him/her with courtesy and honor. It can be THE reason someone overcomes his/her challenges. Thank you for sharing this writing.

  5. Thank you for all the support, both public and private. For those who inquired, the article was initially written in 2009.

    Coming out of the proverbial closet was a difficult decision. I’m glad I did. It is a lot more room to breathe outside my internal closet.

    For those seeking to reach me, please contact me via Linkedin using the link at the end of the article.

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