by Peggy Elliott

Peggy Pinder Elliott, the Second Vice President of the National Federation of the Blind, is familiar to previous Kernel Book readers as an attorney and thoughtful observer of attitudes toward blindness—both her own and others'. Here she relates a recent encounter which occurred amid the high drama and emotional tensions of the hospital operating room:

There are lots of old sayings that we all think are a little simplistic and, yet, they often have a very large kernel of truth. One of them is that life is an emotional roller coaster. I sometimes think that, in addition to the roller coaster for everyone, there is a special one for the blind.

You never know when you will meet someone who thinks you as a blind person cannot do the most ordinary of things. And, then, you meet up with ten people in a row who are pleased to accept you as a friend, a client, a colleague, a boss. This acceptance can be more precious to us than it would be to a sighted person. Here's an example of what I mean. My sister Jeanne was having her first child, which turned out to be twins. When the time came, her husband was unable to be present for the c-section operation which became unexpectedly necessary. My sister asked me to be the one to accompany her into the operating room.

This was a request I was thrilled to be able to fulfill. Being a small part of the circumstances that bring new life into the world is always awesome, and one's own sister's first children under circumstances that could have become dangerous for all three was even more awesome.

I went to the hospital with mingled feelings of elation and worry. I wasn't thinking at all about my blindness. But the hospital orderly was. They wheeled Jeanne out for the preparation procedures, and the orderly marched in with the hospital greens I was to put on. She didn't hand them to me. Instead, she stood there holding them and asked if I wanted her to put them on me.

I politely declined, took the clothes from her, and walked into a nearby rest room to change. It was clear that the orderly thought I had no business being there at all. I came out in a few minutes, ready for my job of support to my sister, and the orderly had vanished. I waited, thinking the orderly had gone to do a quick job and would be back. Time oozed on and still no orderly. Finally, I heard an authoritative voice way down the hall demanding: "Where is she? They're ready." I strode down the hall toward the authoritative voice. When I arrived, my sister was already prepped, and the operation had been in progress for at least ten minutes.

I was glad I hadn't waited any longer for the orderly to come back—I might have missed a pivotal point in my sister's life because of that orderly's notions about blindness. The operation went smoothly, and both baby girls were fine from the minute they reached the world. My sister did not do quite so well.

One danger sign was blood pressure, and the anesthesiologist was supposed to be keeping it artificially low to protect her. He did his job. In fact, he did it so well that she began to feel nauseated. He was watching the operating doctor, a master at these operations who was about to retire.

Suddenly, my sister started to mumble that she felt sick. She had asked me to keep her awake, though she was allowed to sleep if she chose. I was seated at her head and, to keep her alert, I pulled her hair at irregular intervals at which she could not anticipate. I was also stroking and patting her head and shoulders, but this was the first time in my life I got to pull my sister's hair without being scolded. She wanted to hear (though they screened her sight) everything that went on and to see the babies right away. She was sleepy and mumbly, and her indications of feeling sick weren't offered with much conviction. But, I knew my sister. That's part of why I was there—to be on her side, no matter what.

I turned to the anesthesiologist and told him that my sister would not mention her nausea unless she was feeling very, very nauseated. What was wrong? He looked down at his dials and discovered that he had let her blood pressure slip so very low that she would feel sick. He immediately began pushing buttons and talking directly to my sister until he stabilized her blood pressure in a more comfortable zone for all.

I am not saying that I saved my sister. The anesthesiologist was a pro. He wouldn't have let my sister slip away. But, these men and women worked as a team—operating doctor teaching a student doctor, two anesthesiologists in the same relationship, a doc and a nurse for each baby, and two nurses for my sister. I was made part of the team when I came in, included as a person who had a vital interest and a role to play that no one else could play just then. No mention of blindness. Just everybody doing their part of this exciting, delicate job.

When the baby girls were gone to the nursery and Jeanne was ready for post-op, one of the doctors asked me to step back so they could unhook her.

They gently and professionally put my sister back onto her rolling bed and wheeled her out the door to post-op. No one looked at me. I just followed behind the bed, listening to the doctors and my sister talking and using my cane to be sure I didn't hit anything as I walked.

In post-op, they put her in one corner and then decided to roll her to the opposite corner where the best equipment was available for monitoring. I caught the change of direction with my ears, waited until they had settled my sister into her monitors, and then moved up beside her. The post-op nurse brought me a chair and, later, a warmed blanket because it was freezing in there. She, like the operating team, treated me as another member of the team. It was one of those roller coaster days for me: a wonderful event in our family mixed with anxiety for my sister, whose reaction to the anesthetic took quite a while to wear off; two new nieces fine and healthy; one bad experience with an orderly who didn't want me around at all; and eight or ten professionals who welcomed me as a team member.

I came away remembering that each of us who is blind has a role to play, things to contribute, our own worlds to conquer, and roller coasters of life to ride. And, the wonderful thing is that there are now more straight-aways than there ever have been, more people who do welcome us into the mainstream of life.

More and more people are spiritually joining the National Federation of the Blind in our effort to make blindness just another characteristic—a difference among people that doesn't really matter.