Oscar And Eye Loss – Roger Rooney

I lost my left eye to a home accident when I was three and a half. Being shot out of a cannon as I was I couldn’t wait for my mum to get it down for me, so I grabbed this metal framed, narrowed based set of fold out steps, and up I went, and reached out, and tumbled over. I fell smack bang onto the handle of the metal steps, which pierced straight into my left eye. I saw the blood gush out of me, then I passed out.

I went into shock, and remember coming around lying on my back, with someone holding my hand. I remember the motion of the car and the Ambulance’s siren. I asked who it was and it was mum. My other eye had blacked out in sympathy, so I was in total darkness and didn’t understand what was happening.

The first few days in hospital were a total blackout. It was strange, but I fully expected to see again, even though I had overhear the worried tones of the Doctors. By about day 3 I saw the morning sunshine streaming in around the edge of the bandages. I knew.

What ensued was a month in hospital, with worst part being that mum had to leave every night. Being alone in that ward, full of sick kids, you were unable to sleep due to all the kids crying out for their mums. That is the worst feeling I have ever known. Each night there would be one kid who didn’t handle it, and wouldn’t stop. The nigh nurse rarely came out to help. You knew you were on your own. That was a lot for a little kid to handle, taking on those adult emotions. My mum was fantastic, she would come in every day and sit with me all day long. One day she made me up as Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, cutting up the newspaper and making me paper arms and legs.

The operations meant I couldn’t eat for 24 hour beforehand. I still get angry when I can’t eat. Don’t get in between me and food I always say.

I remember my first day at home after hospital, and running out into the backyard and wondering why the garden had shrunk. That really hit me, but at that age you just carry on regardless. We decided to have my left eye taken out and off I went to see Mr Schulmeister in Melbourne, who was a beautiful man who made me feel at home and made me laugh. A lot of modern day clinicians could learn from him, with many ocularists that I saw after him somewhat lacking in the bedside manner. Mr Schielmeister was a German-South African who was also a ventriloquist, who from Day 1, would make me believe there was a rabbit under the chair in the waiting room. I knew there wasn’t, but he was that good, at projecting his voice, I just had to get off the chair and look for the rabbit. He never let my parents in his room with me. Making an eye was something between me and him, and I was empowered by that. I was taking back control. On the drive back home after picking up my first artificial eye, I announced “I will call this one Oscar”, referring to my artificial eye as the character from Sesame Street. It helped my family a lot in knowing how to deal with it.

Primary school was great except for those few individuals who were scared of people who are different. One boy twice my size came up to me, yelled out “he’s the one”, and hit me square in the face. He wanted to hit the guy with the one eye. Thankfully I had a big brother who put an end to all that.

I didn’t play contact sports until Year 7, but it was something I had to do because I was Aussies rules mad, and I was driven to prove I could complete with the full vision guys. I had a lot of success and made it into the Peninsula Grammar School Senior team, played against Assumption College (twice), won my club’s ‘Best and fairest’, was in Essendon’s development squad and then switched to playing Gridiron.  I had finally found my sport and my position – Quarterbacking – which was all about aiming and ‘shooting’ the ball at the receiver when you passed the ball. This was when having one eye was better than two, ‘cos I was very accurate. I Captained the Sydney University’s 1996 Grand Final team, captained the NSW State team the same year and was Rookie of the Year in the Victorian Gridiron League. I still have the highest QB rating in Sydney University American Football Team’s club history. I put back in 10 years of coaching to the sport that had allowed me to find and be myself. I am now done with football, as it served a purpose during one phase of my life, and have now moved on to doing Standup Comedy, where I do routines about being half blind. It sure is a great way to get the audiences’ attention.

Flash forward to now and I am 42, married with two gorgeous little girls, who get under my feet.. .I step on them a lot, I have had to bell them like cats (my opening gag!). I have done a ton of counselling from the age of 20 onwards, and am thinking of becoming one.  I really should have done counselling straight away, but back then, Australia was about 10 years behind the rest of the world in accepting PTSD, and people just swept things under the carpet – creating a timebomb. With my mind on red-alert, I took the slow road, and was an addict for much of my 20s. I did anything to self-medicate and numb that feeling of being alone and different, and to stop the pain and fear of having gone into shock and been blind. I get panic attacks and have a problem with anger and struggle with letting my kids engage with risk – I just want to wrap them up in cotton wool. I see a counsellor regularly now and have learnt to recognise the signs of when I am not coping. I am a load better at self managing my emotions, although I am still suboptimal when I am hungry and tired (HalT). I am married to the most understanding person in the world, someone who genuinely cares and is a rock and I am planning to learn to fly a plane, after reading your blog today!  The trick is to be thankful for what has been left behind and to surround yourself with people who love you for who you are. Then you will feel the strength and power of living well.

 

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