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Nicola McDowell’s Blog (6)

Nicola McDowell sustained a brain injury aged sixteen, and for the following seventeen years was unaware that she had CVI. Through a series of blogs Nicola shares her experiences with us.Nicola McDowell sustained a brain injury aged sixteen, and for the following seventeen years was unaware that she had CVI. Through a series of blogs Nicola shares her experiences with us.

A World of Halves

Before I left the hospital, the doctors confirmed that as a result of the brain haemorrhage, I had a right sided homonymous hemianopia - an inability to see in the right visual field of both eyes. However, they were unable to commit to a definite prognosis for this impairment and requested that it was regularly checked over the following few months. The view was that it could potentially resolve by itself, although we were warned that the most likely scenario was that it would be an impairment I would have for the rest of my life. At the time, I wasn't too bothered by this diagnosis though, because to me the world still looked exactly the same as it always had and I didn't really understand what all the fuss was about.

However, learning to live with only a left visual field proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated, especially as most of the time I tended to forget that I even had a right side of my body. So in reality, a diagnosis of a right sided hemianopia did not fully explain what was actually going on. It was much more complicated than that. Let me explain:

  • The hemianopia was like the base layer of the impairment. In basic terms, it meant that I couldn't see anything on the right side of my body and in front of me, extending in a vertical line directly out from my nose.
  • On top of this, more often than not, I forgot that I couldn't see in my right visual field. So, I continued to go about my day thinking I could see everything around me, just the same as I always had. This is classed as visual inattention and meant that I had many incidents of walking into objects and people that I just didn't see.
  • To complicate this even further, sometimes if I didn't actually see my right arm or leg move, I wasn't even aware that it had moved. This is classed as hemi inattention. So sometimes I would knock a glass over at the table because it was on my right side and I didn't see it, without even really realising that it was my hand that had moved and knocked it over.

When you layer all of this together, it is easy to understand why it was so difficult for me to learn to function in everyday activities. How could I make the adjustments I needed to ensure that I was seeing the whole visual field in front of me, if I never remembered that I had an impairment in the first place!

So, my world became a world of halves. Books that had half sentences, meals that were only half size and people with half faces that would suddenly appear out of nowhere in front of me. But I often didn't even question why the books had strange half sentences that didn't make sense, or why my meals were suddenly so small and I certainly didn't think people with half faces were strange! Like I said, the world just seemed the same as it always had.

But I do remember the first time my half visual world caused extreme embarrassment for me. Not long after getting home from hospital, my family hosted a party at our house to celebrate a milestone birthday for one of my brothers. We had many family and friends attend the party, some whom I had not seen in a while. In New Zealand, the traditional way of greeting someone you know reasonably well, is to kiss them on the right cheek. A simple act of affection that I had been exposed to my whole life and one that had never bothered me before.

However, when you are unable to see on your right side, this simple act becomes a lot harder. But because no one understood this, on the night of the party, everyone insisted on greeting me in this way. Most of the time I did not even know they were there, unless they had spoken to me first. So, for me, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a face would loom up in front of me and attempt to plant a kiss on my right cheek. I found this sudden invasion of my personal space incredibly frightening and reacted in a number of embarrassing, yet comical ways.

I had countless kisses on my neck, as my sudden head jerk in fright, meant that the greeter missed their mark completely. I also collided nose to nose with a rather short, long nose gentleman. But definitely the worst was the humiliating kiss on the lips, as I tried to turn to see who my greeter actually was, an incident that caused me so much embarrassment that I ran away and hid for a while.

I would like to say this is the only time my right hemianopia has caused me such embarrassment, but that is far from the truth. In fact, embarrassing incidents occur almost on a daily basis.

Nicola McDowell sustained a brain injury aged sixteen, and for the following seventeen years was unaware that she had CVI. Through a series of blogs Nicola shares her experiences with us.

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