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Thursday, August 20, 2009
Chatting with Sharon Donovan author of Echo of a Raven
As a lot of you know, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six. Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the pancreas produces no insulin, the hormone responsible for breaking down sugars and carbohydrates. Many complications are associated with diabetes, the most common being diabetic retinopathy. This causes fragile blood vessels to grow and rupture in the back of the eye and can lead to progressive blindness.
Due to the early onset of my diabetes, a doctor at Children’s Hospital predicted I would be blind by time I was twenty-five. His words consumed me. They devoured me. No matter where I was or where I went, they echoed in my head to the point of obsession. One night after reading The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe, I fell into a restless sleep and a nightmare which haunted my subconscious for years to come. In the midst of a thunder storm, I dreamed a huge raven knocked at my window. And much to my horror, in the voice of that doctor, he screeched, “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”
When would it happen. I thought about it when I was driving, when at meetings at the courthouse where I worked as a legal secretary in the Family Division. I lived in constant fear, afraid of my own shadow. Painting became my passion, the only time I could escape what I feared most in life. No more heartache. No more pain. Painting serene and picturesque scenery relaxed me. But one day while painting, I experienced the initial bout of initial blindness. And for the next twenty years, my life became an emotional roller coaster where vision came and went. Nine years ago, I lost the battle and the will to live.
Pittsburgh Vision saved my life. Through this organization for the blind and visually impaired, I was taught how to use a computer with adaptive software, converting text to synthesized speech. Among the other classes were group therapy, the humiliation of being fitted for a white cane and crossing a street with my heart in my throat. It was a heart-wrenching journey filled with endless challenge. We laughed and we cried. Dreams deflated. Lives were destroyed. Many dropped out of the sixteen week program, unable to deal with anger issues. Some had the added burden of facing marital problems because a spouse could not or would not accept the blindness. I was one of the lucky ones. What didn’t kill me made me stronger.
When I left the program, I found the courage to face a sighted world I was once part of. I enrolled in the local college and obtained a certificate in medical transcription, making the Dean’s list every semester. But transcribing did nothing to stir my creative muse. Not only that, but too many voices. There was the narrated voice of my computer and the voice of the doctors on tape as I transcribed. I began to feel schizophrenic.
During my classes at the college, I took a few creative writing classes. And for the first time in a long time, hope soared. Through writing, I found a new way to channel my creative muse. And once the seed was planted, I pursued my new passion with renewed energy. I am a published author with The Wild Rose Press where I have three books at White Rose Publishing, two suspense stories under review and have a story in the highly acclaimed Chicken Soup for the Soul, Tough Times, Tough People.
I am on a quest to raise awareness and funds for JDRF Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. My current book, Echo of a Raven, a narrative non-fiction about my struggles with diabetic retinopathy was written to help diabetics, those facing a visual loss and for intelligent people who want to find a cure for this world-wide epidemic. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to JDRF. If I can prevent one child from living in fear of losing his or her vision, Echo of a Raven will be a smashing success. Won’t you join me in the campaign to wipe this disease off the face of the earth? On behalf of diabetics and JDRF, I thank you for your support. God bless you and the children of our future.
Excerpt from Echo of a Raven
By the end of the day, my brain was totally fried. I was looking forward to going home for the weekend before returning for my second week of evaluation. I’d forgotten what David had said about one of the mobility instructors making time for me. But when she appeared at my side, apprehension and alarm balled up in my chest.
“Sharon,” she said. “I’m Ruby. David has asked me to meet with you today.
And what happened in the next hour is embedded in my brain as one of the worst days of my life. Although I’d seen blind people sweeping the streets with them, parting the Red Sea with them, tapping landmarks with them, I had no idea a blind person had to be fitted for a white cane. But I learned. And the memory of that day still leaves a hollow in my heart as dark as Lucifer’s soul….
“And we’ll just go up to my office and measure you for your cane,” the mobility instructor said. “You need to be fitted.”
“Fitted?” panic shot through me. “What do you mean, fitted?”
“That’s right, with a tape measure. I need to measure the distance from your armpit to the floor. White canes are custom made for each user. Just as a short person requires a short cane, a tall person needs one considerably longer. So come on, take my arm. We’re just about in my office.”
Fitted for a white cane, I sucked in a breath, alarm spreading through me like wildfire. A bead of sweat trickled down my back. The tapping of heels on the hardwood floor matched the accelerated beat of my heart. Cool air swooshed through the cavernous hallway, producing an eerie whistle. I felt sick, frightened. Not that I’d ever given it any thought, but I figured a white cane was a white cane. It never occurred to me a blind person had to be fitted for one.
“Ah…here we go.” She made a sharp right, whipping me around the bend and into her office. “Just stand still and I’ll get the tape measure.”
Tears stung my eyes. Humiliated, I bit my lip, the coppery taste of blood mingling with my saliva. I licked my parched lips, my mind racing. How on earth had my life reached such an incredible low? Within the blink of an eye, I’d gone from preparing cases for judges in Family Court, riding horseback wild and free through the hillsides, and painting picturesque scenery--to being fitted for a white cane. Unable to cope, my mind began to shut down. No. My breathing labored, I massaged my throbbing temples.
“Hold out your right arm.”
And she proceeded to measure the distance from my armpit to the floor, humming a tune under her breath.
“All done. I have a cane for you to try out, just about your size.”
And to my horror, she handed me a stick, a dreaded white cane. My hands trembled, every nerve jumping. I couldn’t breathe. I went to speak, my heart in my throat. “Ah…I can’t hold that thing. Don’t you understand? I just can’t.”
“That’s a perfectly normal reaction. All I ask is you hold it, get the feel of it. Your custom-made cane will be ready Monday--and that’s when your mobility training will begin. We have a variety of canes to choose from. Most clients prefer the folding cane that unfolds into three parts, with an elastic band to hold it in place. It fits easily into a brief case or purse. But for now, we’ll practice with this one. Just hold it, get the feel of it. She tapped it on the floor. “Go on, take it.”.”
I reached for it, touched it, but my fingers refused to grasp it. Just the thought of touching that thing made my flesh crawl. Didn’t she get it? Holding one of those things would be like wearing a sign, admitting to the whole damn world I was blind. No. No. I could no more hold one of those things than hold a loaded pistol, both lethal weapons, foreign and alien. Gasping, I dropped the stick, tears pooling in my eyes as the hollow metal cane rolled across the floor, smacking something with a jarring thud. No.
“You’ll do better tomorrow,” she said. “Let’s get you back to your room. It’s almost five.”
On the way back to my room, one word continued to play in my head like a broken record. Fitted. If that didn’t beat all. Fitted for a white cane. I got a glimpse of my future and my insides turned to ice. I envisioned myself hobbling down the street with a white cane, separating people like the parting of the Red Sea. My back went rigid, tightly strung as piano keys. I saw my future, lonely, segregated…and one of complete isolation.
“Here’s your room,” the mobility instructor announced, breaking into my thoughts. “You can come up to my office shortly after nine Monday morning. David will start you with indoor training before venturing outdoors.”
And she was off, her footsteps echoing down the corridor. Crossing the threshold to my room, the sound of silence vibrated off the walls. Devastated, I stood before a mirror which offered no reflection, tears rolling down my cheeks. Fitted for a white cane. I pictured all the fittings I’d had over the years from prom gowns and graduation gowns to formal gowns to cocktail gowns. All those good times, better times. I envisioned the way I’d looked in a teal blue dress, so sexy, so sophisticated. Oh, what a night. And today, I’d just been fitted for a white cane. Tears gushed from my eyes, heart-wrenching sobs spewing from my very soul. Fitted for a white cane. On this day, October 6, 2000, I’d just been fitted for a pathetic, pitiful, dreaded white cane. And my heart wept.
Title: Echo of a Raven
Author: Sharon Donovan
Buy Link: http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/echo-of-a-raven/7275809
Rating: You Gotta Read
Reviewed by: Val
Before losing her sight to diabetic retinopathy, Sharon was a legal secretary with a passion for painting. Devastated when she could no longer paint, she turned to writing as her creative outlet. And a new dream resurrected. Today, instead of painting her pictures on canvas, Sharon paints her pictures with words.
Echo of a Raven is a heartwarming read that educates the reader as well as giving the reader a small glimpse into the life of someone with diabetes. The hopelessness of dealing with something very real seemed overwhelming to me at times. I kept sitting there thinking, "would I be able to be as strong as Sharon?" Dealing with all that she had to, Ms. Donovan shows how much strength and grit she is made of. Echo of a Raven is not just another entertaining read, it is about real emotions of fear, denial, anger and acceptance. Ms. Donovan paints a portrait of just how all consuming this disease really is. There are so many questions to be asked about diabetes and not nearly enough answers. Just what do you do in a situation like this when your health is out of your control no matter how much you take care of yourself?
Echo of a Raven made me really take a look at a lot of the everyday things we take for granted. The sunset, taking a walk without stumbling, the faces of the ones we love, I would not know how to deal with not being able to see these things. When I finished reading Echo of a Raven, for the first time in a long time, I took a look around me and wondered, what if I woke up one day and it was all gone? Throughout the book, I was given a glimpse into the lives of those who have lost or are losing their sight and how society as a whole treats them. I never realized how differently people are treated until I read this book. Everything in life happens for a reason, of that I am sure and I believe Echo of a Raven is one of those books that was meant to be out in the world to comfort others as well as to educate them. We all think bad things will happen to others and not us. Echo of a Raven is a special book to me as my aunt is going through this very thing with her diabetes. I do plan on buying her a copy of this book to show her, your life does not have to end, you can make a very big difference in the world simply by telling your story and educating others. Ms. Donovan has suffered at the hands of diabetes and has conquered her fears and trials and come out on the other end a stronger, more compassionate person with the intent of educating you and I. For this alone, she gets my total respect and admiration.
This book is not all serious in nature. I was touched by the wit and humor that was displayed through the book. Ms. Donovan has approached a very serious subject with grace, wit and humor. One of my favorite parts of the books was when they were serving spaghetti and meatballs. Just the way the cowboy reacted, oh my gosh, I was rolling. I highly recommend this book to anyone! Not just those with an illness or a family member or close friend going through this but to everyone who needs to be educated on such a condition that takes a hold of you and won't let go. I was thankful for the information in the back of the book directing places to go to get more information. Echo of a Raven gets two thumbs up from me and I feel is definitely worth it's weight in gold.
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