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The Diagnosis: An Extract from ‘Lights Out’ by L. Subramani

The doctor stares down at me with a bright instrument strapped to his forehead. He asks me to keep my eyes open, but the beam of light hitting my eyes hurt and pierces my pupils with the force of a bullet. I gasp. The examination is an unending torture that makes dilation seem like a pin-prick. The pain is continuous, unrelenting, and it almost pushes me to the threshold of tolerance. Just as my head starts to shake in pain and tremendous discomfort, a sharp snap of a switch puts out the source of my agony. A minute of blissful darkness follows, and I take a series of deep breaths to relax my stiff muscles and joints. I find it difficult to get up for a few more minutes, lying on the couch, unable to shrug off the paralysing effect of the examination.
Dr. Rakesh usually smiles when he speaks to me. He asks questions about a thousand trivial things just to divert my mind from the impending pain or the intensity of the test. Why didn’t he try any of these today, I wonder? Even now, as he is looking down at me, there’s no trace of a smile on his face.
‘Do you mind stepping outside for a while?’ I’ve never heard him sound so plain and cold.
‘You mean…outside this room?’
‘Yes. I’d like to have a word with your mother alone.’
The initial confusion gives way to shock and anger. What does this doctor think of me anyway? I’m 15, sport a moustache, and I am perfectly capable of being present in the room to listen to my own diagnosis. I have to blink many times before I can see the door to the waiting hall and pull its handle. The blast of light from the well-lit waiting room is enough to drive back the pain. Eyes firmly shut, I breathe deeply once again to relax my stiffening joints and trembling hands. Thankfully, I don’t spend too much time in finding the nearest chair.
It is almost five in the evening. The perfectly square waiting hall appears smaller, as a stream of patients walk in through the portico and mill around the reception desk to announce their arrival for an appointment. Before my thoughts drift in the direction of the eye problems that has brought so many patients to the clinic, I feel Dr Rakesh’s hand pressing on my shoulder. I tilt my head up to listen to what he has to say. ‘Just the usual tests my boy’, or ‘Nothing to worry about, or ‘Here’s your prescription, now go and get your new glasses,’ might have been nicer to hear.
But instead he asks me, ‘So, ready for school from tomorrow?’
There must be something more than that… I watch his face expectantly.
But the doctor merely pats my shoulder, mumbles a weak ‘good luck’, and walks back into his consultation room. I turn towards mother thinking that she has got a prescription for new glasses. It’s already past five and we must hurry to the optical stores to buy my favourite frame and place the order today. However, one look at her face, and I freeze in cold terror.
She’s crying. Tears stream down her cheeks. She’s crying in the full view of strangers, I realize with shock, something I have never seen her do before. ‘God, Ma! What happened? What did he tell you?’ I ask, unable to control my horror.
I shake her shoulders, ignoring the several heads that have already turned in our direction. ‘What’s happened? What did he say?’
‘He says… Oh god, what will I do?’
‘Ma… Please. Tell me what happened!’
‘He says you’re going blind.’
‘Blind? How? I can see now!’
‘He says you have a condition that will gradually make you go blind,’ she tells in a wheezy whisper, the shiny tears still rolling down her cheeks.
She wipes her eyes with a handkerchief, draws a deep breath, and says, ‘It’s a condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa. It’ll eventually make you blind.’
It is my turn to take a deep breath. ‘Okay Ma, okay. Let’s find out if there’s a cure for this condition. We can still do something about it,’ I say in a weak, unconvincing voice, and immediately receive the second blow.
‘Cure? No… He says there’s none.’
About the book
Imagine the world around you slowly blinking out, your familiar world disappearing into darkness till you begin to doubt not only the world’s existence but your own as well. In this terrifying blindness can you find the light?
This is L. Subramani’s inspiring story of triumph.
He suffers from Retinis Pigmentosa, a condition causing gradual and incurable blindness, which affects one in three hundred Indians. Lights Out shows with painful clarity the debilitating process of going blind and the agonisingly bewildering effect it had on him. In this unfamiliar and disconcerting situation he battles his disability to strive for normalcy, till he transforms his most crippling weakness into his greatest source of strength.
You could buy the book here:
About the Author
L. Subramani is currently Senior Subeditor with Deccan Herald (The Printers Mysore Ltd) in Bangalore. He was affected with Retinitis Pigmentosa aged 18 and had to experience gradual loss of vision in two years, though the drastic vision reduction happened in a six month period, leaving him totally blind in the end. He is currently involved in setting up a support system for patients having rare disease or who experience progressive or sudden vision loss. He is doing this with the help of fellow RP patients and other social workers. He has pledged a portion of the proceeds of this book to his new initiative.

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