“To See and Not See”

February 6, 2006

May 10, 1993 Recently the media has given us two wonderful human-interest stories about people regaining the power of sight or hearing. In Coventry, England, a 74-year-old grandmother of twelve named Joyce Urch of Coventry, England, regained her eyesight after being blind for 26 years. A few days later we learned of 72-year-old Derek Glover of Lincolnshire, England, who regained his hearing on a ski lift after at least 15 years of severe hearing loss.

As is so often the case, lurking in the CNY is an illuminating article about an even more interesting case — a man who regained his eyesight after being blind since infancy. In 1993 the New Yorker ran an article by Oliver Sacks about a man pseudonymously identified as “Virgil,” a 50-year-old Oklahoman who opted to undergo an operation to restore his eyesight. As you can imagine, it’s quite a different thing to restore the eyesight of someone who never learnt how to see — at least Mrs. Urch could draw on vivid memories of sighted life. The difficulties Virgil underwent are truly fascinating and surprising — and of course Sacks is a master at spinning out the implications of such situations.