One of the first things we did after I came home from the hospital was to go out to dinner. Literally. We stopped at the house long enough to pick up our younger son, then drove straight to the Waffle House where our older son worked at the time.
It seemed like a good idea. My husband, having worked a full day and then made a four-hour round trip to pick me up, was in no shape to cook anything. And I wanted to see our older son, who worked the night shift and wouldn’t be home until morning.
As we slid into a booth near the grill, though, I wondered if I’d made a tactical error: Not only was I going to have to be blind in front of other people, I realized, but I was also going to have to eat in front of them.
Eating can be a bit fraught when you’re blind. You can’t see the people around you, but they most certainly can see you. And when you can’t see what you’re doing, it can be hard to eat without making a mess.
Off to a Good Start
Even in the early days in the hospital, as my vision slipped from “slim” to “none,” it had never occurred to me not to use utensils. That was how people ate. I’d been doing it for forty-plus years, ever since I’d gotten big enough to hold a rubber-coated baby spoon. Sight or no sight, I darn well planned to continue.
No one really taught me this second time around, though I got a little help one afternoon from my sons. I’d just eaten lunch, and there were a few stray pieces of vegetable on my plate. After several failed attempts to tell me where to find them, my son got an idea.
“Hold your fork from the top, Mom.” I did, and we played a modified version of the “claw game”: I moved the fork slowly across the plate, and when it was directly above a piece of food, he lowered my hand so that my fork stabbed into it. It was a sweet, funny, sensitive way to solve the problem, and I was deeply touched by his compassion and clever thinking.
Mostly, though, I worked out strategies for myself. I kept my silverware and napkins in specific places, so I knew where to reach for them. I reached for my glass with the backs of my fingers, as I was less likely to use too much force and knock it over. I used a dinner roll or biscuit in my left hand as a “pusher” to contain my food while I picked it up with a fork or spoon.
Generally speaking, I felt I managed pretty well.
There was one exception. A couple of days after surgery, I was alone and nearly exhausted when the nurse brought in my lunch.
All I wanted to do was sleep. But I was ravenous, too, and couldn’t bear the thought of waiting until dinnertime to eat again. Lunch was chicken and vegetables in some kind of lemony sauce over rice. And I ate every morsel of it–with my fingers.
Afterward, I cleaned my hands very thoroughly with the hand wipes on my bedside tray and went to sleep. I felt a little like a failure, but mostly I was too tired to care.
No one ever said anything about it, and to this day, I’m not sure whether anyone even saw.
A Little More Hands-On Nowadays
That first night at Waffle House, I played it safe. I ordered a sandwich–food that’s perfectly okay to eat with your fingers. I can’t remember whether I had hash browns, but if I did, I used the sandwich to guide them onto the fork, and I probably looked pretty normal eating my meal, at least to casual bystanders.
It’s a strategy I use fairly often when I’m out: Choose food that’s okay to eat with your fingers. Sandwiches, burgers, fries, pizza, nachos… I carry alcohol wipes to tidy up afterward, in case napkins aren’t enough.
I don’t always order finger food, though, and I’m kind of proud of my ability to manage silverware. I’ve even asked for chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant, just to see whether I could still use them. Answer: Yes. Yes, I could–though I had to finish with a spoon as the pieces grew smaller.
It helps, too, that my family is always ready to give me the scoop about what’s where on my plate. If I’ve got fried shrimp at six o’clock, french fries from noon to four, and cole slaw at nine, I know where not to put my fingers!
(The clock positions are the traditional way of telling a blind person where food is on a plate. I’ve told my husband that we ought to mix it up a little and use compass positions, just to mess with people. “Your potatoes are south by southwest, peas are in the southeast quadrant, and chicken is due north…” So far, I haven’t talked him into it.]
Over the past couple years, I’ve grown more resigned to a hands-on approach with foods that aren’t traditionally finger foods. If I accidentally pick up a green bean instead of a french fry, I’m not putting it back. I’ll just eat the sucker.
I’m neat about it, though, possibly even a bit prissy, using the tips of my fingers and breaking off small bits of food. If you were dining a few tables away, you’d probably never notice.
“Fingers were invented before forks,” my mother-in-law used to say, and they both wash up just fine.