Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Guest Blogger: Sharon Donovan

Today I have the pleasure of welcoming guest blogger Sharon Donovan to More Romance. This post is a big longer than usual, but it is well worth reading to the end - and if it doesn't make you choke up with emotion, then you're not human. 


“You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five,” the doctor bustled into the room, my lab work tightly clutched in his hand. “These sugars are much too high.”

Sitting in the examination room for a routine visit, his shocking words rang in my ears. Blind by time I’m twenty-five? I stared at him in disbelief, feeling sick to my stomach. My eyes darted from him to my mother. Then I looked at the door, my first reaction to bolt and never look back.

I’d never met this doctor before and didn’t even know his name. I’d been coming to Children’s Hospital since I was six when I was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic, and none of the doctors had ever treated me this way. They’d always been pleasant, telling me I was doing just fine. So why the change? And what on earth was he staring at? Was he about to cast some curse on me with his evil eye?

“How old is she?” he directed the question to my mother.

“Twelve.”

He flipped through my chart, the papers as brittle as his tongue. “She’s been a severe diabetic since she was six. That alone puts her at high risk for developing diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause of blindness.”

“Diabetic retinopathy?”

“An eye disease that causes fragile blood vessels to grow and rupture in the back of the retina, leading to progressive blindness. Her sugars must be kept down. Increase her insulin by two units.”

My pulse raced as he came toward me, his stethoscope coiled around his neck like a snake. He cleared his throat before pressing the cold instrument to my chest. Nervous and afraid, I stared down at my new black patent leather shoes, so shiny I could see my reflection. Fidgeting, the paper sheet beneath me crinkled and bunched. He came closer, his soft intake of breath making me squirm. My heart caught in my throat.

“Look straight ahead at that X on the wall. I’m going to check the back of your eyes.”

Wordlessly he flicked a switch, the bright beam searing into my pupils. With every click, he got closer. I wanted to disappear, melt into the table. Did he see something? My pulse raced, anticipation mounting. Crossing my fingers, I clicked my heels together three times and made a wish. For a few brief seconds, it distracted me. Finally, with a sudden click of the switch, his penlight went out.  He stuffed the light into his pocket and stepped back, his unblinking stare unnerving.

Beads of sweat trickled down my back. Did he see something? I focused on the black ink stain soiling his clean, white coat. He turned to my mother.

“Her eyes are fine, for now. Make an appointment for six months.”

Later on that evening, sitting in the living room after dinner with my family and dog, life went on. Although the doctor’s cruel words haunted me, they were never again spoken aloud. But in my mind, they played on and on like a broken record.

Looking out the window, the beauty of nature surrounded me. Everything looked so fresh and lovely. Green grass carpeted the soil, birds chirping from the freshly budding oaks. The first of the spring crocuses bloomed in splashy shades of yellow and purple. The rebirth of spring after a long, harsh winter. I took in the beauty of nature with more appreciation, savoring the moment. A warm breeze rustled through the trees, stirring the sweet cent of clover with the smell of the coming rain.

Comforted by my family, I sat in front of the television, feeding chips to my dog. Every time I got a flash of that doctor and his cruel words, my stomach cramped. Shuddering, I blocked them out, allowing the idle chit chat of my family to drift into my brain.

“No television until you kids do your homework,” my mom looked up from snipping coupons. “You know the rules.”

Buttons’s tail thumped nervously on the carpet, his gaze on my dad as he fiddled with the radio. Static crackled across the room.

“Can’t find the Pirate game and the Bucs are playin’ the Mets.”

“Mets gotta pretty good pitcher this year,” my brother said. “Tom Seaver, a right-hand pitcher.

But just then, my favorite program came on television. I sprawled out on my stomach, propped up on my elbows, my face between my hands. Everything centered around Lost in Space. I stared at the screen, watching June Lockhart and Angela Cartwright drift through space, taking in their outfits, their hair, their every move. When the show broke for a commercial, rather than run to the kitchen for a snack, I studied the screen, not wanting to miss a thing. Tears threatened as I tried to imagine a world without sight.

How could these horrible things be happening, I wondered, emotions wedging in my chest. And with Easter coming, it brought it all back, the year I was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic. Being stuck in the hospital had traumatized me. I was only six—and spending the Easter holiday away from my family was devastating, leaving emotional scars that had yet to heal. While my brother and sister hunted for eggs and searched the house for baskets, I was being jabbed with needles. And all those restrictions—no candy, no ice cream, no fun. But even worse, I had to get insulin shots every day for the rest of my life. And now the fear of going blind. How long did I have before my world turned upside down? A chill went through me as reality dawned. Even though that doctor’s cruel words would echo in my head for the rest of my life, I would never repeat them to a living soul. Then they might come true.

My thoughts were interrupted by Buttons’s sharp yips, demanding to go out.

“I’ll take him,” my sister said, getting up. “Hold on, Buttons.” He bolted for the door, his sharp claws tapping on the floor like bullets. He got to the screen and yipped.

“Just a minute. Come on; hold still so I can put your leash on.”

I followed them, observing from the stoop, two forms silhouetted against a fading horizon. An inky black curtain fell over the sky, snuffing out the last of the fading light. My stomach tightened. Is that how it would be with my vision? Would it slip away in the blink of an eye?

Just then, thunder rumbled across the sky, giving a low but distinct warning of the coming storm. The crisp night air swooshed through the pines, stirring the scent of fresh clover with the smell of rain. Goose bumps prickled my flesh. Thunder and lightning storms had always frightened me, the threat of a power outage. But the thought of a blackout tonight of all nights shook me clear to the bone.

The doctor’s words rang in my ears. “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”

They played over and over in my head to the brink of madness. I wanted to scream, just to shut them out. A dark hollow wedged deep into my heart. Twelve years old and I felt as old as Moses. My childhood was gone, snatched away by a doctor whose words would haunt me for the rest of my life. I didn’t remember his name—but I’d remember his unblinking stare and his cruel words until I drew my last breath. “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”

A raindrop plopped on my face. Looking up, I knew the clouds were about to open up into a torrential downpour. With the elements of nature stirring all around me, I felt as old as the hills.
My hopes and dreams for a future were shattered. And I knew the closer I got to twenty-five, the tighter the noose around my neck, sucking the life out of me like a tight garrotte.

“What are you doing?” my sister asked, yanking on Buttons’s chain. He laid down on the third step and grunted. Mary Beth heaved a heavy sigh. “Come on, boy. It’s time to go in. It’s starting to rain.”

I stretched and yawned. “Well, I’m going up, still gotta read my English assignment.”

“What is it?”

The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe.”

“What’s it about?”

“A bird comes tapping on some old man’s door in the middle of the night. He thinks it’s his dead wife, coming back to haunt him.”

“Sounds weird.”

“Tell me about it.”

Just as I finished reading the poem, a loud clap of thunder exploded, followed by a fork of brilliant white light that splintered the sky. Pellets of rain pounded down on the aluminum awning. I raced to the windows, slamming them shut. Puddles of water drenched the hardwood floor, the dank dampness seeping into the house.

I got ready for bed, thinking about the morbid poem I’d just read. What would possess Edgar Alan Poe to write such a thing? The thought of a big black raven tapping at my door made me shudder. And when the rain pounded on the window, I nearly jumped out of my skin.

Taking a calming breath, I stared at my reflection, blue eyes haunted by dark shadows. I brushed my strawberry blonde hair, thinking I looked older…and a whole lot wiser. I couldn’t imagine carrying this heavy burden on my shoulders for the next thirteen years.

Before turning off the lamp, I looked around at the room I shared with my sister. Our collection of Little Women dolls sat on the bed, Madame Alexander originals. I studied their faces, memorizing their features.

Sighing, I said my prayers and climbed into bed, shutting the world out. But over the roaring thunder, that doctor’s cruel words echoed in my head, keeping pace with the accelerated beat of my heart. Tossing and turning, I drifted off into the chilling nightmare that would haunt me for years to come…

Tap tap tap.

My heart jackhammered. I sat upright, the sound of my blood thundering in my ears. Nothing. Just as I was about to lie down, I heard it again, louder, more pronounced.

Tap tap tap…

Getting out of bed, I scuffed across the hardwood floor to my window, parting the curtains. A large black raven sat perched on my window pane, his beady eyes peering into mine. And in the voice of that doctor, he screeched, “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”

And from that day on, those possessing words haunted my subconscious. No matter where I was or what I was doing, they’d soar out of the darkest rafters, screeching through my head like the cry of a wild banshee. All through high school and business school and onto my job as a legal secretary where I prepared cases for judges in the Court of Common Pleas, there they were. When would it happen? How long would my perfect vision last? Dare I continue to drive? The thoughts raced helter skelter through my brain and affected every major decision I made for years to come. I lived in fear. Paranoia ruled my world. I had no life.

To distract myself from my nemesis, I spent my weekends horseback riding. As I wildly galloped through the rural hills of Pittsburgh, hooves thundering, kicking up dust while the crisp morning air whipped in my face, I felt alive, free and untethered. The raw beauty was all around me, the fall foliage so stunningly gorgeous it stole my breath. With the sun glinting through the crimson, gold and burnt orange like a citrine jewel, it was impossible to imagine a world without sight. Sometimes the fear of going blind would overwhelm me so much I couldn’t breathe. It consumed me. It devoured me. It suffocated me. I didn’t know what to do or where to turn.

So I began taking art lessons. And for three years, painting picturesque scenery became my sanctuary, my refuge. No more pain. No more heartache. Peace and tranquility. I totally lost myself in Tuscan landscapes of timeless beauty, the ancient ruins of Rome and snow-capped mountains of the Swiss Alps.  But the minute I set my paintbrush down, the raven would screech in my head, “You’ll be blind by time you’re twenty-five.”


And one day it happened. I was putting the finishing touches on an Italian villa when out of nowhere, spidery veils of inky black covered my canvas. Confused, I blinked, thinking black paint had mysteriously splattered on my artwork. But it didn’t take long for reality to dawn. It wasn’t black paint after all. It was internal bleeding. I’d just had a massive retinal hemorrhage. And my world went dark. I dropped my paintbrush and gasped, invisible fingers of fear coiling around my throat, sucking the life right out of me. The room began to spin, orbit out of control. A choked moan escaped my lips, the sound of blood thundering in my ears. “Nooooo. It’s too soon.”

And for the next twenty years, vision came and went. Now you see it…now you don’t. It was an emotional roller coaster that nearly was my undoing. And after one final surgery nine years ago, all remaining vision was brutally snatched away, destroying all hope. I’d hit rock bottom. I had to make a decision. Roll up in a ball and die or climb out of the void and live. I chose to live. I attended a sixteen week program for the blind and visually impaired where I was taught mobility, personal adjustment with group therapy and the use of a computer with adaptive software which converts text to synthesized speech. We laughed and we cried. It was a heart-wrenching journey filled with endless challenge. What didn’t kill me made me stronger. I was one of the lucky ones. I survived. Making the best of a bad situation, I entered a sighted world I was once part of. Until one chooses to open doors, they will stay locked. I took the plunge. And doors have continued to open for me. There is a plethora of opportunity available for the blind and visually impaired. And after a long and winding road, a new dream resurrected. Today, instead of painting my pictures on canvas, I paint my pictures with words.

There are more than 230 million diabetics in the world and the numbers are rapidly increasing. More than half will develop some stage of retinopathy during his or her lifetime. Isn’t it time to wipe this catastrophic disease off the face of the earth?


A portion of all proceeds of Echo of a Raven will be donated to JDRF Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation fight for a cure. Won’t you help? If I can prevent one child from living in fear of losing his or her vision, my mission in life will be complete.

Echo of a Raven
*CTR award for outstanding writing
*Better than a five cup rating
It would be easy for Sharon to stop in her tracks and feel sorry
for herself, but throughout it all, she maintains a positive attitude in this dazzling
read.
Cherokee
Coffee Time Romance Reviewer
Read full review

You Gotta Read Rating
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. 
Val, YGR Reviewer
Read full review

Buy ECHO OF A RAVEN

Sharon’s website
Sharon’s email

13 comments:

  1. Seeing your lovely pictures and reading your matter of fact account of the events leading up to your devastating loss always make me choke up and my eyes get misty. But Sharon,dear friend, I know your message is one of hope and courage, not sadness. Your positive attitude and strength are a real inspiration and the way you've chanelled your creative talents into writing shows how something positive can be resurrected from even the most world shattering of events. Thank you Candace for highlighting a wonderful author and a truly sweet and lovely person.

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  2. Thank you for blogging today about my book, Candace. It is an honor to be here on your site. Lyn, as always, your words inspire me to keep going. I hope you enjoy viewing my paintings which played such a significan role in my life.

    Sharon

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  3. Read Echo of a Raven last week and it's one of those books you can't put down -- well written and compelling.

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  4. I loved this book, probably more so than your other work because it was a glimpse into your life and how you dealt with very real problems. I loved it so much I bought a copy for my aunt and would totally recommend it! Just love your writing style period and look forward to reading more of your work! You rock!

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  5. Thanks for stopping by Lyn, Kathleen and Val. Sharon is indeed a very special, and very talented person. I was so excited to share her story and hope that this helps, in some small way, to support her charitable cause.

    Thanks so much for allowing me to post this, Sharon. Your writing is fantastic!

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  6. Sharon, everything I hear about this book makes me look forward to reading it even more. Thanks so much for sharing your story with the world!

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  7. Thank you for stopping by with your words of inspiration, Val, Kathleen and E.A. You all hold special places in my heart. And Candace, thank you so very much for inviting me and for displaying my paintings with such finnesse.
    Sharon

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  8. Wonderful post. I admire your fortitude and determination. Book sounds wonderful.

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  9. I must be PMSing because I can't find a FREAKIN' tissue! Sharon, I think you won in the end. Your writing is destined to touch readers. Skhye

    http://blog.skhyemoncrief.com

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  10. Hey Sharon!

    You know that I'm here to support you and the cause...always! My daughter also suffers from juvenile diabetes and I'm so thankful for amazing people like you who are out there to lend a voice to this terrible disease.

    Love the paintings and thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Hugs and kisses,
    Kerri

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  11. Hello Patsy, Skhye and Kerri! Thanks for stopping in and for your lovely words of encouragement.
    Sharon

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  12. Sorry to be getting here so late, Sharon. Your story chokes me up every time. I admire your courage.

    Maggie

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  13. Hi Maggie. Thank you so very much for your kind words. And once more, a special thank you to Candace for such gracious hospitality!
    Sharon

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