I’m sitting in class at grad school taking notes – and possibly doodling a bit – when I hear my name. My head jerks up and I quickly run through the last few sentences between the professor and a fellow classmate. It goes like this:
“These lights are too, too low, can they be turned up,” asks the classmate.
“I don’t know, let’s ask Josie. Josie, can you show us where on the spectrum you need the lights to be.”
What! Why me?!? Oh geez … I can’t believe it. Here we go again. …
I say “again” because the second or third week of class the lights were turned up to their brightest, which hurts my eyes like crazy and always gives me a headache later in the day. Photosensitivity’s a residual side effect of a bout of MS-related optic neuritis I had 10 years ago.
For the past few years I’ve been able to get to classes early enough to just tap, tap, tap those lights down so they’re still plenty bright but won’t cause me pain. When I’ve been caught doing this by professors I’ve just taken them aside and told them the lights give me a headache, and they’ve never had a problem with it.
Anyway, this professor insisted I stand up in front of the class and ask their permission to tap the lights down. Not down low, the lights being down too low comes in later. Just down past the brightest level a few tads.
“Are you serious,” I asked. She nodded, saying after all it affects the whole class. I sighed. Then, as strongly as I could, I told the class I have MS and explained how and why the lights at their brightest hurt the hell out of my head. For weeks after that, some classmates would ask me how I’m doing in the type of sing-songy voice used on small children, which just burns me. I was forced to lead a vote on whether or not I could participate equally in class, and now some of my classmates treat me like a 2-year-old. Grrr …
Later, the professor and I spoke. She apologized for not handling my request more graciously, I apologized for … wait … why did I apologize? Never mind. I did. I worked hard to see this incident from the professor’s point of view and ended up buying a pair of tinted eyeglasses that theoretically could shield my eyes from the evil fluorescent rays. I also let the professor know I’m not damping the light switch anymore, she should push it up or pull it down to her heart’s content.
The first day I wore my new glasses to school, feeling very self conscious, I discovered a fellow student turned the lights down very low. So low that with my new glasses on I could barely see a thing. But there was no way in hell I was touching that light switch. Oh, the irony. Now I just carry these tinted specs in my book bag, in case I need them.
All’s well until last Tuesday. I come in, the lights are very low. I’m so early that there are only about three or four others in the class. So I break my own rule about touching the light switch and turn the lights up a bit, and the others say, “oh, it’s low because there are going to be slides, we like it low, too, please turn them back down, it’s all good.” I quickly turn them back to exactly where they were when I came in, and take my seat.
The rest of the class trickles in, we watch the slides, a student huffs in late, flumps down in her seat and asks for the lights to be turned up. The professor looks at me in a polite “what now?” manner and asks me to demonstrate where on the light spectrum my eyes work well.
Damndamndamndamn … I’m really starting to hate this class. “We went over this!” I’m screaming in my head. “Just turn them up – I don’t care! I don’t want to do this again!” But I obey.
Out loud, I say, “This is the lights at their brightest,” and crank the switch as far up as it can go, to the collective groans of them all. “And this is where I can tolerate them,” and I just tap, tap, tap the lights down a bit to take the edge off. It’s still not what I’d call comfy, but I won’t get a headache. And I sit down. And I missed class on Thursday. And I don’t want to go back.