It Started With a Pink Slip

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by Helen Baldwin |

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As my parents’ first child, I checked off the typical firstborn squares. I was conscientious, reliable, structured, cautious, and an achiever — in short, a perfectionist. My teachers knew I was responsible and that my folks expected me to do my best. I had no desire to disappoint.

That sense of responsibility and perfectionism crumbled a bit in Mrs. Chandler’s fifth-grade class.

On the day of the annual vision check for students, our class lined up outside the nurse’s office. We were called one at a time to sit in the chair of doom, as it turned out to be for me. I couldn’t read all the letters on the eye chart, and the nurse promptly wrote out a pink slip for me to take home. She said my parents would take me to the eye doctor, who would fit me with glasses.

I dejectedly took the slip, but that’s where the saga ended that year. Miraculously, no one followed through on my failed eye test, and I certainly didn’t bring it up. My squinting went unnoticed because my grades and school work remained stellar.

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We were coloring maps in sixth grade when the voice on the loudspeaker announced it was time for Mr. Lee’s class to see the nurse for the vision check. I don’t remember if I was the one who asked if we could finish coloring our maps before going, although if I wasn’t, I surely uttered prayers of gratitude for whoever did. I painstakingly colored my map at turtle speed, finally rising to begin the torturous walk down the plank.

I walked the hall upstairs, then walked downstairs, then returned upstairs. I acted like I had a destination — anywhere but the nurse’s office. Thankfully, no one paid attention to me because my exceptionally responsible self often ran errands in the school.

I eventually returned to my seat in Mr. Lee’s class. I also returned to squinting. Again, incredibly, it never came up that I’d been a no-show at the eye show.

Alas, next came junior high and the day of the vision check. Oh, no.

With such close supervision, there was no escaping this time. There may have been just one homeroom at a time called into the auditorium, but it seemed like the entire school. In front of the gawking multitudes, I failed the eye exam.

I had to take the pink slip home. And I had to get glasses.


Jeffrey, our third baby, seemed perfect at birth despite his abdominal breathing, which alarmed no one but my husband, Randy. Two months later, the SMA diagnosis knocked us for a loop.

Jeffrey’s muscles for moving, sucking, swallowing, and breathing slowly petered out. Cognition, hearing, and vision did not. I often noticed how Jeffrey seemed to be looking beyond me in deep concentration, as if wanting to make sure he correctly understood the instructions from above.

Those dark chocolate eyes spoke volumes. I always wondered what they were saying, and sometimes I could easily imagine. When he was ready to move on, there was no doubt. Jeffrey’s eyes were his voice, loud and clear.


Randy and I live in a rural area. Every now and then, the ominous crawl space beneath our old farmhouse spits out a snake or a possum, or maybe a kitten or six. About 10 years ago, we apparently had a neon “Welcome all strays!” sign luring a relentless flow of critters.

While most of the cats that appeared were of the feral variety, some were not. One hefty, personable cat sunned regularly on the front porch. Jack was well-fed and well-behaved, and after a while, even our own (possessed) feline Sami allowed him to share space on our back deck.

Sami, left, graciously shares space on the back deck with a visitor, Jack, in 2012. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

Next thing we knew, Jack was sporting a damaged right eye. The vet said it looked like he’d been scratched and that it might improve or it might not. (It didn’t.)

Jack, after someone or something scratched his right eye. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

The eye-gouging suspect was familiar.

Our daughter, Katie, found Sami by a tree. She (Sami, not Katie) was blessed twice in a special blessing of the animals at the little church near our bakery. It wasn’t enough. This photo was taken and “partied up” in 2012 for my mother’s 80th birthday party book. (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

My mother decided to celebrate her 80th birthday by adopting Jack for companionship. She renamed him Mitty and proceeded to pamper the very lucky boy in style.

Jack/Mitty sings a song just before moving from one sucker (Helen) to another (her mom). (Photo by Helen Baldwin)

As the years passed, glaucoma began wreaking havoc on Mom’s eyesight. Her doctors, including a glaucoma specialist and a seasoned ophthalmologist, both prescribed myriad drops to reduce the pressure and drops, gels, and ointments to make her eyes more comfortable. Eventually, like Mitty, she lost the vision in her right eye.

Mom’s remaining vision became foggier until she worried about a future without sight. Thanks to angel intervention, things fell into place in a timely fashion. Blindness was no longer an issue.

One of the last things Mom said while she was able was, “Get your eyes checked!”

I’ll listen to my mother. The fact that March is Save Your Vision Month provides a bit of a boost.

And I don’t even need a pink slip.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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