I wanted to see the Blue Whale heart at the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), but I hadn’t been there in years, never mind in the year since my eye surgery. Navigating large indoor spaces with my new vision still makes my head spin. Yet I asked my CNIB orientation mobility trainer if he could take me for our next training session. No problem. I like his laid-back, don’t-worry, what-you-need-I’ll-help-you-with style. Makes one feel safe. And when the world unexpectedly dizzies you and leadens your brain as if lead weights have attached to every neuron, it makes one feel things will be OK.
So I had no extra worries as I stepped into the Crystal. Sure, the outside with all its spectacular angles spun my head and slowed me down, but I expected that.
I paused in the small area between entrance doors. And then we entered. My trainer had explained that the tricky thing about the Crystal is that there are no 90-degree angles. OK, I thought, not sure why that’ll affect me, but nice to know. It’s one of the reasons I like the Crystal over the previous forbidding, boring ROM addition.
I stepped further into the large area where you drop off your cloak, pay your ticket, and pass through the gates at the top of the rather long slope. No slope, my trainer said. The floor is flat, he stated. Uh, no, I’m walking uphill, and it’s really throwing me off. I stuck close to the wall of angles and asked again about this uphill. The floor is flat, he repeated patiently then lead me into a room off the entrance.
Oh. My. God. I’m back in that freaky room at the Ontario Science Centre! The floor is really sloping, and I’m going to fall! Don’t fall, he instructed firmly but patiently, adding that the floor was flat. I absolutely didn’t want to walk further into this room of angles, of white walls and black floor. But my trainer was pointing out two chairs across the room from where I was standing frozen. Um, all I saw were two metal tetrahedrons or some geometric form with no seat, no back. Come closer, he persuaded. Some days, I’d rather stay home and not do training. Whose idea was it anyway to see the Blue Whale?! Oh yeah, mine.
I inched my foot forward, carefully feeling the sloping floor so I wouldn’t wobble and fall. He reminded me the floor was flat.
I struggled to believe him. My new, so-clear vision pretty persistently told me we were standing at the bottom of an angled uphill.
I was also perturbed that my new 3D depth perception couldn’t perceive the seat or back of these chairs he was warning me about. One careful step after another after a pause after reassurance the floor was flat after careful inching feeling-the-floor step, we made it to the chairs. Halfway there, my brain perceived the seat and then the sloping back, but I wasn’t about to sit down. He sat down. Yeah, OK, I get it. I sat. He warned me the back slopes more than I perceived and to lean back carefully. I never felt the back because I lost my nerve as I leaned and leaned and leaned and felt no metal touch my back. I stood up. I followed him out the room, walking uphill the entire time.
It really was the most disturbing and weird thing. He explained the lack of 90-degree angles was why I saw the flat floor as being on an angle. I thought about how I had no trouble perceiving this area when I’d come years ago and how I would need exposure to this a few times to be able to see the floor as flat again. Who would come with me to do that?
Mercifully the exhibit area had nice straight walls and a flat floor. The wall-size videos were discombobulating to the extreme, but I could turn my back on them. And the lighting was the usual, expected challenge.
We turned the corner, and there it was: the skeleton. Enormous. Imposing. Majestic.
The remains of a mysterious mammal I’ve been a fan of since a kid. In the battle between perceptual difficulty and taking photos, my photography instinct won, as it always did. It’s gotten me into some precarious situations for decades. As I strained to capture the whale’s puny vestigial leg bones that look like jet planes, I almost fell backward. Sheesh, Shireen, don’t fall! Your trainer is near but he doesn’t need to be freaked out.
He had to leave and asked if I’d be OK. Uhhhh… I hadn’t seen the heart yet. But I wasn’t sure about that sloping floor. He repeated instructions several times. We scheduled our next session. He reminded me to stick near the wall and rest. It was kind of lonely, but then I saw the heart.
Another thing I learnt in the ROM is my reading is improving. I read the labels and absorbed them! The words didn’t bounce off my brain. Yeah, I knew much of what I’d read from way back; still there was an awful lot of new information to absorb and process. The cognitive effort began to take a toll. I considered just not reading anymore and leaving. But I didn’t want to waste this opportunity. I wasn’t about to let my brain injury and eye surgery changes shortchange me AGAIN. So I obeyed my trainer and rested for a bit. Then I continued.
By the time I was walking along the other side of the whale, I’d had enough. Thankfully a couple of couples were taking selfies next to Blue’s ribs. Great excuse to stand and not move. Also to let my brain map the video wall and now see the skeleton in light of what I’d just learned.
I conked out early that night. But what a day! So glad I went!!