“The ambulance will arrive in five minutes, okay, hon?”
As the dispatcher finished the sentence, my world faded into darkness then briefly returned. I knew full well that the ambulance wouldn’t be here in five minutes, but what I didn’t know was that I was losing what little vision I had, forever.
“I think my optic nerve is damaged,” I told the dispatcher. She thought I was about to panic, so she repeated that I should stay calm and remain on the phone.
Soon, two men lifted me onto a stretcher. I tried to look at their faces, but it was like I was sinking into a deep hole; the tunnel through which I once saw the world was collapsing in on itself.
The diagnosis I received at the hospital came as a shock: acute narrow angle glaucoma. In previous checkups, no one had mentioned I might be susceptible to this rare disease or any other kind of glaucoma, so I was completely unprepared for what came next.
Although I already knew how to use a cane, already knew every screen reader keyboard command in existence, already knew how to be “legally blind,” I still didn’t know how to be totally blind. My 20/200 tunnel vision in my left eye had served me well — I could see facial expressions if people sat close enough to me, I could see small print, even, if I held it inches from my eye — so I had never bothered to learn Braille. But upon receiving the diagnosis, I saw my own mistake: without my sight and without knowledge of Braille, I would soon be illiterate.
When I finally returned home that night, I lay on my bed with my Apple TV remote in hand, VoiceOver turned on, and looking up at the ceiling, wishing I could still see the small patterns etched into the plaster overhead. I was aimlessly flicking my thumb this way and that on the remote, listening to all the clutter I had on my home screen, when it happened: I landed on the podcast app.
My understanding of a podcast was that it was an on-demand talk show, and I had little interest in that. I opened the application anyway.
I flicked down, and then right, to cycle through the latest shows and episodes. At first, the titles didn’t seem very interesting, so I went to the search bar and typed in, “nerd.” The first result was something called The Once and Future Nerd, an audio drama. I was confused: they make modern audio dramas?
I scrolled down until I got to episode one. It was 9:00 PM, the perfect time to try something new.
The show begins:
“Imagine, if you can, what life is like for a rabbit. Imagine what it means to be vulnerable all your life. Which is my very poetic way of saying that life’s hard for a rabbit. Life’s also hard for a small business owner who accidentally witnesses the death of god. But I’d rather start with the rabbit. This particular story begins with a rabbit.”
To my surprise, I found myself listening intensely to this world created entirely in sound. Before long, I was hooked.
For weeks afterwards, my Netflix account lay forgotten as I listened to every episode of The Once and Future Nerd. I liked the jokes and the production quality of the podcast, but it was the diverse representation that struck me the most. One of the main plots involves a lesbian relationship, but in this fictional world there is no separation between straight and gay. The couple is no different than the rest of society—this felt utterly revolutionary to me. In addition to superb character development, it offered an examination of gender roles, and even examinations of race and power. It was truly progressive — something I couldn’t say for most modern broadcast TV shows.
When I’d caught up on all the episodes of The Once and Future Nerd, I wanted more. I found other storytelling podcasts like The Moth and The Literary Salon. I discovered my favorite newspapers, anthologies, and magazines had audio editions, such as The Guardian’s Audio Longreads, LightSpeed Magazine, Clarkesworld Magazine Podcast, and Bric Moon Fiction. I ate those up too. I tried, and loved, more audio dramas like The Bright Sessions, and Love and Luck, a podcast where two gay men with superpowers meet and grow together through voicemails.
In a sighted world, I am always playing catch-up. My life is a never-ending exercise in problem-solving and thinking ahead. Whenever someone invites me somewhere, I have to consider whether the event will be accessible, and in that way I’m never equal with anybody. But with podcasts, my sighted friends and I were starting out from the same place. I don’t need anything extra to follow the plot and, for once, there is no advantage to sight.