After 28 operations, David decided to get on with life
He endured 28 operations in a six-year battle that was finally lost to restore his sight.
He endured 28 operations in a six-year battle that was finally lost to restore his sight. Yet total blindness, the legacy of a horrific accident, has not stopped David Emmott from getting on with his life."I literally do very nearly what I used to do before it happened," he says. "Building, plumbing, carpentry, the garden, mowing the lawn ...."The evidence is all around the house and garden at Wilmington where this former Sidmouth builder now lives with his wife, Helen.It's there, in remarkable abundance, in the refurbishment of the utility room, panelled and fitted with new shelves, in the rebuilt porch topped with leadwork, the concrete base he mixed for the new door, the architrave and the piping he boxed in and in the bookcases he has fashioned and built from old floorboards.It's there, too, in the vegetable patch he has tilled, the newly- painted railings outside, the re-clad summerhouse, the garage door repaired with new wood spliced in and in the workshop where, with power mitre saw, planer and 'talking' measuring tape, he has cut, carved and shaped garden trugs, planters, bird boxes, picnic and bird tables.Friends can hardly believe a blind man could do it. Yet David, who has been totally blind for six years, is typically sanguine about it all."You just have to get on with life and do what you can," he says simply.That has been his approach since the specialists finally told him six years ago that there was nothing more they could do for him."It was a blow because I'd always felt positive, always felt something would come of it," he says. "But it always was a rollercoaster. "Sometimes your hopes were raised. Then they would crash again. One time I could read with a special magnifier, though the most that lasted was a couple of months. Another time I could see light, see Helen flick her hair, make out a number plate and the hands on a clock. "All the time I wanted to see the children, to see Helen and everything else. When I knew it wasn't to be I cried and cried. But it was easier to come to terms with because I knew, deep down, I'd tried everything. I'd left no stone unturned. So I had to accept it and get on with my life."The day of the accident, July 31, 1996, is seared as deeply into his memory as the acid that blew back and burned his eyes as he used caustic soda crystals to clear a blocked pipe in a bedroom at a Sidmouth guest house. As a builder, steeped in property maintenance, he had done it scores of times before. But on that working day it went tragically wrong in an accident that was to change his life, and Helen's, for ever."I remember turning to look in a mirror on the wall," he recalls. "My hair was on end and my face was red and when I touched it, it was melting like rubber. The blow back hit me on the right hand side. I lost my right eye there and then and a quarter of my left and I was in casualty in Exeter for more than six hours while they tried to neutralise the acid. "But the worse thing was I'd closed the eye trapping it inside."That is past history now. Twelve years on, David's a busy man, waiting to tackle his next DIY masterpiece. That is no surprise to Helen."He's always on a mission to do something," she says. "What he's done is amazing. I don't know how he does it and neither does anyone else. But he can't just sit in a chair doing nothing, listening to his Talking Newspaper tapes and stories."The tears are not far away when she talks of driving through the countryside on a lovely sunny day and suddenly realising, after all they have been through together, that David cannot enjoy it with her. David reasons his blindness has ruined Helen's life more than his because, having always been sighted, he can see everything in his mind's eye. He can "see" the fields, the flowers, the hedgerows and the tools he uses as he works around the house and does his carpentry."The downside is you lose your independence," David said. "If I want to walk to the pub and go for a drive you are relying on someone else all the time, even to take you to the loo. So I am not as social as I used to be and that has restricted Helen as well. I could get a lot more out of life. But that would mean having to rely on other people."I make the best of what I have got, doing things and creating things and I've remembered right from the beginning that there's always someone worse off than me. I've got my hearing, my hands and my touch and I can still walk out into the garden and smell the flowers."I've my big family, too - four sons and four grandchildren who come to see me and hold me by the hand. What's more, I've got Helen. She's been marvellous. I'd never have survived without her love and support."n David Emmott would be happy to give a talk to any club or society about his battle to come to terms with blindness and live life to the full as best he can. He can be contacted on (01404) 831362.