Mum and Dad al­ways en­cour­aged a lot of draw­ing – there was al­ways lots of pens and ink around.

IN THIS EX­TRACT FROM VANESSA POT­TER’S BOOK, SHE RE­CALLS THE TRI­UMPHANT DAY SOME OF HER EYE­SIGHT RE­TURNED, IM­BU­ING HER WITH A STEELY DE­TER­MI­NA­TION.

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makes an en­tre­pre­neur tick. I sup­pose in some ways it’s made us closer but it also means we have our times where we dis­agree.

“We’re both in­ter­ested in food and wine – we both love eat­ing out. We also both re­ally be­lieve in hav­ing a strong fam­ily cul­ture at work. My fa­ther’s al­ways had a knack for iden­ti­fy­ing good tal­ent and de­vel­op­ing it. I to­tally be­lieve in and sup­port that as well. He’s got a pas­sion for qual­ity I re­ally ad­mire. That’s a com­pany value we both share.

“We both have a pas­sion for learn­ing. My dad’s an avid reader, es­pe­cially of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment books. I like to go and hear peo­ple speak, but it’s the same con­tin­ual search for new ideas or some­thing that can con­trib­ute to do­ing things bet­ter.”

At­ten­tion to de­tail, Wed­nes­day, Oc­to­ber 10, 2012

I am be­ing qui­etly ob­served when, lean­ing on my stick, I hob­ble un­aided to the bath­room at 4am. Marissa, hud­dled sleep­ily in the marsh­mal­low chair, eyes ev­ery ten­ta­tive step I take. It’s a small tri­umph, but my life is made up of tiny tri­umphs th­ese days.

Af­ter break­fast I am qui­etly scan­ning my bed to see what new things have ap­peared overnight. The room is be­ing put to­gether like a jig­saw puz­zle – new shapes emerge out of the shad­ows, en­tic­ing me to guess their names. My sight is re­turn­ing page by page, each one a filmy sheet of ac­etate with tiny scratches and marks on it. This morn­ing three black smudges on the far wall beckon me over, de­mand­ing my at­ten­tion.

Closer to hand, a Nivea bot­tle pro­vides a more in­stant re­ward. Some­thing so fa­mil­iar to my morn­ing rou­tine has taken on su­per­nat­u­ral qual­i­ties. In pre­vi­ous days this dark, heavy shape would have been handed to me, and my fin­gers guided to the lid. But, this morn­ing I know in­stantly what it is, and what’s more I know there is some­thing else there. It’s so faint that I have to hold my breath to reg­is­ter it, but a pale circle rises through the mist. As I hold the bot­tle two inches from my nose, in­dis­tinct out­lines start to dance.

This is pack­ag­ing; this is my job. Ex­am­in­ing the fine print on the prod­uct shot of a tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial is part of what I do. Care­fully check­ing we have the right brand, seek­ing out un­wanted high­lights and read­ing ev­ery sin­gle line of copy is nat­u­ral to me. I have knelt in front of many post-pro­duc­tion mon­i­tors to check th­ese small de­tails; but I never thought that I would find my­self ly­ing in a hos­pi­tal bed do­ing the same thing. A smile twitches at the side of my mouth as I re­call the char­ac­ter­is­tic phrase “at­ten­tion to de­tail” that you’ll find on many pro­duc­ers’ CVS. To­day it has a bit­ter irony.

It’s the last plasma ex­change to­day, the last time I will ex­pe­ri­ence the acer­bic com­men­tary of my sharp-tongued tech­ni­cian. I want this mag­i­cal treat­ment to go on longer. I want to know if the coiled up animal that lies sleep­ing on the white T-shirt the tech­ni­cian al­ways wears, will to­day wake up and show me its form.

I have an­other ap­point­ment in Neu­ro­phys­i­ol­ogy later, and I dread a re­peat of the awk­ward si­lences of a week ago. To­day, I am de­ter­mined to pass this damn test. As I am again wheeled into the stuffy room, a taut, brisk woman takes the place of my softly spo­ken friend. The hushed pleas­antries I am get­ting so used to gen­tly buzz around my head, but in­vis­i­ble fin­gers point silently at me. A bouncy young doc­tor is over­see­ing this process to­day, her bub­bling en­thu­si­asm slightly nau­se­at­ing. I feel like her ex­per­i­ment.

The brisk woman fusses that I should not be al­lowed to stay in the wheel­chair, but is over­ruled. I can feel her bristling be­hind me as she glues the sticky elec­trodes to my head, and am con­scious of my un­kempt hair be­com­ing even more ban­shee-like.

Brisk Woman asks me to look at a small spot on a TV screen in front of me, and my heart sinks. “What TV?” I ask, aware that this is go­ing the same way as last time. The room falls silent again, and a col­lec­tive yet sound­less sigh of dis­may breathes in and out. I sense Brisk Woman’s body jerk to my right, and I guess she is point­ing at the screen. I lean for­wards to touch a cold metal square and can only guess this is what she means. The en­thu­si­as­tic doc­tor fusses around me, guid­ing my hand to the small dot. I can feel the tech­ni­cian’s dis­ap­proval, and her im­pa­tience is like a wall of heat be­hind me.

The other peo­ple in the room lower their voices, per­haps think­ing that I won’t be able to hear them, given that I can’t see them. In fact, my hear­ing is like a fox’s at the mo­ment, alert and tuned into any

sound, in par­tic­u­lar the whis­pers of clin­i­cians try­ing to avoid me hear­ing them. My ears twitch at the words “waste of time” and Brisk Woman fi­nally bursts out. “She can’t see any­thing!” That’s it. “No!” I growl from the depths of my wheel­chair, turn­ing in her di­rec­tion. “I can see some­thing.” I start point­ing around the room. “There is a chair over there by the door, and there is a dark shape there on the wall that I think is a coat hook; and you are wear­ing a skirt.” I breathe fu­ri­ously as the si­lence re­ver­ber­ates around me, but I haven’t fin­ished yet. The fight in me is rear­ing up. “Five days ago I couldn’t see any­thing; but to­day I can see some­thing. OK, maybe not much, but there is some­thing there. So don’t tell me I can’t see any­thing, OK?”

My tirade dif­fuses the at­mos­phere in the room, and I can feel Mum in­vis­i­bly punch the air from her dark corner, and I taste her de­light. Apolo­gies fill the room, con­trite and shamed. They for­got I was a per­son, and now they are sorry. I in­sist they go ahead any­way, and I pass their in­fer­nal test.

“Ab­nor­mal read­ings” is the re­sult, but none­the­less there is some ev­i­dence of elec­tri­cal mes­sages try­ing vainly to get through. If they’d only asked me, I could have told them that. I am not off the hook yet and my pun­ish­ment for be­ing mouthy is to be wheeled off for yet an­other bag of in­tra­venous steroids and vi­ta­mins.

This is to be swiftly fol­lowed by an­other FMRI, this time with a glow in the dark dye. Maybe when they have lit up my in­sides like a nu­clear Christ­mas tree they will cross more nas­ties off the list.

The Protégé ar­rives later to give us an up­date. My lit­tle gang has a wa­ger run­ning that he is the star pupil here. I can tell from his boy­ish con­fi­dence and smi­ley voice that he is young and good look­ing; but he also seems kind, if some­times im­pa­tient. I have for­given him for his lack of tact about my nail pol­ish, and we have set­tled into a jovial ban­ter when he now waltzes into my room. He an­nounces that once the FMRI re­sults are in they hope to work out what has hap­pened to me. I have a mini leap of ex­cite­ment at this brave state­ment. They might be able to pin a la­bel on me af­ter all, al­though to date no­body has been any the wiser.

Once The Protégé has left, Jackie asks how I know that he’s at­trac­tive (af­ter agree­ing with me that he is). She’s curious as to why I could say this so con­fi­dently, when ob­vi­ously I couldn’t see his face. My an­swer is sim­ple: “Be­cause na­ture would never have made him ugly.”

As I hear my own an­swer I re­alise this re­flects how we as­sess those around us in life. High achiev­ers trans­mit their suc­cess through their be­hav­iour. I had cal­cu­lated from his stride that he was tall, and also noted the re­ac­tions of the women in the room when

he ar­rived. It was a com­bi­na­tion of th­ese fac­tors, along with more sub­tle pri­mal cues I couldn’t ex­plain, which helped me draw this con­clu­sion. In essence, I didn’t need to see him to know he was at­trac­tive. Jackie’s ques­tion left me mus­ing over the com­plex (and of­ten un­think­ing) ways in which we hu­mans com­mu­ni­cate with each other.

A friend vis­its me later on, and I smile as I recog­nise her fa­mil­iar voice when she kisses my cheek. She is wear­ing a polka-dot scarf, and I can make out vague stripes on her top. I won­der if Team Fam­ily briefed her to wear bold pat­terns be­fore she vis­ited. She nar­rates the story of her mother’s re­cent cancer di­ag­no­sis, which prompts a thump­ing to start deep in­side my chest. The doc­tors have elim­i­nated cancer­ous tu­mours from my di­ag­nos­tic list, but bad thoughts drip down in­side my mind any­way. We try to cheer each other up when re­ally we’re both mis­er­able. Health is such a del­i­cate busi­ness.

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