One morning, taxi driver Mohd Kamil Affendy Hashim woke up, reached over for his phone and glasses, and tried to read the messages that had come in during the night.
However, he discovered that he could not read anything on the screen. Confused, he looked around and realised that the entire room was fuzzy.
Even more confused, he decided to go for a check-up as he had never experienced such a problem before. At the clinic, he told the doctor that the blurred vision could be due to his diabetes.
“But the doctor said that I was only recently diagnosed with the disease, so the eye problem could not be because of it.”
Reassured, he thought perhaps the issue lay with his glasses. But even after taking them to be checked as well, his vision remained blurry.
A doctor at another clinic diagnosed him with conjunctivitis. After that, he went to Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) for another check and was admitted after being screened for Covid-19.
Eventually, the diagnosis came: bilateral optic neuritis, a condition which occurs when the optic nerve is damaged by swelling.
This came as a blow to Kamil who, for 13 years, had earned a living as a cabbie.
At first, he tried to continue driving as usual but after several attempts and nearly meeting with an accident, he was forced to concede that he could no longer continue working, at least not with his taxi.
Multiple job hunts were unsuccessful. He tried applying as an attendant at a petrol station and as a worker at hotels and restaurants but none of his applications went through.
“My friends told me to apply to be a security guard,” he told MalaysiaNow. “They said health check-ups can be faked, but I don’t want to do that.”
One of the jobs he applied for was a dishwasher at a hotel near Chow Kit. But working the night shift meant that he would need to take a taxi or Grab home to Gombak after work, which was too expensive to think of. By his calculations, the fare alone would have been half his daily pay.
Even before his eyesight began to go, life had been challenging due to the Covid-19 crisis. Kamil was unable to ferry as many passengers as he used to, and some days he was lucky to make RM20 or RM30.
But he tried to find other uses for his taxi, sometimes picking up groceries or sending parcels for his regular customers.
One of the most cruel ironies is that several years ago, he made a splash on social media for offering to drive blind people who depended on guide dogs to get around.
It has been three months since he last drove his taxi.
At the moment, he can still make ends meet through the money that he and his mother receive from the zakat authority.
“I was already categorised as mentally disabled since 2020 due to my bipolar disorder,” he said. “The financial aid from the agency helps, but I insist on finding a job as I cannot depend on welfare alone.”
In order to fix the problem with his eyes, Kamil needs to undergo what is called a plasma exchange.
“I was told that I have to undergo five sessions,” he said. “One tube (for the transfusion) costs RM1,000, so five sessions is RM5,000.”
His doctor has told him that there is some money from a fund to assist people who need to undergo this process.
“But the chances are 50-50,” he added. “There is a risk of infection and clogging in my blood vessels which could cause death.”
Kamil is doing his best to adjust to his new normal, but it is difficult.
“I was offered a chance to enrol in the Malaysian Association for the Blind, but I would need to stay in Ipoh for six months.
“My eye check-up can only be done at HKL, so I have to give it a miss.”