“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” — Albert Einstein
Steve “Iceman” Weekes celebrated his 45th birthday on March 28. There was no party, no fanfare, no elaborate presents. There was no need. He had already received the ultimate gift three weeks earlier: His eyesight.
Weekes, a father, former soldier, musician and erstwhile calypso monarch of Montserrat, returned to his homeland from Canada on March 13. Already blind in his right eye, he spent almost two months up north undergoing six procedures on his left eye – five laser surgeries to fix bleeding veins and, finally, an operation March 4 to remove a cataract and insert an artificial lens. His vision in the left eye is about 75 percent and he’s optimistic it can fully heal, but a lot of that depends on him.
“As a diabetic I have to adopt some lifestyle changes,” he says. “I also have to avoid lifting anything heavy, I have to avoid bending down because it might put strain on the eye.”
Weekes wears prescription sunglasses and must avoid dust and other similar hazards. Even rubbing the eyes can hinder the healing process. He admits the precautionary directives from his doctors were overwhelming at first.
“When I came home I was really mentally down,” he says. “I was even wondering how long I’m going to live. The journey has taken me through some mixed emotions. But the strength within me has multiplied.”
Weekes has the utmost gratitude for his countrymen at home and in the diaspora who raised more than E.C. $9,000 toward his surgeries. The funds also helped defray costs for his air fare and other items such as the protective sunglasses, which cost more than $300 (CAD).
Weekes has been on an emotional and physical roller-coaster with eye problems since 2013. That year he was struck in the right eye while driving a roller for Montserrat Public Works. He subsequently underwent surgery, but over time the sutures came loose. Montserrat does not have a permanent eye specialist, so he often had to wait for one to visit, or travel to Antigua himself. Even when he visited specialists, he would get conflicting diagnoses.
Last September, Weekes began having trouble seeing out of the left eye due to damage from diabetes. He kept his struggles hidden for a while. But after enduring legal setbacks, government bureaucracy and financial hardships, he went public. His emotional phone call to Radio Montserrat on the morning of January 7, 2019, led to an E.C. $15,000 grant from the government. But when exchanged to Canadian funds it was not enough to cover the surgeries. As a non-Canadian citizen, his health costs must be pre-paid. So Weekes pleaded for help again through social media and Radio Montserrat, leading to the $9,000-plus fund-raising drive.
“Everything I’ve done so far, including the lens, has been paid in full,” he says. “I still have some funds available that will help in case I need to go back to Canada for post-op checks.”
Although he has gotten a reprieve with his vision in the left eye, Weekes continues to face challenges. First, he prefers to communicate through voice notes these days because reading texts on the small screen of his phone is difficult. The artificial lens is extremely sensitive, and even the slightest ray of light can create a powerful glare. He returned to his job at Montserrat Public Works earlier this month but his duties are quite limited. Working out in the field is not an option and would surely endanger his delicate eye situation.
“The Human Resources department is currently in dialogue with my ministry [Public Works] as to whether I can be functional,” he says. “I have a diploma in social work. I can be a social worker. But getting transferred from one government department to another takes forever. I really need to move on to a job that is more conducive to my current situation.”
“What I’ve been through, somebody else might have taken a rope and gone to the hills and hang themselves. But as long as I have life, I give thanks and I press on.”
Another area that Weekes has been concerned about is his ability to perform one of his great loves: singing calypso. Weekes, who won the calypso monarch title in 2015 with his popular song Nar Sell Out, reached the calypso finals last December. But along the way he struggled to learn his own lyrics and missed valuable rehearsal time as a result. He still finished fifth out of the 10 finalists.
“Music is my life,” he says. “I would like to find an easier way of writing songs, even if I have to record the lyrics on my cellphone. I must adapt to a new way. Writing songs and performing is something I still want to do because this is one of my strengths.”
Weekes says he has been boosted by his local support system, which includes his brother, his 6-year-old son Ky-Ron and his good friend, former classmate and legal adviser Marcelle Watts.
“What I’ve been through, somebody else might have taken a rope and gone to the hills and hang themselves,” he says. “But as long as I have life, I give thanks and I press on. I feel like I’m now an advocate for people with impaired vision.
“I have one eye, but I cherish the one eye. Because I can’t cherish zero.”