CNIB Eye Van

On the road with the CNIB Eye Van in Northern Ontario

In partnership with the Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (Ontario's Ophthalmologists), a section of the Ontario Medical Association, the CNIB Eye Van (Medical Mobile Eye Care Unit) was established in 1972 as part of the Prevention of Blindness program. Operated by CNIB, the fully-equipped medical mobile eye care clinic on wheels travels more than 6,000 kilometres each year. With the commitment from more than 25 ophthalmologists, the CNIB Eye Van visits 30 communities in Northern Ontario, providing service to approximately 4,500 patients.

Keeping eyes healthy: screening & prevention

The ophthalmologists conduct vision exams, treat eye conditions, perform minor surgeries, and offer much-needed medical advice and information about eye health. Nearly 90 per cent of the patients screened on the CNIB Eye Van are monitored for eye conditions that could lead to blindness, if left untreated.

Strengthening community partnerships through education

The ophthalmologists and CNIB staff hold sessions for members of the medical community to share information on vision health, diagnosis and treatment. The CNIB Eye Van also acts as a referral source for Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario (VLRO) and the CNIB Foundation.


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On the Road with the Eye Van

Shawn Lessard is an Ophthalmic Assistant aboard the Eye Van. Shawn will be blogging about his time on the road as the Eye Van travels across the remote communities of Northern Ontario from March until October.

Join Shawn on his adventure!

Missed a blog? Be sure to check out past installments.

Part 4:

"There is a town in North Ontario
Dream comfort memory to spare
And in my mind I still need a place to go
All my changes were there"
            -Neil Young, Helpless 1970

Another few weeks have elapsed in my experience with the CNIB Eye Van tour. After spending nearly a month in the town of Kapuskasing, and now completing my first week in Hearst, I can honestly say that I feel as though I have finally hit my stride.

As I sit here enjoying a beautiful sunny day, I can reflect on a lovely visit I had with my family over the Victoria Day weekend, and look forward to another cathartic experience in one short week when I get to see them again. The tour is progressing well, the blog is receiving tremendous praise, I feel rested…life is good!

As I bask in the glory of riding the crest of this high and mighty wave of life, I feel the momentum of hard work, ambition, and perhaps a little luck gathering behind me with unmeasurable force. Eager for what treasures the road will have for me in the future months, I feel optimistic for what lies ahead. As if I can conquer anything. As if I am winning.

However, as I reflect on this stage of my life, more precarious questions begin to taunt my mind. As happy as I am right now, how long will this last?  How long will I feel successful? How long will I have my health? How long will I be relevant in others' lives?

To be clear, I am not referring to the golden years which we all look forward to. A time in which we can enjoy the end of a career, beginning of a less stressful new chapter, spend time with grandchildren and impart wisdom on a younger generation. What I refer to is the time after that; the eventual fall from grace which we all know all too commonly precedes our final years on this earth. 

I can’t help but wonder if others ponder this notion. I assume that we all do.  Perhaps it’s the fear of slowly slipping down the slide, too far away from the outstretched arms of those we hold dear. Though we all know it isn’t going to happen tomorrow, we may sometimes be overcome by the weight of the unknown. If you allow yourself to reflect on this notion too long, it can quickly become overwhelming. You begin to ask yourself questions that most of us wouldn’t even want answered if granted the supernatural ability to peer into the future. How long will I enjoy life? Will I always be independent?  If not, when will things change? And, if things do change, when will it happen? At what point will I transition from important to not; from relevance to obscurity? 

As inevitable and precarious as these thoughts may be, the road has taught me to pay them no mind. Though it may be important to acknowledge these fears, we must remember to use them as motivation rather than allow them to smother us. To adopt a conviction of Carpe Diem, rather than await a darker day.

As I travel through the modestly populated lands of rural Northern Ontario, I bear witness to a collective of people who not only seem immune to these psychological fears, but also seem able to defy our perceived physiological rules surrounding aging as well.

Unconsciously, these people are re-writing what it means to “get old”.  In many cases, they seem to have eliminated the concept completely, replacing it with deferent stages of youth. If 60 is the new 40, then 80 is the new 60, and 90 is quickly beginning to merit a catch phrase of its own.

From great grandmothers getting new tattoos, to second world war veterans ridding their Harleys to the golf courses, my perception of age is being turned upside down. No longer do I view the age of 70 as the final chapter in our stories, but rather the prologue to an entirely new volume. The “golden years” no longer prompt a down-shift into an eventually parked state, but rather excite the pedal to the metal - preparing for the next 25,000 miles. 

This return to youth, or reluctance to ever depart it in the first place is one of the most inspirational phenomena I have encountered so far on this tour. I used to fear age, and feel sorry for those who were entering the “twilight” of their lives – unintentionally dismissing the “elderly” as weak and vulnerable. To my surprise, I now I have 80-year-old men teasing me for eating a salad at lunch while they wash down their burger and fries with a cold beer. My fears are not only negated, they seem to be a complete waste of time and energy. It has become more evident to me than ever; age is but a state of mind.

If the mind is the most powerful weapon at our disposal, and if it often “needs a place to go”, is it not wise to follow the path of optimism and youth, rather than fear and worry? I think Neil Young knew the answer to that question in 1970.
In conclusion, as I complete this entry and as I continue my trek further and further off the beaten path; and further yet from the imposed rubbish our society places on age, I myself intend to change. No longer will I worry about the unknown. Rather, I will embrace the pursuit of youth. If successful, I suspect I will follow the path of those who have enlightened me; I will get younger and younger.

Past Installments: