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The tranquility and beauty of the place got under his skin. People were trusting, empathetic. Still, his brain was churning. ‘What is wrong with me? Am I a psychopath?’.
“The psychiatrist just looked at me with kind eyes and said ‘how was I supposed to know that?’,” says Knud Romer, throws his arms out and then reproduces the rest of the answer:
That he – Knud Romer – had lived on the edge for too long. With alcohol, marijuana, too little sleep.
‘And then you’ve become blind and divorced at the same time. How much do you think a human can last? You’re burned together.’
It has been four and a half years since Knud Romer was diagnosed with advanced glaucoma and told that he would probably go blind.
Photo: Bax Lindhardt
Turning points in life can come in many shapes and sizes. For Knud Romer, it came in extra-large.
“I have lost everything. My wife, children, car, boat, birthdays, summer holidays, everyday life.’
“The only thing I can look forward to is going blind and not being able to support myself. You will be torn across,’ he says about landing there in the summer of 2018. At a private psychiatric hospital in Nykøbing Zealand.
At the age of 57 years.
Life otherwise looked bright when, on a rainy January evening that year, Knud Romer set off for his summer house in Østerhøj near Præstø to complete his long-awaited sequel to the successful novel ‘Den som blinker er bange for död’.
But on his way along the smudged wheel tracks in the forest – which he knew like the back of his hand – he suddenly landed in the ditch, climbed out of the car and tried to find the wheel tracks.
“Everything is completely black. I can’t see a shit. Suddenly trapped in reeds and mud, and is completely helpless. Fuck,’ says Knud Romer, who had not only lost his glasses in the heat of the match. The mobile was also dead.
He is sitting on the couch. With the left – still ‘good’ – eye directed at the journalist, a cup of coffee and the pipe within reach.
“Have you ever tried to scream for help? By the power of your full lungs?” he then asks.
The forest warden and his wife heard the scream. Saved him.
Knud Romer was standing just a few meters from the rut. But he couldn’t see that.
When he visited the optician shortly afterwards to order new glasses, he better understood why. He was totally blind in his right eye.
The eye disease is defined by a gradual loss of the retina’s innermost nerve cells
The optic nerve consists of about a million nerve fibers which transport the visual impression from the retina to the brain
The loss of nerve cells means that parts of the visual impression do not reach the brain and will therefore appear as blind spots in the visual field
Glaucoma often affects both eyes, but can develop at different rates in the two eyes
The disease is usually age related, but can also be congenital
In Denmark, over 100,000 people are being treated for glaucoma
Glaucoma is one of the most frequently occurring sight-threatening diseases
In addition to eye pressure, high life expectancy, cases of glaucoma in the family, thin corneas and myopia are examples of risk factors that can influence the development of the disease
Source: Eye Association
“You don’t think about it. Because the brain and the driver’s eye compensate for what is lost,’ he explains. But he only found that out later.
Frightened, he consulted a private ophthalmologist, who diagnosed him with glaucoma. That he had lost virtually all the optic nerves in his right eye and only had a few left in his left.
‘Am I going blind?’
‘Yes. Good luck settling into your new life, Romer’.
“Fuck man, I’m going blind. That’s all I can think of. I break down and start crying.’
“Then my wife says: ‘Knud, I can’t stand you any longer. I want a divorce. Pretty much the same day. And then I stand on the street with a rolling suitcase. Losing your whole existence at once,’ says Knud Romer.
This illustration from the Eye Association shows how vision gradually deteriorates with glaucoma. Knud Romer’s view is currently between the last and penultimate points.
Photo: Illustration from the Eye Association: Top line: Mediafarm; middle and bottom line: EyeTRU
For the next three months, he escaped into completing his novel, living on friends’ sofas and in their children’s bedrooms.
“Afterwards I go home and beg my wife not to get a divorce. But she wants a divorce. And then I break down. From overexertion, anxiety, everything. I can no more.”
The successful author ends up in a psychiatric hospital in Nykøbing Zealand. A 57-year-old newly divorced man who is on the way to becoming blind.
But the stay will also be a turning point for the good ones. Because it is in that process that Knud Romer finds out what is today one of his most important teachings. That ‘when the need is greatest, help is nearest’.
“And do you know why?” he asks and answers himself: “Only when the need is so great that you cannot help yourself do you have to ask others for help.”
This is what he did:
Like now that Sunday, when his old male friends came driving in a motorcade to help empty the summer house that was the epitome of his soul. Where he would live, work and die.
Archive photo of Knud Romer in front of the summer house in Østerhøj.
Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt
Like when his literary director at the publishing house found, paid for and took him to the psychiatric hospital in Nykøbing Zealand, where he regained some of his footing.
Like when he walked into a light pole, split his forehead and was helped to the hospital by neighbors in the neighborhood.
“I have changed my view of people completely radically, because I am surrounded by people who are so nice and helpful and empathetic that you think it’s a lie.”
“I get fucking lost if it’s dark. But there is always an older lady or a young man who asks, ‘Can I help?’.”
Knud Romer smiles. Is not like that to strike out. Although – to put it bluntly – it pisses him off when people claim he’s a fraud. That he is not at all as blind as he says. Which, among other things, Casper Christensen recently claimed in his podcast.
“Why the hell would I lie about that? Will they trade? Go ahead,’ he says and shakes his head.
Through his close collaboration with the Eye Association and senior physician in eye diseases, Miriam Kolko, Knud Romer has become a kind of ambassador for glaucoma. And is completely in control of his own.
He is blind on the right and has ten percent blurred vision left on the far side of his left.
“It makes me start walking like an original,” he laughs and says that he is constantly walking into things. Dogs and lampposts.
“I come to the emergency room constantly.”
Whether he ends up going completely blind is not known for sure. But he can still write.
Knud Romer can still write. But the books that his home is full of, he can no longer read.
Photo: Bax Lindhardt
“On the other hand, I can’t read anymore. It’s quite sad to lose all your quiet friends,’ he says with sadness in his voice and points to the extensive wall filled with all the books he has spent most of his life collecting.
Four years have passed since his life and world collapsed and he ended up in a mental hospital. But Knud Romer is not one to beat the floor.
“When the whole shit is taken from you at once, when the one you love is suddenly with another man, your children are in his swimming pool, and you can only look forward to going blind and maybe not supporting yourself, then you lose the identity you had.’
“I can never get that back. I’m not myself anymore. So it is such an afterlife that I live.’
“But I refuse to give up and lay down in the fetal position and am grateful for what I have: my friends and my sweet girlfriend. And who knows, maybe my story can help others?’