Imprisoned in myopia

by Stingray (former Eye Write) December 2004

I used to be one of the top models in the United States. But that was years ago before I was imprisoned. No, I didn’t spend time in prison, but wound up with a physical disability that prevented me from modeling ever again. It is not a real physical disability in the real sense of the word as you would think, but more like a real inconvenience. It happened to me 8 years ago when I was at the very top of my career.

            Perhaps you remember Anna Manlova. She was the top model to come out of then Soviet Union. We personally were just friendly rivals in a very competitive business. At Anna’s insistence, I was invited to tour Russia for a photo shoot. Having never been there, it sounded very exciting and an excellent opportunity to further my career. I never expected in a million years what would happen to me.

            I met Anna at the airport in Moscow. She was not only lovely, but also quite charming as well. She spoke no English and I no Russian. Everything was handled through an interpreter. The Russians, though dour in appearance and demeanor, nonetheless smiled all the time. I never knew what they had in store for me.

            After several weeks of shooting in some of the coldest regions of Russia, Anna and I (and her entourage including ever present KGB agents) took a well-deserved break from the daily regimen and exhausting work.

            I was invited to go skiing with her at a lodge near Leningrad. I never skied before, but to be polite, I decided to go through the motions.

 What disturbed me about Russia was that we were constantly followed. Of course, there was the usual photographers, agents and publicity people always present. What unnerved me was the presence of those men in the dark coats and equally dark hats always pulled over their faces to disguise not only their looks but also their expressions. Every time I inquired as to who they were, I was always told they were Anna’s bodyguards. Personally, I think they were some kind of state security agent, possibly KGB agents.

Russia is a very uncomfortable place. Not withstanding the constant bitter cold, there was always constant conversation about me. Whenever I asked what they said, the interpreter would always answer “nyet” or “nothing”. “What are they up to?” I thought to myself.

On the first evening prior to our day of skiing, they had a party in my honor. I drank some very strong stuff, which I assumed was vodka. I started getting disoriented right away. The Russians just laughed. Soon everything was starting to get out of focus and then...

I finally awakened in what appeared to be a hospital. My eyes burned like hell and since they were bandaged, I couldn’t see a thing. To my horror, my hands were shackled to the bed.

Once in awhile someone would come in and say something in Russian and then I would hear a reassuring voice telling me that everything was okay. As the days passed, the pain in my eyes lessened.

After about a week or so, a doctor (I think?) told me what had happened to me. Speaking in broken barely understandable English, he told me that I suffered grievous injuries, but they were able to save my vision with some adjustment. When I asked what he meant, apparently he had already left.

“What injuries?” I thought, “I don’t even remember getting injured.” The next day they removed the bandages from my eyes. I couldn’t see a thing except a gigantic blur. It was like looking through a window smeared with Vaseline. I blinked several times to clear my eyes to no avail. Up close, I was okay, but I could only see dark shadows in the distance.

Later that day, several Russians approached my bed. I really couldn’t make out what they were doing, and naturally could not understand a word they were saying.

One of them came real close to me and I noticed in a very blurry way that she was holding a pair of eyeglasses in her hand. Before I could say anything like they are not mine or I don’t wear glasses, they were placed on my face and around my ears.

I must admit that I could see a bit better with them on, but everything was just not quite right. Things in the distance, though clearer were double.

“Can you see alright with the spectacles we made for you?” someone said in English.

“I never wore glasses before” I answered.

“My name is Doctor Krakov and I am your eye physician.” he said.

“What is wrong with my eyes?“ I said, “I can’t see a thing and I have double vision.”

“We will fix that”, he continued, “It’s a miracle you can see at all.”

“What happened to me?” I asked.

“You will find out tomorrow at your press conference.” he said as he left.

A press conference? What is this all about?

Later, someone came over to me with a machine on a cart with wheels. They took the glasses off my face and put my eyes directly into two openings at the back of this machine. I realized that this was some sort of eye testing machine and since I was having difficulty seeing, I knew it would be in my best interest to cooperate with them.

A woman doctor was operating this machine and she spoke understandable English. “When you can see good, you say I see good” she said “and when you no see good, you say I no see good. I will ask you number one or number two. You choose which one you see better. Do you understand me?” she asked. I said that I understood.

For the next fifteen minutes or so, a series of lenses were placed over first my right eye and then my left eye. It was a tedious experience, but when it was over and they opened up both eye portals, I could see as well as I did prior to ever coming to Russia. She then pulled the machine away from my eyes and left the room. A nurse replaced the eyeglasses they gave me back on my face.

No one came back that day. Even though I had fallen asleep with my glasses on, they left them in place when I awakened the next day. I immediately noticed my hands were free from their shackles. I could see a few doctors and medical staff were coming toward me.

Without a word, they removed the glasses from my face and then put on a new pair of glasses. I could see perfectly without any distortion, blurriness or double vision. They seemed extremely heavy on my face. I looked up and everyone was smiling at me. I touched the frames of the glasses and they seemed very large, plastic and heavy. A nurse held a hand mirror in front of me. It was awful, it was terrible and my career was ruined. Tears streamed down my face. These dumb Russians all smiled, either at my misery or they thought I was crying from happiness.

The lenses in these glasses were extremely thick and very weird looking. They were eyeglasses I have never seen on anyone ever before. In the very center of the lens was what appeared to be another lens the size of a quarter. Basically, these glasses were a lens within a lens and they were not flattering at all. I took them off momentarily to examine them. I held them as close as possible to get a real look at them.

The frame was really outdated. It was something right out of the early 1970’s. They were made of plastic and were brown and white with thick plastic sides that went completely around my ears instead of just resting on them. The lenses were made of glass and as I said they were extremely heavy. Even though the frames were thick and bulky, I noticed that the lenses protruded out the sides at both the outer edge and inner edge closest to my nose.

Suddenly, I started to get dizzy and felt my eyes turning outward. I put the glasses back on my face and everything seemed fine again. “How are you today?” I looked up and it was Doctor Krakov.

“Are you ready for your press conference?” he inquired. “We are leaving now”.

With that, I was ushered out of bed for the first time in weeks. Several orderlies dressed me in a hospital robe and put me into a wheelchair. They then moved me out of the ward and into a large room.

I looked around the room and there was a podium with lots of microphones, a few cameramen and lots of people standing around the podium and in the audience. The first familiar face was Anna Manlova. She came over to me smiled and squeezed my hand. She then shook her head and stepped back. I then heard the voice of Doctor Krakov.

“The great doctors of The Soviet Socialist Republic have performed this day a medical miracle saving a young life. The life I am talking about is Terry Bradford, a model from the United States. She met with tragedy here in our Mother Country and superb Soviet doctors were able to save her life as well as her sight.“ he said.

Everyone in the room broke into loud applause. I was then whisked from the room and whatever happened after that was unknown to me.

When I got back to my hospital bed, it had been made. There was clothing laid out on the bed. They helped me dress, put on a wool coat and put me back into the wheelchair. I was taken to a waiting bus.

The bus drove me to the airport and I was placed on a plane. I was told the plane would land in New York. The minute we left the airport and took off, a great feeling of relief came over me.

Hours and hours passed. No one talked to me except the flight attendants who offered me drinks and things to eat. Finally we landed in New York.

Basically, that is the end to my story. I was considered legally blind without my glasses and now wear them every waking minute. As it turned out, Anna Manlova took over as the top model in the world. There was really no place in professional modeling for a girl in eyeglasses such as mine. Fortunately, I had made many wise investments and would be set financially for life.

I went to many ophthalmologists over the years and they basically all told me the same thing. This is the scary part of the story and finally needs to be told.

The Russians wanted Anna Manlova to be the top model in the world and not have to take a back seat to a person from the dreaded United States. The party I attended prior to my ski vacation was a set up. They drugged me.

I was then taken to a state hospital where eye surgeons performed surgery on my eyes making me as nearsighted as possible. To add to the mix, they made me cross-eyed as well. American eye doctors through the use of x-rays said that they elongated my optic nerves to produce the effect they wanted. They did what they had to do not to the point where I was blind, but to a point where I would need thick strong glasses for the rest of my life, basically eliminating me from world modeling competition.

At their news conference, which I briefly attended, they told the press a different story. They said I was injured while skiing. There was a clot on my brain, which needed to be removed to keep me alive. In order to remove the clot, they had to operate in the vicinity of the optic nerves. They cleared up the “clot”, but the loss of vision was the end result. Bullshit...right? Yes, it was.

Doctors said they really couldn’t do anything to help me. There was a two to one shot that I would go blind totally from any type of surgery if performed and only a one in thousand chance it would be successful. I couldn’t take those odds.

That was eight years ago. Fortunately, my eyesight did not worsen. I have changed the frames often, but the lenses remain rather thick and always will be that way. I have since married and John, my husband only knew me with glasses and likes me...no make that, loves me this way.

A postscript to this story is that just two weeks ago I ran into Anna Manlova. She actually recognized me. I barely recognized her. Ironically, she too was wearing glasses. They had thick lenses like mine, but were just the opposite effect. Her eyes were enormous, magnified at least three times their normal size. How the worm turns.

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