Thursday, November 27, 2014

Everyday is Thanksgiving Day


I've read somewhere that life is what you make it. You can choose to give up and feel sorry for yourself or you can keep trying to make the most of what you have each and every day.

As I sit here, thinking it's Thanksgiving Day in the United States. What do I have to be thankful for? And honestly? We should be thankful year round, not just on or around Thanksgiving. If we really look hard enough, we can find a lot to be thankful for every day. It's not about the feast or gathering with our family and friends. 

I have a roof over my head. I have two beautiful girls. I have a wonderful guide dog who attracts attention for herself rather than what she can do for me. I get lots of comments like "What a beautiful dog" or "She's so pretty". Almost every time we go somewhere, to the doctor's, to a restuarant, to the dentist, to the store...someone will make a comment about what a good looking dog she is. (I used to fear getting a guide dog for the attention, but this wasn't what I was expecting.) 

I look back on the past few years of my life, especially the past two decades. I went from total denial of having Usher syndrome. I was deaf. Wasn't that enough? Did I have to deal with this blinding disease called retinitis pigmentosa (RP) that erodes the peripheral vision, little by little (sometimes even in bigger chunks). I tell myself, "Ok, dI need to look where I am going. I don't have RP. But sooner or later, I knew  I couldn't really can't deny it to myself  anymore. It was real. It was happening. 

It not only affects my life, but those around me. Those I live with or those who know me well. It changes a lot of how I do things. I have to keep changing, adjusting to what I do all the time. 

I thought the hardest thing was giving up driving. I was wrong. On two counts. I thought I lost my independence. I realize now it's the convenience I miss. I miss the privilege to drive and go where I want to go, when I want to go. I have other options. I can take the city bus or get a taxi. Both require planning. I have to be at the bus stop when it comes through. That means I have to at least be a good five minutes early just so I don't miss the bus. In the winter, it's a pain. I have to wait in the cold, walk in icy, snowy conditions. (You'd be surprised at how many people don't shovel or don't do it right a way and it's just "not a walk in the park". After all, how many people would want to walk a couple of blocks in the snow? The most they'd do is walk to the car (if it's not in an attached garage) or have to walk through a parking lot, watching for slippery spots.  As for the taxi, I can call them to pick me
up, but it could be a 20 minute wait. I could get a ride from a friend for family member. I still have to "plan" around their schedule. 

I had more things in store for me. Harder than giving up driving.

Coming out of the proverbial RP closet. I wanted to be "normal". I didn't want people to know I had a vision problem. (I had no problem telling people I didn't hear well, but this was not te same. I grew up with hearing loss. I'm used to it.)
It's another story to admit to the world you have a vision problem, too. I had to reach the point where I knew I had to do this. 

What point was that? Walking into things in public. Glass doors I thought were open...bang. Oops. That was a door. The slippery when wet signs in stores. Either I'd walk into them or I'd push the cart into them. I wouldn't see them. I'd trip or bump into so many things that I thought to myself that I
would rather look like a blind person than to walk around like a klutz. I'd rather get a helpful hand than people staring at me like I should watch where I was going. The final straw was at the local County Fair. we were walking around, with all those thick electrical wires zigzagging all over the place to run those rides. There was a stroller. I stopped myself in time to not walk into that stroller. (OMG.) Instead I crashed into a woman. I mutter a "I'm sorry" and "excuse me". People were
gathering, circling around a guy who was speaking. I don't remember what he was talking about, but he saw me crash into that lady. I barely heard him say "She broadsided you, didn't she?" (OMG. I was so embarrassed.) If I had a cane back then, I'd have pulled it out and gave a reason for that "crash" and shut him up. 

So I got the cane training. I was ready for it, though I still felt awful for using it. There was a difference between mentally ready and emotionally ready. 

It got easier. It's not perfect. I still have days where I just want to "pass for normal". 

So I do have a lot to be thankful for. I have the cane training, I have my guide dog, I have support and options.

Rita's Ramblings

When you get into your car to get to work, remember that you DO have something to be thankful for. You can provide for your own transportation. If you don't, you It have similar options like walking, taking the bus, calling a taxi, or even taking the train if you have one near you. 

If we look hard enough, there's always something to be thankful for. Always. 

Friday, April 06, 2012

Guide Dog Manners

Rules to go by when encountering

a guide dog team.

Source: Guide Dog Foundation

  1. Don't touch, talk, feed or otherwise distract the dog while he is wearing his harness. Do allow the dog to concentrate and perform for the safety of his master.
  2. Don't treat the dog as a pet. Do give him the respect of a working dog.
  3. Don't give the dog commands. Do allow the master to do so.
  4. Don't try to take control in situations unfamiliar to the dog or master. Do assist the master upon his request.
  5. Don't walk on the dog's left side as he may become distracted or confused. Do walk on the owner's right side but several paces behind him.
  6. Don't attempt to grab or steer the person while the dog is guiding him or attempt to hold the dog's harness. Do ask if the owner needs your assistance and, if so, offer your left arm.
  7. Don't be over-protective or overbearing when the graduate first arrives home with the new dog. Do be thoughtful, patient, and try to inspire confidence in the master. In time, you will admire the expertise of the team.
  8. Don't expect too much too soon. Do remember that the dog is young and that complete harmony and confidence take patience, perseverance and time.
  9. Don't give the dog table scraps. Do respect the master's need to give the dog a balanced diet and to maintain its good habits.
  10. Don't allow children to tease or abuse the dog. Do allow it to rest undisturbed.
  11. Don't allow your pets to challenge or intimidate a guide dog. Do allow them to meet on neutral ground when all parties can be carefully supervised.
  12. Don't allow the dog on your furniture or in areas of the home mutually agreed upon by the family and master. Do ask the master to correct any errant behavior or trespassing.
  13. Don't let the dog out of the house unsupervised. Do understand its value to the master.
  14. Don't pat the dog on the head. Do stroke the dog on the shoulder area but only with its owner's approval.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Scenes Look at Guide Dogs

Many people assume the handler of a guide dog is blind. Some are visually impaired and have some vision. This is also true of white cane users. They are not all fully blind.

Some think when they see a guide dog, it's called a "Seeing Eye" dog or "Leader Dog" but that is only if the dog came from that guide dog school. Not all come from Seeing Eye or Leader. So, in general terms, it's "guide dog". When I first learned about guide dogs, I did the same thing. "Blind people get Seeing eye dogs." But really, it's "Blind/visually impaired people get guide dogs if they want to." It's a choice.

Many people may have seen a team, a guide dog and its master, working together, walking around town, through the mall, grocery stores, navigating the streets, and so on. Maybe you have seen a blind or visually impaired person crossing a street together. But have you thought about the steps that lead to this point?

As puppies, they are raised by “puppy walkers” or volunteers (even a young teenager can volunteer) for about a year. They are trained the basics.

There is a lot of commitment and time and love given to the puppy from the puppy walker and his/her family. The puppy is socialized (well behaved) and is exposed to many different situations so it is “tested” on its comfort level in all environments.

It must be confident in different modes of transportation (subways, trains, buses, vehicles, and including escalators and more.)

There are MANY volunteers who do this. They put in a lot of time to help these puppies be future guide dogs. They deserve a standing onovation because in the end, they know they are giving the dog back after all that hard work. That has to be the hardest part because you know they end up loving that dog, yet they know it’s for a good cause and that they are a part of that good cause.

After that, they are back with the trainers at a guide dog school. This may take about six months or so. The dog then gets more training. Once it completes this part of its training, it gets advanced training by a mobility teacher and is “matched” to the handler, a visually impaired or blind person who has applied for a guide dog. .

But some dogs don’t pass. What happens then? They may function in different way, like as dogs for the disabled or therapy dogs. If this is not possible, then the dog may be offered back to the puppy walker. Or, there is always a long waiting list of people who would love to adopt a dog from the school. Some schools had such a long waiting list that they don’t accept applications for adopting a retired dog.

Dogs can be retired for many reasons. Most guide dogs work for about 8 years. So by the time the handler gets the dog, it is already about 2 years old. I have known some handlers work with their guides till it is about 11 years old because it is healthy and able. Some dogs, due to unforeseen health issues, may have to be retired early. You just never know. I’m guessing on average, handlers may get successor dogs about every 8-10 years. Every dog the handler gets takes that extra time to learn to be a team and every dog is special in the handler’s heart.

The Matching Process

When a visually impaired/blind person applies for a dog, he/she has to have a physician fill out a health form, an ophthalmologist fill out an eye report, get character references, and validate his/her O&M (orientation and mobility) skills via video or have someone visit you at your home to observe your caning skills and see how you navigate and what your environment is like. What are your activities? Where do you go? What transportation do you use?

The guide dog school selects (matches) a dog (or two) that they think may work (match) with the handler and his or her lifestyle, habits, activities, family life, whether they have other pets, and so on. They also look at the gait and speed and personality of the handler and match him or her with a dog that may be compatible. (Sometimes the dog just isn’t working well with the handler and they find another dog or use a back up dog or just don’t get one.) It is not statistically high, but it does happen, maybe one or two in every class of 10-15 students (handlers). I’m guessing this, so maybe I’m wrong. I do know it does happen,

So next time you see a team (guide dog and handler) working together somewhere, think about the work that was put into it, from the puppy walkers, to the trainers, to the mobility instructor and the on-going working team.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Right Thing

Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. Pride gets in the way sometimes or it is more that we are weak and want to ignore what is right for whatever reason. It is in our nature. And while it is in our nature, we can fight it, but just choose not to.

I knew I had retinitis pigmentosa (20) in my twenties. I should have given up driving then. But I didn’t. I wanted to keep driving. It was a convenience I did not want to give up.

As my vision worsened, I limited my driving, telling myself that it was okay. So I was becoming nightblind. Okay. I’ll avoid driving in the dark. I could still see in the daytime. I’ll drive then.

By the time I was 30, I asked co-workers who lived in the same town I did if I could ride with them so I didn’t have to drive. It was dark at 5 or 6 in the morning late September to early April. I had a half-hour commute on country roads with no street lights. When the roads were freshly painted with yellow lines, I’d be able to follow that, but when it faded, it was too dark to see the road. On days when it just rained and the roads were blackened with rain, it was hard to see the yellow lines. There was too much glare.

So for the next six years, I rode with various co-workers and paid them for gas.

I still drove in the daytime, but during the week, it was limited by the shorter days. I’d get dropped off from work, hop in the car, and rush to pick up the kids and head home as soon as I cold before it got dark.

Then there was a merger at work. I faced relocating to the other factory in the next town or take the severance pay and go back to school. By this time, I had two co-workers who could drive me to work and they were both taking the severance pay. How was I to get to work? I took the severance pay. It was a good thing, too, because a year later, I’d have been permanently laid-off anyway and have no severance pay.

So I attended school. My vision worsened some more. I’d like to say it was due to stress of schoolwork and demands of home life, but it could also be just the progression of RP.

People who knew me worried about my driving. I got to the point that I prayed for my safety, my kids’ safety as I drove them around and for other people around me who would be in my path. I scanned the roads constantly, but it was very stressful. (It's amazing how much the brain "sees" and makes you think you see more than you really do. My mom calls it "angels working overtime". They are watching for me.

I started to avoid certain things, like left turns. It was a lot of work for me to make sure there was no traffic going both ways for me to make my turn. I only made left turns at streetlights and four way stop signs. Other times, I made a lot of right turns. I may have gone out of my way at times, but it was “safer”.

There were many tree-lined streets in our town. In the late afternoon, the branches of trees hovered above the streets and it cast shadows on the streets. I felt like I was driving in the dark. And, with RP, my light-to-dark adaptation did not help. It was a stressful situation to be in. I needed time to adjust to the changes in light/darkness and that did not help when I was driving. It also bothered me in the early mornings. I’d take the oldest to school and make a turn into the bright sun. It was blinding. I needed more time to adjust. It was the same when the sun set.

I also drove along the outer edges of parking lots of stores. I didn’t trust myself to drive along the front where pedestrians would be coming in and out of the store entrance. I parked at the farthest lane so I wouldn’t have to worry about pedestrians, too. I’d look for a spot so that I’d be able to drive straight out instead of backing up.

My driving days were numbered. Daytime driving wasn’t as safe as I thought. It was stressful. Was it worth all that just to drive? Could I live with the guilt if I were to hit someone, fatally or injure him/her so badly that it changed his/her life? What about a potential lawsuit? No.

The day I gave up driving was a big relief. I felt like my shoulders were lifted of a heavy burden. I knew it was the right thing to do. For everyone’s safety.

But, it was hard. It was a convenience that I had to give up. I couldn’t go anywhere whenever I wanted to. I had to ask for a ride. I had to find rides. I had to wait for rides. It was a lot harder than I thought. I was pretty depressed. I was going to quit school, but was talked out of it. I could get taxi rides, walk, or take a bus. I had options. I took more online classes so I didn't have to leave the house and arrange/plan for rides.

Soon my vision took another dip. My depth perception was not good. I’d walk up to a curb and “forget” it was there. I’d misstep and jar my backbone as I stepped down. I’d grab a railing every time I’d use the stairs. Going up stairs was easier than going down. As I went up, I could see where the top was as I went up. Going down, however, I couldn’t see the edges of the steps unless there was a contrasting line across the edge.

When standing in line, I'd think there's a space in front of me and I'd realize someone was still in front of me. It was hard to see how close someone was. I've always had this 'personal space" thing where I found I was too close to someone because I wanted to hear them, but also because I didn't realize how close they were. I had this malfunctioning radar that did not warn me that "objects are closer than they appear". I tried my best to watch for that when I was in line anywhere. At a bank, at the library, and even at church, especially during communion. I refused to take communion unless someone was guiding me and stood in front of me so if I crashed into her, she'd know why. (I know this is wrong. It's pride, wanting to keep from embarrassing myself, not only the fear of walking into the person ahead of me in line, but the trek back to the pew. I found myself walking back to the wrong pews. Again, here, I should just ask an usher or someone to help. I am going to work on that. And hopefully soon, I'll have a guide dog that will help in this situation. I need to let go of this self-consciousness and pride.)

I’d be walking into people, strollers, ‘slippery when wet” signs in stores, and trip over a lot of things.

Getting the cane was a “face it” moment for me. I knew it would help me, but at the same token, I didn’t want people to pity me or announce myself as a person who had vision problems. But I got used to it and I wished I did this a long time ago. It’s funny how hindsight is 20/20 in situations like these. I guess I had to be ready.

Doing the right thing is hard sometimes, but it can be the best thing you do for yourself, your consciousness, and for those around you.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pride and Prejudice

Notice how the blind/visually impaired person in the above picture is holding on to the elblow like a claw? They are also a step behind the sighted guide. It is really a big help in big crowds and unfamiliar places. :)

Over the past few years, I can see my own personal growth, though at times I can still go through moments of prideful, narrow-minded selfishness of not wanting/accepting help or even some vanity towards not wanting people to treat me differently. These moments are far and between, however.

Five years ago, I didn’t use the cane. My hearing was really bad. The hearing aid in the left ear did not pick up speech. I was deaf in that ear. The right ear, while it was picking up speech, it only picked up about 32%. Meanwhile, my vision was dwindling bit by bit, as instructed by my DNA to self-destruct photoreceptor cells (rods and cones in the retina) one by one.

For many years, I pushed the idea of slowly going blind out of my mind. I was in denial. I could see. I just missed things. People aren’t perfect. It was all in my mind. But as the years went past, I couldn’t deny that I had blind spots that widened in the peripheral vision. I’d spread out my arms and bring them forward, seeing how far my hands would go in front of me till I could see my hands. They got ever closer to the center. It was like a big doughnut or tire was right in front of my eyes. I could see a sliver of movement/light at the far sides of my vision and then nothing, not blackness, just nothing, like it was erased, filled in the periphery, then I could see through the doughnut hole, the central vision. It was clear, with some staticky snow (like what the TV looks like with poor/no reception) around the edges of the vision I have left.

I knew my driving days were numbered. I was limiting so much of my driving that it became apparent that I had to quit. I didn’t want to hit anyone and get sued, especially if it came out that I knew I had retinitis pigmentosa (RP), a genetic condition that results in nightblindness and loss of peripheral vision, and can lead to total blindness.

I continued to walk to places. I did what I could.

I couldn’t imagine using the cane. Oh, the humbleness!! The vanity!!! I didn’t want anyone to know I had a vision problem. I didn’t want pity or people staring at me. Yet, because I grew up wearing hearing aids (HAs), it didn’t bother me if people saw that. I’d wear ponytails. I’d tell people I didn’t hear well. I was used to that. It was a life long thing. But this, this RP that was robbing me of my sight, was not something I wanted people to know about except for close friends and family. I slowly told a few more people, but it was hard. I wanted to hide it and I tried for as long as I could.

Three years after I quit driving, I got O&M training (white cane training). At the time, I still had a lot of pride and vanity. I didn’t want to use the cane; I just wanted to learn how to use it, just in case. With that in mind, I learned how to walk “in step” with it (that is, keeping the cane tip opposite of each step I took), learned strategies of street crossings of all kinds, though the one I hate the most is where there is designated right hand turns at every street corner. Drivers would be too busy looking for a break in traffic to make their right turn rather than to notice that there’s a pedestrian with a cane standing at the corner, even if I were to use the strategies I learned, like waiting for the car in the nearest parallel lane to just pass the street corner in front of me or behind me (where ever the nearest lane of traffic flows) to cross the street. This is supposed to insure that all other cars have to wait for that car to cross before turning into the street I’m crossing. By the time the car passes through the intersection, I’m already halfway across the street.

Then, to my surprise, after I was done with O&M, I kept using the cane. It was handy. It found the curbs for me. It found the cracks, even though at times I’d get a sharp jab in the gut or hip because when the cane stopped at a crack, I kept moving forward. Yeah, ouch.

I tried a different way of holding the cane to avoid the rut-gut chain reaction. It’s not fool-proof, but it’s better.

I got used to the stares. It’s a rare thing to see a “blind” person walking around with a cane. Some people think they can stare at a blind person, because, well, they think the blind person can’t see him/her staring. Sometimes I stare at them right back or just ignore them.

Just the other day, on my walks with the dog, I encountered brush on the sidewalk. Someone in the neighborhood got a lot of branches down and put them to the side of the road. It was halfway into the sidewalk. For about two weeks, I’d forget it was there, but the cane would always find it and I’d have to walk around it.

In stores and other public places, I’d pass children and hear them ask their parents, “Why is she walking with that stick?” or something like that. I can overhear them, thanks to my cochlear implants (CIs), which I got so I could hear better. (I still can’t get over how much I can hear things/voices behind me, from the sides without looking at the source and know what is said. Wow.) I felt safer being able to hear something I couldn’t see and also be less isolated. It can be a lonely world if you can’t see and hear well. You feel left out. People don’t know how to act around a person like me. With the CIs, I don’t feel as left out or isolated, but given my shyness, it’s not easy to come out and be gregarious, either. And I still feel “deaf” even though I can hear well with the CIs. It’s hard to explain that. I still have struggles hearing in certain environments where people congregate most. In restaurants. In bars. At wedding receptions…you get the idea.

In the past two years that I’ve been using the cane, I can see how far I’ve come as far as letting people know I have a vision problem. A few places I go to a lot, like the gas station a few blocks away, my children would get asked, “Can your mom see? I see her walking all the time.” And she’d respond, “Yes, my mom can see some.” Some of them say that they always see me walking period. (Why pay a cab/bus fare for a ride one mile away when I can walk?) People think a person using the white cane is totally blind. They are surprised.

It gets hard to accept help at times, though. If someone opens the door of a public place, that’s fine. I’m okay with that. But I do have moments when I feel a bit of self-pity, that rush of hot tears prickling the back of my eyes and shrug it off, maybe with a hard swallow over a throat that suddenly got a hard lump in it. It is not easy, yet so much better than walking around bumping into things and people thinking you are drunk or on drugs. Far better to use the cane that announces to the world that I hit things because I don’t see them, not because I’m drunk or inattentive or something?

I recently attended a bible study at my church. I haven’t done this in years, not since they had a mom’s bible class when my youngest was about four years old. But the church was dark. Not many lights were on. I was early, but I wanted to be. Someone from the church knew me and guided me to the room where the bible study was going to be. Once I got into the room, I thanked her, swallowed a hard lump and blinked fast, pushing off that bit of self-pity that stung my eyes. Would these moments ever end? I shouldn’t feel bad about accepting help.

Last week was Parent’s Night at my oldest daughter’s high school. I never attended one and she was a senior now. The first year, I was just “in hiding” about my vision. I just got my first CI and wasn’t comfortable getting around a school that changed so much since I attended there. The next year, I had the cane, but again, I was just nervous. Last year, I was going to go, but my second CI surgery fell on the same day the Parent Night was scheduled. I wasn’t going to walk around with a head bra (bandage). Can you imagine that scenario? Me, with a turban around my head, fresh out of surgery, with a cane….I’d look like a car wreck victim. lol

This time, I went. Again, the school went through a couple of remodeling stages, adding a second floor over the old gym which converted into a stage/chapel area and a new gym was built as an attachment to the building. I’d be lost if it weren’t for a few of the staff who started to help me, but a kind parent insisted on guiding me to each class. I did not feel that “self-pity” at all. I was kind of laughing over it, maybe because I was sure most parents didn’t know where all the classrooms were, either. I wasn’t alone.

So, yes, I do see how much I grew, accepting help, getting around with a cane, and even talking about the RP without wanting to cry. It was a fact of life. It was my life. It may not be normal, but the “new normal” was my “normal”. Yes, I am still shy, self-conscious, but I feel that my self-confidence is so much better than it was 25 years ago.

Pride and Prejudice.

My pride, my narrow-minded mindedness and vanity and other’s perceptions of blindness...

Be open. Be accepting. We are all different. If we like ourselves, then that is all that matters.

P.S. Update on guide dog school: I just have to finish my video demo of my O&M skills and then it's wait for them to match a dog to my life style, how active I am, how often I go to places, how I travel, etc. A guide dog doesn't just get given to you just because he or she is trained for it. For example, I do a LOT of walking. I would need a dog that likes to do a LOT of walking. Make sense? I don't do a lot of long road trips, but I may do weekly four hour shopping trips in stores. A dog would be chosen for what I do and how active I am.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Another Driver

Where did my baby go? Driving already?

Flare got her driver's license early this summer. She has her own car. She's so glad not to have to ride the bus or taxi again.

For me, it's nice that there's another driver in the house, at least temporarily, considering she's a senior and will be moving on to college next year. So while it's nice, I know it's not permanent and I still can walk around with the cane, ride the bus or taxi, or get a ride from someone. I just don't want to let myself get used to it, because my life will be the same when she's gone. Besides, I don't want to hold her back. She's got to live her own life, not cart her mom all over the place.

Soon, she will start school and I will be doing the same things I've always done. That is, if I needed or wanted to get a few things, I'll hop on the bus while the kids are in school. I'll find my own way to get to the appointments I have made for me during the times they are in school.

My CIs are still going strong. I am still deaf. I still don't get everything and the noisier things are, the harder it is to hear. I take them out during the night, I'm deaf. I take them out for a workout (in the house only) or while showering and drying my hair, I'm deaf. Sometimes, in the early morning hours when no one is awake, I'll be enjoying some quiet time for myself. There isn't much to tell that's new.

Now, I may be starting a new chapter in my life. Another journey. This time I'm giving serious thought to getting a guide dog. When I first started using the cane, some people, even a woman who was a member of the local Lion's Club, approached me about getting a guide dog. I was like, "No, thanks." I had two dogs as pets at the time and that was enough. I just was not comfortable with the idea of a guide dog, though during this time, some friends I knew were in the process of getting or just got their dogs. I just wasn't ready. So early this spring, we were discussing dog guides and with almost two years of caning under my belt, I was more open to guide dogs. We were down to one dog as a pet and I played around with the idea and looked into the guide dog schools from the GDUI website where there is a listing of all the guide dog schools.

But I can ask questions about the dog guides to my friends who already have one and they are a great resoruce.

I was down to three schools and got the paperwork on two of them and started applying. One school allowed me to send in pieces of it at a time (eye report, references, health report, video, etc) or whatever else they needed to complete the application.

You are supposed to have knowledge on using the cane. O&M skills is important so they know you know how to navigate independently on your own, crossing streets, using stairs, and walking with a sighted (human) guide.

This is what the video is for. So they know how you use your cane and how fast you walk. There may be more, but this is the gist of it. This helps trainers match a dog to you. If you walk fast, you will get a more energetic dog. What is your lifestyle? Do you have kids in the house? Other pets? A dog is matched for that.

So, in future blog posts, you will start to read about my journey into getting a guide dog. I've done so many things in the last five years as my vision changed.

Gave up driving.

Got a CI.

Got O&M training.

Got another CI.

Now, a guide dog. Like the CI and cane, it took me some time to think about it and actually go ahead and do these things. Some of it was my own vanity. I didn't want people staring when I got the cane out. But the more I did it, the easier it got. As for the CIs, they were an easier decision because I had no vanity issues with that. I wore hearing aids all my life. I was used to telling people I had a hearing problem. I was deaf. With the CIs, I hear more, but I still misunderstand at times. I am hearing more with the CIs than with the hearing aids. But then again, if it weren't for the vision loss, I may not have gone through with the CI.

Once I opened myself to the idea of guide dogs, I talked about it with the kids. They thought it was cool. Another dog in the house. There were some setbacks, second thoughts. Would I be able to afford extra dog food and vet care? Would I get enough use out of a guide dog since I don't work? How much use would I get? I had to think about all the things I do during the day. Not much, but during the week? Month? There are appointments to see the dentist, doctor, hair dresser, etc. I go for long walks except in winter. Too cold. And I hate that some people don't shovel their walks and that there are high snowbanks at the street crossings. I'd be going by bus or car. Going to church. I have been refusing to take communion by myself. When my daughter is home that weekend the church has communion, I will go with her to the front of the church. It is a fairly new church and I am not comfortable walking around in front of the pews for communion. A guide would help me get around that area better.

So, in the coming months, I'll talk about guide dogs. :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

False Sense of Security

Fighter pilots go through intensive training, but they only are active for a few years until they are replaced by newly trained pilots. Why? It is easy to get a false sense of security. One is more sharp and aware when he is newly trained. Maybe it gets to be the same thing, over and over, that makes one get overconfident and too sure of what they are doing, making bad judgments and oversights.

I have been caning, that is, using the white cane for the past two years as a mobility tool to get around independently because of my legally blind status.

I was taught how to hold the cane, how to stay "in step". (In step means sweeping the cane opposite each step I make. It's like it's one step ahead of the real foot. If the tip of the cane is in front of the foot that just took the step, it's not "telling" me that there's nothing in front of the other foot when you take the next step.)

I was taught to cross intersections of all kinds, residential where only one street has a stop sign and the traffic does not stop in the other direction, 4-way intersections, traffic-controlled streetlights with and without designated left-turn arrows, with and without pedestrian buttons (to help ensure that one has a longer time to cross the street) and the intersection that has the designated right turn lanes. (I really hate those. Drivers are more interested in watching for a break in traffic to cut into the street traffic than they are watching for pedestrians. (Ei, ei, yi.)

When the caner walks to a store or business, s/he has to walk along the far side, the perimeter of the parking lot. This is where the least amount of traffic would be. Most people park in the middle of the lot, closest to the store/business. The caner pretty much walks along the last row of cars in the lot and makes a sort of an “L-shaped” path through the parking lot. Once they reach the area where the business/store front is, they cross to get to the sidewalk that is in front. (Very little traffic would be going along the side/back of the building.)

Sometimes the caner gets dropped off in front of the store/business so there is no parking lot to cross. Sometimes, the city bus drops the caner off by the street, in front of the store, so the caner has to acclimate him/herself and go to the edge of the parking lot and make that invisible “L-shaped” path.

I do a LOT of walking in the warmer months. I can be with my kids or I’ll be going solo. If I’m with my kids, I’ll take “short-cuts”. For example, there is a traffic light a few blocks down a busy street near my house. I would use that intersection to cross the street. There is NO way I would want to cross a busy street without a traffic light. Cars pop out of parking lots, driveways, other streets in the next block on either side. It’s a constant flow. My kids would let me know when there is a break in the traffic flow so we can walk across the street. I am not comfortable doing this by myself for the reason I just mentioned.

Sometimes we walk about a mile to a small strip with stores, businesses, and restaurants. Once we reach the parking lot, we turn into it and cut through the parking lot. When I am alone I must use the “L-shaped” path.

Sometimes, I don’t know, I get overconfident. Not much traffic is heard or seen in the lot. I’ll cut through the lot. I know I shouldn’t do that, but I get the “false sense of security”. I’m safe.

I walk the dog most days. We go about 55 minutes in the early morning/late evening hours when it’s not too hot for the dog. It is about three miles. This is all residential. Lots of driveways. We come across a few mild distractions, such as kids and critters. I can get lost in thought a lot. I might think about what I have to do when I get home (clean, clean, clean), what to add to my shopping list, what to make for supper that night, or make an appointment for something. Or I might just be thinking of something that happened, funny or sad, and just dwell on it. All this...while I am walking.

I got a phone call the other day. A friend saw me cut across the parking lot of a mini-strip of stores. This area is not a hotspot by any means, it's not very busy, not like WalMart is.

I was scolded. Apparently a car was backing out (behind me?) and could have hit me. I looked like I wasn’t paying attention. Wasn’t I supposed to be walking along the perimeter of the parking lot? I told him/her that yes, you are supposed to. S/he said, "But you didn’t. You could have been hit. I was watching you."

I felt like a child caught with a hand in the cookie jar. I was a bad girl. I wasn’t looking out for my own safety. I got too confident.

Then I got defensive and a bit angry. How did s/he know about O&M? Did s/he research it? Did s/he talk to someone who knows or uses it? S/he said that it was common sense. Walk in the grass on the outside of the parking lot. I felt a bit insulted. Yes, I do things without thinking, impulsively, even, but I'm not stupid.

Like the job hazard of fighter pilots, I got a “false sense of security”. I needed to stay sharp and aware of what is going on. I knew my friend said this out of concern for me, but I felt like a child being scolded. Common sense? What, I have no brains?

But s/he was right. I should ALWAYS go along the perimeter of the parking lot. I should always stay sharp.

The next time I walked the dog, the 55 minute walk turned into a 70 minute walk. I slowed down, especially when I got to each driveway to see if anyone would back out. I needed to stay sharp. It is exhausive to check every driveway. It was tiresome to be so overcautious. Is this what I will have to become? Overcautious? Worrying about who will be watching me and scolding me so I have to do everything by the book?

This morning, I walked the dog again. Our walk was 60 minutes. No, I didn’t get to my false sense of security again. I’ve seen a LOT of open garage doors with neighbors getting ready to do yardwork. I just walked a bit faster, kept an eye on driveways/garage doors. I tell myself, I am watching. I don't always hear/see things. Do I want to be a prisioner of fear? But I still walk on, watching, listening.
I will try not to fall into the trap of the fighter pilots. I must stay sharp. I must not drift off into la-la land while walking. And mostly, I MUST always walk along the perimeter of any parking lot, unless I’m with a sighted guide.

Nowadays, I walk as I've always done. I'm always thinking that someone I know could be watching (who just happened to be driving by) and will see what I"m doing. I do not want another phone call by someone telling me what I should do and how I wasn't safely traveling again. I am conscious of that and scan driveways for anything coming in or out. Only thing is, there's a LOT of driveways.

At first, yes, I was saddened by that call. But I won't let it make me hide in my house, never to risk another bad judgment call about my safety. I don't know why that friend didn't say anything to me in that parking lot instead of calling me a few days after that incident. People take a risk driving every day. A sudden movement and slow reflexes can be a bad combination.

So, I do my best to keep scanning, to watch traffic, and ALWAYS walk the perimeters. You just never know.