Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's All in the Wrist

You hear that all the time.

How do you do that? Whether it’s bowling, shooting darts, playing certain sports, it’s what they say. It sounds a bit cliché. But true.

I just had my first O&M session. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it stands for orientation and mobility. You need to know how to use a white cane effectively and accurately. It isn’t as easy as it looks.

No matter how much I prepared myself by getting information from other seasoned caners, but emotionally, I needed to grow, too. The cane would symbolize me as a person who is visually impaired. I’ve hidden it from strangers and it takes me awhile to tell others. Conversely, I don’t have that issue with my hearing loss; I’ve lived with it all my life. It’s no big deal. I'm used to it. Growing up with hearing loss makes you more resilient. Hey, I’m deaf. Speak slower. Don’t exaggerate your lips, please. Please talk normally, just a bit slower. And so on.

People understand immediately upon my openness about my hearing loss, that there’s a reason for my confusion or misunderstanding. I am not being dense. I didn’t hear you. I have to use that principle with my vision loss, too I have to learn to be open about it so that my actions can be explained. I might be bumping into things, walking really slow once I enter or leave a building. (This is because my eyes take some time to adjust to light, whether it’s sunlight or florescent lighting and by the same token, my eyes take time to adjust to dimness, too.) People may see that and jump to conclusions. (I know that I may have been making the same assumptions if I didn't know about low vision, too.) “She’s drunk”, “she’s on drugs”, “she should pay attention to where she’s going”, etc. Or even on occasion, I might even seem rude or snobbish not seeing someone wave their hand at me (just as I would if I didn’t hear someone call my name if they didn’t know I was deaf). All that can be explained. Hey, I am deaf. Hey, I have tunnel vision. Just because I have low vision, doesn’t mean I’m seeing what you can see. It’s limited. I am a great scanner. I do a lot of scanning to make up for my “blind spots”. That doesn’t always work. I may forget something’s in my path, even though I saw it when it was farther away. Once I get closer to something, it fades out of my line of vision and bam, I banged into it.

I know I will have emotional issues with the cane. I’m telling the world at large, "Hey, I’m legally blind. I don’t see well. I’m using this cane for my own safety and mobility." Most people may see the cane and know what it means, that the cane user is blind. What they may not know is that there are cane users who still have useable vision. They are not always totally blind. So, if you see anyone with a white cane, don’t assume they are totally blind and don’t assume they are “faking” it. It is illegal to use a cane if you aren’t legally blind/blind.

Several cane users I have talked to say that they were at a store, browsing through a magazine. There is the cane. Some people’s reactions are like, she’s reading? She has a cane. She’s faking it. She’s not blind.

I guess I will be up to me to educate those kinds of people. Yes, I am using a cane. I’m not totally blind. I guess I just have to get used to it, like I do with my hearing loss and my hearing needs.

I still have some emotional hurdles to get through. For the most part, my vision loss is my skeleton in the closet. Now that I’m accepting the fact that I should use a cane, I will still have to deal with it psychologically. Easier said than done. I haven’t broken down into tears….yet. I’m sure I’ll have those moments, but I know I am not alone.

I may start off slow. You know, baby steps. I may carry it around. In my purse or something like that, hidden. I might just use it at night or around family.

Yesterday I had my first O&M session.

The instructor met me at my house. We discussed what I could see (contrast, color, lighting, acuity, etc).

After that “getting-to-know you” part was done, we headed out to the mall. There he demonstrated what a sighted guide should do and what I should do.

I had to grasp his elbow kind of like I was holding a glass of milk, with my thumb on the lateral (outer) part of his elbow. I remained one step behind him. When we reached a doorway, I had to stay by the hinge of the door. When the sighted guide opened the door, I had to grab the door and have it close behind me. There were certain moves used to turn around. I would have to pivot like in basketball, but pivot halfway around while the guide would walk around me, then I was to grab the opposite elbow. Then there was the “about face” (I think that’s what it’s called) move, where if we were in a crowded area like an elevator (where you really can’t just walk around a person). Both the guide and the guidee (is that a word?) would just turn, face each other, and then turn again on the other side while the guidee would grab onto the other elbow. The other move was the “side-step” or “step-and-slide” or something like that. This involved the guide stepping to the other side while sliding the hand across the back of the guide.

Once the guiding thing was accomplished, I was introduced to the cane.
It was a folding cane. It had four sections (some have five). I was shown how to open it and close it.
Then I had to learn to "walk the walk".

It’s not as easy as it looks. You need to have rhythm and be in step. Talk about multi-tasking!! I was never coordinated. I had to remember to tap the cane about the width of my shoulders in front of me, back and forth, with each step the opposite side of the “tap”. (This is so that I know that before I take my next step, nothing's in my way.) I’ve made mistakes. I wasn’t in step or I lost my rhythm. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to. It's a skill.

But let’s back up a bit. There was a certain way to hold the cane, too. I had to have my “grip” in a handshake position with my index finger pointing down on the flat part of the “gripper” area (forgot what that was called). I had to have the bony part of my wrist bone (the median side by the thumb) facing out and hold the cane by my navel, against/close to my stomach. I wasn’t supposed to move my arm or hands. Corny as that may sound, it’s all in the wrist. Just flip it back and forth, back and forth.

Pretty cool, eh? That was just day one. I’m sure the next session will be a review of the guide/guidee thing and practice caning so I can be “in sync” with the cane. Practice, practice, practice….

I am busy trying to think of a cool name for my cane when I get one. Some caners named theirs “Moses” because it parted the “Red Sea” or in this case, parted the path in front of them When people see the caner, boom, everyone moves out of the way, like magic!! One caner named hers “Prince Charming” or “Charming” because it works like a charm. Hmm. Any ideas???

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At Mon Apr 27, 07:41:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Shari,
Each mobility instructor is different. The most recent one I had was telling me to do 2 things differently---One idea seemed ok, the other seemed nuts. The ok idea was to hold the cane handle higher than your stomach--thus helping to avoid injury to your guts if/when your cane hits a big bump and suddenly shoots backwards at you.The nuts idea was to stop using a technique called "shore-lining". I won't go into details on that one right now, as you are a new student...But I hope others who read your blog and also use the cane can share their experiences in this way, also.
At any rate, "YOU GO, GIRL!"

At Mon Apr 27, 09:28:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shari, this post was so interesting! I never really thought about all that goes into learning to use a cane, etc. The coordination thing sounds like a challenge, but hopefully it will soon be one of those things you can do without even thinking about it. :)

I thought the sighted guide lessons were really cool too (another thing I never thought about). Will they be teaching your hubby and/or kids to be your sighted guide(s), later on?


~ Wendi

At Mon Apr 27, 01:13:00 PM , Blogger Becky said...

Glad you're back to posting again.

This was a very interesting post. Something about it almost reminded me of a golfing class I had to take for P.E. in college. Learning how to hold and use that golf club took a lot more practice than I ever would have thought.

I loooove that folks name their canes Moses, lol. That's perfect.

At Mon Apr 27, 02:00:00 PM , Blogger hillgrandmom said...

Hi Shari! Glad to see you back and thanks for the lovely graphics in the last post :-)
I've tagged you.

At Mon Apr 27, 02:53:00 PM , Blogger Beth said...

Yet another challenge for you. And another lesson you have taught us.
Makes me sad to think you've cried about it all but you managed to write this post with your usual humor and bravery.
In my pain management class (for my back) so many people said that once they started using a cane they found it so much easier not having to explain what they can and cannot do. The cane "spoke" for them.
All my best wishes for your lessons to come. You'll get another "A" - for sure!

At Mon Apr 27, 03:06:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shari !!!! Your 1st O&M session was excellent and many details. Trust me, a lot better than mine. ....Everyday will be a little different. Watch out for the 3% that do not jump out of your way or zoom in front of you.
Hope you get handicap parking. All my taxi drivers & friends love it!!! Cheap too.

Grocery carts , is the only four wheels I can still drive. Cannot use the cane for that. But I unfold it when I get to the cashier.
"Red Sea" yep!!! My cane is "Richard" named after my late boyfriend. He was always there for me.
B4 cane days, my body was so tense trying to walk in the Malls and watching out so I would not bump into people/ short kids/ objects. . With the cane, my posture is straighter and feel so much better.
Practice practice. Now you have a good excusse to go the Mall !!!!

HUGS, Molly CC

At Wed Apr 29, 08:29:00 PM , Anonymous Kila said...

I learn so much through your posts.

Not sure I'm coordinated enough to use a cane, LOL.

There's a blind boy at my youngest son's school that uses a cane all the time. The other students think it's really cool, and it's neat to see how they watch out for him.

At Thu Apr 30, 03:34:00 PM , Blogger Nessa said...

Your next to the last paragraph was very zen - be the cane, be the cane.

You could call your cane Fred. I don't know.


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