Today is one filled with mixed emotions, concerns and thoughts. Today, 18th January 2015 is the last working day for my guide dog Vicky. We have been working together as a qualified team since 18th November 2009, and it has been an amazing 5
It’s almost 11.00 o’clock, 12 hours after this crazy day started. The climbing arena was nothing like I had ever seen before and no matter how much I had researched and looked at photo after photo I was not prepared for the quarry that I
Well, this is something new……. I am sat in the passenger seat of my friends car doing 70+ MPH on the M6 Motorway travelling on my way to Edinburgh; while typing this blog. My iPad is tethered to my phone for 4G and my voiceover
My condition is such that it often alters very little over time, so on a daily basis I may not notice any difference from the day or week before. But when I go to do something that I did some time ago, that it when
On 20th March 2017 I found myself sat in the audiologists office having my hearing aids fitted; which I wrote about in What does sound sound like?.
I had previously been told I would only need a hearing aid for my right ear, yet when I arrived at my appointment I was actually fitted with a hearing aid for both my left and right ear; a pleasant suprise, yet a very welcome on. Because in giving me hearing aids for both ears the audiologist was able to programme the strength in each side differently so that I heard the same.
I wont’t lie, I hated wearing them.
It took me a long time to get used to ‘hearing’things again. The little things, like the kitchen clock; the dogs gnawing on their bones; the sound of my feet on the pavement. But (following the audiologists advice) I soon learnt to ‘not hear’ or rather ‘tune out’ these sounds; sounds that my brain had learnt to ignore (just as it does for most people who can hear perfectly well)
I also quickly learnt how little and inconspicuous my hearing aids were. With very few people realising that I actually wore them.
When they were originally fitted, I had them set by the audiologist to automatically adjust with no input from me. However this was not while I got used to them.
In July ((1 beep, 2 beep, 3 beep, 4) I had my hearing aids adjusted and since then I have gone from strength to strength in using them and wearing them each and every day, just as I would with my glasses (even though I now get so little from wearing them-wearing them is a daily habit)
I have also added to my ‘tech’ to go with my hearing aids, with my amplicomms personal t-loop system I am able to listen friends in busier environments, have calls streamed directly into my ears with the microphone around my neck; I am also able to listen to audible and music too.
My CPiC and I are working on using it as an aid to my climbing….. But that is a whole other blog post!!
So, what have I gained in the last year?
I have learnt that just like glasses for me, hearing aids to not ‘fix’ my hearing; however they do enable me to hear more and clearer than if I don’t wear them.
I have been able to feel safer out and about, especially with hearing traffic and its direction. So much so, that in recent months I have gone back to enjoying walking into town (about 2.5 miles) with Fizz guiding me.
I have also learnt that I can ‘shut out’ noise if I want to sit quietly with a cuppa or a cold pint, then I can turn my hearing aids down, put them into the induction loop setting and I can sit peacefully. So I can have ‘selective’ hearing too!!
Its been an interesting year of wearing hearing aids, I would be lying if I said I am getting used to them….. But I am finding the postitives with them, both with my own hearing and with the connections I have made with other people who have hearing and sight issues.
I am still wanting to work on fundraising for my own pair or ReSound Hearing Aids, which are so much more ‘tech’ friendly with my iPhone and Apple Watch, but that is a work in progress.
The sun is out and so are the sunglasses!
This leaves me feeling a little ‘vunersble’ though. You see I have continued to wear my glasses as a way of ‘hiding’ even though I gain very little from them when I am out and about.
It is a comfort, because I don’t like how my eyes look. Having always worn glasses it feels like I have huge dark circles around them, that they are ‘sunken’ within my head. And because it appears more ‘obvious’ that I have a sight issue when people can see the continual movement of my eyes.
Team these ‘anxieties’ with the fact that I feel that my hearing aids are ‘HUGE and OBVIOUS’ when really they aren’t and you can see where my self-consciousness comes from?
Today though, today was a small victory kinda day…..
Sat enjoying a cuppa, tea it’s Fizz curled up at my feet; it was only when a woman tapped me on the shoulder that I realised I was being spoke to.
You see, not only did I have my sunglasses on my head, butI also had my ‘Amplicomms’ personal T-Loop system around my neck like a large lanyard.
But to the ‘unknowning eye’ it wasn’t as ‘obvious’ !!!
Today for the first time in a long time I am also wearing my hair up in a ponytail (instead of the usual plaits) which to me makes it feel like my hearing aids are in full view of everyone; when in-fact they are hardly noticeable!
So, pausing the book I was listening to, I apologised to the woman for not hearing her and it was very pleasing to hear her reply
“I would have never guessed you had hearing aids in, or that you couldn’t see me, I couldn’t see you wearing headphones; I just thought you were ignoring me!”
Maybe I am the only one who feels self-conscious like this, or maybe this is a ‘common’ feeling amongst those with sight loss and hearing loss.
Either way, a strangers comments made me feel slightly happier with myself today.
Today marks International Women’s Day. A day where social media and such goes CRAZY over ‘inspiring women’ well I am bucking that trend. I think that inspiration can come from ANYONE. Man, Woman, Human, Animal ….. You get the idea!
In recent months with my changing hearing and sight I have been working hard on myself. On how I deal with a situation and how I do not allow my ‘disabilities’ to take away my sparkle, to rob me of my mood or emotions.
If I said it was an easy task I would be lying. But it has been a task I have set about with great vigger and enthusiasm; not always successfully I may add.
Within my climbing, Be it with fellow Para climbers or (regular) climbers I am free, everyone at any wall is always happy to offer support or suggest a different move Or body position. But some of my greatest inspiration has come from fellow Para-climbers.
From my very on CPiC who has Fibromyalgia and Aspergers, he is continually in pain or ‘foggy’ which high levels of medication can simply ‘reduce’ but not ‘cure’, He finds a great strength from within to push through it and to climb his ass off, always pushing himself and yet still there to offer me continual support and help ME with my climbing.
There is also my dear friend Anoushé, her ‘visable’ disability is that she has no arm from just below her elbow on her right side. She also has many other health conditions that are ‘invisable’
We first met in September 2016 in Ratho, the first paraclimbing competition for us both. And we have grown closer upon each meeting and now regularly try to fit in training sessions together.
I look at Anoushé and feel humbled to watch her climb (mostly via videos or in photographs ) As a guide dog owner and a long cane user I am more often than not walking with either my right or left hand full (be it with a harness or a cane) but if I REALLY needed to use both my hands, I can.
I am not, nor will I ever compare my disabilities to another person (not even another hearing and visually impaired person) as just as humans we are unique; how we live with ‘differing-abilities’ is also unique.
My disabilities have been a platform for me to meet so many people from different backgrounds, and just as I believe there is something to learn from each of the people who have come and gone from my own life; I hope that others can look to me for those lessons and ‘alternative’ views.
So, today on International women’s day I want to say THANK YOU to all of those who have enabled me to grow.
And no, this isn’t about setting a (be it a belated) Resolution. This is about the realisation that after just over a month into 2018 I have faced and fought, fought and (sometimes) lost and lost and re-found my own sense of strength.
If you are a regular reader you will know that this year started with the sad loss of my first guide dog Vicky.
But with the sadness of loosing her; along with the adjustment of ‘just having Fizz’ I found a passion.
A passion that has always been in me, but for one reason….. Or rather one EXCUSE or another I had forgotten it.
It is so easy to forget those simple passions that can bring such pleasure when ‘life’ keeps getting in the way.
Anyway, I digress……
When we said goodbye to Vicky I suddenly realised how much I loathed being at home. How I couldn’t bare the ‘silence’, the little things about her like hearing her dream.
It also took me several weeks to ‘forget’ to say hello to her when we came in.
One of the strangest things was coming home to a silent house! Because for the past 3 years I have always left on the tv or the radio to keep her company, so she didn’t feel alone.
So, as painful and upsetting as returning to a quiet house was, sitting in one was even worse!
And this is where my passion reignited.
When the children weren’t home (because of school or being with their dads) I disappeared off for a walk.
The beauty of a walk is that Fizz could always come too. The beauty of a walk is that I could just ‘stomp’ out my upset.
The other beauty of walking is that I could track it all on my Apple Watch, to judge the distance, to track my pace and after several weeks to gauge how my fitness had improved, because the very same walk from my house to town isn’t taking as long!
The other bonus of my walking is that I could feel free. I don’t need to rely on another person to walk, I don’t need to rely on any equipment or memberships.
I just ‘harness up’ Fizz and head out.
Sometimes we get the bus to the beach, sometimes we take a different route into town. And other times we enjoy a stomp through the muddy bridal ways en route to the pub with friends!
Your probably wondering why I am telling you all this in this post? Well, you see I have decided to make this walking count.
I haven’t finalised the details yet, but with a group of friends I am looking to complete The Three Peak Challenge in late Summer. Its just over 26 miles and with a tour guide is a walk that is set to take between 9 and 12 hours to complete. And for obvious reasons (such as exhaustion, concentration and distractions) it is one walk that Fizz won’t be completing with me!
But that doesn’t mean that she can’t help with my training !!
And why I hear you ask……..
Well, you see ReSound have just made a massive development with their hearing aids, having raised just over £1,000 for them, I want to ‘earn’ the remaining £2,500 towards enabling me to purchase the new and improved LinX 3D (an improvement on the LinX 2 that I had previously tried.
So, one the challenge is set up you can show your support with words of encouragement, pennies to help reach the target OR by joining in on the walk yourself.
Domation can be made via the Just Giving Page Help TINK Hear
“you can tell your teacher tomorrow how you saw a guide dog being trained, that is a very special dog and once that lady has trained him he will look after a blind person.”
“Mummy isn’t that lady blind?”
“No darling that lady isn’t blind, she wouldn’t be out on her own in coffee shops if she was!”
This whole conversation tickled me and I shared it with my friends on Facebook.
I would usually correct the mum, but on this occasion I wasn’t feeling myself so didn’t.
For which I am now kicking myself; I also find myself asking
“Why can’t a guide dog user go into a coffee shop alone?”
This post has taken me several weeks to write and I must warn you that it may cause you upset, tears are most certainly in my eyes as I type this. But they are tears of great memories, of funny stories and of achievements.
On January 2nd, after a struggle with an illness I said goodbye to my original guiding girl; my first guide dog Vicky.
Three years ago today (19.01.15) Vicky wore her guide dog harness for the final time. She walked beside me as I took the children to school in the morning. We took a longer walk home that day. She then sat wondering what I was upto when I took this photograph of her sat in the lounge wearing her harness.
And the reason for this final photograph? It was because in less than 30 minutes a GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) would be coming to start my training with a new guide dog, my second leading lady Fizz.
I wrote about all that she had enabled me to do in The end of a (half) Era
When Vicky retired it was agreed that she would enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children, the home that she had moved into in 2009. The home that she had been such an import part of and had help to instigate so many changes within.
Most of all (among others) when she guided me both literally and metaphorically through my pregnancy with my son. When she ensured that both of us were safe while he was inside my tummy and while I carried him in his carrier. She had also allowed me to go out and spend time with my daughter (who was just 4 1/2 yo when Vicky arrived) So it goes without saying that she had captured an extra special part of my heart, that no other guide dog would be able to replace.
As my first guide dog, working with Vicky was scary. But also exhilarating!!
When I applied for her in 2008 my list of ‘wants’ was to be able to go to the local shops alone, to take my daughter safely to pre-school (and then school) and to be able to go back to getting the bus to work and being able to not have to rely on someone to drive me.
When ‘murmurs’ of Vicky retiring began in 2013 my list of ‘wants’ was so very different.
Althoigh I no longer, I now had a son. I now went horse riding. I now volunteered with various charities and had such a busy schedule between the children, volunteering and hobbies that it took 16 months to find a guide dog that could follow in the huge paw prints that Vicky had set out.
It was also at this time when I started training with Fizz that I discovered just how much Vicky had had me wrapped around her dew claw!
I had thought it was ‘usual’ to work in circular routes, not being able to just turn around and walk back the way we had come (in the supermarket for example) like when we had walked upto school, which was LITERALLY in the road next to the house, we had to walk up on one side of the road and back down on the other!
It was when training with Fizz I discovered that this was a ‘retriever trait’ and one that I had been allowing Vicky to get away with.
Anyway….. I digress …….
In September last year Vicky had a cyst removed from her hip, it was nothing of any consequence, it had just been a source of discomfort. So just weeks after when I noticed a lump on her side I took her straight back to the vets.
They weren’t overly concern. She had just turned 12 yo and when tested with a needle prick the results showed it was a fatty lump.
So, with the agreement of both the vet and guide dogs we would watch and measure the lump.
In November Vicky went off her food, the lump was measured and there was a sizeable change in it. Vicky was put on pain medication and further tests were agreed.
When I took Vicky in Forbes her X-rays in early December it was felt that actually she would benefit from specialist investigations that my vet could not offer.
Vicky was starting get tired. She was beginning to show her struggle. She was still very playful at home with Fizz, but our walks had become considerably shorter.
She was noticeably loosing weight and her coat was loosing its gleaming shine.
Her pain medication was increased and every hope was placed on her appointment with the specialist.
That was until she took a turn on New Year’s Day. It was heartbreakingly to watch her. The vets were brilliantly though. They put her on a drip and made her comfortable. They even managed to change her visit to the specialist.
So after staying with them overnight I was amazed to see a much brighter bouncy girl bought out to me the following morning.
She was still weak, she was still in pain, but she was also relieved to see me again.
So we went to the specialist. Where we were joined by GDWO (guidebook dog welfare officer) Vicky was so placid that they were able to X-ray her without sedation.
It wasn’t good news.
Although the X-rays didn’t tell them EXACTLY what was wrong with her, they did tell them enough.
The consultant was so kind.
The GDWO was so kind.
We could investigate more.
We could reduce her pain.
But the one thing we couldn’t do was to stop the end result.
Vicky was 12 yo and as a Flatcoat cross Golden Retriever I already knew she was older than most.
The growth on her chest was too big. Whether it was a fatty lump or cancer, there was no option to remove it.
The consultant talked about this and that. I remember asking is guide dogs needed it investigating further (they didn’t)
It was then that I looked down at Vicky. I had sat down on the floor with her by this point. I could see the pain in her eyes, I could feel the tension in her body.
Through tears (just like those that are escaping now) I asked the consultant if we could let her go to sleep and take her pain away?
He was amazing.
He told me he would give me time with her and if when he came back it was too soon I was just to tell him to bugger off (his exact words!) and he would give us more time.
The GDWO went to get Vicky a comfy bed as she was laying on a hard floor and kept banging her head each time she lifted it.
The nurses bought a beautiful white fluffy fleecy bed and we got her comfortable on it.
I spoke to her and thanked her.
The consultant came back and I agreed it was time for her to go.
I stayed with her and held her tight. She was so peaceful, she was no longer in pain….. But she was gone!
My friend that was with me supported me throughout, even though she too was upset. The GDWO told me she would stay with Vicky, make sure that she wasn’t left alone and take care of all the paperwork.
It absolutley broke my heart the minute I walked out of that room and typing his now I am feeling that pain all over again.
Vicky was so much, she gave me so much more than I could ever thank her for or repay her for:
She gave me the me that is here today. There are no words to describe what that is. I just know that the love I feel for her will never be replaced.
It was agreed that Vicky would be cremated and get to ‘come home’
The GDWO took care of all of this on my behalf. She even bought Vicky home to me on 10th January.
The house hasn’t been the same. Fizz hasn’t been the same; I have sat and cried cuddled into her; I have explained it to her. I know she is missing her friend. The whole time Fizz has been with me, she has had Vicky to play with. And now it is just her…….
We have plans to take Vicky for her ‘final walk’ and let her go. Keeping all the memories, the photographs and a few simple keepsakes of her.
Along with the love for her. And although I love Fizz (and wouldn’t change her for the world) Vicky will always have an extra special place that no other dog or human can ever replace.
Today I made my first trip of the year into London. After all, have dog; will travel still stands.
Even more so when a return ticket costs just over £10!
So, 2 hours on a direct train to London Victoria and then to get the tube to meet friends.
Something in the past that I have dreaded a little from London Victoria, but not anymore.
Because as THE busiest tube station on the entire underground network, Victoria is now ACCESSIBLE.
So, it’s not quite so straightforward, and it isn’t the easiest of ways to navigate. But all the same, Victoria now has a new North Entrance; which offers step free access (via lift) from street level to tube.
I say it isn’t straightforward because the entrance to the accessible part of the underground isn’t within London Victoria Railway Station, rather it is up the road on the outside by a fairly new shopping area on Victoria Street.
And then once you find the street level lift area, it is then a series of lifts to get down to the deep level of the district/central line, before changing to a 3rd lift to go even further under to reach the Victoria Line.
This multi-lift approach is very similar to the confusion that is Kings Cross, however (thankfully) the lifts have really clear white on blue signage indicating which lift to take to which level.
And as always, helpful and friendly TFL staff more than happy to help.
So, no more dreading this particular tube station and a whole world of possibilities opening up to me without the need to walk on switched off escalators (which isn’t actually always possible when it’s peak time!) with their steeper treads and length distances.
To some this may not seem much, but to others this will help reduce some of the ‘additional’ stresses that London can pose.