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The end of a (half) Era

  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

So….. Today, this happened !!

Me & Fizz outside EICA

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

Maybe I Should have said something before…..

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

Faith

While with a group of friends today we were talking about faith.  Discussing it and questioning what our understanding of it is. One comment made about one way to look at faith was If you’re sat on a chair, you hold faith that THAT chair

St George’s Day sewing marathon

So, tomorrow is St George’s Day and at 2.40 this afternoon my daughters school sent out a text message to say that any Beavers, Rainbows, Brownies etc are free to wear their uniforms instead of school uniform… With full badges! This created 2 panics…. 1)

The only Corona I want is the ice-cold one that comes with a wedge of lime

Over the last week to ten-days there has been a real shift in how we all behave; And rightly so. Covid-19 is no joke and not something we should take lightly.

This is a strange time, unlike any other I have ever faced in my lifetime and actually many people have never faced since WW2.

It is a time when the vulnerable are simply facing greater vulnerability..

The simple things that many people (vulnerable or not) take for granted, like having your supermarket shop delivered to your door; even being able to buy toilet roll because your on your last roll.

For me, this time has been one of increased anxiety, and I would put much of that down to my disabilities.

My disabilities don’t place me in the group of ‘at risk’ thankfully, however many of the measures in place are much more difficult for me.

When at home, washing my hands and cleaning are easy for me. However when out and about, not so much.

In the last day or two WHO (World Health Organisation) have recommended social distancing. And this has been a major issue for me.

Made even more difficult because I have an incredibly sociable guide dog !!

Keeping a significant distance of two meters when you have no depth perception and a visual impairment that means if you put your arm out in-front of you, you can’t see your own hand; How do you actually know how close to someone you are standing?

All of my many volunteer roles have been put on hold. My social life (aka my coffee habit) has significantly decreased. However my walking and ‘escaping to the great outdoors’ has increased.

The biggest challenge for me at this time of uncertainty the most difficult thing for me is asking for help or accepting help when it is offered.

I am stubbornly independent, however I had a moment early this week when I had to swallow my pride and ask a friend to take me food shopping. Because no amount of independence would have made it possible for me to do a ‘usual’ fortnightly shop in person because no deliveries were available. That very same friend has been absolutely amazing in ensuring that both my physical and mental health are not being affected by all of this.

Thankfully social distancing doesn’t have to be a adhered to when working my guide dog. She is and can continue to be my left hand lady. Our walks have been very different, but with more time for her to run around and she hasn’t seemed to mind too much.

My message to you all is to stay home, to stay safe and more importantly share with those who are not as fortunate as yourself. However if you do catch the Coronavirus, isolate, order in, and ASK FOR HELP.



Puzzling perceptions

Always one for challenging myself.

However, this challenge is on a totally different level than any other I have done before.

It’s not particularly physically challenging, rather mentally challenging and reliant heavily on a sensitive touch. (A skill I am working on improving)

What is this challeng? I hear you ask….

It’s a puzzle, not as in I am teasing you all; but rather an actual puzzle. A jigsaw puzzle that is.

With my lack of sight, the actual picture on the puzzle is redundant. So, for this reason I have chosen one made up of butterflies, in varying colours and shades, to give a finished puzzle that is almost a rainbow.

I will be honest, it’s been hard work. There has been tears and just to get to this stage has taken many a late night.

It all started with finding the edge pieces. Then out came my magnifier; so that I could separate the pieces by their main colour, which is easier said then done as several of the pieces morph into the next colour.

So, for now this is where I am.

Image of a white board with all the edges of the colourful jigsaw pieces on it.  Sat in the centre is a tray with the separated colours in.

London sans guide dog.

I am just heading home after an amazing evening at the theatre.

With my dear friend as my sighted guide I left my leading lady Fizz with a friend for a doggy-sleep-over. 

With work commitments it was literally up to London for the show and home again, not really ideal given the wintery weather. Also I would not be alone until on my own home territory; Fizz deserves to be able to put her paws up and relax.

There are few positives about me going out with my cane against going out with Fizz, however one of the biggest makes me act a bit like a kid in a sweatshop, which would be …………….. Travelling on escalators!!

No need to hunt for the stairs, or find the lift. I can literally get swept along with the crowd at London Victoria and (remembering to stand on the right hand side) travel up and down the series of moving stairs.

No walking out of the station; into the rain to find the obscurely placed lift that has only been an addition in recent years.

My friend was born and brought up in London, so she was a brilliant guide. However, London theatre district on a Friday evening is not a place for the faint hearted!

And I would be lying if I said I didn’t make the odd ‘deliberate’ cane tap with Mr and Mrs Arrogant. (Fellow long cane users will know where I am coming from on this)

However we both survived.

We enjoyed the comedy.

I succeeded in making my friend laugh with my ability to act as if I were Moses, parting the oncoming crowds as if they were the sea.

And all while not having to think of where the nearest patch of grass or earth around a tree was.

It isn’t often I would venture into the capital without my guiding girl Fizz, but given the times of the travel, not leaving London until just before midnight it was much more important to ensure Fizz’s needs were met….. While pleasing another of my friends as Fizz went to hers for a sleepover and a play date with her pet dog.

Time REALLY DOES Fly when you are having fun

Fizz sat in front of a Mini the Minx statue on the street in Dundee

As someone with sight loss, it can often be quite painful to look back.

This is because looking back is a time when there was more sight, less struggles.

However, in this instance I am looking back to actually be able to measure how far I have come.

This time five years ago I was in the midst of training with Fizz, my second guide dog.

Training with Fizz was different in many ways to when I trained with Vicky.

For starters, I didn’t have the nausea that I had had during training with Vicky (as I soon discovered I was actually pregnant with my son)

I also discovered very quickly, that although trained the same, personality played a big part in how a dog behaved and works…

Unlike Vicky, Fizz was not a licker; she was however a very tactile dog and loved to be close, preferably touching me at any opportunities.

I was also quick to learn that Vicky had actually worked on me and twisted me around her paw!

This became apparent as we trained within our local supermarket.

(With Vicky) If I had forgotten to pick something up in the aisle we would walk up-to the end of the aisle, around to the next and complete a loop to get back to the beginning. As she (Vicky) would never just turn around and go back on herself.

I just thought that this was the way this was how things were done….. How wrong I was !!!

When going to do this same move with Fizz in the supermarket my GDMI (guide dog mobility instructor) asked what I was doing, so I explained to be told in a firm (but fair) tone

You turn your dog around. Right where you are!

My GDMI referred to my previous guide dog as a ‘double diva retriever’ as she was both a flatcoat retriever and golden retriever. Which only became more clear as my training with Fizz progressed. As I worked backwards from some of the ‘habits’ Vicky had me doing to suit HER.

Fizz was also different in that she was walking at the pace I SHOULD be walking at; I say should because I hadn’t realised that as Vicky had slowed in her older age, I had simply adjusted to that too. When actually my preferred walking pace was considerably faster. However to begin with, this made it feel like I was running to keep pace. Just 10 days in to training I was already finding each day a little easier and enjoying the long walks more and more.

If I am honest, I found it much harder to train with Fizz than I did with Vicky, however my life was so different from when I started training with Vicky back in 2009.

And a massive chunk of that was actually down to Vicky; down to the freedom and independence she had given me.

I was no longer the woman who relied on others to take me places, if I wanted to do something or go somewhere, with Vicky beside me I was able to achieve this.

Home life had changed to, when I trained with Fizz I was no longer working, but instead I filled my time with volunteer roles, climbing, socialising, walking and of course caring for my children.

And now I also had the time to be able to spend time taking Vicky out each day for a (non working) walk and play at the park so that she could enjoy her retirement at home with me and the children as part of our family.

Which is where she stayed with us until she passed away at the very beginning of 2018.

Fizz picked up on my hearing loss sooner than I did; she stepped up and kept me safe when I missed the odd bike or electric car.

She has been my rock.

She has taken the independence Vicky gave me and enabled me to expand on it, we have had some amazing and sometimes crazy adventures.

It’s hard to believe that Fizz has been my leading lady for five years now, however on the other side it is also becoming clearer that at eight and a half years old, Fizz is starting to behave in ways that show me that she is starting to slow down, isn’t as keen on some situations.

And that maybe; just maybe. It may be time to think about her happiness above my own and if it’s time to look into her retirement plan.

Changing Perceptions

I am in the midst of working on my 2020 challenge, but in a bid to let Fizz work and for me to get a change of scenery we popped into town.

But not before I packed a book I am reading at the moment. An actual hard covered book with pages as not all books are produced equal and come with an audio version.

There was nothing to tempt me in the sales, so off to Caffè Nero we headed. (Other coffee shops are available)

Coffee ordered, seat located and Fizz happily hoovering crumbs; I reached for my book. Realising that in my eagerness to get out I had forgotten to pack my magnifier. No problem though, I could always just use the magnifier on my phone.

My book is fascinating, but all the will in the world I can’t hold it, my phone and my coffee cup all at the same time. So I pop my book and phone down to enjoy some coffee and give my eyes a brief break.

When I hear

“Dad, I didn’t realise blind people could read?”

From a young girl and as the saying goes ‘out of the mouths of babes’ I was not expecting to hear what came next.

In fact it was such a shock I actually found myself fighting back tears. But not in the way you may think.

“Blind people can do ANYTHING, they just have to tweak how a little. That lady is using her phone to magnify the words so they are big enough for her to read, it’s not the reading that’s the issue, it is just the seeing bit.”

His reply to his daughter was perfect. All too often parents and adults shush children when they comment on someone or something that is different. But in my experience it is simply because they do not know or understand, so rightfully they have questions. And they aren’t saying it to be embarrassing or rude.

I personally am happy to answer questions, especially from children as they are raw and genuine.

Yet on this occasion I don’t think I could have added anything to what the dad said; which was just as well because his explanation brought a tear to my eye and a lump in my throat.

Encouraging 100,000 Genome update

Back in 2014 after initial genetic screening was ‘inconclusive’ Proffessor Moore at Moorfields ask my permission to enter my blood into the 100,000 Genome Project. A project conducted by the NHS looking specifically at cancers and rare diseases to support treatments, diagnosis and research. (For full details on the project please visit https://www.genomicsengland.co.uk/about-genomics-england/the-100000-genomes-project)

As the name suggests it is a research programme that looks at all 100,000 genes. So I was advised it would take some time before any results were expected back.

However, Prof had felt that given my various conditions that were going on with my eyes I would most likely have some interesting results come back.

Fast forward 5 years and this arrived in the post.

Photograph shows a letter, blood form and plastic canister for holding blood vile in

Preliminary results for my genes are in, but to look at these in more detail I have been asked to send in more blood! Thankfully I was able to book in with my local doctors surgery and pop my samples back in the post. (Which is exactly what I did)

In the meantime I had my bi-annual visit to Moorfields, where the registra I saw started to explain the preliminary findings; Prof wasn’t wrong in his thoughts !!!

Which all I can say at this time is that they are most certainly interesting and not what was suspected at all. Not in a bad way, no illnesses or disturbing diseases were discovered; but in a way that has opened more questions than it has answered.

So, now to wait up to a year for the detail results to come back and hopefully a clearer understanding….. Watch this space.

Thankful yet Frustrated

So, it had been a bit of an eventful weekend.

Not in anyway the weekend I had planned on having.

Sorry for the riddles. I won’t keep you in suspense anymore.

On the weekend beginning Friday 7th June I ended up in hospital, suspected of having suffered a TIA or ‘mini-stroke’…. The pre-curser to an actual stroke.

Something that having never smoked and only ever drunk alcohol occasionally I didn’t think I was at risk of.

After all I kept saying “but I’m healthy, I’m active” but actually as one lovely nurse explained to me stroke can affect ANYONE! From babies, children, teenagers, young adults, fit adults, unfit adults right through to older people.

Before I continue let me just confirm, thankfully the initial suspicions were incorrect. I had not had a stroke or a TIA or actually any form of brain bleed.

I feel very fortunate for this, yet I felt the urge to write this blog to help others understand what happened, why this was suspected and how I am now.

Friday evening I was sitting having just eat a regular sized dairy milk bar (other chocolate bar brands are available) when I suddenly got a tingle in the left side of my mouth and chin.

Initially thinking maybe I was having an allergic reaction on the advice of a friend I reached for my phone and took a selfie. Ten minutes later the tingling was persisting, yet now it was moving. It was also beginning to spread down my shoulder, left arm and left leg.

Another photo, yet no swelling.

A call to 111 (out of hours Dr) a quick ‘check-list’ of symptoms and the call handler said something that left me shocked

“we have sent an ambulance to your house, please do not eat or drink anything, please lock away any pets.”

This is when I explained I had a guide dog, I would put her on her lead, but wouldn’t lock her away and before I could ask why there was an ambulance coming the call handler told me to keep my phone to hand, not to call anyone except for 999 should my symptoms start to get worse ….. then goodbye.

I messaged friends but tried to tell them not to worry (even though I was actually beginning to feel quite concerned)

Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. The ambulance arrived and the paramedics quickly explained why they had been called.

Although after initial checks and having me smile at them, the paramedics were not sure what had happened; but felt that it wasn’t a stroke.  But with the nature of my eye condition they were unable to test my eye movements for reaction.  So after a call to another Doctor it was decided the best thing to do was to take me to hospital.

At this point two of my small group sisters arrived.  Even I could see the panic in their faces…. The paramedics explained to them, I reassured them and with the promise that I would most definitely call when I needed to be collected from the hospital (hopefully in the next few hours) I left in the ambulance.

Off to Queen Alexandra Hospital we went, but no blue lights, no panicked rush; which I actually found quite reassuring.

It even appeared that Fizz’s comfort was more a priority for the paramedics and then the staff in Accident and Emergency than what had actually bought me here in the first place.

Because I was certain I would be discharged after some bloods, I had kept her with me.

But when I was moved onto a ward to undergo a CT scan and an MRI I knew I wouldn’t be found home soon.

But it was important that Fizz did…. She moved to the ward with me, walking beside the bed as I was transported.  The nurses took it in turn to take Fizz out for walks and wee’s … They even made her a makeshift bed of towels so she could be as comfortable as possible.

I think the nurses were most upset when Fizz was collected on Saturday morning to go off for a break with friends, where she could relax and not be worrying about me with all the noises and smells of the hospital.

I had been moved to the stroke ward, where I spent the weekend as I needed an MRI scan that wasn’t available until Monday morning.

I discovered that it was standard procedure to serve me soft almost puréed food.  Thankfully a friend had dropped off my Herbalife Nutrition shakes so that I could take care of my own food and actually enjoy it.

Monday morning saw my MRI scan followed by a visit from the consultant who explained that my results and scans showed no signs of stroke or TIA.

But with the continued weakness and numbness in my left side he could offer me no explanation of what it could be, as he explained his expertise was strokes.

Thankfully a friend was able to collect me and drop me home where it was great to be able to lounge on my own sofa.

For now I am to rest when I feel I need to, not push myself to do anything strenuous and hope my symptoms ease and improve.

As the title suggests, I am so very grateful I have not had a stroke.  But not knowing what this is means it’s hard to know how long recovery will take?  If I will recover?  And more importantly, not knowing what THIS actually is?

Muse-ing over a few things.

This weekend was set to be AMAZING. When you have tickets to see the group Muse live you know it will be a show, unlike any other gig.

Following on from seeing them at the O2 in London back in April 2016 where they put together a pure theatre experience; … expectations for this tour were high.

This time it was hosted at London Stadium, home to the 2012 Olympics’ and a venue I have previously been to when I saw Guns’N’Roses in 2017. A very different venue from the O2, being that it is partly open air is probably the biggest challenge.

And that is just what the band had to deal with.

For me, knowing my sight and hearing were so much more progressive and had greater deteriorated from 2016 I was a little nervous to say the least.

Then came the biggest challenge ….. Weather reports set to see London temperatures reach in excess of 22 degrees for the weekend. In the city, 22 degrees feels more like 27-29 degrees and meant just one thing … Fizz my guiding girl; who loves London so much wouldn’t actually be coming.

This was what was best for her and as I was trailing and staying with a good friend who knew my issues I wasn’t overly concerned about spending a weekend with my (not so faithful or intelligent) cane. On the plus side, this meant that I could take full advantage of all the escalators on the tube network and within Stratford’s Westfields shopping centre.

Although in a funny twist this meant that I actually got lost at London Waterloo for the Jubilee line as I wasn’t sure which set of escalators it was! But once that was sorted, I made my friend laugh at my ‘childish giggle’ of being able to use the escalators…. She also got to watch first hand how people paid very little attention to my cane and often found themselves jumping out of my way.

The weather was hotter than expected, so I know that I made the right decision leaving Fizz home….. Even though I discovered that our seating within the stadium would have afforded her plenty of room to lay by my feet.

This time on visiting the stadium we took advantage of the accessible shuttle bus that ran from the end of The Jubilee Line station directly to Bridge Three at the stadium. That just so happened to be quite close to our actual seats.

This tour was called ‘Simulation Theory’ so I knew it would follow the similar robotic theme of the videos that had been released with the album, the colours were set with a mix of blues and pinks and the slight ‘stranger things’ theme that Muse had insinuated upon would all be included.

Our seats were to the right hand side of the stage, the stage this time was at the far end of the stadium, not in the middle as it had been with ‘Drones’.

But my friend that was with me said we had a good unrestricted view of the whole stage (or rather she did because with my sight I could only just about make out the large screen)

The support acts were good, but visually very minimal as I can only assume that was because it was being saved for the main event……

When Muse came on the natural light was beginning to fade and the screens were being used fully.

I took photos and even the odd video of my favourite songs. However, I left the gig feeling totally under-whelmed.

We met up with other friends who had been there too. They were sat further away, but directly face on to the stage. As it would happen, one of the party was actually my friend that had attended the 2016 Drones tour with me. He was in absolute awe of the gig, saying that they did not disappoint and they even improved upon the showmanship of the previous show. So I realised then I had clearly missed something….

Then the NME review came out …..

And I realised that I had missed the most magical parts of the show, which left me feeling quite upset and frustrated with myself because this seemed to mean that my time of enjoying ‘a show’ for more than the music was over.

I watched the videos that I took, and was able to zoom in on the visuals that I had missed. Although this wasn’t quite the same….. I am still undecided as to how I am feeling by all of this.

Maybe I need to see among my friends if any of them took videos that I can watch?

Maybe Muse will release a film of Simulation Theory as they did with Drones? But then, that may be another 2 years to wait.

I’m adventurous …. But not stupid!

Since I got my tandem my daughter (she’s 13) has been desperate to see if she can ride with me.

Now the nicer weather is on its way (I’m not jinxing it by saying it’s already here) I felt today was a good day to try it out.

Given the nature of my tandem and I believe all tandems the pilots up front is set on a taller post than the stoker on the back.

What ensues is pure comedy!

She can just about get on the front, but with her feet both on tiptoes she barely clears the frame. With me holding up the bike she manages to get onto the seat; yet her feet struggle to get to the peddles… When she says

“It’s okay mum, I can ride on the back and just do an audio description commentary of where we are!”

Let’s think ???? How about “NO!”

For fun I did ride with her on the back in the carpark area behind our house and we both nearly fell off from laughing so much.

So for now, much to her disappointment my tandem is off limits for my daughter. But at the rate she insists on growing I am thinking come next summer she will be all set.

Isolation

This is likely to be one of those posts that will be void of humour, but one I feel I wish to share with you. I have eluded to it in the past, but never been so upfront; however now I feel it is important to share.

As someone who is called ‘inspirational’ and ‘stubborn’ and wildly independent I am not the sort of person people would think could face isolation.

But I am.

Maybe it is because I am fiercely independent. Maybe it is because others see me as strong. And yes; I am both of these things, I am also many other things too.

Isolation doesn’t mean someone is alone. It doesn’t mean someone isn’t surrounded by others.

To me; isolation is what it is to be in my own mind because of my sight and hearing loss; and in a way because of how these affect my mental health.

Sight loss is such a complex condition and so very individual that you will rarely find anyone who experiences it in the same way. This also makes it tricky to explain to those who are sighted.

And for me, isolation is only something that I feel will increase as my disability changes. This in itself is a very fearful time for me as I learn to adjust to this and put in place coping strategies to minimise the impact to myself and those close to me.

I find myself thinking of how with my sight and hearing loss I will also loose my independence, the very same independence that I fight so hard to keep, for as long as I can.

However loosing my independence feels as if I would loose myself. The life I have built, the relationships I have created.

And that in itself is isolating !

I already hold certain limitations in my life because of my sight. Having never been able to drive I have always felt limited by not having the freedom to just get in a car to take myself to the beach…. If I wish to go to the beach I either have to wait for a friend to take me or go at a time when I can get there myself on public transport.

However the thought of more limitations being placed on me, as my independence dwindles is what fills me with this feeling of isolation.

I have thought and rethought (I have even over-thought) this post. However I needed to write it as much for myself than for anyone who is reading this.

Although maybe, just maybe one of you reading this will find it helpful to you too.

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