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Waving Away!

I thought as it’s been a while; so I felt compelled to share my latest ‘blind fail’ with you all … It’s a good one!

Despite not having my guide dog I have pushed myself each day to enjoy at least one long walk. Some days this is in the countryside or along the beach, but more often than not it’s around my local area.

On this particular walk I was walking on a road I know very well. I was approaching the junction of a side road and preparing to cross.

As I approached the junction I heard a car engine to my left.

The sun was bright, but I could make out a bright blue car on the left directly opposite the junction, so assumed it was also the engine I could hear:

As a guide dog owner, old habits die hard and I waved the car on: this is partly because the sound of the engine could be masking the sound of other approaching traffic or even bicycles.

I waved the car on … Nothing.

I waved it on again … Still nothing.

At this point a man appeared to be speaking to me from the other side of the road.

“Wait there I am coming to you.”

He crossed over and stood beside me, he asked me what help I needed and I explained I was simply waiting for this car to move on and then I would cross:

It was at this point (with a smile on his voice) he explained that there was no car waiting to turn.

The blue car was actually parked and had nobody inside it.

The car engine I could hear was on a driveway, the car had its doors and bonnet open, so was not moving anytime soon.

So it was safe for me to cross.  And it had been for some time!

The kind man explained he was loading a van up the street and had seen me waving my arm; but he couldn’t get to me any sooner as his arms had been full.

I laughed when he explained it all, because it’s moments like this that if I didn’t laugh I could easily cry.

I made my apologies and rushed off as quickly as I could without breaking into an actual run!

When relaying this embarrassing story to a sighted friend they helpfully pointed out…

Rule 243 of the Highway Code states you must not park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space.”

This didn’t make me feel any less embarrassed,  however one bonus to tthis sight loss journey is that I would never recognise the kind man who came to my aid, if I saw him again. So that’s a small mercy, right?

Pain of a Cane

It’s been six months now since the whirlwind that was my second guide dog Fizz retired. She is living her best life, enjoying her retirement and even living with another black lab who is also retired; but much younger than her called Ashby. So you could even say she has found herself a toy boy!

I have been missing her terribly in all honesty.

Not just as my guide dog, but as my companion.

The house seems too quiet when the kids aren’t home.

However a friends suggestion of a weighted blanket on my bed has certainly helped. Especially because in the last few years I had allowed Fizz to slip into the habit of sleeping on my bed. The extra weight on the covers really does help.

I could have used the excuse of reverting back to ‘Candy’ (my cane has red stripes to symbolise that I am deaf blind, thus picking up the nick-name candy the cane) as a way to shut off the outside world and limit (or restrict) my independence. Especially over the winter months when the darkness was greater.

But I didn’t …

I set myself the challenge of walking each day, some days this has been the 4 mile round trip to grab a coffee from Nero. (Other coffee houses are available)

When I am on a route I know well and is fairly quiet; like the route to town. I can feel quite free, quite confident and faster in my walking pace.

However, as I approach the shops, the busier areas and the unpredictability of people I can feel quite weak. I liken it to feeling like a small child. And I get even smaller when I come across the unexpected; such as building works, market stalls or additional outside seating for cafes etc.

However, I am stubborn. I refuse to let this weaken me. I just wished that my cane had sort of robotic system in it that I could say “let’s go to the bank” and it would navigate me there avoiding all the obstacles?

Oh wait … That’s a guide dog!

What I really REALLY really need is for “That Call” to say a possible match has been found.

I am (one of) the highest priories on the Guide Dog waiting list. However, as I have explained before. They look to match the personality and lifestyle of the person to the personality and workability of the dog. Along with looking at other things such as walking speed, the persons height and workload for the dog. Which all means that there may still be some time to wait for a dog that matches my needs.

So, for now it’s back ti my love-hate relationship with Candy and asking friends for a little more support.

And trying not to cause any more bruises from the regular stomach jabs or arm jars in the process.

Apologies for the silence … Its taken some time

Photograph of Tee on the patio with a cream garden wall behind, with Guide dog fizz sat on the left in her harness . Both looking at the camera.

Facebook memories are a blessing and a curse.

Take today as an example, today it popped up in my memories that it was seven years ago today that my first guide dog Vicky did her last school run. And my GDMI (Guide Dog Mobility Instructor) took her harness and sash, signifying the start of her retirement.

And this day seven years ago is the very same day I started my training with my second guide dog Fizz.

So, why today is this (usually joyous) memory upsetting?

Because yesterday is 2 months since I did my last working walk with Fizz. Before she retired and was rehomed via Guide Dogs.

Landscape photograph of guide dog fizz laid on the carpet looking up at the camera with her tail wagging and a little blurred

Sadly, Fizz retired before a third dog has been found for me; what with a global pandemic, delays have been incurred and I continue to wait for ‘The Call’.

I have returned to using my cane, who has aptly gained the nickname ‘Candy’ because of her red and white stripes. (which are the universal symbol of a person with both sight and hearing loss)

And it is bit of a love – hate relationship at times, being totally honest. I am grateful it is a skill that I have maintained as I am able to keep my independence. However the regular cane jabs and bumps are something I would happily live without.

Fizz retired at the grand age of ten and half, she had worked with me for just under 7 years and it was time for her to be able to put her paws up, not have to concentrate on keeping me safe and sniff all those smells she usually has to ignore while in harness.

The Guide Dogs charity have been an amazing support to us both during her working life and this has continued in her retirement. They supported me and found Fizz her retirement home.

Fizz has also stayed within the Guide Dog Family, so her new owner has been keeping me updated on how she has settled, on her new canine companions and I have even been fortunate to receive regular photographs with the updates.

It was the right time for Fizz to hang up her harness. This however doesn’t stop me being upset that she has gone. Knowing she is working those puppy eyes and wrapping her new owner around her paws is a great comfort though. She is a very emotionally sensitive dog and it will still be taking her time to adjust to.

Although I am sure not having to guide in wind and rain is surely helping with that.

There are lots of changes happening here for me too, but that’s another post or three! Lets just say, I haven’t been sitting still.

Remembering the day everything changed; yet stayed the same

Thirteen years is a long time:  It’s also an incredible measure.  

On this day 13 years ago I left my Consultants office feeling that my life was over; all because in that 45 minute appointment where I entered expecting to discuss a double cataract operation to DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE my sight I actually found myself leaving with my CVI (Certificate of Visual Impairment) and being told that my sight was already bad enough for me to be registered Severely Sight Impaired. (previously classed as BLIND)

And in the grand scheme of things, the risks of cataract surgery because of my eye movement (Nystagmus) would not offer me any significant benefit.

This day 13 years ago, nothing significantly or physically had changed with my sight.  The deterioration had been there all of my life, but it had been so gradual and undetectable by my optician that even though Doctors predicted that I would go blind as a child; because this hadn’t come to fruition at the age of 10/11 I had been discharged from the hospital.

And only after a chance conversation with my optician about how long it took my eyes to adjust from outside to inside has found me back seeing the consultant at the local eye hospital for the first time since I was about 12!

This day 13 years ago was actually the beginning of so many good things.  

However that wasn’t before I went through some incredibly dark times (mentally) and still do to this day.

I am so very grateful to those who have walked beside me in the last 13 years.  

As well as those who have walked away.  

Because for someone who now no longer makes out even that GIANT single letter on the eye chart or anything that is not within the 3% of my remaining central vision; the way my life has changed in those 13 years has enabled me to see many situation incredibly clearly. (Pun intended)

So with a smile, a positive outlook and an AMAZING group of cheerleaders behind me.  I am the girl I am today because of the pain I faced ON THIS DAY 13 years ago.

My sight has deteriorated dramatically from that appointment 13 years ago, but my character, my inner strength and my stubbornness have got me this far. And I have no doubt they will get me through the next 13+ years.

Part of life just got A LOT simpler !!!

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

I first read this while studying at university 21 years ago; in this previous life before my severely sight impaired diagnosis and even a half decent understand of how terrible my vision was, this quote spoke to me.

Along with a book called ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ by Don Norman that was yellow with a red coffee pot that had the handle and the spout on the same side have always stuck with me.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, just as I have previously written about how Steve Jobs had a vision for Apple that put accessibility at its very core, instead of an after thought. Being mindful at the design stage can change the experiences of the end user.

Apple isn’t the only company or product to do this. My Breville ‘One Cup‘ is another example as are the scales I received today.

As an independent Herbalife Distributor who allowed lockdown to take control, I gained far too much weight, teamed with not climbing or swimming and well you can imagine where I found myself at the beginning of the year?

I have for the past 5 years started my day with a Herbalife Nutrition shake along with a whizzy, fat burning tea. However throughout lockdown my healthy, good nutrition would start and end with breakfast!

The products are good, however they are not magical.

So, fast forward (or is it rewind?) to January this year; January when I turned 40! When a friend shared a photo of me sat at their dining-room table and I realised how much I had let myself go. Yes I could feel my clothes were tight, uncomfortable and I was certainly not happy, however as someone who can’t see the reflection in the mirror; I was in denial.

I looked at that photo over and over again. I felt embarrassed, mortified and realised that I needed to make some changes.

I had all the tools I needed, the products in my kitchen cupboards and a wealth of knowledge. I had to start treating myself like I was a client, a client in Herbalife was something I hadn’t had in a while; (after all who is going to take weight loss advice from a fat person?)

So I (Re-) started my journey, went back to basics, a simple 1, 2, 3 approach and along with a new model; I found my focus.

There was just one part of the process that was VERY difficult.

Each morning, after I woke and popped to the bathroom I would stand on my bathroom scales.

My scales are a little more detailed than your average scales, they were in-fact Tanita Scanners. In addition to my weight I would get a whole host of other information, most importantly my body hydration and body fat percentages.

These scanners are programmable, with memory. All I had to do was switch them on, wait for them to beep and stand on. They would record all the measurements and then beep several times to say I could step off.

All my measurements were saved so I could grab my phone and take a photo of each measurement to zoom in on and record in a little challenge group I am in.

These scanners were a game changer for me as long gone were the days when I could when see my feet when stood upright, let alone the neon green scales beneath them, all before even trying to make out that in the middle was a digital display.

However, in the last 3 or 4 weeks my sight has changed (there’s another blog coming about that) it was taking more concentration to read from the photos.

I needed another solution.

I didn’t even look at talking bathroom scales. I didn’t research ANY accessible, visually impaired products. Instead I focussed my research on scanners like those I had that I could use with an app.

My reasoning for this?

If the scanners relayed all the data into an app, I could use zoom on my phone to read that data.

Today my Kamtron scanners arrived. I chose these based on the ‘Fitdays’ app which looked the simplest on the App Store. They were also significantly cheaper than the Bluetooth enabled Tanitas that appeared (on paper) to do the same thing.

They connect via Bluetooth to the app. All I have to do is touch the button on the back of the scanners, wait for the beep and step on, a little sound emanates from my phone when the data is recorded and off I step.

Then by using the ‘read screen’ toggle on my iPhone all the details are read out to me, no taking photos, no screenshots to then have to zoom in on. And more importantly no masses of screenshot photos taking up space on my phone or iCloud!

So simple…

Good products designed well can easily help and support those who may have additional or altered needs.

It may just be a ‘happy coincidence’ that this product is so accessible? It may have been part of the design brief? Sadly I will never know which, I will simply refer back to my original quote.

The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

Charles Eames

FOOTNOTE: In writing this post I am simply sharing a product I found that works for me, I am not in anyway endorsing Kamtron Scales or The Fitdays app. Just as I have previously spoken about other products and apps.

Dogs just wanna to have fun!

It is true to say that many people only think of guide dogs as well trained, hard working dogs. This is of-course true; however there is also the puppy that comes out to play when the harness is removed.

As part of fizz’s work she, like us humans needs to have her down time; her run around with other dogs and possibly much more importantly that time where she can stick her nose to the ground and have a good sniff and as my son calls it ‘check her Pee-Mail’s’ which she doesn’t do when in harness.

This weekend was proof that she has plenty of time to explore and have no responsibility.

This weekend we met up with her dog friend Dave, we walked in fields, beaches and along the canal. She got to sniff, roll, swim and run.

She certainly did not act like a 10 year old guide dog, she certainly covered double if not more than the 8 miles I walked.

She met other dogs, soaked in expecting passers-by and even enjoyed a sneaky empty ice-cream cone.

A new friend we were with commented “I thought guide dogs were always working and well behaved?”

Nope and Nope!

She wasn’t naughty, she was just ‘being a dog’

So, it’s not all work and actually when she has had a really good run it can actually improve her work.

It’s all about having a good work-life balance.

Nope, No tears even though we are in Tiers

With covid cases again on the increase and new strains popping up it is no real surprise that as a Country, most of England has entered into stronger restrictions as of December 26th.

For me, I wanted to ensure I didn’t repeat some of the ‘blind fails’ that I incurred during both the first Lockdown and Lockdown 2.0. While being able to increase my walking, for both fitness and stamina.

So, my Christmas present to myself was two new cane tips. Sadly one won’t actually arrive until January, however I am off to a great start with the first.

I introduce you to my Ambutech High Milage Rolling Ball Tip.

Ambutech High milage roller tip on the end of red and white cane, with my hand to the right for size comparison

Measuring 5.1cm it is significantly larger than my previous tip as well as feeling much heavier. My cane is a slimline graphite long cane which gives it more ‘bouncy’ and initially on adding the tip felt like it was ‘dragging’ but as I have got used to and learned to release my grip on my cane handle it has got easier.

As for tip itself ….. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!! A long 2mi walk and not a single ‘cane jab’ or it catching on anything. I deliberately walked a route where the paving slabs are cracked, the path has roots in it and where I have previously experienced many a ‘cane jab’ or catch.

So, as the title suggest. “Nope, no tears even though we are in tiers.”

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.

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