Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to cross a street at a Busy Intersection

One of the most frightening aspects of being blind or visually impaired is crossing the street.

Intersections can be very confusing and dangerous places. One of the portions of Orientation and Mobility (O & M ) training is How a blind person can safely negotiate crossing the street at a busy intersection. I recently found this informative video from the Tyler Lighthouse in Texas describing the best technique to employ as you get out and about.

Bear in mind this video was made in the U.S.A. where vehicles are allowed to turn right on a red  light. Though they should not enter the intersection while you are crossing, they do and I have personally had several near misses when crossing a street using these very same techniques and a car driver chose to ignore the rules of the road.

The main idea is to be patient.

Wait at the side of the intersection for at least ONE full traffic cycle to analyze the times allowed for changing traffic patterns.

When you feel comfortable move to the edge of the sidewalk  and/or press the light button to tell the light that a pedestrian is waiting to cross.

As the traffic to your left moves forward move your cane out into the street to indicate that you are about to move into the crossing.

Count to two and then if all is clear move across the street keeping the line of moving traffic to your left.

Bear in mind that the line of moving traffic may be on your left depending on your direction of travel. I only used the direction to maintain consistency with the video.


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Silence means I am Updating!

Walking is great exercise.  Walking in company is even better.

My wife was getting a little bored just watching me on the treadmill for the last three weeks. So last Saturday she suggested we did some real walking before we go to work, beginning last Monday.

I agreed even though it meant we start a 5:15am, in the darkest part of night before the dawn. Night vision for me was never good, but the dark of this part of night  makes for complete blackness for me.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were ok for me. Whenever I leave home I always turn left. I could walk and talk at the same tme.

This morning, my wife suggested we turn right instead.

"Er, Right. O.K." I muttered and then descended into complete silence. After about twenty minutes I heard a rather upset voice.

"So, are you not speaking to me?"

"No, I mean Yes, I am speaking," I said.

"No you're not." Came the reply.

We then continued on for another thirty minutes in near silence.

My wife knows me. But at times I think she doesn't always understand what is happening. Possibly you know sighted people too, who read the wrong signals from you.

This morning for instance, it wasn't anger at my wife that lead to the silent walk. It was merely the need to concentrate. I could not work with my already familiar map. Our  turning right instead of left outside of the house left me in total confusion, the world I move through with ease was in the other direction. The world ahead was unfamiliar and sometimes scary.

All the concentration in the world was needed at that time to move me along our walk.

Silence does not always means displeasure. Silence may just mean I am updating a whole new world map and it may  take me sometime to reply.

Tell your friends to picture the little hour glass on your face. Active but busy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

On Going Blind: Today is Grey, We'll save black for tomorrow

It is a fact that blindness is an individual disability.

Some are born blind, some are blinded by accidents, war injuries and some like me are blinded by chronic  illness.

I can remember the immediate moments when my blindness started, when I lost my right eye I was in a supermarket, pucking up a can of baked beans. When my left eye was hit by a cblood clot I  was painting a bathroom.

Both were a flash and sudden pain, a head ache in the first case. Pain in the eye itself in the second.

Since  those specific moments though I cannot remember actually going blind. There was no specific moment that I had to admit to going blind. It just seemed to happen.

There were moments I recognised difficulty. The first blurred vision. Then not being able to see the wall let alone the eye chart when I first told my doctor back in England.

He was not a man to panic, but the urgency in his voice telling me to be at the eye hospital in Liverpool NOW! was pretty compelling evidence.

I still adapted and lived normally, could drive walk without a cane see a movie or even a typewriter keyboard.

The second clot even took three years to do it's worest for me. It happened in May 2007 and only in 2010 did I need a white cane. Injections of steroids and later Avastin and Lucentis preserved much of my vision, but caused some side effects. For instance the steroid injections caused a cataract to form in just over twelve months. That needed surgery itself in December 2008.

I do rember going to Fresno one day on the bus. The bus as its last stop out of one town picks up prisoners going home after release from a nearby state prison. About thirty miles later we stop at a small service station so passengers can have a bathroom break and smoke a few cigarettes. I got off the bus to go and buy a Milky Way chocolate bar and a diet Coke.  Walking back to the bus I missed my footing, falling head first into one of the side panels of the bus and shaking myself up.

A group of the ex-prisoners were smoking in front of the bus and burst out laughing.

:Hey!" ine shouted to the driver, "This guys on some strong shit. We could take care of him so you get no trouble."

The driver just said "He's o.k.""

That was a pretty bad day for me. The swelling in my eye had been pretty serious, making me as blind as I am today. But then I was not used to it, and that was the day I decided to ask about getting a cane.

The grey haze of my current blindness drifted in over the past three years. Some days were better than others. But the worse grew worse and the better has grown less and less often. So now all is pretty much a grey fog with black  shadows.

When it first started I am not certain, there waas no single moment as at the other times.

Now on the brink of a lot of important changes. I am not sure if the greyness itself will fade to black. Today grey is still grey. We'll leave black for tomorrow.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Insomniac's Delight: What to do now I Cannot Sleep

It is the very early morning of Sunday August 18. Three o'clock in the morning to be exact.

I have talked about insomnia caused by blindness in the past.

I am now quite comfortable in my pattern of insomnia. It is possible to have a good guess as to when my sleep pattern will flip from almost normal to getting little sleep at night and being tired in the day. For me it seems to occur every six to seven weeks, 42 to 49 days.

Tonight is a flip over night and the cycle will begin again.

Going to bed very early later today and then struggling to sleep past two in the morning.

In a couple of months I should be back to sleeping well at night and being able to concentrate in the day. Good thing really as that puts me in guide dog school at just the right time.

So has tonight been a waste of time?

No. I took the opportunity to write this blog, put an item on eBay and made some investigations to price some old textbooks on amazon.com. Turns out that though most of these textbooks are now updated by a new edition they are still being sold as new books by amazon itself and used booksellers, so I'll give it a go if only to clear my bookshelves of some old books from my college days.

My college days by the way are just six years ago. I went to school again in 2007 at the age of forty-five, at about the same time as I started to lose my sight in my left eye.

It took me just four years to get my Bachelor's  degree with honors (Suma cum laude) in History and political science. So any of you out there who want to take a degree and feel it is something you cannot achieve, believe me you can.

I not only had to overcome the blindness problem. At 45 I was definitely the oldest person in most of my community college classes, even some of the teachers were younger than me. Also I did not know how the U.S. education system worked, very differently from my experience back home in England. But with the help of my wife, I got through all the hoops.

Then of course I used my insomnia times to study, listen to my textbooks, scan my books and prepare my essays.

Insomnia, like blindness does have some positive sides to it.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five Questions Asked of Me by Strangers

In the course of going blind I have been asked many questions. People mostly ask sensible questions of me as a blindman. Here are five of the most often asked questions from the sensible questions:

1. What can you see?   This is probably the most obvious question to ask of a blind person. Describing what I see however is pretty hard. How do I even start to describe my blindness too you. " A bright white light." "Shadows." "Blurred images." If you ask this one be prepared for a very short or very long answer.

2. "Are you looking for something?"  Most often question asked by children as they see me rolling my cane across the ground. One boy did tell me his grandfather had a metal detector which he swept over the ground looking for gold. So naaturally he thought that my cane was some sort of metal detector. If I hear the child I often say, "Yes. I need to look for holes in the ground with the stick." Sadly I have also heard a parent sternly rebuke the child for asking such a question, "That man is blind and doesn't want you asking stupid questions." Oh! On the contrary I welcome such wonderful and insightful questions from adults as well as children.

3. What color {s} do you see?  Most people think blind people see black and only black. I see grey mostly, a bright ligh grey that often can be painful. Otherwise I can see the black of deep shadow or blackness in the night.

4. How do you get dressed?  This one is common. I guess my dress sense was never much good, but the answer is very boring. "I go to the closet and take my clothes off the hangers." I do dress myself. My wife though does checck me for dressing disasters, miss aligned buttons, open fly, wrong socks, socks with sandals etc.

5. How do you eat? This one made me laugh the first time I was asked. I wanted to say "I open my mouth and then chew." What they meant though was how do I know where food is on a plate or table. The answer is I ask my wife or someone else to tell me relative positions of food items so on a plate, meat at nine o'clock, beans at six o'clock, potatoes at noon.

On a dining table I might just ask "Can I have the ..." or feel out for a serving spoon and ask "What is this?" my wife knows I mean the food and not to answer "a spoon."

So these are just some of the questions I have been asked by strangers over the past five years since going blind. I left out the silly questions for another day.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Accompanying my Wife to the Doctor

Over the Summer my wife had to have a biopsy on some growths on her thyroid. The biopsy procedure was pretty uncomfortable, but even worse was the waiting to hear the results from the doctor as to whether the growths are benign or cancerous.

As she had made her appointment to see the doctor for the results on a Monday I was able to go along with her. I am not one who usually goes into the doctor with her. But on this occasion I asked if it was alright. Just in case of bad news.

Going into the doctor there was a long flight of staire, about twenty steps, alongside was a ramp, but I am happy going up the stairs, coming down is a bit more difficult so we decided to save the ramp until later.

I took up my usual method of climbing stairs, find the top of the second step and let the cane swing loosely in between my thumb and forefinger to let the cane tap the back of each step. When you reach the top of the stairs you don't feel or hear the tap. Simple.

About half way up the flight of stairs I hear my wife talking to someone. An old woman.

"Is your father ok climbing stairs?" I hear the old woman ask.

"My Husband is fine." My wife answer's.

"Husband? I thought he was your father." The other woman answered.

"I married young." My wife replied.

By this time I could hear her stifling a giggle. She was loving it. She doesn't look her age anyway. She hasn't aged a bit since we married. Bear in mind the source here. LOL.

Anyway of course "Dad" has become her favorite word. "This way, Dad!", "One more step. DAD!" Haha very funny.

Of course the benefit of having a nice looking wife who looks half my age makes me look like some old Hollywood Tycoon. Yeah. Right.

The really great news though was the growths are benign. Nothing to worry about.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Can Blindness Be a Positive Thing?

Going blind? Can there be something positive in going blind?

When I could see, you would have been hard pressed to name any positive things about going blind.

What sort or idiot might see blindness as a positive disability?

I now see the other side of the matter though. Please pardon the expression "see" in this context. I know some sighted people see the word see as a no, no when used in the presence of blind people. But I will use it freely and blow the politically correct.

In personal twerms going blind has taken a lot of pleasures away from me. I don't really see the sunset anymore, its just goes from very bright to black in a few minutes. I used to love to look at the stars at night. It is now about five years since I saw even the brightest star. I see the moon sometimes, when near full but not less than that. I don't see much of my wife these days, just a shadow, that bit is hard, but  she sounds the same when she speaks so it's easy to remember her.

So much for the bad. Let's get to the good.

I find peiople are generally helpful to the blind. Walking down the street with my cane I often find people more than eager to help. It's nice to have help offered even though most of the time it is unnecessary.

I get tio use lots of cool technical equipment. Computer voice synthesis is wonderful these days so screen readers such as Jaws and Non Visual Windows Applicartion (NVDA) make my working life easier as does Dragon Naturally Speaking Software which allows me to dictate directly into a wide variety of computer applications.

Smart phones these days will talk to me and allow me to talk to them. Talking to mty phone is sometimes frustrating living in the United States with a Northern English accent, my phone seems to understand my wife perfectly (American Accent) but me? It can take several attempts to get it to do what I want. Still some of the mistakes are funnier than the frustration.

Often a trip to Starbucks will lead to a complete stranger asking me a question about blindness. I love that to happen. It seems many people are very curious about my experience andthough I do get some strange questions, the chance to educate people is most exciting to me.

A major portion of how we deal with blindness is an internal matter.

If you are inclined to brood and draw away from society then blindness is only going to make things worse.  For me the more blind that I have become the more open to people I have become. I do not concentrate on my own or others image, I can't really tell another persons color or demeanour expect from the tone of a voice, accents tell me a lot but I tend to like what I hear for the main part so I am much more approachable, I think. That is an important part of enjoying life  for everyone, look for the positive, don't trust like a fool but be open.

If you were to ask me qwhat is the best thing about going blind it is people. Not neccessarily doctors or professionals, ordinary people too.

People who want to help, people who ask questions, people who actually speak to me as an individual.

I just love people I guess.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Seventy Days Till Dog Day

So here we are just ten weeks, seventy Days until Dog Day. The day when I will meet my guide dog for the very first time.

So how am I coping with the very real expectation of getting a guide dog?

Well to be honest, if my wife had told me she was expecting a baby I could not be more excited.

Yesterday for instance, my wife and I went for a drive to the coast. Going through Paso Robles I knew we would pass a PetCo store. So as calmly as I could I suggested we go in to just look around, price food and stuff.

She humored me. I bet she saw straight through the cute smile that I tried to pull and the pleading eyes. Just need to price stuff. Oh! Yes really?

So nearly two hours later we had looked at beds for the dog, food, toys, grooming kits, toothpaste (for the dog). " I don't want to be kissed by a dog  who's breath smells of liver!" she  squeeled. We wandered, "Look at this", "Isn't this cute?" "Can I get him or her ...?"

In the end I broke. My hands full of  dog toys and books.

Books! "You can't even read them!" "No. But they have all sorts of stuff 'YOU' can read about and tell me." I say as cutely as I can.Slowly putting all but one tug toy and book back on the shelf. {sigh}

Today I also called the city council offices to check bus fares for the bus into Fresno. I use the bus to get to many of my doctor appointments and wondered if there is a charge for taking my guide dog with me. The good news is that there is NO charge for a guide dog. I still pay a full fare on a inter-city transit bus but travel free on the local dial -a-ride bus.

There it is we are now in the last week of double digits in my countdown, not that I am really counting. Oooops! a pig just crashed from the sky. LOL

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Guide Dog Training Team Narrowly Escape Death

So training guide dogs sounds a nice safe job doesn't it?

Lovely fuzzy puppies and lovable fuzzy faces of all those young Labrador retrievers. Yes the dogs are safe but take a look at this news report from the local station in San Rafael California.

A motorist loses concentration for a moment and narrowly misses a guide dog under training and the two instructors training the dog.

Quick thinking and speedy reactions were all that save the day.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Blonde Leading the Blind - Book Review

Recently I have been trawling the book shelves for books on Guide Dogs.

 As some of you may have read, I am currently waiting to go for training with a guide dog at San Rafael, California in October. So it was with some interest that I picked up this book  "Confessions of a Guide Dog: The Blonde Leading the Blind" by Mark Carlson

Mark Carlson and his Guide Dog "Musket" are residents of San Diego, CA. They are also alumni of San Rafael. Mark received Musket in 2004 and they have enjoyed a remarkable life together and have gathered many friends and fans, including astronauts, war heroes and everyday folks.
Mark writes the book from his own perspective and also uses the voice of Musket to counterpoint their relationship.
Together Mark and Musket describe their lives together and daily work life, the troubles they encounter and also the benefits that a guide dog brings to the life of a blind person.
Parts of the book brought tears to my eyes, the poignant death of Mark's father in law, "Pop-pop" to Musket. But many of the daily encounters will be familiar to the blind who encounter the general public in day to day life. Most of the book is full of information, I learned a lot about the care and instruction of a guide dog from this book. Mark reinforces what I have already read in my study papers from Guide Dogs for the Blind with solid practical real life examples.
The book is also very funny in parts, the previously mentioned tears of sadness were often followed immediately with tears of laughter especially the story of the United Airlines pilot coming to the rescue when Musket required relieving at Chicago's O'Hare Airport on a long trans continental flight.
Confessions of a Guide Dog is available at my Amazon Store or from your local bookstore and libraries everywhere. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

How are the Exercises Going?

A few weeks back I told you of a new exercise regime to build up my stamina for going to guide dog training in October.

I was doing pretty well with my walking up until the third week in July. My too close of an encounter with a storm drain took me out of walking much for ten days. Because of a lower back sprain I am now scheduled for some physical therapy starting next week.

But I also sort of jumped the gun a little with training. I hopped onto my treadmill ten days ago. I could barely make two miles per hour for ten minutes at the beginning of August. Thatt was tough going for a couple of days.I did three sessions of ten minutes over the space of the day. Before breakfast, after getting home from work and last thing before going to bed at night.

I increased the times after a few days, measured on a $5 kitchen timer from Target stores. I increased the time about two minutes after three days then a further three minutes last Tuesday to fifteen minutes per session. Now I do fifteen minutes before breakfast and two twenty minute sessions later in the day.

I have also increased my speeds a good portion. Now my warm up speeds are 2.4 miles per hour and five or ten minutes at 3.0 miles per hour with a 2.5 amd 2 miles per hour cool down.

My goal is to increase endurance times on the second and third exercise periods to forty-five minutes each with at least twenty minutes at 3.5 miles per hour by mid October when I go to San Rafael.

With a bad back pulling a little still but recovering quickly I think that is manageable in ten weeks.

Will have to see what the physical-therapists say on Monday.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Scent of Home

It is amazing what the sense of smell can do.

When I could see I didn't pay much attention to my sense of smell. Oh the odd stink of petrol from the oil refinery or odour of chlorine from the swimming baths in town. But not much else caught the attention on a day to day basis.

The other day though I was at the coast, a place called Elkhorn Slew. A broad salt marsh on the Pacific Coast of California. But the scents that filled the air transported me thousands of miles back to England. Back to walks along the banks of the River Mersey. Back to Runcorn and the neighboring towns of Widnes and Warrington.

I used to walk along the bank of the Mersey on my way to college in the early 1980's across the West Bank area of Widnes.

The air was often filled with the smell of the brackish salty sands when the river had thinned to a  stream. The Mersey is very tidal there. In Liverpool one might notice the up and down of the river but between Rubncorn and Widnes there are wide sands, treacherous because the river can flood in seconds as the Mersey Boar floods over the sands faster than a man can run/

But on Sunday, standing beside Elkhorn Slew, I could have been looking over the Mersey. A gentle lapping of small waves over the mud which popped and slurped as worms fed.

But the air was full of the scents which brought back memories of years ago, standing by a river so far away. Memoies of home.