Learning to adapt and Delegate through blindness

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This morning I realized that I put a giant SCOOP of sugar (stevia) into my protein shake, and a teaspoonful of Peanut butter into my coffee.  Yup, totally gross.  As I stared at the overflowing coffee cup, I started to laugh uncontrollably.  There’s a LOT of things I’ve learned to adapt or delegate to others since losing my vision.

I’ll never forget the day my mother (a former housekeeper herself) came into my apartment and shrieked at something she had discovered in the corner of the room.  “Young lady, there is DRIED CAT VOMIT collecting mold in here!  Don’t you clean?”  After much heated debate, we both came to the realization that detailed cleaning for me was probably a thing of the past, and that it was time to invest in a helper to handle the things I simply was no longer able to see.  In came Maria into my life, and I’ve never been more grateful.  I justified the expense by realizing that the dangers of germs and dirt were far more expensive than the $60 I would pay for Maria to clean my house down to the floorboards.  A worthy investment indeed, and it was the beginning of realizing that although I’m still capable of doing almost everything, I cannot do everything as WELL as I used to.

For instance, personal grooming has been the biggest challenge for those of us who are blind and visually impaired.  I wish I could tell you I’ve NEVER left the house with a giant wad of toothpaste on my shirt and chin, but I’d be lying.  I now give myself a complete wipe/ pat-down before leaving the bathroom to ensure no drips or spills will embarrass me.  One of the weirder side effects of going through chemotherapy 5 years ago is that my formerly non-existent eyebrows have now taken on the appearance of caterpillars.  Trying to pluck something you can’t see is a lesson in pain and futility, and no amount of magnifying mirror seems to assist.  So, once every three months, I get them threaded.  I tried waxing, but with the giant Glaucoma Valve I have sticking out of my right eye, it was too dangerous to have the waxing lady press down firmly to get a good grip on the wax.  Threading was the compromise.

Going to the YMCA and having the camaraderie of the locker room is helpful in many ways.  Not just for morale, but in pointing out that stray underarm hair that you didn’t know existed and have apparently missed in your daily shaves.  trust me, it’s FAR more pleasant hearing this from another woman than your swim coach.  Thank God for my locker-roommates!  Having a roommate at home is helpful too.  She has patiently guided me through many a botched self-manicure, making me realize that the $10 I pay to have it done professionally may be my necessary delegation.  Blind people and paint of ANY kind are generally a bad idea……..

Dressing for me has changed most drastically I suppose.  I wear dark, wrap-around sport sunglasses as my damaged eyes are extremely light sensitive and painful most days.  Also, following the great advice of my friend Randy, an avid blind hiker and mountain climber, the protection against the elements and low hanging branches is worth the compromise in vanity.  Many days I have to add a hat with a brim for added sun protection, as even the darkest of glasses are still painful.  Trying to look ‘cute’ in the ‘chic’ and fashion-conscious town of Greenwich CT is impossible when you’re sporting a triathlon visor while wearing a faux fur.

I have invested in rain and winter coats with hoods, because umbrellas are a thing of the past.  Navigating with a guide dog requires your left hand on the harness handle, and your right hand free to give hand signals to your working dog.  Carrying coffee, water, or anything for that matter doesn’t happen.  NO travel mugs for this girl.  You SIT and drink your beverage, or purchase ones that are completely sealed and throw them in your unattractive, industrial-looking backpack.   Cute shoes with heels?  Nope!  Your dog was matched to you based on very specific leg and stride measurements.  Taking into account for high heels simply doesn’t factor in.  So you’re either tilted drastically to one side from the uneven height of your harness handle, or you unfortunately are reduced to short pants and flats or sneakers.  Open toed shoes are a very bad idea as well.  Despite my guide dog’s diligence in avoiding objects that can trip me, I still manage to trip daily.  It’s usually over a small crack in the sidewalk, a frost-heave, or a small pebble.  Elvis’ responsibility is for “any change in elevation of 2 inches or more”.  That’s his job description, and he is top notch at this.  Interestingly enough, whenever I’m post-op or at night-time, he DOES stop for even the tiniest crack, as he knows intuitively that I cannot see these at my more compromised state.  I’m VERY lucky to have him by my side each day.

Shaking hands and basic manners have taken on a whole new dimension. I can’t see when someone is trying to shake my hand, because my vision is so small and narrowly focused that when I am looking at them, I only see a part of their face and the remainder is BLACK.  SO, I’ve taken to ‘scanning’ people up and down when first introduced, and try to make the first ‘move’ to put my hand out.  I used to have a clever boss that told me to look at him when meeting new people.  He’d take his eyeglasses off and polish them as a ‘sign’ that someone was trying to shake my hand.  It was an excellent system.  I have to move very slowly when dining out or at a friend’s house in order to avoid spills and broken wine glasses.  I stay still with my hands folded in my lap until it’s time, then slowly slide them up onto the table, inching my way to utensils, plate, and stemware.  Pouring wine as a sommelier is downright tricky with no depth perception.  Obviously I can’t stick my fingers into someone’s clean glass to find the edge, so I now run the bottle’s neck along the brim of the glass to determine the direction of the curve and count the pour out in my head in seconds. “One Mississippi, two Misssissippi……”

Finally, I’ve taken on a sport that allows me to complete a race with a personal guide at my side, directing me where to go, and giving me verbal cues on my surroundings and potential dangers.  Triathlon has truly made my life so incredibly wonderful and FULL.  I run, but now with a partner who is tied to my wrist, gently pulling me aside or telling me to pick my feet up if a man-hole cover is in our path and warning other runners to let us pass or to pass us with a wide berth.  I’ve learned to count strokes in the pool to avoid colliding with the wall, and swim what is known to athletes as ‘catch-up drill’, where one hand is always out in front of your body to use your fingertips to find the wall before hitting it.

IMG_3249Finally, I’ve learned to ride a tandem bike with a partner, and have learned to communicate how I’m feeling regarding my air (or lack thereof), the terrain, or the speed at which we’re traveling.  While it’s not at all like riding a single bike, my tandem pilots provide great company, and are fantastic about describing the surroundings that I am unable to see while we’re pedaling in sync.  It’s truly a fantastic experience like no other.  With tennis, I’ve learned to RUN AROUND my forehand, hitting mostly backhand on the side that I can see, and have improved my ground strokes by doing what I SHOULD have been doing all along, which is hitting the ball out in front of my body, and taking my shots sooner.  Where I struggle with my vision at this sport is that I can no longer serve the ball properly. I LOSE the ball when I toss it in the air, as it leaves my narrow field of vision and completely disappears.  Although I hate to do it, I now simply don’t serve and avoid the net for the same reason.  Riding the baseline is A-OK with this blind chick!

One of the tougher adaptations for me has been letting go of grocery shopping.  Back when I used to drive, I LOVED spending a couple of hours in the grocery store, taking in all the brightly colored displays, running into friends and neighbors, and sampling all kinds of yummy goodies at the counters.  I had a methodical way of working through the entire store, and relished these weekly outings for a little ‘me’ time.  Having to rely on Peapod for grocery delivery or Amazon for staple items is honestly a little depressing.  I feel bad when folks take me shopping, and try hard to rush through it while they push the cart behind Elvis and I.  Before my guide dog I used to constantly knock over small children and displays of tea (tea seems to fall very easily for some reason, as do children).  Their mothers would stand there looking at me in horror like I was a monster who had purposefully hurt their child.  Explaining to a person that you have a vision problem when you ‘appear’ normal is a difficult thing to do while they’re dusting their screaming toddler off.  In these instances, I would abandon my cart and flee from the store.  I began shopping at ten pm when I knew kids wouldn’t be there.  After I traded in my car for a dog, I’m now dependant upon the kindness of friends and volunteers to do my shopping, and it’s no longer fun.

I’m now an expert in things I never even knew existed.  I was formerly late for EVERYTHING, and now, because I’m entirely dependent upon public transit, I can determine the exact time I’ll be arriving somewhere.  I know the schedules for every bus, train and shuttle from Westchester to New Haven, and can travel seamlessly from one town to the other on days the weather cooperates for foot travel with Elvis.  I am organized in a way I never imagined possible.  My closet and medications are all color-coordinated, and my shoes are lined up like little soldiers at my closet floor.

I’m an incredibly savvy online shopper, and find coupons all over, saving myself hundreds of dollars on groceries and supplies for my dog and apartment.  I’m sort of grateful that I’m no longer an ‘impulse shopper’.  I now plan things weeks in advance due to the added challenge of transportation to get to and from places, and have mastered the art of layering my clothes and packing my backpack with dog food, makeup, and a change of clothes for going out in the evening if required.

Finally, I put things BACK where I found them, and have a place for everything.  While visiting mothers, housekeepers, and roommates interfere with this system, it generally works (until someone accidentally leaves a cabinet door open, leaving me with an ice pack on my forehead for several hours, or I fall over the coffee table as it’s been moved back a few inches).  No system is perfect, but again, I’m adapting.  I even tried bathing Elvis myself yesterday, something I’d only done once outside with a hose.  Wrestling an 80 pound dog with your eyes closed is not easy.  However, he’s gotten older and more mellow, and was a cooperative participant in the bath, and allowed me to do so.

I’m going to do as many things as I can, while I can.  I’m going to do triathlons, I’m going to ski, attempt to play some tennis, swim in the ocean, play tag with my nieces, put on my own makeup (after many lessons at the local department store how to do it by feel), and drive golf carts with reckless abandon until someone makes me stop.  I don’t envy that person one bit however!  So in the meantime, I’m going to occasionally put peanut butter in my coffee and sugar in my shake, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s my ability to laugh, delegate, and adapt to my newfound vision loss that will keep me thriving each and every day.

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2 thoughts on “Learning to adapt and Delegate through blindness

  1. Wendy Perry

    I so needed to read this and appreciate it so much. Encouragement is what I need everyday as I suffer from RP and am losing vision I feel, everyday. I need to plan and prepare but don’t know where to start. Its pain staking and so scary! I need help and suggestions as I’m fumbling around and have tried very hard to avoid my continual vision loss. I know with God’s help I can do this, just need guidance. Thanks for sharing anything to help!

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