Wednesday, 12 September 2018

NHS 70

Apologies for the lack of blog posts recently. I have been struggling with chronic wrist and hand pain making typing difficult. I think it is some kind of repetitive strain injury although the doctor did say I had pulled a tendon, only I have no recollection of doing it. I have just finished a day at work and was reminded of a short piece I wrote for their website a couple of months ago for the NHS 70 celebrations. You can read all about how I represented them at Westminster Abbey by clicking here.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Operation Calvin

Guide Dogs. We all hear about how great and wonderful they are. Aren’t they clever, don’t they do an amazing job. Yes, they are life changers. They give blind and partially sighted people more confidence to get out and about. What people sometimes forget is that ultimately they are just dogs and not super heroes. They need feeding, spending, playtime, love and care. Whilst the owner is reliant on the dog when walking, at all other times the dog is dependent on the owner.

I have had a tough time with Calvin over the last couple of months. In June I discovered a lump on the inside of one of his back legs. I was sure it must be a fatty lump as he has hundreds even though this one was sturdier to the touch. I took him to the vets to get it aspirated and was pleased when they confirmed that it was indeed most likely a fatty lump and therefore pretty much harmless. When the vet suggested removing it because of its position and its possibility to affect Calvin’s mobility if it grew I was a little taken aback. Since Guide Dogs pay for Calvin’s treatment I contacted them for advice and was pretty certain that they would say just to leave it. I was then surprised when they agreed it should be removed in order to avoid a bigger operation in the future if the lump enlarged.

I was reluctant to agree to the surgery. However, after weighing up the pros and cons I booked Calvin in. Ironically, on the morning of the operation a tiny lump appeared on the inside of his other back leg so I requested that they removed that too. The operation was a success and they sewed him up with dissolvable stitches. It was necessary for him to wear a cone on his head for ten days to prevent him from licking the wound.

The cone. The dreaded cone. Calvin is not a small dog and has a sizeable head. Hence the plastic cone he was fitted with was enormous. For those who aren’t familiar the cone is also known as a buster collar or Elizabethan collar. Considering Calvin is a Guide Dog his sense of spatial awareness was shocking and so bulldozed around the house. It was somewhat amusing despite the situation being far from it.

Calvin was understandably sulky after his operation. I feared this might last for the entire time he had to wear the cone, but by the following morning he was chirpier, I think mostly down to the fact that he worked out that he could wear the cone and still hold a toy in his mouth. Mealtimes were a little bit challenging at first, but I put his bowl on a shoe box, which made it easier for him to reach. Climbing the stairs was a tricky one, he wouldn’t lift his head high enough so kept catching the cone on the upcoming step and came tumbling back down to the bottom. Toys solve everything and I learnt that if he had a toy in his mouth then it forced him to hold his head up and he could make it safely to the top.

We had a few night time sprints to the garden in the initial days post-surgery as his tummy was poorly after the anaesthetic. Thankfully Calvin and I have an established relationship and him panting in my face means he really needs to go. Obviously when Calvin was wearing the cone it meant I was unable to work him. Having your independence snatched away is not brilliant and I missed our walks together, but it wasn’t like I was completely housebound as I had an army of people to take me out as and when needed. When I left Calvin for short periods by himself when I knew his stomach was settled I locked him in the living-room as I had images of him trying to get up the stairs without a toy and injuring himself. Calvin doesn’t know I know, but he always sleeps on my bed when left alone in the house for a prolonged period. He would never dream of climbing on my bed with me present.

Calvin had a check-up at the vets and they were happy with the wounds and said I could remove the collar after the ten days were up. I thought Calvin would be ecstatic to get it removed and braced myself for crazy running and toy grabbing. Instead he had a good shake, calmly picked up a toy and promptly curled up and went to sleep. I guess he hadn’t had great shut eye with the cone on.

Two weeks post-surgery I was allowed to work him again and it was a relief. The weather was lovely, which always lifts my mood. At the beginning of July Calvin started licking his wound in the night. Now I don’t know if he started licking the wound and it opened up or if the scab cracked which caused it to open. I believe it was the latter since he didn’t bother with the wound before that. Either way it got infected. He was given anti-biotics and the cone had to go back on for another week. Again this meant no work.

The week passed and the vet peeled off the scab, I assume to check that the infection had gone. It had. However, she said one of the stitches was sticking out of the skin. So she opened the wound up once more to get the stitch out. The cone had to go back on for a third time. By this point I was a stress head. Calvin was allowed to have the cone off whilst being supervised after the infection, but if he so much as had his tongue out I made sure the cone went back on as I was so worried about the wound getting infected again.

I went on holiday in mid-July for my birthday and left Calvin with a friend. I was a little nervous about leaving him, as I threated that the wound would get infected again. He went with his cone to wear at night and he came back absolutely fine.

After my holiday I began to relax and convinced myself that the wounds were beyond the possibility of infection. Then the weather turned rainy and Calvin started licking his front legs. Hyper-alert to any licking I noticed that it seemed to be increasing and realised his arthritis must be playing up. Calvin has had arthritis for a few years and at the end of last year his front paws began to misshapen due to it but up until now it has never really bothered him. He has been taking You Move supplements and they seemed to be doing the job. I guess with the operation followed by the infection, Calvin’s body has been through the wars and might explain why the arthritis flared up.

We took another trip to the vets and they agreed that it was arthritis troubling him. They have now armed me with anti-inflammatories to give him as and when needed. The licking stopped after a few days but I medicated him for seven days as recommended. On the fifth day I took him for a free run, something I hadn’t done since his operation. I declared him cured as I witnessed him bound around the woods like a puppy. My heart swelled as he zoomed around with not a care in the world. There was a time where I felt he was never going to get better. I am truly grateful to have him back to his playful self. Although whilst I have been writing this his insistence for me to keep throwing his toy has spoilt my flow a little!

Poorly pups are no fun for dog or owner. Somehow it is already five months since I have been on the waiting list for a new Guide Dog. The last couple of months have really brought it home to me how much I don’t want a dog with health problems. I don’t want the vets knowing who I am before I have even mentioned my name over the phone. Who knows how many more months Calvin and I have together as a partnership. I am just glad that we can get back to striding the streets.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Amsterdam

When you think of Amsterdam, the first things that come to mind are sex and drugs. The legalisation of prostitution and cannabis makes the capital city a popular destination for those who have a freer outlook on life. For someone who religiously goes to bed at 9pm, doesn’t drink or smoke and certainly doesn’t condone prostitution it is a wonder why I was on board when my friends suggested a trip to the city in order to celebrate all of us turning thirty. Perhaps a surprise to some, but Amsterdam is a place that actually oozes culture and well worth a visit for those who prefer a more subdued existence.

Nine of us travelled to Amsterdam at the end of May and I was the only visually impaired member of the group. Whilst I am well-travelled, I have mainly holidayed in beach locations and didn’t anticipate the physical and mental exhaustion that comes with getting around a busy and unfamiliar environment. Bicycles, trams, cars and people surround you at every turn and although I was always being guided I felt we were constantly crossing roads and dodging moving objects. Then there are the stairs. I learnt that Amsterdam has a lot of very old tall buildings and our hotel was no exception. The staircases in these buildings are not only steep, but spiral and have uneven steps. The struggle was real.

The difficulty with travelling in such a large group is that not everyone wants to do the same activities. Personally, I was keen to squeeze in as much site-seeing as possible and felt I experienced everything I wanted to. Below you will find my account of all the tourist attractions I visited and how I found them as someone with a visual impairment.

Anne Frank House ` `
A note to anyone planning on visiting this attraction, at present it is only possible to do so by purchasing an online ticket in advance. Tickets go on sale two months in advance and sell-out super-fast. We missed out on these tickets and had to purchase introductory programme tickets that are a bit more expensive, which go on sale two weeks before. These also sell-out on the morning they are released. I was unable to purchase tickets with my Supernova screen reader despite the website appearing fairly accessible at a glance. Thankfully the boyfriend was on hand to purchase our tickets. There was no option to buy a discounted disabled ticket.

The pre-talk that was included with the introductory programme ticket was quite interesting and useful especially if you are not completely familiar with the Anne Frank story. After the talk we were able to explore the Anne Frank House and were given audio guides. These were pretty accessible as once you are in a room you just need to wave it around a bit until you hear a beep, which triggers the information to start playing. Obviously it is useful if you can see where the trigger points are, but I was able to activate the audio guide myself in some of the rooms.

It was towards closing time when we visited The House so it wasn’t too crowded although there were bottle necks at times as people navigated the tricky staircases. There weren’t too many objects you could touch, but just being inside the building gave a good feel for the living conditions.

Sex Museum and Red Light District
Ok so it is kind of impossible to go to Amsterdam and not be a tad curious about their openness to sex. The sex museum is fairly visual and so I strongly recommend that if you are visually impaired that you go with someone who isn’t embarrassed to describe some of the exhibits. There are a few interactive features of the museum, I will leave your over active imaginations to guess what they might be. It is a place to go for a bit of a laugh and whilst it claims to guide you through the history of sex, I can’t say that that appears to be its main focus.

I have to admit that I was totally disappointed by The Red Light District. I think I was expecting throngs of sex hungry men to be pressed up against the windows deciding on which woman they wished to purchase. Instead I didn’t even realise I was walking through the district, it could have been a regular street. What I mean to say is there was no atmosphere about the place for somewhere that is so iconic.

Canal Cruise
Amsterdam is famous for its many canals and their canal cruises are popular with tourists. You have to be prepared to do a little queuing even after you have bought your ticket, but they do try to continuously load the boats. Everyone is given an individual audio guide and then the captain also offers additional information. Maybe due to fatigue, but I found the tour somewhat dull. I suspect the city has some beautiful views, I just couldn’t appreciate them and the audio guide didn’t offer much in terms of detailed descriptions.

Van Gogh Museum
The artist is famous for cutting off his ear and his depiction of sunflowers. I have a vivid memory of one of his sunflower paintings as I recall my primary school having a copy on the wall. I also thought I remembered what he looked like, but was stunned to discover that he was ginger. This makes me question how accurate my visual memory is.

The attraction is another that requires you to purchase tickets online in advance, which I didn’t realise until one of my friend’s notified me on the morning we planned to visit. Luckily, I had a quick look at the website after breakfast and discovered that they offered disabled visitors a free companion ticket that could not be purchased online. They allow disabled visitors to just turn up, buy a ticket on the door (note they only accept card payments) and enter through an access entrance that saves queuing. So it all worked out perfectly.

However, I was disappointed to learn that despite paying eighteen euros to get in an audio guide was an additional fee of five euros. I am not entirely sure if they are free as standard for those with a visual impairment, but they did give me one for free when we explained I was blind. Since I was the only one with an audio guide, there was some waiting around for me whilst I listened to the information. The audio guide was not accessible and I required someone to punch in the necessary numbers on my behalf.

The museum is extremely large and set over several floors. Possibly because of this we didn’t come across the 3D replica of one of the sunflower paintings, which I hoped to feel.

Floating Flower Market
In my mind’s eye this appears as a real spectacle as I imagine thousands of flowers in vibrant colours floating on the canal water in lots of pots. In fact it is basically a market that happens to be by the canal. The online description promises that you can smell the sweet and musky aromas. I did sneeze, but failed to smell anything. It is a good place to pick up souvenirs and I did get to see some traditional Dutch clogs.

Ice Bar
This attraction is cool! On arrival you are given three tokens, one can be used in the main warm bar and two in the actual ice bar. The tokens entitle you to free drinks. Prior to entering the ice bar you are given a coat and glove. I brought my own hat and gloves for further insulation. It is a great sensory experience as you can of course feel the minus temperatures, the glasses you get your drinks in are made out of actual ice and there is a polar bear ice sculpture that you can touch. Yet again this is another place where you need to pre-book your tickets in advance online.

Horse and Carriage Ride
Some of the landmarks that we passed on this tour were the same as the canal cruise tour, nevertheless I felt it was a more exciting way to view the city. I fantasised that I had gone back in time as our horse who was called Patrick trotted through the cobbled streets. The tour guide allowed us to give Patrick a fuss at the end, which was a calming activity to conclude a jam-packed few days in Amsterdam.


Friday, 11 May 2018

Duolingo

Apparently 20% of the world’s population can speak English. This means us ignorant Brits can travel the world freely knowing that we will be able to communicate with 1 in 5 people that we come across. We will be surprised when we stumble across someone who doesn’t speak English, but be confident that if we just speak slowly and loudly that we will be understood. English is the language of the world and how very lucky I am that it is my first language. However, I have always wished to be bilingual. I have cursed my mum many a time over the years for not bringing me up bilingually since she is from Mauritius so her mother tongue is French. My dad is also bilingual, he was born in Kenya, but the language of his house-hold was Punjabi. I don’t curse him so much for not bringing me up bilingually yet I am the only cousin who can’t speak Punjabi. If my parents desired, I could have been trilingual! My boyfriend is also bilingual. Although he came to England at the age of 4, his mum made sure that he didn’t lose his birth language and so he can speak Colombian Spanish as well as English. This kind of makes me feel like the only person in the universe who isn’t bilingual!

Since achieving my A* in French at GCSE, obviously helped massively by my mum, I have always regretted not continuing with the language. Over the years I have looked at attending an adult learning course, but have never got as far as applying due to worrying about the accessibility. In this technological era that we live in it never occurred to me that there might be an app to help me learn another language, which seems pretty foolish when I look back now as we all know that there is an app for everything these days. By chance I saw a friend share a link to Duolingo on Face Book and clicked on it to learn more.

Duolingo is brilliant. Not only is it free, it is accessible and allows you to learn at your own pace. I have been using the app in conjunction with the website for around 6 months now and I am thoroughly enjoying learning. In the beginning I tried learning French and Spanish together, but found I was confusing the languages at times so have decided to focus on learning just Spanish for now. Duolingo has a variety of exercises that includes translating sentences from both English to Spanish and Spanish to English as well as speaking and listening exercises. This means I am learning to speak, read, write and understand Spanish, which is great. It is also useful to have the boyfriend to correct my pronunciation and have a practice partner. His mum speaks a lot of Spanish at home and I get excited when I can understand the odd word, then deflated when I realise how far I still have to go before I am remotely fluent in the language.

The Duolingo app works with Voice Over on the iphone, the only slight glitch I have found is that sometimes Voice Over switches into Spanish within an exercise, but the sentence you need to translate is in English so it reads it funny. The work around is to swipe through character by character, a little time consuming, but a work around nonetheless. Personally, if I have access to my laptop then I prefer to use the web version with my Supernova screen reader. I just find it more efficient for typing.

Recently, Duolingo did a major update to their app and website making it no longer accessible to screen reader users. I was very impressed that after I posted about the issue on their troubleshooting forum that they fixed the accessibility issues promptly and notified me when they had done so.

I admire anyone who can seamlessly switch between languages. They make it look so easy yet it really is quite challenging learning a foreign tongue. Now that I have discovered Duolingo I am pretty committed to becoming multilingual although I fear that whenever the opportunity arises I will end up taking the easy way out and conversing with someone in English instead!

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Time's Ticking

April is drawing to a close and I haven’t been able to sit down and blog since the beginning of January. This is not OK! A third of the year has passed by in a blink of an eye and to be honest it hasn’t been a brilliant year so far. I had an eye operation in February and before I had completely recovered I was struck down with the flu closely followed by a cold. Yesterday was the first day my heart rate dropped back down to below seventy beats per minute. I have had enough pyjama days to last me a lifetime!

I have a million and one topics I want to blog about, but have to start with the most important creature in my life, Calvin. Last month my baby boy turned ten years old! I bought him some new balls for his birthday and his latest party trick is to hold no less than three in his mouth at once! It is saddening for me to write that he definitely has less than a year left of being a Guide Dog. It is frightening to think that the next phone call I may get could be from Guide Dogs informing me that Calvin needs to step aside and let a younger model take his place.

I have been on the waiting list for a new Guide Dog since Wednesday 7 March and I should be excited that a puppy could be pounding the pavements right now learning how to become my next ticket to independence. However, I am in no hurry to stop exploring the world with Calvin. I truly treasure every walk we go on now and I love that I trust him with my life even though thousands wouldn’t!

So, the next dog. Going through the application process to go back on the waiting list took a lot longer than I anticipated. I don’t recall being asked so many questions the first time around, but no doubt things have changed from ten years ago. I tried not to be too specific when requesting what attributes I would like the next Calvin to possess, yet at the same time there were two things I am certain about. Health and spending. I do not want a dog that has any pre-existing health condition even if it is being treated successfully with daily medication or monthly injections. I understand you can’t predict what may happen in the future and I am happy to deal with that as and when, but as someone who is totally blind I don’t want the immediate responsibility of monitoring a health issue. As for spending I would like a dog that is clean on walks and can spend on concrete. Calvin is a superstar when it comes to being clean on a walk, but his fussiness to spend on concrete stresses me out at times. In January I had a training day at work which was in the city centre and because there was no grass around Calvin had to go over seven hours without having a busy. Ultimately it is his fault for not going and supposedly if he was really desperate he would, but I did feel a pang of guilt because I was unable to locate some grass for him. At the end of the day he is my responsibility and I don’t want him feeling uncomfortable. When I visit my visually impaired friends in Nottingham unless I have nobody to look after Calvin I will now leave him at home because it is just too difficult to find somewhere to spend him.

Regarding everything else I felt I was pretty reasonable. I have not specified a particular gender or breed although have politely requested not to have a Calvin double. If the next dog is going to have any chance of making it with me then they need to be their own canine. They will most definitely be compared to Calvin, but it would drive me crazy if everyone talked about how alike they were to my number one boy. I have agreed to take a dog that is under confident or easily distracted. Basically I have signed up for a challenge. I imagine it would be a bit dull having a dog that didn’t take you on detours. Plus they should provide me with plenty of blog material!

It has been noted that I require a dog that is mod plus to fast speed wise and if possible I would like to train from home so I can get straight into teaching them my routes. I did seriously question whether I wanted another dog. Mentally it will be tough, but hopefully the level of freedom and independence I will gain will make it worth it. I am just crossing everything that the new dog has a good name!

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Great Cane Debate

As part of RNIB’s How I See campaign, they released a video that debates whether the cane, (a mobility aid used by visually impaired people) should be the standard black and white, (black handle with white body) or whether it is ok for the cane to be colourful. You can view the video here.

There is a fear that if the cane is not the standard black and white then the public may get confused with regards to what it symbolises. In my opinion, I believe it is more than acceptable for a visually impaired person to use whatever colour cane they wish as long as it is being used in the correct manner. Just because blind people can’t see should they be subjected to a colourless black and white world? People without a visual impairment use cars and other means of transport to get around. If a lorry is white or red, we still know it is a lorry and if a person is using a wheelchair is it important that it has blue or pink rims? No. Other people are allowed to customise their mobility aids, so why can’t we?

To emphasise my argument, I thought I would share my cane journey with you. I was first introduced to a cane at about the age of twelve. I had no interest in using an object that screamed ‘I have a visual impairment’. In an act of rebellion I remember storming out of my house and walked to a friend’s without using my cane. Worried for my safety my dad jumped in his car and curb-crawled behind me, which prompted a member of the public to stop me and alert me to the fact that a man was following me! After that incident, I reluctantly agreed to use my cane outside of school. When I was around my friends I wouldn’t use it properly at all and would often use it as a comical prop. In particular I recall pretending that my cane was like a dog lead and I was being dragged along by said dog much to my friends amusement. I had to try and make the cane cool.

By the age of sixteen my sight had deteriorated to a level where for my safety I was encouraged to use my cane at school. So I began using it at the start of sixth form, which at my school was also the year you no longer wore school uniform. I hated sticking out like a sore thumb with my cane and as Christmas approached I decided if everyone was going to be staring at me, then I would give them something to stare at. I purchased some white tinsel and wrapped it around my cane from head to foot. It helped my confidence when I received positive feedback about something I despised using.

By the age of nineteen I had lost any useful vision, so could no longer distinguish colours or shapes. I guess out of rebellion to losing my colour vision I ordered a pink cane (black handle with pink body). It had to be imported from Canada. I wouldn’t call myself a trend setter, but I was one of the first people to start using a coloured cane in Britain. For me the pink represented that despite being blind I still cared for coloured things in the same way I did as when I had vision. Not once when I used my pink cane did someone not know what it represented. It was also useful when with other visually impaired people because I knew which cane was mine!

A couple of years ago I changed my cane to an accented one instead. So, my current cane has a blue handle and white body. This is because I feel I have matured and the new style has more of a professional appearance. All pink is cool and fun, but a blue and white combination spells sophistication. It still offers a sense of individuality.

Customising my cane over the years has helped me to accept my visual impairment. We are all individuals and should be allowed to express ourselves in whatever civilised way we choose. That’s how I see it anyway!

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Another Year

Wow, it is New Year’s Eve once again. This year’s Disney pyjamas, The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. Famous for his toothy grin the Cheshire Cat has the best approach to life. Smile. Even when times are tough make sure you find something to smile about. It is so easy to be swallowed up by grief and sadness, but I promise if you dig deep there will be something in your life worth a smirk.

2017
I am one of those people who dislikes odd numbers. There is something uncomfortable about them. So, it isn’t really surprising that 2017 threw some horridness at me. Whilst warming up for a race in June, I fractured my knee. Six months on and I still can’t run up the stairs pain free never mind sprint or even jog. For three months I couldn’t even walk without limping. Sport dictated my life. Monday track, Tuesday gym, Wednesday swim, Thursday track, Friday rest, Saturday gym, Sunday rest. In a split second my routine was lost, I felt lost and I have lost a lot of weight too. Goodbye muscles, farewell healthy heartrate. It may be difficult for people to comprehend, but without sport life for me is highly depressing. It gives me structure and constant targets to smash. The adrenaline rush is euphoric. I long to get that back.

Calvin, my beloved Guide Dog and bestest friend. I don’t yet have children, although the unconditional love I feel for him must equal that of parent and child. Unknowingly to him, he has caused me to shed a thousand tears this month alone. Guide Dogs visited us just before Christmas and the dreaded R word was brought up even before they saw him work due to him turning ten in March. Whilst it was agreed that I won’t go back on the list immediately, I will be back on it before his birthday. In addition they noticed a lump on his left paw. Calvin is riddled with fatty lumps, but this one is different. He had an x-ray on Thursday that revealed he has arthritis in his left wrist. The lump is not bone related, it is soft tissue related. It isn’t big enough to do a biopsy to check if it is anything more sinister. He has some anti-inflammatory medicine to see if that makes a difference. Calvin was so poorly after the anaesthetic, it was horrible to watch him suffer. I have never ever ever in the eight years of knowing him seen him so ill. All I want for him is to be healthy and happy though as he ages this is inevitably impossible. I am seriously not sure I can mentally handle having another Guide Dog.

Right, now on to the cheerful stuff. This year has been painful, but it has also been magical. I met a boy (gush), holidayed in Cape Verde and Dubai, saw so many fantastic shows at the theatre, witnessed Harry Kane score live at Wembley enabling England to qualify for the World Cup, went to the Olympic Park to watch the athletics World Championships, ate strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, sprinted my way to 60m and 100m PBs, danced the night away at my friend’s wedding, sang my heart out at Ed Sheeran and Steps concerts and later I’m going to try and not break any bones ice-skating. That is just the stuff I can remember! So yeah, I have had my dark and lonely days, but I have also had some pretty amazing ones too.

2018
Yay an even number. No doubt I will have some hard times, but equally I already have so many things to look forward to. Paris in January, Harry Potter A History of Magic Exhibition in February, Matilda the Musical in March, An Officer and a Gentleman musical in April, Amsterdam in May, my 30th birthday in July and who knows what else. Hopefully I can get back to my athletic self and if Calvin is going to retire, here’s hoping it will be on happy and healthy grounds.

I adore writing this blog and only wish I updated it more often. There are so many topics I’m itching to write about, but find myself too busy enjoying life to get a chance. 2018 will be my tenth year of blogging. To those who have read my ramblings from the start thanks so much for sticking with me. To those who have stumbled upon my blog more recently thanks for taking the time to share in my life.

To all my readers, may 2018 bring you a year of smiles.