Inside Voices Please

Recently I had my hearing tested, because I wasn’t able to hear what my dining companion was saying across the table in restaurants. The raucous sounds around me were drowning out our conversation. My companion could always read my lips, but I’m not able to do that. I went to the audiologist and described my misunderstanding of consonants. But in normal situations, I could hear everything else quite well. I scored 100% on the words spoken in my headset, but I missed 30% of the high register tones sent to my brain by some weird-looking gadget which touched2 places on my head. Apparently, it’s this 30% of high frequency sound that makes up the sound of consonants. The ENT, on seeing the report, suggested that if I weren’t blind, I’d be on the border line of needing a hearing aid, but since I couldn’t see expressions or read lips, I should give them a try.

I did try them for over a week and returned them after experiencing almost painful amplification of the sounds around me. The world is already full of noise. I knew that, but having it amplified, even with the sophisticated technology of these highly rated hearing aids, it was driving me nuts. Upon wearing them home and then taking Dora out to play in the back yard through the garage, it sounded to me like she had tap shoes on. I was bewildered until I realized it was just her toenails on the concrete garage floor. I concluded that I could do without that 30% of the highest register of sounds. I could hear birds very clearly, probably more clearly than anybody, because I pay attention to them. So what if I missed a word now and then? But the problem is not that the words around me are too soft. Just the opposite.

Everywhere I go, I hear people shouting to one another, when they are standing 2 feet apart. When I’m in a room with bare walls, such as a locker-room, a stairwell, or restroom, the sound is deafening. When I’m in a restaurant, the noise of the table near me, where people are vying for center stage in the conversation it’s not only annoying but also impossible for my tablemates to hear one another. It’s not just me. I’ve been with a group of friends who have turned right around and walked out of a restaurant, because the voices were so loud. Haven’t these people ever heard of using their inside voices when they are inside? Do they all have to project like 3-year-olds whose natural and constant volume is loud?

when I’m in my back yard, I can hear the conversations of my neighbors on their patios 4 houses away. I concede that they are indeed outside, so they might be justified in using their outside voices, but the people they are speaking to are just a few feet away. I guess party equals alcohol equals turn up the volume of everything. Maybe I should get hearing aids after all and turn down the volume on the world.

The Scare of My Life

You all know about the troubles I have with airport personnel, everything from pushing wheelchairs at me to sky caps who can’t speak or understand English. But the experience I had in Philadelphia on my way home from my daughter’s was the most terrifying I have ever endured.

Twice, I told the flight attendant that I was able to walk down the steps off the plane, and twice, I told her that I did not need a wheelchair. Hadn’t I just walked up the steps to the plane? But there I was, ready to deplane, and there was the guy ready to hook up a ramp, and at the bottom of the steps, there was the sky cap with the wheelchair. This is such an old conflict that it bores even me. In retrospect, I should have taken the wheelchair, although I don’t know what I would have done with Dora. Put her in my lap?

After going in and out of elevators and being ushered onto a bus to take me from one end of the airport to another, and after rushing through a crowd of people at the door going back into the airport, I suddenly felt the floor beneath me moving. With horror, I realized that we were on an escalator. Not only did I have no verbal warning, but I was outraged that the sky cap had put my dog in danger. Now I know that many people with guide dogs use escalators, but I do not. When I got my first dog Mindy, my instructor recommended that I never use them, because if the dog’s toes or hair on her legs should get caught in the machinery, her legs could be shredded. The image was so ingrained that even though the school changed its policy and insisted that every student learn to use an escalator with the dog, I hated that part of the training and would hyperventilate by the time we stepped off. I learned the technique, which was to put my left hand firmly under the back strap of the harness and lift the dog as we approached the stepping off place. When I trained with Dora, I convinced the trainer to skip that lesson, because every building these days has either a staircase or an elevator, due to the ADA. I would never have to use an escalator. But here I was, frantic and scared to death that my precious baby would be hurt. All the time that I was yelling at that sky cap, she kept saying, “You’re OK,” but I wasn’t afraid of the escalator. I use them all the time, but never with my dog, and I always insist on finding the railing with my right hand before stepping on.

Realizing that I had to handle this awful situation, I put both arms around her middle, stuck out my right foot, and when I felt the end of the steps disappearing into the floor, I lifted that 77-pound dog to safety.

Instead of being joyous at my success in saving her legs, I gave that sky cap a dressing down she had never heard before. I hope she understood and had nightmares that night. I explained to her that first, she should have asked me if I could do escalators. I had been asked if I could do stairs over and over but never asked if I could do the escalator. Secondly, she gave me no warning that we were about to step onto the moving surface. She claimed she had been told to take me on the escalator, but she failed to say that to me. Clearly, this young woman had not received proper training in assisting a blind passenger. It’s the same old story, but with a dangerous twist. I was shaking with fury and wanted to cry. But I didn’t have time to cry. I had to make my connection. No wonder when I got to Columbus, the first thing I wanted to do was go have a stiff drink. I wanted to write a letter, but to whom? I don’t know, and it wouldn’t do any good. But it makes me feel better writing to you.

Easter Brunch Adventure

I believe that today was the first time I had ever made an Easter brunch for my family. I had read and reread the recipe, recruited a friend to take me to buy the ingredients, cleaned the house the day before, and even had gone out for a movie last night before beginning the task of actually making the brunch.

Before I went to the movie, I had assembled the ingredients that I would need last night. I was making Overnight French Toast, where you make the caramel sauce and pour it into the baking pan, then lay the bread slices down into the sauce, and then mix eggs, milk, and vanilla together and pour that mixture over the bread. Then cover the pan and let it chill out overnight in the fridge while you go do other things like clean up the kitchen, set the table, and lay your clothes out for church in the morning. Everything was going according to plan until one mishap after another caused me to think that maybe I shouldn’t try to cook any more. The caramel sauce had just started to boil, and I stirred it constantly as directed. It burbled and boiled, just like the recipe said, but when I poured it into the baking pan after 5 minutes, it immediately hardened like peanut brittle. I looked at the recipe and discovered my error. I read the recipe like this. “Cook for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.” Where I failed was that the next line, which I hadn’t read, said, “Or until it boils.” Oh well. At least I didn’t spill any of it on the counter or the floor, and I didn’t burn myself or make a mess on the stove. I gently but firmly placed the slices of French bread on top of the hardened caramel sauce, praying that when it baked this morning, it would soften up and soak into the bread. Next was the milk and egg mixture. The recipe called for 4 eggs. I was so confident that I had at least 4 eggs left, that I hadn’t bothered to check. Nope. Only 3. Oh well. So the milk mixture wouldn’t be so rich, and maybe it wouldn’t brown, but I just had to pray that it would still work out. But I hadn’t spilled any of it, and I got it poured evenly over the bread.

Now it was time to stick it in the fridge and clean up the kitchen, which involved several bowls, 2 big plastic spoons, and 2 saucepans, all of which had hardened caramel sauce both inside and out. Oh well. They could soak overnight. I was also loading the dishwasher with tools that weren’t covered in hardened caramel sauce, when I suddenly thought of something else I should do. I have no idea what that was, because what happened next took away all thoughts of the next task. I completely forgot about my hard and fast rule of never leaving the dishwasher door open, and yes, you saw this coming. Not only did I trip over it, I actually thought in that split second that maybe I could avoid wrecking my shins by sailing over the top. Well, I almost made it, twisting my body so that I landed on my right shoulder and right hip, with only a ragged scrape down my shin.

But wait. there’s more. Today, Easter Sunday, my son and his girlfriend together figured out how to set the timer for the oven to come on by itself and start baking while we were at church, and it seemed that all would be well,…. or maybe not. As we opened the front door, we detected the definite odor of melting plastic, and smoke was exuding from the oven. My son swung into action, removing the melted plastic that I hadn’t noticed in the disposable pan and saving the day. He kindly suggested that I might want to sit in the living room and watch the kids discover what was in their Easter baskets. In other words, how about if I get out of the way and let him rescue the brunch. Great idea.

Because the weather was pleasant, we unset my beautiful table in the kitchen and moved everything outside to the patio, where we had much more room, and we couldn’t smell the melted plastic.

Before they all left, Steve set the oven to clean itself, a beautiful ending to an adventurous day.

Instigation Inspiration at the Y


The most amazing victory occurred yesterday at the Y. No, I didn’t achieve new heights of accomplishment like lifting 100 pounds over my head or doing 100 pushups. No, I didn’t try an exercise I thought I’d never master. But I did achieve a goal that I’d had for the past year, and that was to inspire someone to work out, right along with me.

For several months, a group of volunteers from my church have taken turns setting up the machines so I could use them, adjusting the seat height and the weight I was to lift, push, or pull. This is something I can’t do independently, so my friend Regina recruited these spotters for me. Thanks to Cindy, Liz, Bill, and Pat. Once a week, one of them meets me at the Y or even drives me there herself, and after making the adjustments, stands by while I sweat and strain. I had envisioned them all working out on another machine while I’m on mine, but it hasn’t happened until lately. Regina, my first helper, has done exactly that. It makes me feel good that she is making good use of her time. Usually, the gals don’t make a comment about the amount of weight I use, but the guys like to tease me with “Only 10 pounds? Only 50 pounds? You can do better than that.” to which I reply, “I’m a woman, and I don’t have the upper body strength you guys have, so leave me alone with my puny 50 pounds.”

Yesterday, Cindy put me through my paces and would occasionally try a machine while she waited for me to count to 30 and sigh in relief that I was done with that one. But here’s the part that makes me rejoice. After she escorted me to the pool and found an empty lane for me, I thought she was going home and would return in an hour to take me home after my swim and my soak in the hot tub. When I was done with my routine, and I stepped outside to wait for her to pull up with her car, I was delighted to learn that she had never left the Y at all. She had gone back to the machines, had done my routine with the same weights, walked on the track, and then gone out to get the car. She was pleased with herself, and so was I. I was proud of her, but also happy with the extra benefit of our going to the Y together. Finally, I had inspired someone to do something good for herself. I hear the adulation all the time, “Oh, you’re such an inspiration.” It always annoys me to hear that, because unless I inspire you to actually do something and not just admire me for doing it, I’m not an inspiration at all. But yesterday, I was either an inspiration or an instigation. Either way, good for us.

A Calling

IMG_2314You’ve heard of a pastor or priest claiming he was called by God to serve in the ministry. I’ve had strong pulls to do this or that, but I wouldn’t ever call it a calling. But a few weeks ago, when I heard the sadness in my friend’s voice as she told me about her incredible medical woes, I definitely heard a whisper in my ear. “Go to her,” it said. “She needs someone desperately, and that someone should be you.” Deborah had had cancer in her left leg, a hip replacement in both legs, another surgery on her left leg, and then a dramatic fall due to a sudden breaking of her left femur. Three surgeries later, she found herself in rehab in St. Petersberg, facing the next 12 weeks in a wheelchair at home, when she was alone, with limited help from her family, no friends nearby, and oh yes, total blindness. The blindness she had dealt with all her life, quite admirably. She is a well known and respected writer, speaker, and teacher, in addition to being an active advocate for people with all disabilities. After five weeks, with another seven to go in a wheelchair, with the occasional use of a walker to aid in hopping on one foot to get to places where the wheelchair wouldn’t fit, the doctors agreed to let her go home, only if she had help. When she knew that I was on my way, she assured the doctors that her friend was coming to be with her, and they were satisfied. She did not mention, however, that her friend was also totally blind. Had they known, they surely would have said no way. But Deborah and I have been friends for over 30 years, and we had every confidence that we could manage on our own. So I bought a plane ticket, left Dora with my wonderful friend Eve, was met at the airport, was given a brief orientation to my room and to her condo, and rolled up my sleeves. My first duty was to pull off the compression stockings that Deborah was required to wear. That was a cinch, compared to the next morning’s battle with them as I struggled to pull them on. They went to the middle of her thigh, and they, being compression stockings, were very tight and unbelievably complicated to put on properly. She couldn’t help with this process, because she wasn’t allowed to bend over, but once I got them up over her knees, she could finish the job. The first day, I got it done with a minimum of sweat, and I joyfully thought I had found a new calling in life, but as the week went on, I had a little more trouble, and it was frustrating for us both. I was busy all day, but it wasn’t all picking up dropped objects, reaching glasses from a high cupboard, preparing, serving, and cleaning up after meals, assisting with laundry, fetching the ice pack, or struggling with attaching the leg support on her wheelchair. We had hours of pure pleasure sitting out on her lanai, listening to the fountain in a pond nearby, and talking about things that matter. There were no outtings, no shopping, swimming in the pool, or walks around the pond. But I was unexpectedly content to stay in the house or the lanai.

Over the span of the week, Deborah became stronger and more confident in doing for herself. At the beginning of the week, she was happy to let me go get her coffee, but by the end of the week, she said she’d get it herself. Gradually, she was regaining her independence, even in a wheelchair. People say I’m amazing, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Imagine a totally blind woman wheeling around her condo with her left leg sticking out, ready to be caught on a corner and then correcting her direction and continuing on her way.

Each night, after helping her get ready for bed, I would check the locks on the door, refill the water in the Keurig, write in my journal, thank God for helping us get through the day and whisper a good night to my dear Dora who was so far away. The picture shown here is Dora looking up at Eve, saying, “Isn’t it time to play ball again?” I missed her terribly, but I felt useful, and that felt good.

Helping Hands

You know how I constantly preach, “Don’t talk to the dog. Talk to me.” You wouldn’t think this would be an issue. Of course you would talk to me, except when you are saying, “I know I’m not supposed to talk to you, and I’m not petting you, but you are just so pretty and such a good girl.” No, you don’t do that because you know better. But here’s a funny situation I had never encountered until I went to get bloodwork done the other day. If it weren’t so funny, I’d be irritated, but here’s what happened.

The blood technician led me to a room and correctly told me to go into the room on the right, or maybe she said “turn right here,” but I heard how her voice was directed to the right. Upon entering the room, I had no idea where I was supposed to sit, since I go into a different room each time.

“Sit in this chair,” she said.

“I am blind,” I replied, “so I don’t know where you are pointing.”

“Right over here,” she said. So far, this is a very common scenario, the dreaded “right over here.”

“Right over here isn’t very helpful to me,” I said, in my gentlest non irritated voice.

“But I was talking to the dog,” she said.

I mean she was actually pointing to the chair for my dog to follow. So now my dog is my care-taker and dragging me around like an unthinking mass on legs. I gently told her that it really works better if she talks to me. I’m the human. I give the dog directions by using words like right and left. It’s so tragic that medical people who deal with people all day can’t think to say, “Please have a seat in this chair to your left.”

And speaking of forgetting how to use words, once again, last Sunday at church, when I was trying to find the comfortable chair I always sit in for Sunday school, a very kind woman tried to assist by putting both hands on my shoulders and turning me. She actually thought I needed to be placed so that all I had to do was bend over and sit. “Please don’t turn me,” I said, “I like to put my hand on the seat, so I know where it is, and then I can sit down all by myself. I am not a doll that you put on a chair. I am a thinking human being. Please don’t handle me. No, I didn’t say this to her. After all, she was only trying to help. But it’s just another of a thousand ways I have to educate people every single day of my life. When do I get to retire from this job?

It’s all about the Guides


Once again, I have returned from a magical week of cross country skiing in Colorado called Ski for Light. If you are interested in my other experiences at Ski for Light, SFL, you can do a search and find about 5 other stories. When I told my local granddaughters that I would be skiing the next week, the 16-year-old asked if I would be snow-boarding. Well, I might be a pretty hip Grandma, but that’s a little too wild for even me. In fact, I tried downhill skiing once and successfully got to the bottom of the bunny hill, still vertical, and still breathing, but that was enough terror to last me a lifetime. Cross country skiing is work, which is the reason a lot of people don’t like it, but I love the feeling of gliding over the trails, pushing myself to get to the top of a rise, and then hearing my skis sing as I accelerate going down the other side. No, that’s a lie. Going downhill still scares me, but when I have a competent guide by my side, encouraging me with affirmations that I’m doing fine and keeping me informed about how much curve there is to come and how much farther to the bottom, and when we’ve come to the flat, and then when we are starting up again, it’s actually fun.

I’ve been to SFL almost every year since 1986, and I’ve had some pretty terrific guides, and John, pictured here with me, is one of my favorites. When I’m just about to run out of gas toward the top of a hill, John tells me jokes and sings silly songs to keep me going, although sometimes it’s hard to laugh and ski at the same time. John also has a talent for making sure I’m still in the tracks and prepared for turns while describing some interesting sights along the way. On one trail, he told me about 2 trees that had separate trunks, then grew together and then apart again. It would have been a great photo op, but I’m afraid all we have today is a picture of 2 happy skiers. John and I were guide trainers together for 9 years, teaching new guides how to guide blind skiers. Over the years, we have developed a vocabulary that makes our skiing together smooth and efficient. If the curve in the tracks is a gradual one, he’ll say “long right” or if the tracks turn sharply to the left, he’ll say “sharp left, starting now.” When he says, “half track right,” I know to sidestep once, and I’ll be back in my tracks. It saves a lot of words, so there’s more time to ski.

This year’s skiing was a little more challenging than in other years, because of strong winds and blowing snow, not to mention altitude issues and the old sciatica returning. But sharing stories over dinner with another 100 visually impaired skiers and 100 guides makes us forget about the huffing and puffing up the hills. We greet old friends, make new ones, and share in the glow of overcoming the challenges we met that day. As the SFL motto goes, “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything.” But I’m not quite ready for the snowboard.