Voting Absentee

Have you decided how you will vote in this years election, the young female voice on the phone asked. Yes, I have. Would you mind telling me who you will vote for? she continued. Yes, I would. Then she politely thanked me and went on to the next person on her list to bother. I hoped it wouldn’t be my 96-year old mother. Mom gets about 6 calls a day from either volunteers or recordings asking her how she’s going to vote. I try to tell her that she is not obligated to talk to these people, especially if its a recording. But she insists on saying something like I’m not registered, so I’m not going to vote. The truth is that she is registered, but she has forgotten that I filled out the forms, and she signed them, so she is not only registered in Ohio now, but she will also receive an absentee ballot. Voting absentee is the only realistic way she could manage to vote, that is, if she decides she wants to vote. She can still see to read, with a magnifying glass, so sitting on her couch and filling out an absentee ballot makes much more sense than struggling with all the obstacles of her voting at the polls.

You might think that an absentee ballot would be easier for me too, but think about that for a minute. Because I can’t see the print, I’d have to have someone read the ballot to me and fill in my choices. That would be the end of my privacy. As Americans, we are entitled to a secret ballot. Thats why, when they introduced the talking voting machines, I was absolutely thrilled. At last I was able to exercise my right to a secret ballot. Until that time, I had to take someone into the voting booth with me to cast my vote. It could be pretty crowded in there with a Democrat, a Republican, me, and a guide dog. No way would I return to having to get someone to read and mark the ballot for me. If the goal is to eventually get everyone to vote absentee, then they’re going to have to come up with a way to make the ballots accessible for voters who are blind.

Until that time, I’ll be voting at the polls. The privilege of voting on my own is still so new that I actually enjoy the process. If you happen to be one of those volunteers who make those annoying calls, please don’t take this personally, but how I vote is really none of your business.

Needling

The verb to needle took on a whole new meaning as I lay on the table with 14 needles standing erect in my skin at various meridian points on my body. Its true, what the acupuncturist told me. It doesnt hurt. It was just weird. But I was willing to try anything to relieve the pain from my sciatica. The acupuncturist’s name is Melanie, and she is obviously familiar with sciatic nerve pain, because she put her finger exactly on the spot from where the pain radiated, as if I had drawn a map for her. As I lay there, letting the needles do whatever it is they do, I prayed that this would not be yet another waste of my money.

During the intake interview, Melanie asked me about my pain, my lifestyle, and of course, my blindness. Even though my blindness had nothing to do with the reason I was there, I gave her the abbreviated version of my story, that I had normal vision until I was 8, then showed symptoms of a genetic retinal disease. Fortunately, she didn’t needle me with curiosity-driven questions. For this I was grateful. I was there for severe leg pain, due to a pinched sciatic nerve, and that’s what she treated. However, she did ask a question that gave me pause for consideration. How was my stress level? Well, frankly, there is quite a lot of stress in my life right now. The first thing that comes to mind is the situation of my being the primary care-giver for my 96-year-old mother. Even though she lives in assisted living, it is up to me to provide her with all the things that an institution does not. I bring her food to keep in her apartment; I make her at least one home-cooked meal a week; I visit her 3 to 4 times a week, making sure she goes to social events in the home; I play Scrabble with her and listen to music with her; I do her laundry; and I pay her bills. I worry about how were going to pay the outrageous rent they charge, once my life savings are depleted. I spend hours every week, either arranging for rides or waiting for rides to show up. I have to figure out how I’m going to get errands done, get my dog to the vet for her checkup, get my hair cut, get the furnace filter changed, and a hundred other things, including how Im going to get to the next acupuncture treatment. In other words, I rarely think of my blindness as a stress-inducer, but in reality, it is. Technology is a wonderful enhancement of life, but it can be a source of frustration for anyone. For example, I know a sighted person who is having a devil of a time trying to send a photo to me to add to my website. it can destroy a morning for me, when I can’t fill out a medical form on line, because the site isn’t accessible, or the sender can only provide it in a read only format. Then there’s the opposite end of the technology spectrum, dropping something like a piece of paper and having it float silently to somewhere in the room, making it virtually impossible to retrieve. And if its that refund check I’ve been waiting for for days, it’s doubly maddening. Stress? Oh yes, on a scale from 1 to 10, as the medical profession is so fond of using these days? Sometimes its right up there around 10. So, okay, stick another needle in for stress. It couldnt hurt. And while you’re at it, stick one in that will make me not want to eat chocolate. To my surprise, there actually is a chocolate point. Now I have 2 things to watch to see if acupuncture really works. One will be easy to detect. My pain is very real, and it is still very there. My desire for chocolate? Well, I did without it for an afternoon. The jury is still out on both counts.

Old Records

What 96-year old woman has 153 long playing records in her 2-room assisted living apartment? Answer. My mother.

I’m in the process of typing up the inventory that my daughter, Kara, did of my mother’s THINGS. Two weeks ago, Kara and I took my Victor Reader Stream over to Mom’s, and Kara said out loud everything she saw, including the contents of both closets, all the dresser drawers, the pictures on the walls, the knick knacks on the shelves, and the books and records. It took about 5 hours altogether, and now I’m well into my 5th hour of typing. Each time I visit Mom, I present her with another couple of pages of possessions for her to peruse. How gratifying it would be if this list would help her see that she has way too many unnecessary and useless things that are cluttering up her space and getting in the way of her ability to find the things she actually needs. What happens is that she doesnt have the energy or mental powers to sort through the clutter, so she just sends me to the store to buy new items. Thats how she winds up with 4 shoe horns, 3 pairs of scissors, 5 flash lights, about 37 pairs of knee high hose, countless Ace bandages, about 500 envelopes, and well, you get the idea.

One of the saddest outcomes of this inventory process is the realization that my mother actually enjoys having so many THINGS.

As Kara was reading off the record labels, Mom pointed out that anyone looking at her collection would notice that she has quite an eclectic taste in music. It doesn’t occur to her, though, that she cant play any of those records, because there wasn’t enough room in her crowded living room to set up her stereo system. The only one this seems to bother is me. I had the unrealistic vision of playing the records together as an activity when I’d come over to visit. She has an extensive collection of CDs as well, and I do play them for her once in a while, on a small CD player that my son Steve bought for her. But there’s something about taking the record out of its jacket, carefully placing it on the turn table, and pushing the little gismo that makes the needle come down in exactly the right spot. Hey, I’m even old enough to remember when you had to put the needle down on the record by hand. No, I’m not old enough to remember the wind-up Victrola. The point is, it was much more of an activity to listen to records than it is to put on a CD. For one thing, there were only one or two songs on each side, and there’s always the visual appeal of watching the record spin around and the needle arm travel across the surface. Aside from my nostalgic disappointment in not being able to help my mother enjoy her music for the sake of the music, it irks me that it doesnt seem to bother her that all she can do with that music is look at the list I typed up for her today and be proud that she has quite a collection.

Someday, I’ll have to dispose of those records, and I’m told that Ill be lucky if I can get 23 cents for the entire bunch. In the meantime, I’m on a mission to find a small record player, so it will make sense to have all those records taking up space in her living room.

The Chocolate Binge

Okay. I admit it. I fell right into the marketing plan. They don’t sell Halloween candy a month early so people can be prepared. They sell it now so you’ll see it there on the counter and eat it yourself. Then you have to go back and buy more for the kids. It doesn’t take a degree in economics to figure that out. Maybe it’s not true, but it works for me.

I bought a big bag of a variety of tiny candy bars ostensibly to donate to my church’s fall festival, which will be held on September 29. They need donations of candy for part of the festivities. But to be honest, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to donate it to the festival. I had been craving those little candy bars for days. I was safe from betraying myself, because I had nobody to take me to the grocery. Then Jeanine, my friend from church called me yesterday and, all on her own, invited me to go with her to the grocery! This is a red letter day, as anyone who is blind can tell you. When somebody actually offers to take you shopping, without being asked to do so, it’s cause for celebration! So, it’s really Jeanine’s fault. Just kidding Jeanine. Late last night, Pippen and I shared our usual snack of sun chips and a diet Pepsi, but I kept thinking about that big bag of candy. Like an alcoholic, drawn to the booze cabinet, I was pulled into the kitchen by that big chocolate magnet. Just one, I told myself as I ripped open the bag. Who did I think I was kidding? Just one Snickers, just one Twix, just one Milky Way, just one Butterfinger, just one Baby Ruth. Oh my Goodness, how satisfying was that Baby Ruth. I hadn’t had one since I was a kid, or was it last Halloween? Anyway, I’ll never forget one road trip my mom and dad and I took, when we stopped for gas and a snack, and my dad bought me the biggest Baby ruth I had ever seen. It was a super-sized candy bar, and it kept me occupied for miles and miles. Of course back in the 50s, we didnt know that word, super-sized. So there I was last night, in chocolate and sugar bliss. No, Pippen didn’t get a single bite, but she knows better than to beg for candy, because that’s where I do draw the line. What’s even worse is that I bought a second bag to share with the ladies at my mothers lunch table at assisted living. Will I gobble my way through my bag and theirs too? I’ve got to get back to the store for another bag, but this time, I’ll stop at the church and drop it off. It’s the only way I can control this candy-eating binge. Don’t worry friends. I’ve got it under control. I’ve only had 3 candy bars today. I’ll try to do better after breakfast.

Invading My Auditory Space

Yah, I’m at CVS now. Why don’t you go ahead and call that guy. No, tell him I’d rather meet tomorrow. On and on the one-sided conversation went, about two feet from the back of my head. Was he talking to me? No, of course not. He was on his cell phone, but you would have thought he was talking to someone on the other side of the store. Don’t people realize how loud they are when they’re on their cell phones? Meanwhile, I’m trying to hear what the clerk is saying to me, as we discussed whether or not I could use my coupon on an item that was on sale. I literally could not hear him because of the broadcast that was going on behind me in line. The disturbing truth is that conflicting noises confuse my brain and trick me to not being able to concentrate on either one.

I’ve been noticing that there are other times, not just people on cell phones, that I am annoyed by loud voices. One evening last week, I was having dinner with a friend at Bob Evans. I had to lean in to hear what she was saying, which is unusual for the normally pleasant ambiance of that family restaurant. But on this night, a woman at a nearby table was making her conversation with her daughter a public announcement. Everybody within 50 feet was included in the discussion of how good pumpkin bread could be, which crayons to use for the picture, and what they were going to do after dinner. It was a pleasant enough conversation, but did she really have to share it with the whole section of the restaurant? Did she think we would be impressed with her parenting skills? I don’t think so. I wanted to walk over there and tell her to pipe down for Goodness sakes. To me, she was being not the model parent she considered herself, but a public nuisance. She was interrupting my enjoyment of a dinner with a companion.

My all time number one complaint is the intrusion of an inconsiderate mother and her brood of clueless, albeit sweet and innocent, children at an outdoor classical music concert. I had the misfortune of sitting in the middle of the audience at a lovely setting at Franklin Park Conservatory, for a promising evening of chamber music, when this woman, with 6 children under the age of 8 set up camp just inches behind my chair. She immediately started doling out snacks and coloring books barking out orders to be quiet. She seemed to be totally unaware that there was a concert going on and that nobody else in the whole place was speaking. Certainly the children were completely oblivious to the music or to other people who might be trying to listen to it. Not once did she point out that her charges might want to pay attention to what was going on up on the stage. Instead, we all were treated to reminders to put our shoes in the wagon, that she only brought water, no juice, that yes we could all go to the bathroom now, and it would be time to go soon. It was incredibly rude. I had come to listen to Mozart and Chopin, not a harried mother in charge of her children and their friends.

In all three of these examples, it was the same as if someone had jumped up and down in my line of vision. Would that have been acceptable? No. But each time, someone had jumped up and down in my line of hearing, which is every bit as important, if not moreso, to me.

On one trip I took on a Grey Hound bus, the guy sitting behind me began a heated and loud argument with someone on his cell phone. The driver, enforcing the rule that cell phone conversations must be kept at a normal volume, actually pulled the bus over and threatened to throw the guy off if he didn’t end the call. Well hurrah for Grey Hound! I’m glad somebody recognizes that loud talking, obnoxiously loud music, or any other uncomfortably loud sounds are an intrusion of my space.

Walking the Scioto Mile

Ever since this new walking/biking path was built along the Scioto River in downtown Columbus, I’ve wanted to walk its length. I had heard so much about how beautiful it was, but I had no one to take me and walk with me. Finally, I had an incentive to recruit a volunteer to check it out, because the national conference and convention of the American Council of the Blind will be held in Columbus next July. They start each convention with a walkathon, and I was tapped to be the local person to recommend a venue for the walk.

My fabulous friend Eve and I went downtown on Wednesday to first walk the Scioto Mile, and then we checked out a possible route on the Ohio State campus. Eve is one of the few people I know who can walk at my pace, about 3.5 MPH, and who is willing to devote a whole day to helping me with such a project. It was great to catch up with her news as well as to share mine. Eve was great at describing all the points of interest along the way. We started at North Bank Park, where there were 14 round tables permanently placed near the path, perfect for setting up the registrations and handouts, as well as the starting ceremony. There were little fountains alongside the path. There was the replica of the Santa Maria. There was a sculpture of a man, woman, and child, who were dressed in clothing from the 1800s. We passed the fire fighters memorial with the eternal flame. There was an animal sculpture garden for children, as well as the sparkling and artistic fountain at the other end of the mile, that squirts water up from the pavement in random spots, causing delighted squeals from the kids running through it. To add to our pleasure, we heard ducks and geese on the water, and Eve saw a Great Blue Heron. Eve pointed out that there were benches placed all along the path, and there were several places created just for overlooking the river. It felt really good to stride out for a longer distance than just around the block, which is about all my dear little Pippen can manage these days. I have to admit though, that by the end of the day, I was one tired puppy. Being a little out of shape and suffering with sciatica made the adventure a little more challenging than I expected. Still, it was so much fun to experience this Columbus treasure. I was very impressed. I had made my decision that this would be the best place for the walkathon, but just to be sure we had made the right choice, we drove over to the OSU campus and walked one lap around the Oval. While the idea of holding the walkathon at Ohio State was appealing, we determined that because the organizers wanted a shorter walk this year, we wouldn’t really have time to show off the campus. There are several other places we could hold a walkathon, but there were also several other criteria that will limit our options, such as being fairly close to the hotel where the convention will be.

When I got home, I called the chairman of the walkathon committee and reported my findings. I’ll let you know later if they accepted my recommendation. Meanwhile, I hope to go walking on the Scioto Mile again. It was a great discovery for me, and I hope to show it off to my ACB friends next July.

Giving Blood

Have you ever given blood? Are you a regular blood donor? Did you know that 650 pints of blood are needed in this area every single day? 650 pints! Thats a staggering number.

I’m very privileged to say that I am now a card-carrying blood donor, as of my first donation in early August. Yes, at my age, I can still find things to do for the first time. I have wanted to give blood for many years, but for various reasons, was disqualified. First, I didn’t weigh enough, but I got over that. Then they didn’t want my blood, because I had a heart condition. Later, they got over that. Then I was disqualified because it hadn’t been 5 years since I had had cancer. I’m past that now. Finally, it was my turn to be on the giving end of a good deed instead of the receiving end.

My friend, David, serves on a committee to increase the diversity of people who donate blood. We had lunch the other day to discuss ways to include people with disabilities and make them feel welcome and comfortable as blood donors. It’s easy to identify certain populations by ethnicity or color, but to identify a population of people with disabilities is not so obvious. We don’t have neighborhoods of blind people, or community centers just for people who use wheelchairs, or churches for people who are deaf. However, many of us serve on a bunch of committees, and we all know a whole lot of people, and most of us know other people with some kind of disability. I have a pretty strong hunch that there are hundreds of people like me, who would like to make a significant donation. How much more significant can it be than life itself? By donating just one unit of blood, I can actually save somebodys life. Thats an awesome thought. What better opportunity is there than lying back on a recliner and squeezing a little ball in your fist for about 20 minutes? Whatever objection you might have, because of your disability, can be addressed and dealt with. For instance, there is a very long questionnaire you have to fill out, and of course, its not accessible,yet, but one of the Red Cross volunteers can read it to you. Its helpful for you to let them know you’re coming in, ahead of time, so they can have someone ready to do that. I’m giving blood next Friday at my church, and I’m working on having that questionnaire sent to me in a Word document, so I can fill it out at home, privately.

I’m very excited to help David and the committee reach out to folks who dont know that they’re missing a wonderful opportunity to help people who are in desperate need. David shared with me that before his father was hospitalized and needed a transfusion, he never thought about where the blood comes from when you’re in the hospital and you need a transfusion or just an extra unit. You need it, and they go get it and they put it in you. We never think about how it got to the hospital.

To be a donor, you don’t have to be wealthy, but you do have to be healthy. But giving every couple of months is a very wise use of your time. Ever heard the expression, What do you want? Blood? Well, yes!

For more information about The American Red Cross, go to

redcrossblood.org

The Gift of Time

For a few days last week, I was blessed with the gift of my daughter’s time and attention. For two and a half days, Kara dedicated herself to helping me with Project Mom, but that’s not all. From Thursday afternoon until Saturday night, my mother and I had Kara all to ourselves. We would have loved to have had our granddaughters too, but since bringing them was really impractical, Kara could devote 100% of herself to helping us with a variety of tasks that only a daughter or granddaughter can do.

During that time, Kara and I provided my mother with 5 restaurant meals, a much appreciated break from the abysmal food they serve at her assisted living home. Starting with a pastry treat on Thursday afternoon, she was served meals from 5 different restaurants. Kara kept offering to take Mom out to the restaurant, but for all but one meal, she preferred to have it brought to her. Her back was really hurting. It is such an ordeal to walk out to the car, and get in and out of the car and walk back to her room, that it wasn’t worth the effort. Of course, using her wheelchair was just out of the question. Even though walking is painful, her pride will not allow her to accept being pushed in a wheelchair. She is determined to walk as long as it is physically possible, even though it completely wears her out, even to walk to the dining room.

She did go to The Olive Garden with Kara on Friday for lunch, and Kara said that her grandma simply glowed with pleasure, sitting in that booth and being served by all the kind and gracious servers. The aids at her home are kind, but they are always in a rush. She cleaned her plate too, which is rare for this little old woman who has no appetite. Kara was happy to get her grandma out of her apartment, because she knew how much this meant to her. If my mother should pass away today, Kara should take comfort in knowing that she did the very best she could to make these last few days fun for her.

Between running out for meals to share with her grandma and with me, Kara was busy with marking things off my to-do list as well. One of the most pressing tasks still hanging over my head was to get the inventory of Mother’s belongings done. This is not only a requirement of the home, but it also will help me in the future, when I will be faced with disposing of her things. In the meantime, it will allow me to locate items that she says she can’t find and needs, so I won’t have to go out and buy replacements. For instance, we found 3 flashlights, 4 pairs of scissors, dozens of pairs of hose, precious old letters from 80 years ago, unused greeting cards, photographs, and hundreds of other things, all mixed together.

Our goal was only to count them and record what was there. Our temptation was to sort and clean things out, so she could find them, but that would have taken much more time than we had. That will eventually be a project for another day. This time, my recording device held up, so I was able to get an audio recording, as Kara named everything she saw in every drawer and closet, on the wall, and on the table-tops. Finally, this huge project is behind us. Almost. Now all I have left to do is type them up and make copies. I am tempted to show Mother a copy, but I think she would be appalled at how she has allowed her belongings to get so disorganized and cluttered. This is not the way she used to keep her house.

Meanwhile, Kara took me shopping at some places I rarely get to go, like Sam’s club. I now have a year’s supply of paper towels and laundry soap. In addition, we put Braille on Mother’s microwave, so I can use it when I’m there. It’s just amazing that she got all this done in 2-1/2 days, but when my daughter is on a mission, she’s a “get-er done” type of person. 

Making the Call

I made the call. Ive been putting it off for weeks. I knew it had to be made, but I didn’t want to do it. And when I did it, I couldn’t believe the words I was hearing myself saying. I’m calling to talk about returning for my fourth Seeing Eye ® dog.

How could I do that to Pippen? Here she sits at my feet, happy to be near me. She is snoring gently, and she sleeps much of the day. I have to face it. She is old, 10 1/2, which is old for a golden/lab cross. She certainly is not able to work like she used to. We no longer take two or three walks a day, walking at 3-1/2 to 4 miles per hour. No longer do we walk to the center of town for a coffee or lunch. Jogging together on the school track is a distant memory. She is content to limit her exercise to sniffing trips around the back yard and brief walks in and out of the assisted living where my mother lives or doctors offices. But am I content to hang up my independence and my active life style along with her old worn-out harness? No. I need to stay active for my own health. Sure, I can use my treadmill and my ski machine, but theres nothing as refreshing and beneficial as a good brisk walk outside. I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I can walk to a destination to meet a friend for lunch or to get myself to a meeting at church. Thats why I chose using a guide dog over a white cane in the first place.

My first dog, Mindy, was 11 when she died, as a result of surgery she shouldn’t have had. My second dog, Sherry, was 13, when she collapsed in my office at the end of a work day, just before we were to go home. By 8:00 that night, I had made the decision to put her down, because she was very very sick, and I wasnt going to put her through surgery, like Mindy. During the time of each of their slow declines, I would take them for brief walks, and I turned to other forms of exercise. My cane travel technique is awkward at best, and I missed the independence I feel when I travel with a dog. So, here I am again, following the same pattern. Whenever I show up somewhere without Pippen, she is always missed, not just by me, but also by the person I am to see, whether its the doctor or the hair dresser. She is still able to walk to church, about a half mile, but she is motivated, because she loves her church friends. Some of them have snacks for her, which fuels her love affair with them. I look the other way, because after all, shes almost retired. When I get a new dog, well all have to push the reset button by following the rules.No feeding the new guide dog. No talking to the new guide dog. No petting the new guide dog.

I imagine that Pippen will be relieved to have the new dog take over the duty of guiding me. You take her, I’m tired.– but she’ll wish she could go with me, just not work for me. If I decide to keep Pippen as a pet, it will be hard work, dividing my affection between the two dogs, caring for an elderly dog, and keeping up the training for the new young dog. It will be expensive too, especially if Pippens health declines. The other option, that of asking someone to adopt her, is equally hard to imagine. How can I say goodbye to my little buddy? Will she pine for me? Will she be sad? I don’t want that either. Nobody said this part would be easy. Its part of the deal. Because the classes at the Seeing Eye are full until the end of the year, its not likely that I will have to face this dilemma for a few months, but it will come. It always does.

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Til Death Do Us Part

What happens when a pet lives longer than her owner? The other day, I was chatting with an elderly friend, age 94, who has a wonderful kitty who is 8. It is very likely that the cat will be the one left behind. The woman, whom I shall call Betty, not her real name, said that she is considering putting her wishes in writing to have the cat put down immediately following her own death. It is her belief that the cat will be so devastated in her grief that she would be better off not having to live without her owner. She told me that her grandchildren think thats an awful idea. She asked me what I thought, but then she trudged right on with her own opinion about the matter.

I was shocked. I too think its an awful idea. If the cat is elderly or sick, thats one thing, but to assume that the animal would suffer with grief so much over the loss of her person to warrant being put to death is a misguided direction of good intent. Betty said that they have a unique relationship. She feels that stray kitty was sent to her to be a comfort, as she discovered her just one month after her husbands death. She believes that God and her husband sent that kitty to her. Since that day, for the past 8 years, they have been a comfort to each other, taking delight in affection and joy in each others company. Surely, this is indeed a blessing, but unique? We have all heard stories of how animals mourn for their beloved people, but I dont believe they should be put to death. There is a definite possibility that the cat will find another person to bond with, to comfort, to enjoy. Notice I avoided the word love. I believe that an animal can be faithful and loyal. I believe that it can mourn, just like humans. But I also believe that it is rather egocentric to think that it would never get over the death of its person, and that it would be better off following her in death. Its fine for her to believe that the kitty loves her, and so far as cats are able to love, maybe she does. What do I know? I know that all the dogs I have had over my life have been devoted to me, but did they love me? If I had died first, would it have been right to put them down? I dont think so. What do you think?