This trip is the first time since I’ve been traveling for Leader Dog that I had to transfer flights in order to get where I was going. As the old saying goes, “Even if you’re headed to hell, you have to go through Atlanta first.” Indeed, I went through Atlanta, which means I waved my hands at motion-activated bathroom fixtures in three different airports, AND got to ride a train in between. In Atlanta, the inter-terminal train is called the Plane Train. It’s a nice name (rhyming is most always a good thing) and it makes you think you’re going on a ride at Six Flags. In actuality, the train is filled with tired, sweaty people with (too large for overhead compartment) baggage, attempting to get to the next airport bathroom with motion-activated fixtures.
I’m headed to Tifton, Georgia this time. Tifton is a town just about 2 hours north of Tallahassee, Florida, which was the closest big-ish airport. So, I flew into Florida and drove up to Tifton. My client, Celia, has been to Leader Dog for Orientation and Mobility training a little over a month ago and learned a lot of the basics of cane travel from one of our O&M specialists named Brad. After training for the week, Brad spoke with Celia about the possibility of me coming to Tifton to help her with her most traveled routes.
In case you were wondering, the weather in south Georgia in the summer is not suitable for much more than growing good tomatoes, watermelon, and cantaloupe, so my attitude toward working in the aforementioned weather is not great at the moment. I’m sure a nice bed and good meal with improve that mood. We’ll see…
Today is Sunday, which is different from my normal trips. I usually leave on a Sunday and start training on Monday, but I altered my days to accommodate a family event I wanted to attend at home. All that to say, I made arrangements to meet Celia, after church, dinner, and a good nap, a pattern that a lot of good southerners follow “religiously” on Sundays throughout the south. I’m not saying that church-going folks anywhere else don’t follow a similar pattern, it’s just one I know, from experience, happens here.
Celia has a home in a quiet residential street with very few sidewalks, but a short walk from a busy thoroughfare with a nice sidewalk which gives her access to the majority of her destinations She also has a progressive visual condition, one which has dealt her several losses over the past few years. Progressive vision loss is a vicious cycle in which the person gets used to a certain amount of vision, then loses more vision, and they get used to that level. The vision constantly changing, coupled with getting used to a “new normal” every few weeks or months, can be very taxing, both physically and mentally. Today, the vicious cycle caught up with Celia on both fronts. She braved a ride in a rental car to look over routes she wanted to travel this week and we called it a day.
I had dinner at a barbecue place called the Pit Stop. In addition to some good food, I got called “Sweetheart,” “Sugar,” “Darlin,” and “Honey” (and I loved it!). I also took home a fine piece of brownie that had icing as thick as Dick’s hat band. Sugar coma, here I come.
Much better day today for Celia. She was prepped and ready to go when I got there and headed out on a route to her local grocery store. The lack of sidewalks means it was all curb travel. Curb travel is simply following the curb with your cane while walking on the left side of the street. According to pedestrian safety laws, in the absence of sidewalks, pedestrians should walk on the left side of the street, facing on-coming traffic. This is not only the law, but also the best idea for people with visual impairments, as the on-coming traffic can see the person and the cane from a long way off, as opposed to coming up behind someone, where the cane is very likely to be hidden from view. For those of you who are unaware, the cane is also covered in reflective red and white tape, which acts as a reflector and helps the public to pay closer attention to the blind pedestrian.
Everyone knows Celia at the grocery store, which is a good thing. Very helpful to have folks looking out for you. After the grocery store, we explored a route to the office of one of Celia’s doctors, which happened to be in the same shopping area as the grocery store. We found a great new sidewalk, the presence of which Celia was unaware, and we worked on that. She had been cutting through the parking lot, which is just no good. Parking lots are evil places for pedestrians, especially for those who can’t see very well The sidewalk made it so easy for Celia to get to the doctor, and she was very pleased. It was also very obvious that Brad did a great job in laying a foundation of cane skills for Celia to work with. I didn’t say a word to her about what to do with her cane.
Let’s talk about hotel breakfasts. Very few have I encountered that had actual, real eggs. There’s just a difference between real eggs and whatever is in that silver heating tray. I don’t know of a way that they can fake a boiled egg, so I usually go for those. Then there’s the ever-present waffle maker. I love waffles, but I seldom indulge. It sure does smell good though. I do my best to sit close to someone who has made one for themselves and I eat vicariously through them.
Celia prepared for our routes today by donning a wide-brimmed straw hat, a runner’s optic green vest, dark sunglasses, and a fanny pack. By the way, to the fashion-conscious reader, fanny packs are on their way back into fashion. You won’t see me wearing one, but it looked good on Celia. We spent a lot of time this morning working on Celia’s stair technique. Together, we found a technique that she felt good about and we practiced it until she felt comfortable doing it, almost without thinking. Stairs are tricky with a cane, and you’ve got to find a way that works for you AND is safe and effective. It’s a misconception that people with visual impairments count the stairs on which they’re traveling. Counting is a bad idea because what if you lose count? Bad place to guess, the stairs. Better yet, I teach people specifically to NOT count, but to just keep stepping until you’re done. Taking a false step at the top or the bottom is no big deal. Not taking enough steps is.
After the stair lesson, we took off to the dentist, Walgreen’s, Verizon, and the hospital. I don’t need to remind you about heat and humidity in south Georgia, but it was NOT comfortable. Celia was a trooper, though, and we covered a lot of ground. We spent a lot of time figuring out how to negotiate a lighted intersection, dealing with protected left-hand turn lanes, delayed cycles, right turners, etc. We made it to the hospital where we took a break and rehydrated in the air conditioning. (What did people do before air conditioning? Just wilt away? Melt like the wicked witch? I don’t know, but let’s take a minute and raise a glass to that magnificent invention.) Just when I’d almost recuperated, I remembered that we had to walk back. I’m not sure if Celia felt it or not, but I was almost euphoric walking back to her house. Like I was outside myself while teaching mobility. Don’t worry, I wasn’t close to a heat stroke or anything like that. When you stop sweating, it’s a really bad sign. I don’t want to get too personal, but there was not a spot on my body…well, I didn’t stop sweating, OK? Anyway, we made it back and Celia did great.
I attempted to toast a bagel for breakfast this morning, just as a change of pace. My clothes almost went out of style waiting for the thing to cook, and then I find out that all they have is light cream cheese for my schmear. Maybe I’m picky (surely not), but light cream cheese tastes too much like wallpaper paste. Yes, I know what wallpaper paste tastes like. No, I don’t want to talk about it. Anyway, boiled eggs to the rescue. Again.
I wouldn’t say that we walked to the end of the earth today, but I’m pretty sure I could see it from where we decided to turn around. I fly too much to believe in a flat earth, but we could have possibly been close to the edge of the world. Yes, we walked a long way today. I stopped looking at steps taken today, because I didn’t want to know the truth. We walked to Celia’s hair salon, her church, and her nail salon, all in downtown Tifton. Or somewhere in the other Georgia, the one in the former USSR. Did I mention that it’s hot here? Anyway, it was a very productive day because we located a couple of sidewalks of which Celia was previously unaware, which makes her safer. Out of the street, even if you’re not on the side of the street on which you desire, is always better than on the street. We toured Celia’s church, which has lovely air conditioning (thank you to the members of FBC Tifton for tithing so faithfully so I could NOT have a heat stroke today.), and then located her nail salon. All good routes which Celia can use in her daily life. It was a good day.
I just couldn’t bring myself to eat hard-boiled eggs again, nor did I want to succumb to the waffle. I just skipped breakfast and went on about the day.
Today, we’re getting our hair done. Well, Celia is getting her hair done. We’re treating it like a final exam, so I’m practicing the best advice I ever got, as far as teaching is concerned: Back up and shut up. I backed off Celia and attempted to keep my mouth shut and let her go, as if she were on her own, as she will be, most likely, every other trip. We went to the Empire Salon yesterday for practice, so she’s familiar with the route. We met Charity there this morning and I sat in the lovely air conditioning while Celia got caught up on the latest goings on in town. When she was done, she returned home, flawlessly, and we were done. We were done, but Celia’s work has just begun. Just like any other new skill, practice needs to happen on a regular basis for her to maintain and even improve upon the skills she learned this week, and what she learned with Brad on campus. We, the O&M staff at LD (much larger now than it was in its conception over 20 years ago), have always wanted the option of following our client’s home to help them use the skills they learned with us on routes they travel on a daily basis. Brad got her started on her road back to increased independence, and I got to help her get a little further down the road. It’s a great system, and one I hope continues for a long time, because it works.