I'm not new to talking, sharing ideas, or stating my opinion, especially stating my opinion! After all, I taught elementary school for 30 years! However, my audience has typically been smaller,just family, the classroom, or just talking to myself!

My blog has two goals: be an outlet for sharing thoughts on writing children's books and the path to publication (got my fingers crossed that I'll get there) and a place to chronicle my journey of losing my sight. Sometimes I imagine these two paths will overlap .

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Back in Atlanta to participate in the Foundation Fighting Blindness walk called VisionWalk. Our team raised $10,000 and the Atlanta chapter raised $100,000! That's fabulous because almost all of the funding goes to cutting edge research.

Having 12 days in town gives me time to reconnect with activities and segments of my life that just went on hold when I was needed in Boston to help out with Mom. I arranged to begin, again, with mobility training. That means learning to walk with a white cane. I find the emotionality of this harder than when I had to unexpectedly give up driving. Yes, I know that cane training will give me more freedom in mobility as the vision decreases. Yes, I know it's a necessary part of this vision journey. And yes, it's required in order to qualify for a guide dog. Even knowing ALL those things, I still feel myself fighting against learning to use one.

One of the strongest qualities I have is that I am a survivor. My instinct to go on after a trauma, tragedy, or major difficulties or disappointments comes from deep within. So as I was anticipating the arrival of my instructor today, my self talk was..... View this as a learning experience. Concentrate on learning new skills instead of the implication of using a cane. Don't run from this, immerse yourself in it. Don't think about feeling embarrassed to have others watching you.

I asked my instructor to bring a blindfold today. It's not required to learn cane travel this way but I know myself and my survivor instinct well. If I'm allowed to use my sight, I will use the sight to give me cues, rather than the cane.

We started in the parking area which feeds into the street running through my condo complex. I had trash to take to the compactor/dumpster and letters to place in the mail slot at the mailbox center. Now if I was using my eyes, the walk to the trash compactor would take about 90 seconds. Today, I think it took 30 minutes.

I have a clear picture in my head of the walk to the compactor- down the stairs, step off the curb, turn right, walk to the end of the parking area, turn right and walk the distance of about a block, over 2 speed humps, up 3 steps, landing, and 4 more steps to the opening of the dumpster. Easy, right? Not even close.

Apparently, with a blindfold, I'm like a car with poor alignment; I kept veering to the lefttoward the center of the road. True, there were no cars, but if one came along, I was primed to become a hood ornament! My instructor would "show" me by drawing a line on my back with her finger, which way I was walking and which way I needed to be walking. As you sweep your cane side to side, you're looking for obstacles or to find curbs or steps. She kept stopping me and adjusting the direction I was headed- inevitably I'd be veering left.

Today I learned to find a curb and align myself with me. (That's not the term she used, but I don't remember the correct one!) I learned when you run into something with the cane, to plant the cane firmly against it walk up to it and get your toes lined up with the edge. If it's a step up, move the cane up first, then step. If it's a step down, move the cane ahead to find the next step down before you take your step down.
That doesn't sound too scary, however, as a limited vision person, I am trained to always hold onto a rail in case I miss a step. In mobility training, they don't have you holding onto a rail. It felt like I was taking a step and not knowing if it was that one off a cliff. My instructor kept reaasuring me she wouldn't let me fall. The biggest step for me, though, was trusting her. Not because she isn't a trustworthy person; rather because I really don't know her well and I am literally stepping into the dark. I guess you could call it a leap of faith. :-)

The mailboxes are probably 30 feet from the compactor but it might as well have been 30 miles. No where I walked seemed to match the picture in my head and that was frustrating and a bit frightening. After walking into the center area between the 2 rows of mailboxes- which wasn't where we needed to be- to find the  mail slot, I finally got turned around to the outside edge of the boxes and found it. You would have thought I had crossed a desert, crawled through mud, and then walked on a tightrope over a huge chasm instead of  just carrying a bag of garbage to the dumpster and 2 letters to the mail slot!

I couldn't handle anymore of the blindfold. When I took it off and could see around me, I just cried. Relief  I made it, joy at seeing what matched the picture in my head- I don't know. But I knew I didn't want to put the blindfold on again today. We walked toward the front of the complex, my instructor reassuring me that I had done well, and me just sniffling away. We approached the security guard, sitting in his car. He must have watched us on our journey to the dumpster. As we passed him, he called out: "Did you have a fun walk?"
I was horrified, and embarrassed, and still sniffling away. Didn't he see I had a white cane? What did he think, I was out walking blindfolded on a whim or FOR FUN????? I replied, with as much dignity as I could muster at the moment; " No, there is nothing fun about learning to use a cane."

Obviously, he didn't think.....unless he's an idiot.... or maybe a jerk.


  1. Oh, Gail,tough day! So much we take for granted-but you have a strong will and the exact attitude necessary to "reprogram" yourself.

    Enjoy being home-sure hope we have good weather for you!

  2. Wow! Your courage and tenacity are inspiring, Gail! Stopped by your site and love what I'm reading! I know God will use you greatly even in this trial you're facing. I look forward to getting to know you! Have a fantastic weekend and God bless you!

  3. Thank you Cathy and Maria for your kind words of encouragement. I know I'll make it through this part of the journey, but the beginning is often difficult and I sometimes frustrate easily. Have another lesson coming up on Tuesday and plan to do better :-)