Tamar and I got right to work today. I had a pretty good week with Zelda and I was running late this morning and screwed up Tamar’s schedule a bit, so no need or time for a therapy session; I also think we were both trying to avoid getting me too anxious about what was to come.
When I saw Tamar coming up my walkway, I noticed she was holding a surgical mask – aka blindfold – and I knew she hadn’t forgotten what she promised the week before; perhaps I was very slightly and secretly wishing she had. She smiled and asked if I was up to it; she is always respectful and asks how I am feeling, but doesn’t let me get away with backing out of things she knows I can handle. I was ready.
We walked to the south end of my driveway and she handed me the blindfold. Before I started walking, we had an exchange that was so subtle, but empowering for me. I asked her to hold onto my sunglasses while I put on the blindfold and after it was secure, I opened my purse, found my sunglasses case, asked her for my sunglasses and put them away. I know it sounds insignificant to simply put one’s glasses away, but the fact that Tamar just let me do it without trying to help or take over made me feel competent. Before I took a step, I had begun to feel confident that I could navigate the world without the use of my eyes.
When the blindfold is on, I always close my eyes; I can see light coming through but no images, and it makes me feel calmer when my eyes are shut. I surrender myself to the experience, relax into the darkness and try to allow my other senses to tune in. It is really a sort of meditative process.
After the blindfold is secure and my eyes gently closed, I take a breath and then a step. Tamar tells me to stop. We are in-between my driveway and the driveway of the building next door. She asks me to listen. Do I hear cars? The garage gate opening? She asks me to feel with my feet. Do I notice the ground beginning to slope downward? And of course, to feel with Zelda. What is to the left and right of me to indicate we have come to a driveway? The end of a grass line or wall?
I listen. I hear cars, but they are behind me on Sunset; not close enough to be a danger. The gate is quiet and there are no cars moving parallel to me. I feel with my feet. As I approach the driveway, the ground slopes slightly downward and my ankle pivots to adjust to the change. I put Z to work, swinging her to the left and to the right. She alerts me to a low metal wall on the right which I know indicates the north side of the driveway of the building next door. She also lets me know that the ground level has changed. I determine it is safe and we move on.
We are taking the same path as the previous week, and of course this is my neighborhood so I have a mental map of the terrain, but without the use of my eyes, the experience is completely different. Using Zelda, I get a much better feeling for exactly how wide the side-walk is. I know that there is grass on either side of me as I pass the building next door, but now I feel the contours of how and where the grass lines begin. In some places, the grass sits above the sidewalk and in others it sits below and creates a subtle drop off; when I am using my eyes, a subtle drop off can have me flat on my face in less than a second.
We continue down the street, past more driveways and buildings. At one point, I hear someone get out of a car, so I stop and listen to both what the car is doing and in which direction the person is going. The car drives away and the man ( I know it is a man because I can hear him talking on his phone) crosses my path and proceeds up the stairs on my right. I know he is walking upstairs because I can hear the change in his footfalls. It is incredible; most of us have heard people on the stairs, but it is as if I was hearing the stairs themselves; the way they received the weight of the man and the material from which they are made; solid concrete that responds with dull recognition to the mans feet. We walk on.
We are about two-thirds of the way down my block; I know this because I can hear the cars on Fountain Ave. more distinctly. We cross more driveways, feeling the dips in the sidewalk and we encounter trash cans that have been left out and a couple of times I veer too close to the street and Z let’s me know by alerting me to a parked car. We pass a friend’s house with tall hedges in the front and I know we are just one building away from the intersection. I slow down, considerably, and Tamar tells me to keep going, trust Zelda. I continue to walk, hearing the cars on Fountain as if they are inches from me, and then Zelda dips down abruptly and I know I have found the curb.
Tamar asks me to listen to the traffic and position myself so the cars are to my right, running parallel to me. She says I should hear them at my shoulder. I put myself in the right direction and again head toward the curb. Zelda let’s me know I am there with no problem and I do my A (anchor) B (staying behind Zelda) C’s (check it out); I find the edge of the curb with my foot and test the depth with Zelda and then I stop again and listen. I am listening to find out if my parallel cars are moving or stationary, and for the presence of a possible right turner. I know the light is green when my parallel cars are moving past me, so I flag my cane and proceed across the street. Half way across, I hear something I never hear at a moderately busy intersection, or even on a quiet street; I hear a Prius.
When I am out with just my eyes and no Zelda, I am on constant look out for all Prius type cars. They creep and sneak and barely make a sound; or so I thought. I heard the Prius today as if it was as loud as any other car. It was such a distinct sound from all of the other traffic, like a voice joining an orchestra with pristine timing. It turned left and raced over the cross walk in front of me. I will fear the Prius no more.
Tamar and I continued down a small, narrow stretch of Fountain Avenue. Zelda alerted me to low walls, telegraph poles, and the curb when I veered too far to the right. When we got to the next crossing, I got myself positioned, waited for the surge of parallel traffic, flagged my cane and got on my way. At the other side, Z found the curb where I did my ABC’s, made sure the path ahead was clear of poles, furniture, sleeping men and garbage cans and stepped up onto the curb. Tamar didn’t have to give me a prompt this time; I listened and positioned myself to make sure the traffic was to my back and knew I was heading North on Martel Ave.
I was feeling in a groove; nervous but happy. I was actually having fun discovering how amazing all of my other senses can be, and feeling a heightened confidence in Zelda. Martel is the street with the crazy, colossal mountain of broken, raised and dipping sidewalk (all in one small area), and I knew it was coming up soon. I wasn’t nervous; I think I may have actually been looking forward to it. It wasn’t because I had done it the week before, but because the anxiety of having to use my eyes wasn’t there. I knew that I could trust my feet and my ears and Zelda, so much more than I can trust my eyes.
I made it across the mountain obstacle and up Martel to Sunset Blvd, where I veered to the right at one point, toward the curb and traffic, but Z let me know and I corrected my position and walked on. I apparently have an unfortunate tendency to veer to the right, but with Zelda to warn me of what’s ahead, I can deal with it. During all of this, Tamar didn’t once try to pull me out of harms way or shriek in fright as I neared a potentially dangerous area; she just trusted that I could do it and let me do it. Of course I know that she would never let anything happen to me, but I know that she has faith in my ability to make it through this and that helps me believe it as well.
Tamar asked me how my anxiety level, when I was blindfolded and with Z, compares to being out with just my eyes to assist me. I realized the difference is astounding; it is as if all the stomach tightening, teeth clenching fear and distress are pulled off my back when my eyes don’t have to be in the picture. I was nervous and, at times, wary; but not once did I stumble, trip , fall, stub my toes, injure myself or crash into anything. I think I may be warming up to this white cane thing.