A Sight For Sore Eyes

The Lighter Side to Facing Vision Loss



Technically, you don’t “carry” a cane, you “use” or “sweep” with it.

Sweeping your cane

No, you’re not looking for precious metal when you sweep it back and forth, though that would certainly be tempting. (Maybe someone should invent a dual-device that would include that feature–an added incentive to make those of us who are a little more reluctant want to use it)

And you’re not cleaning the street.

Although…when light and fluffy snow flurries cascade down around your feet, you are essentially cleaning the area ahead of you. In some ways, it makes me think of a windshield wiper when I hear that Swish! Swish!

Interestingly enough, my cane’s job is to “see through” that window. Which is opaque. White.

So, now I can add one of my skills (on a Resume if need be)  as a human windshield wiper. But’s that’s only when there’s light snow falling. The moment it becomes heavy, my cane gets stuck and I have to spear the snow or try to skip my cane over it, much like one skips a flat rock across water.  In the deep snow drifts we’ve been having lately, my cane becomes more like a rabbit jumping from one point to another. In the latter cases, I cross my fingers and hope  any cane acrobatics  give me enough “information” to forge my way ahead.

As you can tell,  winter techniques are ones I’m still trying to master.

But yesterday, we had light flurries. So my cane glided from side to side as I guided myself down the sidewalk and crossed city streets . Conditions allowed me to speed ahead. I must have made my sighted companion nervous because when she  caught up with me, she firmly took hold of my arm and said, “I’ll be your shoreline.” Technically, this means that she’ll be the stable point my cane uses as a reference to keep me moving straight ahead.  She really meant, “We’ll add a human guide element to this walk to keep us together.” If I were to shoreline, I would slap my cane against her ankles. And that would be loud and painful. It might even trip her. She wouldn’t want that.

I didn’t say anything. She was so proud to be able to use the terminology she’s been learning. I would never hurt her feelings.

We were headed to the City Mission for a Bible Study. During our walk from the car-park to the Mission, I mentally prepared myself for the obstacles inside.

I summoned up my mental map of the building: the clear doors leading inside, the location of the interior doors and what kind of handles they had, the hallways, the stairs, the little lip I had to cross. I concentrated so that I would make my way confidently through the maze.

After a couple of visits anywhere, I could usually remember the layout. But the City Mission had several zigzags, and I invariably zigged when I should be zagging.

This time reminders wouldn’t be necessary.

Not that reminders are bad but I wanted to be independent.

"Invariably I zigged, when I should be zagging."

My cane found a couple of exterior steps.  I immediately positioned the cane perpendicular to my body and the steps. Each time I climbed a stair, my cane tapped the next step a second or two ahead of my lead foot. At the top, my cane met air so I knew I’d reached the end. I extended it and found the door.  Reaching  out, I felt for the handle, gripped it and slowly pulled.

That’s one heavy door.

I maneuvered myself until I found an interior door. Opened, it led to a narrow carpeted  receptionist area.

“Straight ahead,” my companion called.

Where are the steps going up? They’re first. Then the steps going down. Where’s the lip I have to cross?  Is that between the two sets of steps? Or is that after?

I listened as my cane slid over the wooden boards. Tapped as I shoreline against the wall. Slide. Tap. Slide. Clack.

My companion walked to one side, murmuring, “That’s right. A little to your left…”

Slide. Thump. Thump. Okay that sound meant I’d arrived at the steps.

Going up the stairs required a little coordination between my cane and my feet. I couldn’t move my cane too fast. Or my feet too slowly.

Tap. Slide. The small lip. Then the short landing.  It told me I needed to find the first step down.

I extended my cane until it felt the stair drop off.  Raised it perpendicular.

Good stair techniques take coordination!

Going down the stairs required a slightly different set of skills. I deftly measured the height and width of the stair so I would know how high to lift my foot and how far to step out. Then I threw my cane slightly forward. It tapped against the stair below me. I synchronized my feet to arrive just after the tap, and the tap to hit below my right foot.

I liked getting it right.

Once in awhile, I mess up–think there’s another step and I lurch forward.  So I pay attention to what my cane tells me from the sound it makes.

I reached the bottom.

Now. The obstacles.  The Bible Study area included a discontinued bowling alley so it contained small shallow dips and even periodic holes.

I switched to high alert.

“Hi Amy. Be careful. There’s a hole.” Familiar voice. Blurry body.

Where? To the right? Left? I scraped my cane against the rough floorboard as if my cane were a toothpick worrying over a small piece of food stuck in a crevasse between two teeth.

Got it.

In the dim light (my dim light)–I imagine the area was well-lit–I glimpsed  a brass hook on the wall. I stopped, set my cane aside, shrugged out of my coat, felt for the long points and felt for the edge. Bingo. I hung up my coat.

It was a straight shot from here.

When I reached the theater-like room,  I ducked through the door.

I slid  my cane toward the center of the front row.

Clack. Thump.

I reached out arm. Felt for the padded chair.  Slipped into the seat.

Yup, I’d arrived.

At last my long cane slid into obedient silence
for the moment, pacified.

Copyright © Amy Bovaird, February 2014.

When do you tune out others to focus on something specific?
What do you do to mind-map the layout of places?
I would LOVE to from you. Share your method in the comments!
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Walk Loudly and Carry a Long Cane
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2 thoughts on “Walk Loudly and Carry a Long Cane

  • February 19, 2014 at 3:06 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Dorit. It most definitely is an important time of transition in my life!

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