Overcoming Challenges

What Actually Happened to Me in October

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Those of you who’ve read Fiji’s article from 13 November may be a little confused, not to mention concerned, about what she said. So, as she suggested, here’s my summary for my “people friends”, as Fiji so eloquently put it.

On 4 October I was hospitalized due to an allergic reaction to some antibiotics. Then my body went into anaphylactic shock, which is a severe, sometimes life-threatening, allergic reaction. The medical team at the Emergency Room at Constantiaberg Mediclinic gave me a shot of adrenalin… and then a second shot when I didn’t respond to the first. And then they sent me to ICU (Intensive Care Unit) since my blood pressure levels dropped dangerously low as a result of the double-dose of adrenalin.

Here’s where it starts to get a little complicated. One of the readings they were monitoring in ICU gave the medical team cause for concern, since it can indicate the onset of a heart attack. So they kept me in ICU for two nights, High Care for 3 nights and then put me in a General Ward for an additional 2 nights to make absolutely sure I was okay.

And gradually I was allowed to move around more – from being stuck in bed for the first day, to being allowed only to sit on a chair for the following 3 days and then, eventually, being allowed to walk around the ward.

What made it frustrating for me was that I felt absolutely fine throughout the experience. If I’d been feeling bad I would probably have welcomed being kept still. But that wasn’t the way it turned out to be.

Anyway, the worrying blood readings eventually dropped back to more acceptable levels and I was eventually allowed home. But my doctor gave me strict instructions to clear my diary – by which he meant do absolutely nothing – for two weeks until I’d been checked over by a cardiologist. Which explains why I haven’t been blogging, why I didn’t do the CTSB Walk with a Vision event, why Fiji and I didn’t attend the SA Guide Dogs Association World Sight Day Dinner. And it also explains why I didn’t get to speak at the Professional Speakers Association Midterm Conference.

I guess by now you’ve realized that the cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health, or I wouldn’t be writing this. In fact, the 3 doctors I’ve consulted since being discharged from Constantiaberg have told me there has been no long-term consequences – apart from the fact I need to avoid penicillin from now on. And I’m confident the final doctor I need to see in the coming week will tell me exactly the same thing.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sorry to see the end of October – it wasn’t my best month ever. Having said that, I want to acknowledge the amazing care I received from the medical team at Constantiaberg Mediclinic, who were superb. Even the food was good which, considering I’m a fussy vegetarian, is saying a lot. And, of course, I also want to send out my heartfelt thanks to my family and friends who kept me sane (or at least no more insane than usual) with their visits, their messages and the wishes sent on Facebook and WhatsApp. They really helped! And finally, I am eternally grateful for the love and support shown by my husband, Craig – I know my absence created chaos at home with the dogs and the general running of the house, but Craig kept everything under control and gave me day by day updates of how the dogs the closest I have to children and at least I knew they were well looked after while I was in hospital.

All that’s left to say is that I hope I can now get back to sharing the final posts from my trip to Germany and Poland, and some of the exciting things that have been happening in my life recently.

What Do You Mean I Need to Do a Video???

Cds 2017 04 18 20 49 22Some people are completely comfortable in front of a camera. I’ve always believed that I‘m just not one of them – especially not when it’s a video camera!

So, when I agreed to record a short video for the Toastmasters club leader training for the training sessions that’ll take place across Southern Africa over the next two months I was slightly…. Umm… shall we say anxious?

Here’s the thing: I knew my topic and was happy with the specific information I’d chosen to share. So that’s not what was making me nervous. And one would have thought that I couldn’t be camera shy since I couldn’t see the camera. So, to all intents and purposes, speaking in front of a camera should have been no more nerve-wracking than my usual presentations. And yet it was.

Of course there was the pressure of trying to ensure I kept looking at the video – remember I don’t have a physical point of reference to look at so “straying” was a real possibility. And that certainly added to my stress. Ultimately though, I think my anxiety was due to the uncertainty of it all – how was it all going to work out, was I going to remember everything I wanted to say, and would it be “good enough” to satisfy everyone involved… well, realistically I know that we’re all usually out own worst critics, so I guess that should be ‘would it be ‘good enough’to satisfy me?

Thankfully, Bruce Wade, of EMS, where we were recording the video was great at helping me think through many of my concerns – we chatted before shooting the video so we were both clear on what was going to happen and what our preferred outcome was. Then we went into the studio and Bruce oriented me to the position of the camera so I knew where I should be looking.

And then we did a take…

And then a second take…

And then we were done. In just two takes. And I was happy with it… well, sort of, mostly, kind of happy (dratted self-critic!)

Admittedly the fact that my guide dog Fiji was perfectly content to snooze in the corner also helped ease my anxiety- can you imagine if she had felt compelled to make her on-screen debut – or if she had started snoring – but by far the factor that most helped me relax and just concentrate on the message I wanted to get across was the level of professionalism shown by Bruce in talking through the process and resolving the concerns I had.

So, next time I need to get a video done, guess who I’ll be calling on?

Here are Bruce’s contacts, in case you have need of his video production services:
Bruce Wade
Chief Entrepreneur Officer

Northern Block, Upper Eastside
31 Brickfield Road, Woodstock, Cape Town
Tel: 021 839 2281 |  www.em-solutions.co.za

Finding Part of Myself Again

Cds IMG 3639Many of you know that one of the first things I did after losing my sight was to join a rock band. Playing music became one of the constants in my life as I came to terms with my blindness and struggled to overcome the challenges of learning to live as a blind woman in a sighted world.

Somehow, over the past few years my music has faded into the background – when I think about it I can’t tell you when I last sat down and played either my guitar or my keyboard.

Until recently.

In the past few months I’ve started playing again – initially just reminding myself of some of my older songs but more recently beginning to create songs again… and I can’t believe I sidelined such a crucial part of my way of being for so long. It feels like I’ve found part of myself again.

Here is a link to some of the songs I wrote – none of the newly created songs I’m afraid – but songs I played with my last band, Tuesday’s child:


I hope you enjoy them!

Taking the Plunge

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been indulging in the useless inactivity of extreme procrastination. I know I have a tendency to avoid using new technology until I simply can’t put it off any later – I suspect it has something to do with my not-so-secret fear that I will singlehandedly destroy the tech world as we know it by inadvertently hitting the wrong key at the wrong time. And yes, logically I know that is simply impossible…. Well, at least extremely unlikely (at least I hope so!)

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is to try and justify why I’ve been two-timing my new netbook for the past two months. Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, I promise.

In March I blogged about my imminent shift from my trusty old Windows 7 netbook with the JAWS screen reader to a brand new netbook with Windows 10 and a new screen reader, NVDA Reader.

The truth is that the new computer has been sitting there gathering dust since I wrote that, despite my public statement to the contrary.

Anyway, last week I finally realized that if I didn’t just set up the new computer and start using it that I was just never going to do so.
So I did just that.

And now I’m slowly working my way through the challenge of the new double learning curve.
I get terribly frustrated every now and then when I can’t get something to work, but thankfully I have a number of friends who are able to help, both blind and sighted. And that’s made all the difference.
And I’m doing okay… so far!

But if you notice something odd in one of the posts over the next few weeks, or in an e-mail I send you, it’s probably just Windows 10/NVDA teething problems!

Testing My new technology Breaking Point

Anyone who’s read my book, “A Different Way of Seeing” will know that I have something of a love-hate relationship with technology. I love the freedom that technology gives me to do the things that I want, but I’m frequently frustrated when the tech “doesn’t work”! And yes, I’m even willing to admit that in many instances “not working” is caused by my lack of knowledge, lack of skill or simple user error.

As it turns out, today I’m testing my new technology breaking point to the outer limit – I’ve just bought a brand new laptop with Windows 10… which means I’m going to have to learn not only a new operating system but also a new screen reader since the (very old) one I’ve been using will just roll over and expire if I try to use it on the new system.

As you can imagine I’m just a teensy little bit stressed right now.

  • Will I overcome the challenge of having two significant learning curves taking place at the same time?
  • Will I become so stressed out and unpleasant that my friends and family avoid seeing me till I’m through this phase?
  • Will even my beloved guide dog Fiji pack her bags and beg to go on an extended doggy vacation till I figure Windows 10 and NVD Reader out?
  • Or will I totally lose it and wind up gibbering in a corner with the new laptop grinning evilly down at me?

At this stage I don’t have an answer to those questions… but I seriously hope none of them will become a reality.

I’ll let you know what happens… At least, I will if I’m able to do so

Wish me luck… till we “speak” again!

What Happened to September?

I was totally stunned to realize that today is the 4th October. Last time I posted an article was late in August, which leaves me with the question of what happened to September?

In reality, September has been a busy month and I have tons to share with you. I have several experiences and observations from my recent travels as a blind tourist in Poland, as well as updates on my speaking and writing. I also have a few articles about changes in my life that have given me a greater degree of independence.

September may have slipped by without my noticing it… But I promise normal transmissions will resume this month!

What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know, by Leanne Hunt

I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to read and review an advance copy of fellow blind female South African author, Leann Hunt’s new book, What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know.

Leanne’s book is a practical guide on how to assist a visually impaired family member, friend or colleague who is struggling to grow from dependence to independence. She describes the psychological impact of blindness as well as the various stages she herself worked through in coming to terms with her disability and gaining independence. Leann’s is an inspiring story that is full of courage.

Though I personally did not experience anything near the same level of isolation and dependency that Leanne did when losing her sight, I could relate to her story. The book gave me reason to reconsider my own journey through blindness and I found myself gaining additional insights into my own life from both the similarities and the differences in our situations.

I will admit to having reservations about the word “every in the title, what Every Blind Person Needs You to Know, as I believe it is too simplistic to assume that the same process will apply to all blind people. However, there are certainly aspects of Leanne’s book that will be useful to each reader.

I would recommend Leanne Hunt’s book, What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know as a valuable resource for anyone supporting a blind or visually impaired person battling to discover how to increase their level of independence.

You can purchase What Every Blind Person Needs You to Know at www.blindyetfree.com/books

Paying Tribute to the Wonderful Women in my Family

CurryWith today being Women’s Day I felt it was appropriate to pay tribute to two women who played a significant role in shaping my thinking when I lost my sight.
Though each of these women surely deserve far more than just a few words, today I want to focus on what I learned from their extraordinary courage.

My mother, Cynthia Lois Agar Gowans (18 April, 1940 – 14 November 1993) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) shortly after we moved to South Africa from England. MS is a degenerative condition that affects the immune system and causes muscular weakness and increasingly impaired mobility and balance amongst other symptoms.

I remember my mom having to steady herself with a walking stick when collecting me from junior school, needing special adjustments to enable her to drive her motor car when I was in middle school and catching the bus home from school when I was in high school because my mom could no longer drive. By the time I lost my sight, my mom was bedridden and I recall spending long hours with her chatting and watching television while she lay propped up in bed.

Yes, my mom had a strong support system and wonderful caregivers but I still find myself pondering how she endured the inevitable weakening of her body with such fortitude. I’m not saying she didn’t ever complain, but only on rare occasions did she give in and rail against the hand that life had dealt her.

My mom passed away just under two years after I lost my sight. , I can only hope that I live up to the example she gave me with the incredible courage and fortitude with which she withstood her MS.

My grandmother, Sylvia Jessie Agar Simpson (22 May 1909 – 8 October 2002) was a wonderful hostess whose reputation was founded on her engaging conversation, her interest in people and the world around her, her intelligence and wit, and in her ability as a captivating storyteller, (and of course, her delicious food!).

I have vivid memories of my gran sitting in her favourite comfy chair in the corner of the lounge with all us grandchildren gathered at her feet listening spellbound as she related a story from her childhood. And not just us kids – all the adults would stop what they were doing to catch the fascinating stories of people and times gone past.

What we didn’t realize was that this was one of the creative ways my gran coped with her increasing hearing loss. By telling the stories, gran remained in control of the conversation and didn’t have to struggle to make out what others were saying to her. Additionally, it was likely that questions that were directed to her were about the story, and that helped her work out what people were asking. It was such a simple, yet effective, way of managing her hearing loss.

My gran was also a great correspondent and wrote a vast number of letters to friends and family round the world until shortly before her death at the age of 92. Even gran’s blind granddaughter received letters on a regular basis, because gran knew that Craig would read them to me. On one memorable occasion she posted me a curry recipe because I wanted to make a curry for Craig but had no idea how to do so (back before I could find recipes online) So, while telephone conversations with my gran grew increasingly hard, she found a way to communicate with everyone without difficulty, always with her characteristic humour, wit and intelligence, and of course, her enthralling stories… reading gran’s letters almost felt like I was in the room listening to her speak!

So today I want to pay tribute to my mom and my gran: to my mom for teaching me courage and the determination not to let my disability conquer me, and to my gran for giving me the gift of stories and the understanding that even challenges can be overcome if you can find creative ways to do so. Both these women had a profound influence on my life and played a huge role in me becoming the woman I am today.

Braving the Paving –Learning New Skills carefully

It’s been a while since I posted a lesson from my new-ish guide dog, Fiji. So here is another one.

Learning a new route with Fiji is a lot like learning a new skill. In both cases I experience a similar feeling of anxiety – perhaps I’m not doing it right, perhaps something might go wrong and I’ll land up making an irretrievable error(have you ever felt that way?). As a result of that anxiety I find myself working slowly and methodically through the brand new process/skill/route because it is unfamiliar to me.

Once that new process becomes more familiar I start to speed up and move more confidently through the task.

Recently one of the houses in our neighbourhood paved over a very uneven patch of the grass sidewalk. For several weeks we had to skirt round the obstacle by walking in the road, often with the assistance of the guys doing the work as it is a busy intersection. A few days ago we got to walk on the paving for the first time.

In the long run I’m sure we will be grateful for that wonderful flat paved walkway. However, our first few experiences have been just like learning that new skill – we’ve walked very slowly and carefully over the unfamiliar route… just in case.

And it was a good thing that we did, because on our second trip over the paving my foot slipped off the sidewalk onto the road. I was somewhat startled because Fiji is usually very good at keeping me safely on the sidewalk. It turns out that there is only a narrow strip of paving and beyond that is a hole where the home owners are presumably planning on planting a garden. Fiji was trying to navigate between the two edges and, if I’d been walking closer to her, I would have been fine.

We now know how to navigate that sidewalk safely and have experienced not more problems… and as the route has become familiar we have started walking faster and with more confidence – and the initial anxiety I felt when walking on the paving has gone.

For me the lesson is that it pays to take the time to be cautious when learning something new, be it a process, a skill, or a route – by playing it safe you can discover the pitfalls and figure out how to navigate them. Then, once you are more comfortable, you can speed up.

My PechaKucha Video

Many of you have asked to hear the speech I gave at PechaKucha on 5 July… so here it is!

I’d love to hear how you top up your positivity tank, so why not take a moment to comment and let me know…

With thanks to Francois Rossouw for shooting the video, and Craig Strachan for adding the slide presentation for the total experience.

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