By Carol Goar
Welcome back to the Vision Mate blog, a weekly exploration of the role of a volunteer in helping a client see beyond vision loss. This week’s chapter highlights the importance of listening and flexibility.
Just as our relationship had begun to gel, I received an early morning phone call from my Vision Mate, Verna. She had come down with some kind of virus and felt miserable, she said. She’d cancelled all of her activities for the week, including the exercise classes she enjoyed. Everyone in her family was sick. She didn’t want me to catch the bug.
I told her I was sorry to hear her news and thanked her for being considerate of my health. We chatted for a while and I said I’d see her the following week at the same time. Then I sent a get-well card.
The next Monday morning, she called again. She still hadn’t shaken the virus, but there was something different in her tone. She talked about how much she missed her daily contact with other people. She said Buster needed exercise. She was tired of looking out the window, and feeling trapped and isolated, but she didn’t want to risk infecting me.
This time, I balanced the conflicting messages I was hearing. Clearly Verna was not back to normal, but she was lonely. She needed company.
I said I was willing to take my chances. Would she agree to go for a short walk with Buster and me? If she felt tired or nauseated, we could go straight back home and chat or have a cup of tea or look at family photographs or just sit together quietly.
Dubiously, she said yes. The next day she phoned back to say she was looking forward to our visit.
She was already dressed in her jacket and baseball cap when I arrived. Buster had his guide dog harness on. He bounded out the door.
As we walked, she leaned on my arm more heavily than usual. Buster, who’d been cooped up for nine days, wasn’t quite as well-behaved as usual. (He sniffed every tree and hydro pole along the street which he’d been trained not to do), but they both seemed happy to be outdoors.
We walked at a steady pace until Verna said she was tired, then we headed home. She got out Buster’s “baby book.” (The charity that breeds and trains guide dogs, the Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides, provides every new owner with a photo album documenting the puppy’s birth at its Breslau breeding facility, its year-long socialization in a foster home and its training at the foundation’s Oakville headquarters. Verna didn’t meet Buster until he was 18 months old.)
Using a lighted magnifying glass from Shop CNIB, Verna walked me through Buster’s early life. She could tell her dog apart from his eight siblings. She could name all of the trainers she worked with in Oakville.
I enjoyed her trip back in time. She enjoyed telling Buster’s story. It was a lovely, relaxing way to spend the afternoon.
At the end of my visit, I went to her oversized calendar, as usual. I asked her which day she’d like me to come the following week. There was no hesitation this time. We’d meet at the exactly the same time in seven days. I wrote my name in big letters, using her felt-tipped pen, on the date she specified, gave her a farewell hug and walked out into the crisp fall air.
The ability to adapt is essential for a Vision Mate. Things don’t always go as planned. Life’s everyday problems – sickness, accidents, mood swings – affect people with low vision the same way they affect everyone else. They need empathy, but they may also need motivation. The key is to find the right mix.