A DIFFERENT VIEW - Unfamiliar surroundings pose challenges for sight impaired

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I am independent when in my own familiar surroundings, but drop me in an unknown place and my independence may waver. Thus was a recent trip to the south hill of Spokane, an area I knew many years ago.

I doubt I could have been any more confused as we walked the sidewalk above the hospital and clinic. It was a good thing my sister had come for she could help me find my way around. The hospital had provided us a room so my wife could have some needed heart studies done in that major heart clinic.

We found the clinic about five blocks down the hill but returning to the motel a different route we had to climb a sidewalk with narrow steps marching up the steep hillside.

The morning came cold and stormy, and with relief a car came from the clinic to take us to the door. Inside it seemed we walked myriad halls, rode in several elevators and got lost. But with help from the friendly clinic staff we would once again be on the right path.

Around noon my sister and I decided my guide needed some time outside; but the door we opened offered us no place for a dog. Returning to the lobby we took the elevator down to first floor. Going outside we found we were in an enclosed parking lot; to exit one had to leave through the parking garage.

But where was the entrance to this parking garage? We found a set of steps leading down but it seemed the steps had no end. Then my sister spied another elevator and we rode it down to the first floor.

"I see daylight," my sister said and shortly we found the entrance and a tiny patch of grass and weeds which my guide dog liked.

Two sky walks stretching high over a busy street linked the heart clinic with the large hospital; we walked across one of these several times to the hospital cafeteria. Today I could not explain to you how the inside of the cafeteria was set up for it seemed there were many bars/food tables in many different lines. The room was full of talking and laughing people, adding to the confusion.

Later while walking around a small park adjacent to the clinic there was a whirr of blades slicing through the air almost over our heads as a helicopter settled, like a giant eagle onto the helicopter pad; a patient was being delivered to the hospital.

Crossing a busy street we paused on an island with traffic whizzing past on both sides. I edged forward to find the curb so we would be ready to cross when the traffic cleared. But as I reached the curb the busy traffic stopped and though I hesitated, we decided to cross the street, taking time to turn and wave our thanks to the motorists.

Later, looking out the motel room window my sister saw a crosswalk we should have used, but from the ground the crosswalk lines were too faint from winter's snow and sand to see.

The next morning we decided to eat breakfast in the hospital before we left for home. Wouldn't you know but after our several walks of 4 to 5 blocks just to reach the clinic after which we still had to get to the hospital, this last morning the ladies took a different route and we found ourselves in the hospital after only walking an easy 1 block across nearly level ground. I guess it is better to learn late than not at all.

The hospital, heart clinic and motel were all built on the hillside's steep slope so one had to be alert when entering or exiting; the motel's front door was actually on the third floor.

At all times my guide and I were treated with respect and open friendship. My sister and I never had to ask for help; there was always someone near to offer help. The main problem was that almost everyone was drawn to my guide and wanted to pet him or at least talk to him. Over an over I heard such remarks as, "What a beautiful dog," or "That is a wonderful dog you have."

At no place did anyone try to stop us from walking in the clinic or hospital.

Don't let a disability shut you in. Life has too much to offer than to sit at home and feel sorry for yourself.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse, retired early due to vision loss. Contact him at theolcrow@charter.net or 529-9252.

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