Lost in Our Own Backyard
by Patty Fletcher
It was so quiet when we stepped on that early Sunday morning, you could hear the crickets hopping through the grass. The night things were readying for sleep and as the sun peeped over the rim of the world, the first Jay Birds were beginning their call.
Blue seemed full of energy. I knew later I’d have to put him in his harness and exercise him but what I wanted now was to let him relieve, then head back inside for a cup of coffee and some quiet time to catch up on the news. Unfortunately, while Blue relieved himself, I made plans and the Universe laughed.
When Blue had finished watering the grass, I decided to step up onto the gravel turnaround behind our house to see if he had anything else to report. I’d found having him go in the gravel made it tons easier to pick up but after having gone only a short way, I began to feel pavement underneath my feet and realized we’d stepped into the alley behind our house.
This should’ve been no problem, for to turn around and walk back the way we’d come was all we needed to do. But for someone like me, who suffers from Spatial Disorientation, it’s not always that simple.
It’s a common belief that blind individuals have a heightened auditory sense when compared to the general sighted population. For some, this is more so than for others. I’ve found if I don’t have a solid picture of the area I’m walking in and good audio cues to orient me, I can become easily disoriented and as I turned us around to head back to what I thought was our backyard, I soon found this to be the case.
I’d never traveled along the alley way behind my house. I’d no idea what we might encounter and though I knew one end of it came out onto what could at times be a busy street, it was before 7 AM on Sunday morning and there wasn’t one car to be heard as I walked slowly along the edge of the alley trying to orient myself.
I tried coaxing Blue back to the house by stating “Inside Blue!” in a happy but firm voice, but because he wasn’t wearing his harness and because I’d already walked a bit away from our house in what was for him an unfamiliar area, all that happened was that he led me to a car parked alongside the alley and then sat patiently by my heel waiting for me to open the door.
Despite my situation I had to laugh. “Blue, I’d like a ride too but son, we must find our way home.”
For a moment I found myself a bit panicked and then I heard a dinging noise coming from my back pocket and realized I had my phone. Pulling it from my pocket I commanded, “Siri give me my current location.” I’d expected it to tell me I was a couple houses off and I’d just turn in whatever direction I needed to make the numbers go back to the house and continue asking my location until I found our number.
That was not to be. To my horror when Siri gave me my location, I discovered we’d already reached the end of the alley by the street, which was usually teaming with traffic, and to my mounting terror, it looked as though we’d crossed to the other side.
Taking a breath to steady my nerves and carefully sliding my foot slowly from side to side, I worked to get a picture of exactly where we were. As my foot read the pattern of the ground underneath, I realized with some relief we’d not actually gone all the way across; instead we were standing in the narrow medium strip in the middle of the street. Taking yet another steadying breath, I quickly but carefully walked us back to our side of the alley and then, decided to call a neighbor for help.
The first friend I called wasn’t in a position to help. She’d already left her mother’s house across the street from mine and the caregiver who was currently staying with her family was there by herself and could do no more than stand on her porch and yell to see if I might be able to hear her. Because of my location in relation to our houses, this didn’t work. I stood, hands in pockets for a moment, and then decided to try and use the phone GPS to guide us back.
At first, between the combination of the GPS along with my firmly giving Blue simple commands, we made a bit of progress. Then only a few houses down from ours, the phone’s signal dropped to one bar and the voice dropped out.
For a moment the panic tried to rise up and overtake me but feeling Blue’s nose nudging me, I shoved it back down beneath my voice and tried commanding, “Blue inside.” He did indeed take me to the edge of a yard but when I put my hand out, I felt what appeared to be some sort of pipe sticking out of the ground and knowing there was a deep ditch alongside the alley just behind our house I was not quite certain I should walk into the yard he was showing me.
Finally, out of complete frustration, I called another neighbor from the other end of the street. I knew that if she came out into the alley behind our houses, she’d be able to see me. When she didn’t answer her phone, I nearly lost my resolve and was on the verge of calling 9-11 when to my immense relief the phone rang, and it was my friend calling back to see what had prompted such an early morning call.
“Thank God!” I said, in a voice on the edge of hysteria. “I’m sorry to call you so early but Blue and I have gotten totally turned around, he’s not in his harness and though I’m only a few feet from the house, I simply cannot get there from here.”
She came right away and after I introduced her to Blue, who was as glad as I to see a friendly face, she guided us back to the front door and stayed to make sure we made it inside.
Later as I sat drinking a much-needed cup of coffee running over all the locations the phone GPS had read to me, I was able to map out where we’d been in relation to the streets which ran in front of our house verses the alley way in the back.
I found myself feeling frustrated with my situation. I’d been trying since before going to The Seeing Eye Dog Guide school to acquire orientation and Mobility instruction from our Department of Blind Services but had as of yet heard nothing.
For those who don’t know, orientation and mobility (O&M) supports the acquisition of spatial mapping and orientation skills by supplying perceptual and conceptual information. The shortage in visual information is compensated by perceptual information such as the haptic, auditory, and olfactory senses.
Contrary to popular belief, Blue is only as good as the commands I give him. He can keep me from falling over obstacles in our path, can stop me from walking into oncoming traffic but he cannot discern which way we should go to get to a specific location and if I don’t have the necessary information, we can and do become lost.
In the end, things turned out well for us that day but the realization of how quickly something can go wrong is never far from my mind.
About the Author
Patty L. Fletcher lives in Kingsport Tennessee where she works full time as a Writer with the goal of bridging the great chasm which separates the disAbled from the non-disAbled. She is Also a Social Media Marketing Assistant. To learn more, visit: https://pattysworlds.com/.