Look Out Behind You… and Call Your Dog!
We practice many things at the training center at Fidos For Freedom. At first glance, the exercise may seem time consuming and even confusing. (My kids ask me from time to time exactly HOW are they going to use Geometry in real life? Why do they have to do the practice exercises if they will never use it?)
I have to admit that occasionally I think to myself, that Chloe and I will never use a certain command in public. I wonder from time to time, why we seem to practice some of the commands that we do at the center. I always participate, however, as I have learned to trust the trainers and their judgment in such matters. One exercise we do several times a month is a response to the command, “Look out behind you and call your dog!” Clients are to take a quick look behind them to make sure nothing is in their way. You then take two or three quick steps backwards, and give the formal command “Fido, Come!” to your dog. The dogs have been trained to quickly position themselves in a “sit” in front of you, with their nose facing your stomach. I have very poor peripheral, so a “quick look behind me” has never been an easy task! For me to take two or three “quick” steps backwards, can mean a spill on a day my balance is really “off”.
I have to admit that internally I grumbled from time to time when asked to perform this command on the training floor. Never again…
When Least Expected, It May Come in Handy!
This past Friday, I left the house early to go to Wal-mart. I have a love/hate relationship with Wal-mart. On the one hand… I save quite a bit of money at this store. They tend to have a big selection, carry name brands, and have great sales. On the other hand… the lines are awful, it’s hard to find a place to park, and the stores I go to are often messy. (Not easy to navigate “messy” when pushing a cart with a working dog alongside!)
I have found, however, that if one goes early in the day on a weekday, it isn’t too much of a trial. So Friday morning – bright and early, Chloe and I plus my son Chris, headed to Wal-mart.
Chris went to look for a game that was suppose to be “out”, so Chloe and I headed into the pharmacy section alone. I noticed almost right away that she’d startle, and then cock her head to listen carefully about every three or four feet. I was busy looking for my shampoo, but automatically watched her a little more carefully for any further clues as to what she was hearing. As we neared the end of the aisle, her ears were perked up and she looked nervous. Every few seconds, I caught the sound of “something”, but honestly could not tell for sure what it might be! As we rounded the corner, a harried-looking mother with a couple of youngsters in tow came around the next aisle. The kids were screaming and crying, and one toddler was in a sprint away from mom. The toddler hit the end of my cart head-on with both hands and SHOVED. Two or three seconds before impact, I shot a quick glance over my shoulder and took three frantic steps backwards, and commanded urgently, “Chloe… COME”! Chloe obeyed immediately, even though her attention was on the family. The cart ricocheted off an end-cap of baby oil products. I plucked my purse out of the cart, and put Chloe in “heel” beside me… protected from the main aisle. The mother apologized profusely, and corralled her kids to continue shopping. As soon as she was out of sight, I squatted down to face Chloe and exclaimed:
“Chloe! We Looked Out Behind Us! We did it!” Chloe cocked her head to the side like she does when she’s trying to figure out what I’m saying. (Hmm… was there a command in there that I recognize?) I was positively gleeful… and Chloe? Well she was not exactly sure why I was so VERY excited about a simple “come” command! Her tail gave a half-hearted flop and she wiggled closer… which of course caused me to plop into the floor from my crouched position. I was totally fine with that! I threw my arms around her and explained to her out loud (and likely LOUDLY given the fact that I have a hearing loss…), “Chloe, I never thought we’d use ‘Look Out Behind You‘, and I did it! We used it perfectly! I wasn’t hurt… you weren’t hurt! Hey, it worked perfectly!” In hindsight, I was very likely a little too excited about something rather trivial. Actually by this time I had drawn a small crowd of observers.
A lady reached her hand out and asked, “Can I help you up?”
“Nope”, I responded cheerfully, “that’s what she’s for!” Chloe helped me up with a modified ‘brace’, and I reached over for my cart.
A grandfatherly-looking man stood there watching, and remarked dryly, “she’s better behaved than most kids in here!”
Still on a euphoric “high”, I gushed, “YES! And we did ‘look out behind you‘ perfectly!”
His bemused smile turned to concern and he looked behind him with confusion. I plopped my purse back into the cart and wheeled away with my head in the clouds.
Practice, in Order to be Prepared
Later as I put away groceries and toiletries, I still had a smile a mile wide on my face. I used “Look Out Behind You“! I couldn’t help but chuckle about it even hours later!
You know? It pays to practice things! Think of how practicing even responses to uneducated questions can be helpful! As a person with hearing loss, I have heard some fairly ridiculous questions before. I have also been wounded by rude and simple-minded questions. Yet my response has not always been in such a way that I was able to advocate in a positive way. Sometimes my response, further cemented irrational assumptions by people with normal hearing and balance. Take for example the following:
Why do you talk that way? Do you have a speech impairment?
Wrong answer: “No, stupid! I don’t have a speech impairment, you have a BRAIN impairment!”
Right answer: “Actually I have a profound hearing loss. I can’t hear myself anymore and I know I pronounce things funny sometimes.” (I’m so thankful for my cochlear implant! My speech has dramatically improved, even when I’m really tired!)
Why do you wear your hair up where everyone can see your cochlear implant and hearing aid? Why do you want them to see your disability?
Wrong answer: “It’s none of your business stupid! I can wear my hair the way I want!”
Right answer: Actually I do that so people are aware that I don’t hear well. I don’t want someone to be upset if I don’t answer when called, or answer inappropriately to a question I didn’t hear well. It clues them in right away that if they take some extra time to communicate well, I will likely do just fine!
Why do you still ask for ‘repeats’ and not hear things? I thought the cochlear implant was going to FIX you!
Wrong answer: “I’m not Jamie Sommers, stupid!” (Do you see a recurring pattern of STUPID in the wrong answers? Grin!)
Right answer: “Actually my bionics allow me to hear things I never thought I’d hear again! But it isn’t perfect hearing, and I will always be a person with hearing loss. Compared to where I was before the implant, I am doing amazingly well!”
If you are deaf, how can you use a telephone?
Wrong answer: Why shouldn’t I be able to use the phone? I can eat, drink, and go to the bathroom by myself too!”
Right answer: We live in an amazing era of technology. My cochlear implant can utilize a t-coil switch, which allows me to use the phone with only a little work, thanks to telephones that are t-coil compatible. I can’t use EVERY phone, but I can use MINE.
Why do you have an assistance dog? You aren’t blind, and it draws attention to you!
Wrong answer: Actually she’s an attack dog… Chloe… BITE HIM!
Right answer: Having both Meniere’s disease, and hearing loss, Chloe simply makes my life easier. She takes a lot of stress out of the fact I don’t hear well. I hear voices pretty well with my CI, but Chloe makes sure I hear all those other noises. I am much safer now, and can do things independently. If I drop things, it takes Chloe seconds to retrieve something for me that would have taken me several minutes to get myself because of my balance issues. I don’t have to ask others to help, because SHE is my “helper”.
If you have an acquired disability, I’m sure you too have heard your share of “stupid questions”. Perhaps your disability is not widely understood, or is “invisible”. We can’t walk around with a neon sign that says, “disabled person” over our heads. And who would want to? Frankly, I highlight what I CAN do, not what I cannot. Perhaps practicing responses to some of the questions you have heard, will insure that when the time comes for you to reply again, it will be in a positive and educational way. After all, a curt and petty response only hurts the next person with a disability. A measured, well-thought and rehearsed answer is much more likely to produce understanding and acceptance in even the most STUPID irrational person!
© 2009 Hearing Loss Journal