Last week, while I nervously anticipated the phone call from Guide Dogs following my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday, the phone call that could either put me on the waiting list for a guide dog or set me back to square 1 again, it was time for another My Guide session with Jenny, who had just come home from her cruise holiday. As I had the cookery course on the Thursday, we’d agreed to meet on the Tuesday instead. Clearly, as so much had happened in the week she’d been away, we had loads to catch up on. I wanted to hear all about her holiday and tell her all about the assessment she hadn’t even known was happening. Luckily, we were doing the route to CommuniCare, the place I’m soon to start volunteering at, and that means a bus journey into the city centre, a welcome opportunity for us to chat away.
I’m still not feeling over enthusiastic or happy about the voluntary route. I don’t know what it is about it but I’m just not comfortable with it like I feel with the Woolston and school routes. Maybe it’s because I’ve got so used to learning lengthy routes that now I’m doing a short convenient one it just doesn’t sit well with me. It could also be because there are so many obstacles in my path along the journey and so many things my cane snags on along the inner shoreline of the route. Because the majority of the Woolston and school routes are walking in a straight line, I don’t need to follow the shoreline with my cane constantly. But as I’m still only just getting used to the voluntary route, I keep my cane close to the edge mostly to reassure myself of my precise location. I’m hoping that, in time, as I get used to the route and hopefully comfortable with it, I’ll be able to anticipate the snags and not need the constant reminder of where I am. Hopefully, as I get more familiar with the route, I’ll become more comfortable with it. As it’s actually quite a vital route, in that it’ll get me to the place that’ll help me gain vital employability skills, I really need to like it and get to know it well. The Woolston and school routes, although useful to have in my route availability and choices, were only learned so I could get out and about more and because Guide Dogs said in order for me to be considered for a dog I needed more lengthy routes. As I’ve learned them, especially the Woolston route, I’ve grown to realise how nice it is to have a long stroll to get somewhere rather than taken the 15-minute bus there. Obviously, I’m not sure I’ll be saying that when it’s pouring down or we’ve got fierce winds.
Despite my uncertainty surrounding the route, Jenny seemed very pleased with how our two attempts went. We calculated that we haven’t actually practised the route in a whole month and I still managed to retain quite a lot of the direction and crossing places. Annoyingly, there was roadworks going on around the pelican crossing, cutting off one of the control poles, which happened to be the one that has the spinning cone that allows me to cross safely. We fixed this by Jenny prompting me when it was safe to cross; but if I’d been on my own I’d have had to hope for a kindly member of the public or listen for the slow in the traffic in front of me and take my chances that the lights had changed when the cars were still. This, of course, is risky as just because the cars are still doesn’t actually mean that the lights have changed and it’s safe to go. This is why all pelican crossings should have both the audio cue and spinning cone, so that if one option is unavailable the other is there as backup.
To be honest, even I noticed on the second attempt of the route that I was remembering things slightly better. I’m hoping that, when we practice it again this week, things will come back to me even more because there will only be a week, rather than a month, between the attempts. While we were on the bus home, I discussed with Jenny how we can make the best of the time during our sessions. After my Guide Dog assessment the previous week, I’d become more aware of how I really need to practice navigating around southampton city centre independently. Last week, I’d got horribly lost during my assessment and if it hadn’t been for the patience of the instructors and me not freaking out, I’d have never got back on track. I need to be more confident with the routes I don’t use as regularly independently, such as navigating around town and getting to my pharmacy and doctors surgery. Jenny agreed that when we practice the CommuniCare route we can add a bit on and practice around town too. I just want to be confident with all my routes so that if anyone springs going somewhere unexpected on me, like the instructors did by asking me to navigate around town on a weekday afternoon, I can be completely confident in the knowledge that I know what I’m doing and where I’m going. I know Jenny can help with that. After all, I wouldn’t have got anywhere near this far pursuing my Guide Dog application without her patience, consistency and support. I owe the phone call that came the following day to Jenny and I hope, although I’m rubbish at saying it in person, that she knows how unbelievably grateful I am for her.
As I’ve hinted, a phone call came the following day, a phone call I’ve been dreaming of for at least the last seven years, since the very first time I applied for a Guide Dog. It didn’t come quite as quickly as I hoped, though; they kept me waiting all Wednesday. In the morning, Dad and Tamsin, who was on her school half term, and I went into town and did some Christmas shopping. Then, we popped to Bitterne for some bits and pieces. Then, we headed to my grandparents house because they’d asked Dad to paint their decking. I spent the afternoon moving from the chair at their little table in their kitchen, to the side door doorstep, to pacing up and down waiting for the phone call. Then, at exactly 3:44pm, my phone started to ring. By this point, I’d started to wonder if I’d remembered right, whether they’d actually said they’d ring and tell me Wednesday afternoon or not. Obviously, this was just my nerves kicking in as I know case review happens Wednesday and that they ring you to tell you the outcome afterwards. I should know, I’ve been rung after two separate case reviews in the past. But no phone call in the past was like this one. With shaking fingers, I double-tapped with two fingers to answer the call and put the phone to my ear. It was Guide Dogs calling and the lady who did my Guide Dog assessment the previous Thursday. She asked if I was OK first and then she said it: We’ve put you on the waiting list”… She then went on to say she knows I’ve been working for this for “a few months” and asked if I was happy. To be honest, I was shocked, stunned, astounded, amazed. But not in the usual ways I am when Guide Dogs phone. This time, it was for all the right reasons that I could barely get any words out, that my eyes had misted over and that my hands were shaking even more. I thanked her, told her of course I was happy and thanked her again. She didn’t tell me any more information than that, just that I have been placed on the Guide Dogs waiting list for my very own furry companion and guide. All that dreaming and scheming and planning and hoping is over. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST FOR A DOG! I AM GOING TO GET A DOG IN THE FUTURE!
As soon as I disconnected the call, all my family members in the house were there, waiting. They’d seen me start this journey so long ago. “It’s good news,” I muttered, “I’m on the waiting list.” And the cheer went up. Then they started asking questions. Was I happy? How long would I wait? What else did they say? Why wasn’t I looking/sounding happier? I didn’t have many answers, other than they hadn’t said anything else or given any indication as to how long I’m likely to wait. As soon as the noise calmed down a bit, I phoned my Mum. She’s supported me, along with most of my other family members, throughout this journey, since I was a little 14-year-old with a faraway dream. But she didn’t answer. So I rang the next person who needed to know, the one who’s helped me in every choice and decision I’ve made with Guide Dogs. My sister Imi answered almost straight away: “Yes?” She asked expectantly. “I’m on the waiting list,” I tell her, in what I realise isn’t the ecstatic tone she’s expected all these years. But I’m just so shocked. She squeals, tells me that it’s brilliant, which of course, underneath the disbelief, I know it is. We chat for ages, until my VoiceOver tells me Mum’s trying to get through. I tell Imi I’ll ring her back and call Mum. When I tell her, she can’t believe it either; she swears and has her happy voice reserved for really great things. We chat for a little while and I know she feels like me, overjoyed but disbelieving and relief. The fighting is over. I haven’t got to argue with anyone any more. Ive proved myself. Ive got on the waiting list because I’ve shown them I’m suitable, deserving and that a dog would have such a massive impact on my future. After Mum has hung up, telling me how proud and happy she is, I ring Imi back and we analyse everything that was said like we always do. We talk about how I’d started to get unsettled when the call hadn’t came but how that should’ve reassured me because the bad news phone calls are always made first, or that’s how it seems. After all, I should know that. We talk about how it probably wont be the quickest wait ever and I joke that, knowing my luck, I’ll probably wait three years or something now for my first match. Then, together we look at the dogs pictured on both the southampton and Yorkshire mobility teams facebook pages, talking about which names we couldn’t bear to have. I think I’m more open than Imi to daft names, because after all I’d take anything.
After Imi, the next person who needs a phone call is a man who’s supported me in everything since he first met me at 14. He was the best cricket captain I’ve ever had and a support I now couldn’t be without. I text him first and asked if he was available for a phone call. My phone buzzed with an incoming call and I told him. His joy matched that of my parents, possibly even overtook some of my family members. And it made me feel happier somehow. It made it seem more real telling people, made it true. It felt like a bad cheating dream where I was going to wake up and I’d still be waiting for the phone call. But I was definitely awake. Tiny and I agreed to meet in southampton soon and have celebratory Costa, because recently we both have a lot to be happy about. After I’d ended that call, I started sending out the text messages, first to Kieran and then to everyone else I knew would want to hear, to everyone that had supported me in some way along this really bumpy road. Unfortunately, Dad had already posted on facebook about it so Kieran had already heard. I was a bit disappointed because I’d wanted him to hear it first from me. Although I know Dad was only posting because he was so excited for and proud of me for finally getting here, it did bother me because I hadn’t even managed to tell many people. I texted Jenny, the lady who had been Zena’s owner after me, Josh, my friend Wayne who has a Guide Dog called Vince, my employment officer, auntie Clare, a lady who used to work with me at school and her family, Jemma and her mum, the service user representative who’d helped me so much and as my texts went out, messages of congratulations and joy came flooding in, everyone so happy to hear this news at last. Later, I put my own post up on facebook and in the social groups set up for anyone involved with Guide Dogs and the response I got was amazing. So many people so happy for me.
Honestly, though, I still don’t think it’s fully sunken in yet… It’s silly really because it’s something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. But I think because it’s been the goal for so long I never really imagined what I’d do once I reached it. It’s like I mentioned to Imi during our phone call, we’d never actually planned for once I’m on the list, it was always aiming to get on the list. But of course I’m happy. Overjoyed, super excited and still ecstatic, actually, even nearly a week on. I just can’t believe it’s really going to happen. Whether in the near or far future, I don’t know, but one day I actually am going to get a phone call from a Guide Dogs Mobility Instructor to tell me they’ve found a potential match. Because that’s the next step now and it’s just waiting. I hope it won’t be a horribly long and drawn out wait, but however long it takes I know it’ll be worth it. It already is. All that fighting and arguing and perseverance is already worth it, because I’ve achieved my goal, reached my aim. I AM ON THE GUIDE DOGS WAITING LIST. So from now on, I’ve just got to continue working on my routes, learning new ones and practice my existing ones. I hope that I’m allowed to continue working with Jenny until I get that phone call and even after I’ve got the dog to familiarise us with my routes. I don’t know how long our partnership will continue now I’ve reached my goal of going on the waiting list for a dog but I hope the powers that be see that Jenny’s help and support where my routes are concerned is still so important to me. Again, I just need to reiterate that I wouldn’t be where I am now, on the Guide Dogs waiting list, without Jenny and I’m so thankful to have had her support over the last almost year. I’m also thankful to the Guide Dogs staff who have been involved in this most recent application and in the little bit running up to this application. To the service delivery manager, mobility instructor and Guide Dog mobility instructor who have been a part of this application and have made the decision to put me on the waiting list, thank you. I’ll be forever grateful to you all for giving me this chance to prove myself and this opportunity to have the mobility and independence I’ve been craving for so long. Thank you for being so open after the appeal in March and being so accommodating to the ideas I had for making the assessment process more stress-free for me. Together, it’s obviously worked because you’ve now deemed me suitable for a Guide Dog, so much so that I’ve already done enough for you to place me on the waiting list. I can’t put into words what that means.
Lastly, to everyone who’s supported me throughout this journey, my gratitude is infinite. Imi, Kieran, mum, Tiny, Dad, Jenny, Jemma, Jemma’s mum, Yvette, Amanda, Wayne, Lacey and Grant, Nan and Grandad, Auntie Clare, Josh, the service user representative, Tamsin, everyone who’s supported me on Facebook and Twitter… absolutely everyone who’s ever supported me, I couldn’t have done it without you. To Tiny’s wife Nicola, thank you for spending hours on your birthday sat in my living room while we battled at my appeal. You and your husband, who I have so much to thank for, have helped and supported me more than you’ll ever know and I’ll never be able to thank you enough. For everyone who’s listened to me talk about Guide Dogs all these years. The support of everyone in my life during this journey is what has kept me going, what has fuelled my determination. In March, when they said I was unsuitable, I was ready to give up. But Mum, Dad, Imi, Tiny, Kieran and everyone else I spoke to about it filled me with confidence and support and urged me on, until I made the decision to keep fighting. Without them, I’d have given up the fight and wouldn’t be sat here now, ON THE WAITING LIST. Who knows how long it’ll take until I’m matched. But for now, the hard work is done. The goal is met. And the relief I feel almost overtakes the joy.