When I wake up, every morning feels like a bright new day - which I’m lucky to able to say considering I went completely blind in 2008 over the space of about three days. For eight long years after that, I was totally reliant on either my wife, Elaine, or one of our four children, to take me everywhere. I couldn’t go more than a few steps from my front door alone.
I’ll never forget being in that doctor’s office ten years ago. I ended up there because one day, out of the blue, I started seeing what I’d describe as sparklers – like flashes of light – in my left eye. I went straight to my GP, but he said everything seemed to be OK. The next day, I couldn’t see well enough to do my contract cleaning job. This time I went to the optician, who sent me straight to hospital with a suspected detached retina.
As Elaine and I sat in his office, the hospital doctor asked if he could bring two students in as he delivered his test findings to us. Of course we agreed, and he then proceeded to explain my diagnosis to the students before he’d actually told me. In the most matter-of-fact way, he told them that my retina and macula were coming away from the back of my eye, which meant that I would go blind. It was only when he used the words ‘and he’ll never drive again’ that I finally felt able to chip in to their conversation. “Umm, what do you mean?” was all I could say, and then the doctor remembered that I was there and started talking to me.
Hearing his words hit me like a brick. It was particularly devastating news because I already had a false right eye after injuring it when I was small. This meant I was going to be completely blind. Elaine and I left his office, devastated, and were just left to get a taxi home. I remember my son-in-law had to go and pick my van up from where I’d parked it for the optician’s appointment.
Waking up the next day, I asked Elaine to turn the bedside lamp on and when she replied that it was already on, that’s when I knew it’d happened.
Soon after, I started losing it a bit. My mind started playing tricks on me. I would imagine faces that weren’t there, because my brain was paranoid that there were people there I couldn’t see. Any bang or sudden noise would startle me. It was terrifying.
It’s probably no surprise to hear that I quickly developed depression; it was a very, very dark time in every sense. I couldn’t work, so my small contract cleaning company disappeared as contracts came to an end and I couldn’t renew them. Elaine and I lost our dream home in Cartmel, Cumbria, not only because we couldn’t keep up with the mortgage, but also because I couldn’t do any DIY or maintenance on it. I had always been busy making a life for myself before, whether that was working, being with my family, or enjoying much-loved hobbies. I loved going to the gym, doing karate, playing the guitar and collecting cars. All of it disappeared and I was left with only my faith, and my family, to keep me going.
We moved back down to Heswall in the Wirral, into a much smaller place. I did have some training to use a long cane, but I hated the sound of it tapping away on the pavement, it made me much too self-aware to go out by myself. I shrank away to become someone who was too frightened even to answer my own front door. My confidence in there being someone trustworthy on the other side just wasn’t there.
I’d heard of guide dogs but I thought I was such a hopeless case that I couldn’t have one – I honestly thought I was too blind. In November 2015 we came across a statue of a guide dog on a trip to Wallasey in Cheshire, where the UK’s first guide dogs were trained, and it made us wonder if I could get one. We enquired and I applied right away.
Oscar changed absolutely everything. I’d had pet dogs before so I had no trouble letting one back into my life, but I had no idea just how priceless Oscar would become. He’s far more than a way for me to get around, he’s given me the confidence to speak to people again. I’ve always been a people person, and having Oscar brought me back to being me. It’s a good job, because now people are always coming up to us to talk to Oscar! Before, they’d speak to whoever was with me, even if it was about me, like I wasn’t there. Now, people seem to make a beeline for us. They still ask me if I’m the one from the old advert to sponsor a puppy for the charity Guide Dogs, and when they say they sponsor a puppy, I tell them how much Oscar has changed my life and how grateful I am to them for playing a part in that.
We walk to my daughter’s home most days, which is about 20 minutes away. I can help Elaine by popping down to the shop to pick up some milk or bread for her. She loves it now I can get out of the house and leave her to have some peace and quiet! I know it doesn’t sound like much but when you’ve felt like a prisoner in your own home, it means the world. Elaine and I have even taken Oscar on holiday to Scotland and to Northumberland with us. He loves the attention he gets from our fellow tourists.
If I’m ever sat in the house and my sight loss is getting to me a bit, it’s like Oscar knows and he comes and puts his chin on my knee. Then he’ll bring me a toy and make me play with him until I’ve forgotten about being sad. I’m happy to say that I have the confidence to answer my front door again; Oscar barks and comes with me so I know everything will be all right.
During my dark days, I didn’t see the point in getting up, in getting dressed, in having a shave. Now, I put Oscar’s harness on, and off we go.
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