Imagine for a moment, that over the last forty years you have been living as a proud caregiver. Leading a life full of passion for others, finding fulfilment in helping others in sick times and giving respite when it mattered most. Now imagine that you find yourself without a job, without the ability to drive or go shopping for groceries. This is how Edwina Crouch found herself, with failing vision, after four decades of being a proud, passionate and independent nurse. Suddenly Edwina was having to not only readjust her entire lifestyle, but tackle the difficult task of asking for help. This was previously a rare thing for the 63-year-old, highly skilled caregiver.
In April 2014 during a nursing placement in Northam, Edwina began to notice the deterioration of her vision. With previous minimal impairment, Edwina was convinced this was simply a temporary loss. Even as she left for Perth unable to finish treating her patients, she waved goodbye to friends and colleagues with the simple thought of “I’ll be back”. However, the realisation became apparent after a Retinal Detachment surgery wasn’t successful. Edwina’s left eye now had no vision and her right eye had no peripheral vision. While Edwina can see light, she is without clear vision and describes it as “living in a blurry world”.
After being referred by her Specialist to VisAbility, she remarks that she felt support from the first meeting. “I had no idea what to expect, I turned up to VisAbility not letting myself have any expectations. But it was just super. From no expectations to surpassing everything I could’ve hoped for”. For Edwina, it was thrilling to have found a place that could offer emotional support and advice on financial support via the WANDIS. Edwina can access the rollout of the NDIS, having recently built her house in a WANDIS trial site.
For Edwina, finding VisAbility was the “opening of her world”. After losing her vision, times had been hard. There were low points where Edwina did feel depressed. Her job that she had given up, had been her “reason to get up in the morning” for all those years. Without it, Edwina felt purposeless. Now, having accessed Occupational Therapists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, and meeting likeminded individuals in the Living Well Group, Edwina has found freedom again. “VisAbility has given me so much freedom. I’ve become so much more independent, and this is so important to me.” Edwina learnt to use the long cane, and she recalls this was a blessing as it gave her the confidence to go shopping again. She remarks that shopping centres “were overwhelming” and can be scary places when you are living with vision impairment. For Edwina “the cane was the most freeing, best thing in the world”. She is now a great ambassador for the long cane, and is happy to educate the public and in particular, young children who ask what the cane is and why she uses it.
Edwina especially loved attending the Living Well Group at VisAbility, saying it has been one of the most useful things she has done so far. It reassured her that she was going to be okay and that there were others going through similar situations. Together they could learn to overcome their disability. Edwina remarked that this was a perfect example of the “welcoming environment at VisAbility. I haven’t spoken to anyone that hasn’t been warm and friendly”.
VisAbility has given Edwina back her independence. Edwina says she now feels “empowered and just the best. I look forward to seeing great people every time I come to VisAbility. I can’t speak highly enough of all that I’ve experienced”. Facing the radical shift in how she interacts with the world around her has been hard. But Edwina was determined to not let that stop her.
“VisAbility gave me a light. I could finally see a light after disability.
I could get up in the morning again”.
Edwina is remarkably positive about the future. She has a few goals and laughs that she may have a busy year ahead if she creates any more. Firstly, she hopes to learn Braille, something she was introduced to during the Living Well sessions. Secondly, she is hoping to apply for a Guide Dog from VisAbility’s Guide Dogs WA. Edwina also visited VisAbility’s Technology Outlook 2016 and had her interest in pottery sparked again. This is part of her third goal, to get back to enjoying the interests she had earlier in life. She plans to create a colourful wall mural in her pottery classes, to brighten up a wall in her garden outside.
Edwina hopes her story will help motivate others who are unsure of their future. Her advice to others going through a similar journey is to “get in contact with VisAbility and begin to open up to accept any help that is given. You don’t have to face it alone.” This acceptance is a process Edwina can’t stress enough.
“Before VisAbility, it was hard to go it alone. It is important to accept your disability and accept any help. You need not fight the disability, but accept it and find the peace within yourself to move forward. It was hard for me. As a nurse, I was always a giver. But now I can sit there and receive help. It empowers me to go out and give back again”.
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