At the age of 33 I lost my eyesight at night. On that fateful day I had driven home from my work as an A&E doctor in a busy London hospital, had dinner with my wife and went to bed. The next morning my vision was almost gone.
I always knew that my eyesight was not perfect, but it had not stopped me from looking down with cricket balls, skiing and even jumping out of planes as a teenager. Then, in my final year as a medical student at Cambridge University, I was diagnosed with an eye condition called keratoconus, which affects the shape of the cornea.
I started with a long program of treatment and surgery that seemed to work. It meant that on my wedding day I could look at my beautiful bride, Seema, in awe.
Dr. Amit Patel (photo) was diagnosed with an eye condition called keratoconus, which affects the shape of the cornea during his final year at the University of Cambridge. Although his long treatment and surgery program seemed to work, doctors discovered blood vessels bursting in his eyes a little over 18 months later
Just over 18 months later, in 2013, however, doctors discovered that a series of blood vessels had broken in the back of my eyes – and shortly thereafter the darkness was closed forever.
The desperation I felt was incomprehensible. For the next six months I completely shut myself off, grieving the person I had once been and all the ambitions I would not achieve now. I even tried unsuccessfully to take my own life with an overdose of painkillers, that was how deep my grief was.
In November 2013, while my personal tragedy took place, a beautiful white-blonde labrador puppy was born in a specialized breeding center for guide dogs in Warwickshire. She had large, soft brown eyes, a quirky, life-sized personality and the nicest imaginable heart.
Her name was Kika and she would give me back my life.
It took me a long time and a lot of conviction to come up with the idea of a guide dog. After months of turmoil since I became blind, I gradually started to get my life back on track. I realized how lucky I was to find Seema. No one else made me so happy or so understood. I knew that that connection was indeed rare and costly. But the negative voice in my head sometimes had a field day: “It’s only getting worse. And Seema will certainly have given you up. “But then I realized how hard Seema would fight to keep us together.
I had learned to read Braille and use a white stick to move around, so why should I give my safety to an animal that is closely related to a wolf? I was in control with the stick. A stick will never drag you across four lanes to chase a squirrel or be distracted by a donut. Was it really possible that I could ever trust an animal with my life?
In 2015, despite my doubts, I finally recorded my name for a guide dog. I was told that probably two years would wait.
The A&E doctor is pictured with his beautiful wife Seema. The following six months after the discovery, he closed himself off completely, “grieving the person I had once been, and all the ambitions that I would not achieve now.” He gradually began to regain his life, learned Braille and applied for a guide dog in 2015
But six weeks later I received a call from the guide dog. They had found me a match. Her name was Kika and she was an unusual dog, they told me – energetic, confident and very intelligent, but with a determined line that needed to be treated with care.
When it came to people, she had very strong sympathies and dislikes and had to be on the road all the time to be happy. If I was interested, they would take her to our flat for a meeting.
Intrigued, I said “yes.”
When I heard the pitter-chatter of Kika’s legs as she walked down the corridor to the front door of our apartment, my heart began to thump. Could this be the start of something great, or a huge disappointment? Kika dropped her lead in the flat. “She has a nose around,” said Roz Wakelin, her trainer.
Like a real estate agent making up a home, Kika trotted from room to room, checking them all until she finally fell down in the living room next to us with an alleged sigh.
Our house had the approval seal from Kika. She walked over to me for a tickle. “She likes you,” said Roz. Being accepted by Kika – that was quite something.
Ten days later I was on my way to intensive residential training, where Kika and I would discover if we could work together.
The first night I sat cross-legged on the floor of my hotel room and put my arms around my new friend and told her how honored I felt with such a wonderful being.
She seemed happy to be around me, to let me scratch her ears and rub her belly before retiring to her dog bed.
The training went well with many treats and rewards. Like all guide dogs, Kika knows that when she wears her armor, she is on duty and needs to be fully focused. When it is finished, she can relax and run around like any pet. But as the course progressed, my doubts returned. How did it work? How could I put so much faith in a dog? Time and time again I pulled Kika back by her armor as we walked, terrified to give her the lead.
I am a control freak and I just could not let myself be trusted. The third morning of our stay was the game changer. We had an early start, so I stumbled out of bed and felt difficult along the wall from the bedroom to the bathroom.
But when I got there, I noticed that Kika was blocking the road. She stood in the middle of the doorway and refused to pass me.
“Come on, Kika,” I said. “I have to go in there.” She would not admit it. For a few minutes I begged, cajoled and ordered, but she was motionless. I felt ridiculous when I called Becca, a guide dog mobility instructor, and told her about the problem. ‘Really?’ She said. “Lift her if you have to. You’re the boss.’
Dr. received within six weeks Patel (photo) a telephone call from the guide dog for the blind association who said they had found a match. After telling the moment he found his guide dog, he said: “Her name was Kika and she was an unusual dog, they said to me – energetic, confident and very intelligent, but with a determined line that needed careful treatment”
Eventually I threw Kika out of the way just to find out the reason for her strange behavior. In the bathroom I heard the sound of running water. The floor was covered with water at least an inch deep and it was slippery. I realized that my guide dog had blocked my way because she knew there was a danger on the other side of the door. “Kika, I’m so sorry,” I said. She did not say, “I already told you,” but she did accept a tummy as an apology.
From that moment I released my fears. Kika proved time and again that my safety was her first concern. We crept our way around obstacle courses, picked up stairs and navigated through busy shopping centers. I was humiliated by her ability. How did I ever think a white stick was better than this amazing, intelligent and kind creature that had allowed me into her life? By the end of the course, Kika and I were a team. When Becca told me I could take my guide dog home, I couldn’t stop grinning.
It was September 2015. In the two previous years I had felt more miserable than I ever thought possible. Now I felt the happiest man on earth.
Since then, Kika has saved me countless times from disaster, and when she inexplicably stops and my command “Forward!” Refuses, I always know that there is a reason: a car parked on the sidewalk, perhaps, or a hole in the road. The only thing we can do is wait for the problem to be resolved, or hope that a friendly stranger will show us an alternative route.
In extreme situations I even called the police. With the help of her dedicated trainers (and a large amount of mackerel pie strategically placed on street lamps and crossings to lure her along), Kika quickly learned all my regular routes – from our flat to the shops, to the park, to the station – en route avoid hazards. It is not only lifeless obstacles to which she gives a broad berth. She crosses the street to get us away from everyone she doesn’t love.
The growing self-confidence of the A&E doctor, helped by the addition of Kika (photo, file image of a guide dog) to the family, has led to his plans to start a family being postponed. Their son Abhi was born in the fall of 2016, with Kika there in the hospital ward. The first opportunity she got, she came to the baby and gave him a good snuff. From that first minute, she was his dedicated protector and friend
People often ask me how Kika knows where we are going when we leave every day. The answer is that she doesn’t. I will let her know our destiny, but I will always guide her. It is up to me to know where we are and where we are going. When we reach a crossroads and I tell her otherwise, she continues on the route she is most familiar with.
The more routes we travel together, the stronger our bond and the more certain it is where it should go.
Our trains usually depart from the same platforms, but if there are changes, I ask Kika to find an employee for me. This is easy for her because she recognizes them by their striking coats – although she has occasionally introduced me to groups of startled contractors.
Sometimes we have to ask for help with navigation. You will be surprised at the number of people squatting to show Kika the way. “It’s the second on the left after the mailbox …”
I know she’s great, but she’s not that great!
In the aftermath of my sudden loss of face, Seema and I had put our plans to start a family on hold. But with my increasing independence, we finally decided that we were ready for parenthood.
Our son Abhi was born in the fall of 2016, with Kika there in the hospital ward. The first opportunity she got, she came to the baby and gave him a good snuff. From that first minute, she was his dedicated protector and friend. Then, in June, our daughter Anoushka was born – another member of the family for the tireless Kika to add to her offspring.
I have always wanted to be a hands-on father, and thanks to Kika I can. With her help I can even be sure to take a buggy myself. She knew that the first time we tried to slow her pace so that I could maneuver safely, and Seema tells me that my great dog takes it upon himself to keep checking and checking if the buggy is still there, and all that is good.
That trust has spread to other parts of my life. I had the opportunity to participate in the Top Gear of TV, and with the help of a professional driver on the passenger seat, I set the fifth fastest time in the Star In A Reasonably Fast Car segment.
I want my family to be proud of me despite everything that happened. Like my hero, the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking, I could still live my dream life. However, it is not all about ambitions. What I cherish the most is the normality that Kika has given me.
Thanks to an extraordinary dog I can lead a wonderfully normal life. I can be a father, a husband, a colleague, a friend and a neighbor. With the help of Kika I do something else. But we do it together. And that’s what it’s all about.
© Amit Patel, 2020
- Kika & Me, by Dr. Amit Patel, will be published by Macmillan on February 20 for £ 16.99. If you want to pre-order your copy for £ 13.59 (20 percent off), go to mailshop.co.uk or call 01603 648155 by March 31. Free shipping for all orders – no minimum order.
What kind of idiot touches a guide dog?
Who would mistreat a guide dog? If you think the answer is nobody, then you are mistaken. After accepting in 2016 that my medical career had ended, I became a full-time campaigner and advocate for people with disabilities.
It is fantastic to channel the energy I put into becoming a doctor in such a valuable effort, and wherever I go, Kika also comes.
Our journeys are usually hassle-free. But we have had more than our fair share of unpleasant encounters. Once Kika stopped in the middle of a London subway station and sat down at my feet, blocked my way and refused to move. “Kika?” I said. “Up.” But nothing. As I thought about what to do, a woman ran to me and revealed that she had just seen someone with an umbrella sweep at my dog.
“Was it an accident?” I asked.
‘No. They did it on purpose, “the woman said. I heard she was almost as shocked and angry as I was. I squatted down to reassure Kika. I didn’t feel any injury, but she was clearly shocked.
That was the day my wife Seema and I decided to place a camera in Kika’s armor. We could then film what happened on our regular commute, and Seema could view the footage later. Only two days later Seema saw that a smartly dressed woman had taken Kika out with her handbag.
There have been many similar incidents. The camera has recorded people diving for us to get seats on trains and buses.
I decided to go outside with one of these videos in 2018. I hated the idea that guide dogs were struggling just because they helped people lead a better life, and I wanted to spread the message.
I chose a clip of an aggressive encounter with an angry commuter on an underground escalator who had asked me to move Kika because she was blocking his path and he was in a hurry. Even when I apologized and told him and other passengers that she was a guide dog, he kept calling me names. “You hold everyone here,” he said.
I placed the video on the Twitter feed that I ran for Kika with a caption: “If you see a guide dog on an escalator, wait patiently behind you.”
Within a few hours, the clip became viral, followed by news coverage in mainstream media worldwide.
That said, the majority of people are brilliant. Thank you to everyone who helps me when I travel around.