David and Scooby
David was in his mid-40s, working in Spain as a graphic designer when he first noticed that his vision was gradually deteriorating. While working on projects demanding close attention to detail, David began to make mistakes. As well as coping with sight loss and a diabetes diagnosis, David was also experiencing hallucinations, which made him doubt his own sanity.
“When I was driving, I’d see piles of cardboard boxes in the middle of the road, so I’d swerve suddenly. Or often I’d see rodents or insects walking in a straight line. They were so real, and the only way I’d know they weren’t really there was if the mice would be marching in mid-air. But because I thought I was going mad I didn’t tell anyone. I wasn’t comfortable talking about it – so I didn’t.” he explains.
David eventually had to give up his job due to his sight loss, before returning home to the UK with his wife Donna and their two daughters.
It was only when he attended an RNIB course, ‘Living With Sight Loss’, that he finally understood that he was not alone. He learnt that many people with sight loss can experience hallucinations, which was a symptom of Charles Bonnet syndrome.
Before David lost his sight, he was outgoing and enjoyed going to rugby matches and riding his motorbike. He also took part in Medieval re-enactments and making archery displays for English Heritage. But losing his sight was extremely difficult for David and he became withdrawn from his friends and was quite depressed. “All I focused on was what I was losing. I was miserable,” he says.
David had also stopped attending synagogue each Saturday. As an observant Jew, David had always taken part in his local synagogue, sitting in the front row of the congregation, and enjoying the social as well as the religious aspects. But David’s unhappiness about his sight loss had put a stop to that.
"I felt like a fraud. Because I could no longer see to read the Hebrew in my prayer book, I couldn’t follow the service any longer. My Jewish faith is very important to me, but I almost felt as if I was just standing in the synagogue imitating people. So I stopped going," says David.
It was David's father's death that brought David back to the synagogue. David wanted to go to the morning service to recite the traditional mourner’s prayer. He called his rabbi to explain his predicament, who then made a recording of the prayers so that David could learn it by heart.
“My rabbi convinced me to come back to the synagogue, and the first time I went along the whole congregation were very welcoming. Soon after, Scooby, my guide dog, arrived and I was worried yet again. I didn’t know if people would be happy to see a dog inside the synagogue. Together, we visited my rabbi and Scooby was so well behaved the rabbi immediately said 'yes! of course, he could come along.'" explains David.
“I was nervous about bringing Scooby to synagogue for the first time. But my Jewish identity is very important to me and being among my fellow Jewish people fills my heart with joy. I didn’t want to keep missing out on something I loved.”
David recalls his first visit to the synagogue: “We sat right at the back in a corner. Scooby was perfectly behaved. Lots of people came over to welcome me back and say hello to Scooby. The next week we returned, but this time I sat in my usual place in the front row. Scooby was perfect. Now we go each week, and everybody loves him. As they come into the synagogue, they greet me and they greet him; ‘Shabbat shalom David, Shabbat shalom Scooby!’”
Want to help someone with sight loss? Help is always welcome at Guide Dogs in many forms.