Anyone who’s visited a big city will know that getting around during rush hour can be arduous. Now imagine what it must be like for Londoner Amit Patel, who is blind. Thankfully, he has his trusty guide dog Kika to help him navigate the tube system. But still, it’s not easy. So, to share his experience with others, he strapped a GoPro camera to Kika, and the result was shocking.
Amit Patel is a 37-year-old father-of-one from London. After training as a doctor, he married his wife Seema in 2012, and the couple welcomed their first child in 2016. Frustratingly, Patel lost his sight just 18 months into their marriage.
Before he became blind, though, Patel worked as an Accident and Emergency locum doctor. This meant that he often stood in for other doctors when they were ill or the team was short on staff. During his time as a doctor, then, Patel undoubtedly helped to save people’s lives in hospitals all over London.
But it was Patel’s former roommate and current optician who diagnosed his loss of vision. In fact, Patel’s sight deteriorated rapidly from a condition called keratoconus. That’s when a decrease of protective antioxidants causes the cornea to change shape.
As a result, Patel went through eight cornea transplants to try to correct his blurry vision. Indeed, he had six transplants in his native Britain and two in America. But each time his vision would only improve temporarily.
So, in November 2014, Kika came into Patel’s life. Yes, the yellow Labrador trained with her new owner for four months and quickly became part of the family. Then, when Kika moved in, the Patels moved to the dog-friendly suburb of New Eltham in southeast London.
Today, Kika helps Patel to navigate his way around London. According to the family, it’s a case of “the blonde leading the blind.” In Patel’s own words, “She’s there for me and looks after me, sometimes it’s a bit of give and take.”
As well as helping Patel to find his way around, Kika has also given Patel and his wife more confidence. Indeed, Kika has played a part in strengthening their relationship. Patel said, “We would never have thought about having a family two years ago.”
What’s more, Patel also uses Kika to record footage of how difficult it is for the pup to get her owner around the city. His wife Seema then checks the film of their day when Patel comes home and posts pictures and videos on Kika’s Twitter. Sometimes, the footage can be quite upsetting.
For instance, in the United Kingdom, only about five percent of guide dogs are trained to use escalators. But London commuters are more angry than impressed with Kika’s skills. “Kika always sits to my left hand side so we often block the escalator and people will hit her with bags and umbrellas to get her to move out of the way,” Patel told itv.com.
Frighteningly, there have even been some dangerous near misses. For example, one woman attempted to climb over Kika while Patel and his baby were on the escalator. “If she had tripped, we would have all gone down. I don’t ever want my child to see someone bullying a dog, or pushing a blind person,” Patel said.
Not surprisingly, these events frighten Kika and make it hard for her to do her job. Patel explained, “I can feel how upset she gets and when I get upset she senses it as well and she won’t go on the escalators for a few days.”
As well as being abused by fellow passengers, Patel also has to deal with staff ignoring him. Indeed, one of Kika’s videos showed workers and commuters ignoring Patel outside a closed tube station until he called out for help.
But that’s not all. Often taxi drivers fail to stop for him, resulting in Patel having a few near-collisions on London’s busy roads. Luckily, Kika is there to save the day. When a car drove through a red light at a crossing, for instance, she jumped in front of Patel to save him.
And despite being blind and traveling with an infant, Patel isn’t always offered a place to sit on the train. Even when he asks Kika to find him a seat, people don’t get up. Once, his wife reviewed the GoPro footage and saw someone keeping her shopping bag on an empty seat.
However, Patel has found his own way around this. His trick? “Sometimes the only way I get a seat is to scratch Kika behind the ears so she shakes a little – no one likes a wet dog.” Still, he laments that this makes life more difficult than it needs to be.
After all, it might be irritating for commuters to have to navigate past Kika, but commuting blind is no fun either. Patel said, “Losing my sight is very lonely. If I’m traveling by public transport I’m sometimes like a scared little boy sat in the corner.”
As well as emotionally distressing, Patel’s form of blindness is physically painful too. “People assume that if you lose your sight that’s it, there’s no pain, but it’s excruciating,” he explained. “It feels like someone is rubbing chili in my eyes.”
Although he can no longer work as a doctor, Patel volunteers with numerous blind charities, including Guide Dogs for the Blind, Action for Blind People and RNIB. So, people of London: be more polite. After all, you may be seeing lots more of Patel and Kika on your commute.