The Blind Acupuncturist (Being Me: Ivan)

Many people think that life is sort of coming to an end at the age of 70. And it might have been the case years ago, but certainly not today. Being a blind acupuncturist, I’m used to changing perceptions. But also, being blind has taught me you can accept it as a challenge. Providing one has a good mental outlook, willing to give something a go, then the whole world opens up completely and life’s just great. Captions were made with the support of NZ On Air. (SMOOTH JAZZY MUSIC) My name is Ivan, Ivan Pivac. I’m 72 years old, and people say that I don’t look my age, but I don’t know because I’m blind. So what I have here is a handheld transceiver.

ZR1IA, ZR1IA listening on 1-Charlie. ZR1IA, bye. Ageing is a process that affects everyone differently. And the important factor is not to think of ageing as something that is going to make life worse. Hobbies are really, really important. Have a look at this radio tower that I have in the garden. It’s called a telescopic tilt-over tower. And if I want it to go higher, I’ve got a winch there; it tilts up higher and higher and higher until about 60ft. And there’s also a rotator that allows me to turn this antenna into any part of the world that I want to talk to. When you reach the stage that I’m at and take a very keen interest in what goes on in the world and you realise that we are all dependent on each other, that, as saying goes, you know, man is not an island. RADIO: This is MRVCN. – A very good evening to you there. The name is Ivan — Italy, Victor Abel, Nancy — and the QDH here is Auckland in North Island of New Zealand. – My name is Mark, and I’m located in Houston, Texas. – Amateur radio is really enriching, because fundamentally you’re communicating with people. So, you know, I’ve got to know a little bit more about the world. And, you know, if they’re interested, they’ll ask about me. People ask me, you know, ‘What do you see? How much sight do you have?’ You know.

I really don’t have any sight at all; no workable vision. And so there is just a sort of a pale, ghostly gleam, particularly when the sun’s out. But, you know, that’s really all. You’ve got touch and you’ve got smell. You’ve got perceptions about you which compensates for that lack of sight I’ll get the stick out. Yeah, OK. I was born in the small town of Matamata, in the heart of the Waikato. And it was a great childhood. As children, you could wander all over the town. The town’s small enough that on your pushbike you could be anywhere in 15 minutes, and in three or four minutes you can be out in the countryside looking in bushes for birds, or in streams looking for eels and so on. I lost my sight on two different occasions, one when I was about 6 or 7. I was jumping off a banister on the back veranda and hit my head. And as a result of that, over a matter of maybe two years it was noticeable that the sight was becoming worse. The second accident, I was about 12. I just got a hit in the eye with a tennis ball, just one of these freak accidents that happened. And in both cases, the loss of vision was really due to, um, detached retina. And that’s how I became blind. The way I processed losing sight as a child was very simple. So when I was in the hospital, the doctors and the nurses would always say, ‘Don’t remove the bandages.’ And so one night I decided to lift the bandage up from the eyes, and then I turned the overhead light on and looked up at it.

And the overhead light was really a yellowy reddy colour. It was a glow as if it was underwater. And I looked at that for most probably 30 seconds. And I thought, ‘Well, if that’s as good as it gets, then that’s what it is.’ I went to the Foundation for the Blind School in Parnell. I was exposed to activities at the foundation that I wouldn’t have been exposed to in Matamata. The first thing I had to learn was Braille. And I remember the headmaster on the first morning, he put this Braille book down on my lap and he rubbed my hand across it and he said, ‘Boy, that’s what you got to learn.’ (CHUCKLES) And it was just a blur of dots, but it stimulated a learning interest. Bit by bit, the world that I was looking out on began to change. With all these changes that were occurring, there was just this attitude that there’s so much out there; let’s go and explore it. This is my PC here, where I do most of my research. I operate the computer via speech. K-A-U-R. Kauri. COMPUTER: Kauri gum. Gum… Um,… O-I-L. COMPUTER: Oil. Whatever comes up on the screen, the software reads it out aloud to me. At the moment, my interest is in the history of the kauri gum industry of Northland. (CHUCKLES) Sounds very boring, but in fact, it’s a fascinating history— economic history of Northland. The end goal of the research is to write a concise history of those times. Also, the research led to another hobby of Toastmaster’s. I read somewhere that it’s all about public speaking. And I thought, ‘Yeah, I could do that OK.’ Because it’s only talking, and I’m interested in communication. And so I joined the local club. And as time went by, you know, you gain your first award, then the next award and next award. Ended up being an Advanced Gold Toastmaster. And that’s how I met Karen, present partner. OK, Karen. Now, what have we— What have we got out for preparation? – Um, now, let’s see. Um, got the tagine. We’ve been together for 14 years, and it’s been an amazing sort of a journey. The day that I first met Ivan, Ivan was giving a speech. And, yeah, it was a very, very interesting speech. Quite long. He sort of didn’t exactly answer the question, but he… he sort of elaborated somehow, you know, rather mystically. That’s how our friendship began. – A lot of things we’ll do together and yet separately. So, you’ve got your cardamom and your cumin powder out? The packets? ‘Gardening, for example, and cooking. ‘And so, you know, you do share experiences.’ – He’s got a delightful sense of humour. Quite… Quite dry and sort of wicked. (LAUGHS) – This is an induction cooktop. And I really like it because you can put your hand on it and you don’t get burnt. Right. We’ll put in about a quarter of a cup of water. So we need to get that ready, OK? – Do you want the tomatoes? – Um, no, if you could get some water ready now, please, that’d be great. – He’s pretty much the boss. But then again, you know, I have to step up. (LAUGHS) – Karen, I’m going to turn this down to three now, cos it’s bubbling nicely. I can tell when meat’s cooked by the texture when I’m tapping it with the wooden spoon. I can feel whether it’s hard or soft. And also by the smell of the meat when it’s cooking. Sometimes it can be a bit deceptive, particularly if it’s been marinated, because that sometimes hides a bit of the, you know, the smell from the meat, but it’s, yeah, it works out OK. Alexa, set curry timer for 40 minutes. COMPUTERISED VOICE: Curry timer, 40 minutes, starting now. – Alexa’s another device which I use very often for communicating and particularly for finding out information. So if I speak to somebody in another country on the ham radio, I can always ask her more information about that city or, you know, surrounding geography or history. And so it brings my experience with the ham that I’ve been talking to much more meaningful. Alexa, what is the distance from Houston, Texas to Auckland, New Zealand? ALEXA: Houston is 11,917km from Auckland city as the crow flies. – Right, OK. (CHUCKLES) – Here you go. – OK, ta. That’s great. OK, well, bon appetit. – Yeah. – We’ll see how… – Looks good. – Oh, well, that’s good, yeah. But anyway, tomorrow night, if you like, we can have tea in town, in the city. So… got a music practice, and then… and then it’ll save you having to cook and do things. – He’s done the most astonishing things. And I mean, in the past 14 years since I met him, it’s been an astonishing experience, you know. We’ve done loads of travel. – When you think about it, the big concert should be coming up. – Are people at school at the moment? (PHONE RINGS) – Shall I get it? – Yeah, OK. Hello. Ivan speaking. After leaving school, I decided that I’d go on to university and undertake a BA degree in psychology. By the time the degree finished, I thought to myself, ‘Hm, perhaps it would ‘be far better actually looking at physical problems that people had — backaches and so on.’ So I went to London and studied anatomy and physiology. In those days when you studied osteology, the bones were actually human skeletons. And very often, going back to the student accommodation, catch the underground train, there would be bones sticking out of my duffle bag. Of course, people in the carriage would see this, and you’d always had plenty of room around you. It was never a problem, no matter how well packed the train was. Following, really, four years in London, I ended up in Hong Kong because acupuncture was just beginning to be noticed in the West. The attitudes of people there are different to New Zealand. So on the Monday morning, when I arrived at the college, they said, ‘Oh yes, sir, can we help you?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes, I’m so-and-so from New Zealand and ready to start the acupuncture course.’ And there was dead silence. And they thought, ‘Well, hang on, what’s going on here?’ And I could see straight away that that they didn’t really take it in that I was actually blind. I came back to New Zealand and opened my own clinic. Hello, Tony. – Are you ready for me, are you? – I am. Come along through. – All right. – Traditionally, in a country like Japan, acupuncture was a traditional occupation for blind people. So you can imagine, then, coming back to New Zealand, opening a clinic and being one of four acupuncturists in New Zealand at that time. All right. Well, let’s have a look here. See if that’s causing you any trouble. Most probably will be a bit tender. How’s that there? Is that a bit tender there? – Just a little bit, yeah. – ‘One of the perceived difficulties is that, you know, “How can a blind person do acupuncture?” I’ll put some needles in. I’ll use four needles on you, OK? Not too many. ‘Obviously, I have better touch than other acupuncturists, who have sight. I’m going to do one now below the knee, because this ligament runs sort of from above the knee, across the bone and down here. So to give that knee some support for you. – Through my operation, and all these doctors at the end of my bed. And they said, ‘Well, we’ve done what we can for you.’ So it’s more or less you’re on the bike. And then I turned up at Ivan’s place here, and I never realised that he was blind. And I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, what have I done? ‘A blind man with a handful of needles.’ (CHUCKLES) And, yeah, I was quite pleasantly surprised. He does a marvellous job. He’s got eyes on the end of his fingers, I’m sure. And I think somehow we established almost, like, a psychic link between us without realising it. – A little tingle on the inside of the knee. So just let me know when you feel. It should be nice and pleasant and no pain whatsoever, OK? So it’ll be one just below the knee, and it’ll be the outside needle that’s on the outer side of the knee. – I can feel that now. – From all the people, 100,000 or so that have come to me for treatment, I’ve always learnt some little point from them. – I couldn’t live without my music. It’s in my head every day, new tunes, new way of doing them, arranging the different sounds. And, no, it’s marvellous. – I remember listening to a retired professor of gerontology that the people who were doing well in later life were those that were mentally stimulated and physically active. – The old professor says that — ‘Boy, if you ain’t learnin’, you’re dyin’.’ (CHUCKLES) – Yeah. Oh, that’s good. Right, Tony, I’m going to take the needles out. And once I’ve done that, we’ll go and spend a little bit of time exploring some music. ‘When I came back and set my clinic up, I decided to go back to university extramurally. ‘And I studied a degree in business. ‘I did that over eight years, and that really was tough going when ‘you’re also working 75 hours a week, but eventually completed it. ‘And in fact, two years ago, I was awarded a Massey University’ Distinguished Alumni award. Right. Right, Tony. Here we are. – Wow. – Yeah. – Great guitar. – OK. All right. – (PLAYS ROMANTIC TUNE) – Family wise, that part of your life is also extremely important. The lady I married, Cheryl, actually already had two sons. Luckily, they weren’t rugby or cricket fanatics, because I would have found a bit difficult standing on the sideline. But everything else was absolutely fine. For them, too, I think having a blind father wasn’t anything out of the normal because I did everything else around the house. Cheryl, she was a beauty therapist and she had lots of clients. It was really a very, very hectic household. You’re working long hours. In a week, you could have 200 people coming through. I go to bed half past 11, but then I’d be up half past 12 and then I’d come downstairs and I’d be doing my study till 4 o’clock in the morning. And another day would start. It takes a lot of fortitude to look after house and family and everything else. So after 20 years working very long hours, we just burnt out. (SMOOTH JAZZY MUSIC) Right, Karen, what do you think we need to do around here? This is the right time to prune a little bit — tidy up, perhaps, the camellias here. Or the limes and lemons. – Got one lime here. That’s growing over the pathway. – Any form of gardening is amazing because it takes you away from your everyday activities because you’re concentrating on a plant. And I can be outside gardening six, eight hours on a lovely Saturday, or in the summer, I can still be outside gardening at 2 o’clock in the morning. I don’t need the light. Everything’s all very, very quiet and I don’t disturb anybody. So, um, you can see it’s really, really dense. ‘I know how to garden because everything’s done by touch. ‘And when it comes to pruning, well, that’s very tactile. In the wind, those two branches would rub together. ‘I have to imagine what the tree is and think in my mind, “How would I prune it to shape it up nicely?” Looking back on it, I think 12 was actually a good age to lose one’s sight. I have a lot of wonderful visual memories. I can still describe things exactly as if I had actually seen them yesterday. I remember very clearly looking at the colours of hollyhocks or carnations or pansies. So today, if I’m wanting to develop memory, it’s through other senses — smell, or the pattern of leaves on a branch, or perhaps the flowers that are on that branch. So vision isn’t important; not for me. So, yes, I have a razor… sense, a sharpness about me. I was attracted to judo in my teenage years, really for self-protection, I suppose, because for a blind person, you know, you can’t run. The first strategy is to talk, you know, ‘What’s the problem?’, see if you can sort something out. If that can’t happen, the next step is you might have to defend yourself physically. Judo is all about keeping people off balance, and it doesn’t really matter how small you are, how light you are. And it’s that element of surprise. If somebody comes up behind you and grabs you by the shoulders, then the thing you would do is bend like that, throw ’em like that, see? As a blind person, I really had the advantage that my sense of balance is excellent. And the second thing is I knew exactly where people were in relation to my body. – (THUD!) – Oh. So perhaps I should do that again. OK. Yeah. Now, so, I get my iPhone out. I’ll spend an hour and a half at breakfast and before starting work, listen to some podcasts. – Electric vehicles. OK. – (PODCAST PLAYS OVER HEADPHONES) Yeah. That’s very good, but I’ll just have a look what other podcasts have come through. One I’m going to have a look at is a BBC science programme called Discovery. This is a podcast on Jane Goodall, who was an anthropologist studying the apes in Africa. This is an iPhone, but equally you can do it with an Android phone. There’s speech in it, and for a blind person, you just activate the VoiceOver, which is Apple’s speech programme. And whatever’s on the screen is spoken out aloud. PODCAST: The basic narrative of Jane Goodall’s life is instantly recognisable from… – Modern communication as it is today makes life a lot easier. But back 35 years ago, there was basically very little. And so in 1987, I established my importing business to bring in microprocessor devices that could have speech output. The principal reason behind that was lots of conditions that really weren’t fixable, like somebody’s just had a stroke or somebody has cerebral palsy, and you lost the power to speech. There was a lot of independence that could be given to people just to communicate. Another product was a voice amplifier. If you have Parkinson’s disease, one of the symptoms is that the loudness of your voice decreases. So we came out with the first voice amplifier that had a throat microphone, and we began to export those two. There was a period of time when I didn’t actually have a holiday for 17 years. (JAUNTY PIANO MUSIC) Companionship right throughout life is really important. And one of the aspects which scientists have discovered is men who live alone actually don’t live as long a life as men who are married or in a partnership with someone else. The guest speaker tomorrow is the chap who was telling you all about the capacitors. – Oh, down at the radio club? – Yeah, he’s gonna be talking tomorrow. – I, sort of, work hard to try to support his interests, because it’s a bit like these mothers with gifted children — how they have to work harder to try to keep them stimulated and that. You generally prefer pasta, don’t you? – Uh, pasta, mm. – Well, he might’ve toned it down a little bit in the time I’ve known him, but he has got plenty of energy. Mainly mental energy, yeah. Just have to keep the body working well, you know. Oh wow, thanks very much. – A lot of these stimuli that I take out of the environment, like touch and smell and just the ambience of where I am, I suppose that also translates to people. – (PEOPLE CHATTER) – A little bit of ambience here. What’s the decor in here, then? – Well, like foliage. – For me, obviously, those visual cues aren’t there. So the first contact I would have with someone is when they approach me and say, ‘Oh, hello, my name is Mary’ or, ‘My name is Jack.’ – Careful of that very nice shirt that you’re wearing. – Yes. Yes. No, I’m going to be very aware of that. And so from that very first opening, I start developing an impression of this person. So I’m not confused whether they are attractive, whether they’re beautifully dressed. My curiosity would be aroused through their personality. – Lovely to get out at the end of the week. – Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. (JAUNTY STRING MUSIC) Culture’s always important. There have been many peoples arriving in New Zealand from Dalmatia, and those people have brought with them their cultures, food and music. – 56. 5-6. 1-7. – We’re at the Dalmatian Club this afternoon playing bingo. I’m a descendant of Dalmatian parents born here in New Zealand, so I never grew up in the culture itself. And so by coming to the club, I’ve been able to pick up on some of the culture, and that gives me a sense of where my roots lie. And one of the nice points about the Dalmatian Club, you know, it’s cultural and you’re meeting people and having a chat. – 6-9, 69. – Oh, I think I might have filled the card. Wait a moment. It could be wrong. I could be wrong. (TRADITIONAL MUSIC PLAYS) – The Dalmatian Club have an orchestra called the Tamburica. I enjoy attending practice sessions because we have a wide range of musicians there, some learning, some advanced, but we’re all there to enjoy music. When I was at the Foundation for the Blind at Parnell, at the school, there was a brass band, and so in order to learn the tunes, you know, we did learn Braille music. A little bit more difficult reading Braille music and playing at the same time. So today I don’t use Braille music at all. So when I’m playing as a group, I just know all the tunes and just pick it up and away you go. (MAN SINGS, BAND PLAYS) (MUSIC FLOURISHES, ENDS) (GUITAR MUSIC) – Hm, pretty. – Mm. – Careful here. – A nice little bridge. Yeah. The creek must mirander. – Meander. – Meander, not mirander. (CHUCKLES) ‘Life in general is really an exciting journey. ‘Perhaps the most important aspect of ageing is, really, always continuing to learn. ‘I think one needs to be able to look back and think about and say, ‘”Well, you know, all the things I wanted to do in life, I’ve been able to do.”‘ All the interests that I wanted to pursue, I was able to do that. For me, when I look back and I think, ‘Yeah, I’ve achieved ‘and I’ve done, up till now, all the things that I’ve wanted to do.’ – Take it a bit slow round here cos it’s a bit slippery. But hopefully in the future there’s going to be new aspects and new interest that’s going to open up. And so those I’ll take on as a challenge, just as I have all the others in the past. Captions were made with the support of NZ On Air. www.able.co.nz Copyright Able 2020

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