A stupid joke asks, “What time is it when the elephant sits on the fence?” The answer is, “Time to get a new fence.” It may seem that the time for someone who is defined as having a “neurological condition” to stop driving is immediately. Unfortunately, taking away someone’s license to drive is more complicated than fixing a clearly broken fence. Often the person’s driving seems safe. They are not visibly weaving all over the road, trying to see above the steering wheel while sitting on six pillows, going 20 mph in a 40 mph zone. They may get to and from the grocery store and other familiar places that are close to home. They drive on the correct side of the highway. Who says one’s ability to drive is impaired?
The process began with my mom’s evaluation at the UPMC Alzheimer’s Center. Once determined as suffering from AD, a notification was sent to the state that she was a potentially impaired driver. The state then sent a letter stating their understanding of her condition and asking her to submit to a physical and a driving test. A physician’s recommendation that a patient should no longer drive lights a fire under the state’s arse and speeds up their issuing of an Official Recall of Driving Privileges.
My mom’s official notice of recall has been received. There is an appeal process but it will not happen. She still has plenty of fight in her but she has none of her previous ability to make things happen. Initiative has evaporated. It is just another sad thing to watch. She should not be driving and we all know it but as she quipped the other day after returning home from running errands for what would probably be the last time, “Well, I didn’t kill anyone.” No, not yet anyway. There is the answer: the time to take away someone’s driver’s license who has a neurological condition is before they have killed someone, including themselves.
The fact that her doctor notified her that he was recommending that she no longer drive and that the Alzheimer’s Center notified the state that her driving was potentially impaired did nothing to take the blame off of the family. Her husband was behind it all. My brother wants her car so that is why he did this. My sister-in-law can now rest at night knowing her children are safe. Of course, my nieces have probably been in the car once or twice in the last year with my mom at the wheel and she has never driven herself to their new home. She would be unable to navigate there whether or not she had ever driven there before or if someone printed out the directions for her.
At this time, my mom no longer driving will not change that much about her life as it has been of late. What it does change, however, is how it feels to be her. She has been driving for over 50 years and driving always means more than getting to yoga. It represents one’s ability to accomplish, escape, leave and potentially do all three all by oneself. With a driver’s license and keys to a car, one literally holds freedom in their hand. My mom is already trapped by her own brain in a cycle of confusion. This feels like another layer of the cell. To be aware of your confinement, literal and figurative, and be unable to drive away makes the walls feel all the closer.