“And no driving.”
I knew the doctor was going to tell Dad this. I had arranged with him ahead of time for it to happen, knowing that Dad would be more likely to trust his cardiologist than his daughter on this. It still hit hard.
It was the right thing to do. Dad, then 80, had totaled two cars in three years, fortunately without injuring anyone else, and his heart was tricky, causing him to nod off without warning. But it was the start of an avalanche. Because he couldn’t drive, Dad had to sell his home of 35 years, move into a retirement community in a new city, accept new limits on his independence – and accept his child as a caregiver.
He didn’t go down without a fight. After he moved and recovered from pacemaker surgery, he spent more than a year trying to get his license back. After the second time he flunked the driving test, the inspector called me in and advised me not to bring him back.
I get it, both sides of it. I get why it was a bad idea for him to drive. And as a person with a disability, I get how important driving is, both practically and symbolically.
Behind the wheel of the car, I’m not disabled – I have the same abilities and responsibilities as anyone else on the road. The bagel-shop worker who serves me at the drive-through doesn’t need to know what a struggle it would be for me to go into the shop and order at the counter. It’s equalizing and empowering, in a world where many normal activities leave me feeling conspicuous and incapable.
The car is also a means to help others, in a phase of my life where I too am learning to accept help more often. (Dad is not the only stubborn independent one in the family.) I feel good about being able to drive one friend to the doctor, lend a car to another when hers breaks down, and be there to take my dad where he needs to go.
I’m following with interest the technological innovations that are going on around wheelchairs and driving. One of these days I may well end up in a wheelchair, and right now if I wanted to drive from a chair, I’d need to buy a converted van or SUV – not great for city driving, fuel efficiency or cost.
What are your experiences with driving and disability?