Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I Surrender

Liften in de woestijn
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” - Douglas Adams

I've reached (achieved?) several major milestones in my disease progression, such as:
  • diagnosis
  • informing my loved ones
  • starting and stopping various treatments
  • using a mobility aid (cane) in public for the first time
  • installing hand controls for driving
  • buying my first wheelchair (iBot)
  • leaving the workforce
  • qualifying for disability benefits
and now…
  • surrendering my driver’s license
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I saw this coming from a mile away. I’ve predicted several times that my left hand weakness would soon prevent me from operating my hand controls. But in the end, it wasn't only my left hand. It was the convergence of three separate impairments that did me in.

First, as expected, my withering left hand was having difficulty operating the brake and gas lever of my hand controls. I was increasingly compensating for my weakness in a couple of ways. I would habitually overuse the cruise control function, so as to rest my left arm more often. Also, I would routinely place the vehicle in park when I was waiting at a red light, again, to rest my left arm. I had learned to ignore the protesting horn toots I heard if I was too slow getting off the starting line on green lights.

Second, I needed to be able to transfer from my wheelchair to the driver’s seat. I am aware that some disabled drivers operate their vehicles directly from their wheelchairs, but I didn't want to do that. In February of this year it was becoming nearly impossible for me to transfer from my wheelchair to the standard driver’s seat, so I invested part of my tax refund in a power adjustable driver's seat, which made the transfer easier. In the last couple of months, though, my transfers were becoming problematic again, even with the power adjustable seat. This expensive adaptation only bought me eight additional months of driving.

The third challenge was one that I had not mentioned here before, and that I wasn't even aware of until the last month or so. I used my right hand and arm to operate the steering wheel, by gripping something fondly referred to as a suicide knob. Of late, however, it had become increasingly difficult for me to make 90° turns as required at intersections, because of weakness in my right arm and hand. On my last couple of drives I even found myself briefly letting go of the gas lever with my left hand to assist my right hand in turning the steering wheel at intersections. This caused me to unexpectedly decelerate when negotiating certain right and left hand turns – sometimes at busy intersections. It would only have been a matter of time before somebody rear-ended me.

I'm aware that there are more extraordinary driving accommodations that I could still employ. For example, I know that I could drive using a joystick-like device. If my disability was stable- if I wasn't constantly getting worse- then incorporating these adaptations might make sense. But enough is enough. It's time to let it go.

So it was the confluence of these three factors that led me to the decision that I'd been dreading for months, maybe even years. However, because of changes that we've made in our lifestyle, most notably because of relocating to a very walkable neighborhood, this loss may not be as bad as I had once feared. The experience might be less than traumatic.

Why am I not more distraught? Have I compensated that well or am I simply becoming proficient at coping with loss? Probably a little of both.

This long anticipated day is finally behind me, and I didn't injure or kill anyone in the process. I didn't even have a fender-bender the entire 6½ years that I drove with my hands. I'm comfortable that I gave up driving neither prematurely nor belatedly. (Even if I did, would I admit it?)

There are several public transportation options available to me from my new house. I'm going to start trying them out. Rest assured that I'll report back here regarding the experience.

So how do I feel about this loss? I’m experiencing several emotions, but chief among them is simply relief.

There. Done. Moving on.
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  1. Will your insurance rates change? We inquired about taking me off of our insurance since I no longer drive. The cost with my husband as the only driver was higher than our current cost with both of us listed.

  2. I'm still on the car insurance, even though I no longer drive, it's cheaper then dropping me.
    About a year ago, I stopped driving it wasn't too hard. Because I feel the roads are much safer without me.

  3. I could have killed many people the last day I drove. That was all I needed to toss away my keys. Glad you have moved on.

  4. Mary Ellen and Mary K,

    I checked with my insurance company and there will be no change in rates. On Monday a friend of mine is taking me to the DMV so I can turn in my license and get a state ID instead. I needed to go there anyway, even if I had kept my license, in order to change my address.


    I may be fooling myself, but I never felt hugely dangerous on the road, even at the end. It was just time.


  5. You point down a road and show me how to travel it--I can't tell you what that means to me. If you can do it, I can do it and hopefully with as much humanity and grace as you!

  6. Hey Mitch, sorry to hear of this further whittling away of yet another thing that was once taken so much for granted. Your stoicism in the face of it all is admirable, a credit to you and your stiff upper lip Yankee upbringing. You're a strong SOB who exhibits remarkable grace in the face of mounting obstacles. Here in New York we'd call you a real mensch…

  7. Kim's a better driver anyways I'm sure :-) Jen

  8. brave man.. i bow to you and the where-with-all this step takes.