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Driving Lessons

My husband survived a devastating stroke then after lived for sixteen years. During that time, he showed a determination that was rare. I’ve mentioned before that he learned to walk and talk all over again. Because of this determination, he managed to get a job as a Wal-Mart greeter, worked as a volunteer at a local school, and attended Rotary once a week. He was active, and I supported him one hundred percent, until, he decided he was going to renew his driver’s license.

In order to get a learner’s permit, he needed a signed document from his doctor, so he made an appointment. I felt confident that the doctor would not sign for it, so I did not accompany Buck to the doctor’s office. A simple “no” and refusal to sign the permit was all that was required. So, imagine my surprise, when he came back from the doctor with a signed permit that allowed him to renew his driving skills.

Buck was excited, and I was furious! We exchanged “words”.

He was on the phone right away making arrangements with the local driver education teacher to give him a refresher course. The teacher was very encouraging.

Buck was excited, and I was furious! We exchanged “words”.

Next came the call to the driver’s license bureau. I thought surely the office of Jesse White would not allow this to happen. But yes, they offer refresher courses.

Buck was excited, and I was furious! We exchanged “words”.

He was set. The driver’s education teacher came by the house, with his personal car. Off they went for what amounted to an hour of driving the back roads. He did very well. There would be several more trips, and then the big one to the driver’s license bureau. He passed! Of course, he did.

Buck was excited, and I was furious! We exchanged “words”.

Could this really be happening?? Did I mention that he used a walker and could not get in or out of the car without assistance? Not only that, we drove a van not a car?

My husband and I had a long marriage and a pretty good relationship most of the time, but this whole driving thing just about did us in.

Over the years I learned a few things about brain injury. The part of his brain that was affected was the front right lobe. This part of the brain controls, among other things, “reasoning”. So, trying to convince him that he was not going to drive on my watch…was nearly impossible.

I reminded him of the time he had to go to his mother and say, “time to hand over the keys to the car, mom”. She was pretty upset but he didn’t give in and she really, in her heart, knew it was time. I also reminded him of the many times there were fender benders with our teenaged kids. He was pretty mild mannered with them, calm and concerned.

That conversation between us didn’t fly. He was not gracious or calm or concerned and truth be known, neither was I. Still, I held my ground. I kept reminding myself that he couldn’t help his disappointment and anger, and even under normal circumstances, he would have been unhappy. We all know, in people’s minds, giving up the keys to the car amounts to giving up independence and freedom.

Some time passed, and finally with it, a turning point. It came as a regular trip to Iowa City for a check up with the neurologist. The exam was a pretty routine one, just the usual questions were asked, “How do you feel? Do you have any complaints?” I could see his wheels were turning, and because he was looking for confirmation from the doctor, he mentioned that there was only one complaint he had…I wasn’t allowing him to drive. I didn’t say a word, I just sat and kept quiet, I let them talk it out. Was this the proverbial red flag? I could only hope.

Two weeks passed, and a registered letter arrived from, my new best friend, Mr. Jesse White, Secretary of State. At last the voice of reason in no uncertain terms, “Mr. Sutliff was to return his drivers license to Mr. White’s office in Springfield immediately. No please, no thank you, no argument, return envelope was provided.

Now at last, I was excited, and he was furious!

Buck accused me of talking to the doctor. I told him I hadn’t spoken to the doctor and frankly I was equally surprised by the letter. That being said, I’m sure the neurologist notified the driver license bureau because he recognized the risk.

Buck swallowed his pride and put his treasured license in the envelope. I did not gloat, I really felt badly for him.

Not willing to go without getting in the last word, Buck wrote on the outside of the envelope, “Sent under duress!” with a big yellow sticker.

Most seniors do very well driving. But, if it is time to surrender the driver’s license, don’t try to blame somebody else. As we get older our reaction time isn’t what it used to be, or the eyesight is failing. Be gracious about it. We are fortunate to live in a community where we have transportation available so that we can get our errands run and shopping done. A good place to begin looking for information is the local senior center or with an agency such as In-Home Care Connection which has caregivers that can provide transportation and accompaniment to appointments.

“TOWANDA!!” when Kathy Bates wrecks her car. Fried green Tomatoes…Betty

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