I got out of the taxi and approached the door to my physician’s office. Queasiness set in as I rehearsed what I was about to confess. Reluctantly, I opened the door and checked in at the front desk.
“Patty, you’re next,” the nurse shouted as she came into the waiting room. I hesitantly followed the nurse down the hallway to the examining room.
I sat nervously behind a closed door as I waited for my doctor. I was too fidgety to read the magazines that were strewn across a small table next to me. I spent most of the time squirming in the chair looking mindlessly around the room. Then, I heard the familiar tap on the door as my doctor turned the knob.
“Good to see you,” he said as he shook my hand. My anxiety surged because this visit would dramatically change my life. I swallowed nervously a few times, clenched my fists, and blurted out, “I can’t drive anymore because my feet are so bad.” There, I said it; the truth was out.
“Not to worry,” the doctor compassionately exclaimed. “We’ll get you trained to drive with hand-controls.”
I passed my training sessions for hand controls and managed to drive small distances. As time went on, though, the effects of prior nerve injury in my feet became worse. My feet felt as if someone had sewn them up inside; they pulled and tugged and were difficult to flex. Periodically, I had to pull off the road due to distractions from my feet.
My last drive was to my favorite health food store. Within a block from home, I had a sudden onslaught of horrific foot cramps. Panicking, I pulled off the road and sat for nearly twenty minutes, until the sensations in my feet became tolerable. With no cars in sight, I drove home, inch by inch, and managed to drive my car into my driveway.
I stormed into my house and threw the car keys across the room onto the kitchen table. “That’s it,” I shouted out. “I surrender before I hurt myself or others.”
A future without my being able to drive looked bleak. Questions spun around in my mind. How would I get to doctors, the grocery store, or family and friends? Will my friends desert me fearing I’ll be dependent upon them for a ride? How will my husband manage to do the errands I ran during the week? How will I help my mother in her declining years? I laid my head on the table in utter despair, but still too numb to cry.
When my husband came home from work, I matter-of-factly stated the grim news. It was no surprise because we both saw it coming over the years. On some level, though, we were in denial about this life-altering event. We didn’t talk further about it that night.
I awoke the next morning realizing that the events of the prior day had not been a dream. My husband had already left for work. I ran to the kitchen window and stared out at my little car. Tears streamed down my face. I found freedom through that car. It had been a good friend over the years and taken me many places. I loved listening to my favorite songs in my car and riding with the sunroof down on a gorgeous summer’s day. Fond memories whipped through my mind. I was devastated.
Gradually, my intellect took over, and I lifted my head from the pool of tears. I needed a game plan; a new plan for getting around. I was not aware of support groups for those who can’t drive, so I initiated my own plan.
I called local services to find out what transportation services might be available. Eventually, I was approved to use special dial-a-ride services for people with designated walking impairments. Their van picks me up at my house to take me to appointments.
Some people have told me they envy the door-to-door service that I receive. Riding dial-a-ride vans is not glorious. The shock absorbers on many vans are very bad resulting in some rides feeling like an over-anxious whip ride at an amusement park. Although the dial-a-ride services are appreciated, waiting for a ride is a test to one’s patience. Sometimes, drivers arrived at my house too early that resulted in my arriving at the doctors’ offices forty-five minutes prior to my scheduled appointment time. On some return trips, drivers could not locate the facility I was at, or they obliviously drove past me even though I waved to signal for their attention. Once, I used an office’s bathroom, rushed back outside for the dial-a-ride, and saw it exiting the parking lot without me.
When traveling to appointments, I have to hand-carry everything I need for the ride. I carry a small blanket to sit on in the van. The blanket fills in the dip of the old sunken seats that wreak havoc on my back. I also need my footrest, a magazine to kill time, and food and water lest I am stranded by my driver. Occasionally, I’ll bring my toothbrush and mouthwash if I’ll be gone for most of the day. Sometimes, when I get out of an appointment early, I’ll aimlessly wander around as I wait for the van. Occasionally, someone asks me if I’m homeless; others inquisitively stare at me. This is probably because I carry my blanket outside of my tote bag. I can’t fit the blanket into the tote that is already overflowing with other belongings.
What I didn’t foresee was that some people would not understand why I can’t drive. An acquaintance got angry with me and told me that her friend without legs can drive and that I should be able to. Others have said it makes no sense that I can’t use hand controls since it’s my feet that are affected. These criticisms are the hardest burdens I bear.
Another obstacle is how dependent I’ve become on others for their time. My husband is great about driving me for errands, but he has only a limited amount of time to spare. Whether I am buying gifts or shopping for clothes, my volunteer drivers must allot me a specific amount of time to run errands. This is a far cry from the leisurely pace I could afford when I drove.
On the plus side, I’ve had heart-warming talks with drivers and passengers during my dial-a-rides. I’ve also gained a deep appreciation for what I am able to do because I’ve observed others with more challenging physical problems than I, get on and off the vans. Not driving has taught me the value of being flexible. Whether it’s my rides not showing up, or the vans breaking down, I’ve learned to accept these situations.
Cabs have been an occasional resource for me, but they sometimes arrive late or never show up. Perhaps someday, self-driving cars will be my outlet, but I’ve heard that I’ll still need to take over the wheel sometimes. Better yet, maybe I’ll don a pair of nifty high-tech wings and fly through the sky even more gloriously than an eagle.
Once in a while, I treat myself to a limo ride to run errands. The driver and I get a kick out of onlookers when he drops me off at the library. As the limo pulls up, a small crowd usually forms in anticipation of a famous person stepping out. The look of surprise on their faces is worth a lifetime of laughs when little ‘ole me hops out wearing my faded jeans.
Not driving is a tremendous loss, but sometimes I forget my worries when I’m ridin’ in the limo like a queen.