The Day I Gave Up Driving

November 30, 2017 | Leave a Comment

by Kathy Austin, CVA

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Kathy seated in her 1966 red Pontiac LeMans parked on Daytona Beach.

Kathy’s first car, a 1966 Pontiac LeMans, sits on the sand at Daytona Beach on a spring break trip in 1976.

It was not a conscious decision. More like a weak moment.

It was a dark and cloudy day, but warm for the first week of December. My husband and I were moving into our new house with friends and family helping out. Our big yellow lab, Beauregard, was at the vet being boarded for the day to keep him out of the way.  As we were wrapping things up, I knew I had to get the dog from the vet before they closed. My girlfriend Liz, who was aware my eyesight was getting worse, just said to me, “Do you want me to drive?” I paused for a moment. It was late afternoon and the dark day was getting darker. I was tired from all the moving. I knew it would take some mental gearing up just to drive the half mile to the vet. So I said, “Yes.”

And I never drove a car again.

What came before was not pretty.

Even before I detected any symptoms of RP, I crunched the left front quarter panel of my red 1967 Chevy Camero when making a turnout of a parking lot. I had not seen the woman in front of me stopped. There was the time I was stopped at a four-way stop, in broad daylight, in my own neighborhood. After checking around, I pressed the gas and proceeded to T-bone a 15-year-old student driver with his mom. Then there was the time I picked up a safety cone between my tire and wheel well that was protecting a freshly painted crosswalk. I continued to drive with the cone making all sorts of grinding and rubbing noises for the last 2 miles to my office. I had to get one of the guys I worked with to pull the cone out.

The things I used to do to compensate for my ever decreasing vision were scary.

At night, I would look upwards to use the bottom portion of my eyes to see the road. I held my breath as I drove in and out of sun and shade on bright summer days because my eyes wouldn’t adjust quickly enough. One day, I had to abandon my car half a mile from home because I left work too late and it got too dark for me to drive the rest of the way. By the time I walked home, it was dark.

The, shall we say “adaptations,” were getting really scary for me. It took courage to get in the car each morning to get to work. In the end, I just didn’t have any more courage left. I also was feeling the negative vibes from others. When my eye doctor asked me if I was still driving, I said yes. He frowned and shook his head. After the safety cone incident, my co-worker really got angry with me and said “that could have been a child.”

Giving up driving does take away some of your independence.

For me, though, it was a huge relief. If I got my vision back tomorrow, I don’t think I’d ever get behind the wheel again.

Not driving has forced me to make make changes in my life that I don’t necessarily like, but knowing I don’t have to have that stress of driving way outweighs the inconveniences. I have learned to ask for help and use public transportation. I have to think carefully about when and where I need to go making sure I prioritize my needs. I am also thankful for supportive family members and friends who get me where I need to go. All these adaptations combined have made not driving not so bad.

Kathy is the Community Engagement Specialist at Second Sense.

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