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Beacon Senior News

Navigating challenging transitions: the day I stopped driving

Jan 06, 2020 03:41PM ● By Sally Henry

On March 10, 2020, I almost hit someone in a crosswalk.

In fact, a man was riding a bike and pulling a bike trailer (thankfully with a bunch of house plants in it and not a child). I actually hit the trailer, knocking it over and sending plants, pots and dirt flying. I pulled over immediately and ran over to see that the man was okay. He was shaken, but okay.

However, I was not. As I got back in my car and drove the few blocks home, I broke down. I thanked God profusely that there wasn’t a person in that trailer and at the same time pleaded with him about my circumstance. I’d had a less dangerous close call a couple of months prior. I knew what this meant. I couldn’t take the chance of continuing to be in denial. I had to be honest with myself and my family. I am an active, full-time employed 56-year-old woman with both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree... and after that day, I stopped driving forever.

It’s still hard to even write that. I’m still grieving the loss of what that means and sometimes I’m just angry. I’ve always been a doer, both in the workplace and at home. I love getting together with people and I’ve always been very active in my church. I love being spontaneous, going for a ride or a hike or going shopping on a whim. But it really doesn’t matter how competent I am with other things. I had to humbly admit that when it came to my vision and the safety of others, my sight was not reliable. When I think of what could have happened it makes me shudder and confirms that I have made the right decision, as hard as it is.

In the late 1990s, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and started taking a medication that helps keep symptoms from flaring up. Unfortunately, there was a slight chance that the medication can, over extended use, cause a type of macular degeneration in the eye. For those unlucky enough to be in that small percentage, myself included, periphery vision is barely existent. It makes places and situations with low light very difficult to navigate and colors difficult to distinguish.

There is literally a wreath or bullseye shaped area in my eye where I can’t see. So you can imagine how I can miss things. I had to give up driving at night eight years ago. I have what is called “low vision.” I didn’t even know there was such a thing! I’m not blind. I just have enough vision loss to make things challenging…and frustrating…and exhausting…and dangerous. If I go hiking I have to really concentrate on the trail so that I’ll see the ruts and dips in the pathway. I watch for contrasts and love it when the edges of sidewalks and steps have a different color of cement or tile or flooring so I can see where the edge of the step is. I work on a computer most of the time so I’ve made the cursor huge—although even with that, I lose it many times. I wonder how many minutes each day I waste just trying to find that darn cursor! Ugh.

It’s been a challenging transition. I’ve been a fairly independent person besides having to be driven at night the last few years. Either asking my husband or having to call a friend or family member is frustrating, and many times I just skip doing something I otherwise might have done before.

But this has also been an opportunity for growth. I have a list of friends who have volunteered to drive me places, even last minute, and I’ve actually taken them up on their offer.

I’m learning how to receive more, despite really preferring to be on the giving end. I’m learning how to invite people into my life, I mean really in. I’m learning that it’s not the end of the world to let someone else drive. (Read that as you will.) I’ve learned I need to plan more, yet at the same time, I seem to be living more than ever before.

I’m learning that life isn’t always fair, but even if you get dealt a rough hand it can still be good.