At the grocery store the other day I saw a very elderly couple struggling to do their shopping. They seemed confused, obliviously blocking the aisles while they fumbled with products on the shelf, squinting to read the labels. At the checkout they had difficulty reconciling the register amount with money in their wallets, again squinting at the bill and fumbling to get the right amount of money together. They huddled together trying to sort it out and my heart went out to them, since I see some of that in myself already (like squinting at the fine print even with my glasses on). They left the store and I trailed a few minutes behind them. As I got out of the store, there they were, in their big white American car, in the middle of the road, effectively blocking it, the lady at the wheel while her husband ran back and forth to the curb trying to load the bags into the car. It struck me as pretty scary that two people who, put together, could barely manage to do their groceries, continued to feel able and entitled to drive a car!!! As if driving were somehow a much simpler activity than checking out your groceries at the cash register!
My mother had been the same way, her car was her life, her independence, her last connection to still feeling young. When she got flustered one day and accidentally drove it up the curb, in full view of a cop, she was obliged to go for a driving re-test and to get medical clearance. She squeaked thorough on both, and I remember her begging the driving tester to pass her, telling him, “If you take my car you have killed me!” (She was really good at guilt…I know!).
Anyway, a few months later, she parked her car in a no-stopping, reserved bus lane during rush hour and emerged from the store a few minutes later to see it being towed away. The stress was so big that her blood pressure spiked and she suffered a massive stroke on the spot, which destroyed her mind and her ability to understand and speak…finally killing her a year later. I felt pretty guilty because I could and should have intervened with the driving tester, telling him what a menace she really was on the road, but I didn’t, caught up as I was in compassion for her. But what if she had killed somebody else rather than just herself?
I hear from physician friends and other health care pros every day about the many patients they see who can barely make it to their office because of pain, fatigue, medication, etc., but who continue to drive years past the ability to do so. For myself, I have asked my kids to frankly tell me when they see me losing the ability to drive safely…I just hope I still have the presence of mind to listen to them!