Friday, September 13, 2013

Loss of independence

I'm going to stray from my blog rebirth today.  After several months of non-activity I recently began attempting to write on a limited bases, mostly about my family and events and the introduction of a new puppy to our family.  Today I want to reflect on a personal condition of what will be just about everyone's life eventually.

 I sold my car.

 The ordeal began last January 11th while I was preparing to do my exercising at a physical therapy/medically oriented gym facility.  I've been participating in a senior fitness program for several years.  Yes, I am a senior citizen who has passed the three-quarter century mark. 

A dozen years ago I had what doctors call a burst abdominal arterial aneurysm, a triple A.  It's not a nice thing to happen and often results in death.  Fortunately for me the Scarborough Rescue Team got me to the Maine Medical Center where a doctor/surgeon was just arriving to make his morning rounds.  He immediately had me rushed to an operating room where he saved my life.  It was not an easy task as the burst vessel drained my blood and I had a heart attack on the operating table. 

I've been doing therapy or fitness exercising ever since.  In 2009 I had an ICD placed in my chest.  That's a combination pacemaker/defibrillator unit.  And that brings us to last January 11th.

I was preparing to start my morning routine at the PT facility.  I awoke a few minutes later on the floor with my head being cradled by one of professionals at the facility.  I had passed out.  A rescue unit was called but by the time it arrived, I was fully conscious again and wanting to get off the floor but the professional made me stay there until I was checked out.  The EMTs let me go home with my wife who also had been called.

Later my cardiologist read a printout of my ICD and discovered I had had another heart event.  It wasn't, however, a full heart attack.  My pulse rate had climbed into the 270s.  The pacemaker part had it back to normal quickly, but just one second before the defibrillator part would have zapped me with an electrical jolt.  The cardiologist read me "The Riot Act" for not going right to the hospital.

Then he hit me with the sentence absolutely no senior wants to hear:  "You cannot drive for at least six months and then we re-evaluate for the future."  To make matters worse, it was near the time when I have to have the doctor submit a medical form to the Department of Motor Vehicles, a requirement every three years after that heart attack.  The Doc said he was sorry but he had no option but to put on the form I shouldn't be driving.

A few days later, I got the dreaded letter; my license was suspended indefinitely.

I learned in the next three or four weeks why Seniors fight so hard to keep their licenses.  The single word that describes the feeling is Independence.  Lose the driver's license and lose that independence.  One feels like a trapped person, like being in jail, like totally losing control.  I can't, for example, just go for a haircut or to the store.  Doctors' appointments have to be made around the availability of my wife to take me to the appointment. 

Sure.  I have a neighbor and friends.  I could always call for a ride.  "Neighbor, could you be inconvenienced and take me to the store to get a snack?"  "Friend, I need a ride to the mall."  "Fearless Friend, can you come way out of your way from your home in Westbrook to my place in Scarborough to take me to our monthly lunch?"  Sure.  The answer in each of these simple examples would be, "Yes, of course."  But, darn it (I'd say "dammit" but I don't like to use that language), I can't do those things anymore myself. 

I live in a community that doesn't have public transportation.  There is a bus that rides through town picking up commuters, but I'd have to get to the bus stop.  Taxi service, for a slight charge, of course, could be called.  I don't qualify for one of the "free" rides for seniors and the company that picks up seniors by appointment is rather expensive.

So, I'm stuck in my home until my wife becomes available.  Let me emphasize that she has never complained, at least openly to me, but my lack of independence is a real inconvenience to her, too.

Before my license was suspended, there were days at a time when I just stayed home, often alone, doing things around the house.  But, and that's a huge word, I could leave to go places if I wanted.  Now I can't.

There is another side to my story, though, which I cannot ignore.  The first several months of suspension were not my choice, but my now going without a license is my decision.  I could have applied to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a Hearing to possibly get my license restored.  I chose not to do so.  I keep remembering that day I passed out with a heart event at the exercise place. 

During the school year, many children gather at the end of my driveway to be picked up by a school bus.  Parents are there, too, but it's the picture of those kids that affect my mind.  Had I been driving out of my driveway and had passed out, who knows how many of those kids would have been hurt or worse.  I got to thinking about people walking along the routes I drive and what could have happened if I had passed out at 35 or 40 miles an hour or more.

I do occasionally experience slight dizziness and lack of balance.  I do have mobility problems.  Safety became the main factor, so after a long conversation with my wife, who, incidentally, is in total agreement with this decision, I have decided my suspended license will simply expire without that hearing.  I feel good about the decision.

Nevertheless, as I said earlier, the loss of Independence is very difficult and now I fully understand why Seniors fight so hard to keep their licenses.

Today I helped myself live with my new dependence:  I sold my car.


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