I started writing my memoir the year I received my long awaited driver’s license because it made me feel FREE. I had never experienced such Freedom before I had to rely on my ability to ride a bicycle or wait for others to pick me up and take me somewhere. Fortunately, I enjoyed bicycling but the waiting for others was excruciating at times and other times embarrassing to have to ask. Many times to travel somewhere that I really wanted to go took phone calls and finagling on a level that I became quite skilled at but disliked none the less. At times I would just forego doing what I really wanted to do because I couldn’t trust that I’d get home in time to work, or do what I needed to get done just for me. So I rode my bicycle in the rain, the snow, the heat, and the wind. I made it through college, had several jobs and was out at all hours of the day and night into the early morning hours riding my bike all over Lewes, DE, Snow Hill and Salisbury, MD or Minneapolis, MN and I got by, rather successfully. I was never late for work or college and my friends and my family have always been kind in getting me to distant destinations without making me feel guilty about it.
There were times that it was incredibly frustrating like the nine months trying to get the State to give me Para Transit ( transportation for handicapped individuals) so I could actually work for The State in another Division. Who knew when the application said, “Do you have a condition that renders you unconscious?” as a requirement and I checked the box “yes” that it would not be a requirement, for me. They argued that “Not all people who have seizures CAN’T drive.” I have never asked for disability or received any compensation for having an Acquired Traumatic Brain Injury from the state or government or for being a victim of a violent crime, up to that point. I had to tell people things about me that I had never had to say and I was begging for something that I believed was a service I should be able to receive. I have been lucky enough to be able to work and fend for myself. So I cannot complain, until I had to. It was a humbling process and at times humiliating, there were days that I would be so stressed it was a wonder that I didn’t seize. I yelled at people, cried on the phone, and was told by some people with good intentions, “Why don’t you move to a city?” I yelled, “I just came from a city, I own a home here, my family is here, and I have a job here! Are you telling me I should leave the place where I feel most supported because this State can’t give people with head injuries a ride to work?” I even told that individual that they were not suited for their job; they were the Executive Director and they were supposed to be supporting and assisting people with Epilepsy and not telling them to pick up their lives and go somewhere else. I thought this was Crazy and I was going to get what I needed and I didn’t go away.
Every day for 9 months after I got my job working for the State of Delaware I did not have a license nor was I eligible for one based on my seizure history and the State standards for receiving one. I desperately needed to get to work 20 miles away from home, a place where no Fixed Route buses even came close to. So I every day I woke up and called everyone I knew for a ride which wasn’t easy because people were busy this took hours and I literally flagged people down on my street paying them $40.00 to go out of their way to take someone they didn’t know to work. I also fought with Para Transit, to the point of yelling at them and calling Legislators and I obtained letters from 6 different people from the government and my doctor to try to get a ride. I even asked for help from the Epilepsy Association and they were helpful to a point, my doctor was most helpful and he put me on a new medication. This all meant that if I was seizure free for 6 months, I could get a driver’s license, which in turn meant to Para Transit, that I would not need funding to use their service for a lifetime just 6 months.
Para Transit gave me one-way service to work because they stopped running at 9:00 PM and I worked until 11:00 PM. About 4 months into this ordeal I secured a taxi service for both ways until Para Transit came through then they picked me up at work at 11:00 P.M. for six months. I was finally able to get my driver’s license after 6 months of a new medication and that was 11 years ago. I had a friend help me find a truck, my cousin and some friends taught me to drive and the day arrived when a Nurse from the Stockley Center picked me up at 7:00 A.M. and took me to do the driver’s test, I could not believe it, I actually passed. That day after getting to work I was so excited and stressed that I had a seizure. Can you believe right there at work, the very first day I had a license? My doctor stuck by me he asked me why I thought I had the seizure? I told him because I didn’t sleep the night before fearing I wouldn’t get up at 7:00 AM and I was stressed about the test. He said, “This is a milestone we are going to let you keep your license.” I was amazed at my good fortune.
Everyone joked that they would be staying off the roads when I was out and keep their children in the house, for fear they would be a victim of my lack of ability. It also meant for the past 10 years I would pay $2000.00 plus for car insurance because I didn’t have any real road experience when getting my insurance, even though I was 38 years old. I guess Freedom comes with a price! My life is far more expensive for having a seizure disorder than if I didn’t have one.
I am FREE and it took a while for this to all sink in. I recall sitting in the house on a rainy evening watching a movie wishing I just had a bowl of chocolate ice cream. I didn’t want to be cold and wet and riding my bike just didn’t appealing. It was so ingrained in me that I rode a bicycle that I thought, “Oh well I’ll do without.” something I had told myself hundreds of times. Now picture this I am talking to myself as I sometimes do, I lived alone and this is second nature too; all of a sudden I jump up and realize I have a truck in the driveway with my name on it, and I jump up and down and dance through the house, laughter fills the air. I pick up my keys and off I go. That was the best chocolate ice cream I ever ate.
Three months later, my cat hurts her knee, she needed surgery, so without any regard to what it would take to drive to Stanton off of I-95 to take her for knee surgery, I mapped it out and left on a sunny January day. It’s was very windy and my truck was like a leaf in a breeze so I was all over the rode at 40 mile an hour gusts. I white knuckle it all the way there. The doctor who I thought I saw at 11:00 AM wanted to look at her at 3:00 PM, they ask if I could stay I told them, “No Way, I’m not driving in the dark.” I leave her there with a large deposit. The trip goes well and is uneventful as far as safety and driving. Two months later I go back because she has hurt her knee again and it is a beautiful here in Milton and it turns to pouring rain and fog in New Castle County, close to two hours away. I couldn’t find my exits, I am in 5 lanes of traffic and on the far right lane needing to exit on the left suddenly and that trip was awful, I almost had two accidents and found myself between a “WIDE LOAD” and the little service truck behind it. Remember this is before GPS and I have not learned the aggression on the highway needed to pass quickly over come the chaos factor of a highway and I was still actually learning to drive, turn on the radio, smoke and possibly drink something all at the same time on top of that read directions. Needless to say I came a master of multitasking in the car and I live to drive another day. I had only mastered driving in Rural America, nothing even close to the fast pace of Highway One and I-95. This created fear, a fear that overwhelmed me for 10 years.
I got a job in Dover 8 years ago and drive through city traffic all the time and heavy Beach Traffic every Friday in the summer for 45 minutes to an hour and forty minutes on some Fridays. I have had people pull out in front of me, almost side-swipe me and I stayed calm and avoid dangers fairly well. Last year I’m driving south on Rt. 1 at the Dover Air Force base on Rt. 1 and out of a concrete factory truck exit, a Cessna Air Plane literally Floats, with its wheels 3-5 feet off the ground, it comes out onto the highway heading North. It was hidden at first from sight by trees and bushes until it was on the road and coming right at me and I tap the brakes and realize I must go to the left shoulder and hit the gas as quickly as possible to avoid it. What an adventure and I was calm until the whole thing was over and I was safe. Then I was a wreck pulling over on the road to call Aunt Martie and I am screaming F this f that and GD and all the stress emptied my body through my mouth. She says, “You were almost hit by a what?” I figure no one will believe me but it was all over the news, CBS, NBC and I, had escaped it as did many others that day on the highway. Another car and I were the first to encounter it coming into the highway and thankfully no one was hurt. It did something for me though. I started thinking if I can respond that quickly and calmly to a Plane on the highway, I can do anything!
Which leads me to why I wrote this; I decide I to drive to my sisters home to see her and her family about 150 miles away taking interstates and I-95 to Pennsylvania. I tell her and she is very surprised and happy. For many years she has been coming here to either visit here or coming to pick me up so I can vacation at her home. I realized that I had to get over the crazy driving restriction I had placed on myself. What is being Free if you’re really not? I know this; we build things in our minds to be worse than they are, we all have done it. I have done it and then something triggers me to say to myself, possibly aloud, “How foolish is that?” So this past weekend I took my GPS and mapped my ride and listened to Cindy’s advice, stay in the middle lane and look at the lane you’re in and the lanes directly next to you. Don’t let 4-6 lanes get you overwhelmed. Take your time and my brother Jan told me if you get lost just let the GPS get you back to where you need to go. They both gave me great advice. Jan also called me a week before and asked if he could drive me there and pick me up, he was worried about me getting stressed and putting myself in a position to have a seizure. It was sweet but I thought about it and called him back saying, “It’s about my Freedom, I have to do this for myself!” I did get lost and didn’t panic the GPS took me right back and who cares if it took longer. I got there safe, loved hanging out with my family and got home no problems.
The thing I learned was that I realized once again when you have accomplished something that should make you move forward, you must move forward and not get stuck in a rut. All the driving I do back and forth to work 45 minutes both ways in steady traffic and city driving taught me to be just aggressive enough to handle the major highways. I also know that no matter how busy it is on the highway, I am cool as a cucumber in the car. Also bicycling all over for that many years taught me to be one of the best defensive drivers I know. I have good teachers as well they were calm and patient and I have listened to them and my gut. Now I am far FREER than I ever was before and I am happy with myself. I did something I never thought I would do. Now I’ll go somewhere else. Who knows where but I’ll tell you about my next car adventure.