On October 22nd I started the process of getting my driver's licence back. You see, when you become paralyzed the doctors see to it to suspend your licence - apparently not being able to use your feet interferes with driving?? So on that day in October, I did a two hour cognitive assessment (because I had a brain injury they needed to know if I was "all there") followed by a short trial driving a car with hand controls (you just get in and drive). Then the paper chase began. The driving assessor filled in the forms and sent them into the MTO - then you know what happened...the "medical review" waiting game. And that was just to get the temporary permit that meant I could drive with a licenced driving instructor.
Think back to when you were 16. Remember getting your 365? We could go out and drive with another licensed person, all you wanted! Well not this time, my temporary permit was only for taking lessons with a hand control instructor, I was not allowed to practice. Where else in society are we not allowed to practice something new?
So in the meantime, I took my prescription from my doctor (yes, a prescription for hand controls) and we had our car modified at a place in Kitchener. All it is is a lever on the left hand side of the steering wheel that is attached to the accelerator and brake pedals. Push to brake and pull to accelerate. They attach a spinner knob to the steering wheel (just like a tractor) and a transfer board that flips out to make transfers from my wheelchair easier. The other piece of helpful equipment is a velcro chest strap that holds the driver (me) upright. Did you know you use your core when you drive? Think about that the next time you do a clover leaf.
Driving with your hands is kind of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time. But I was not allowed to practice except for the four driving lessons that I was not able to book until February (they were all booked up). Yes, February, it's a great time to take driving lessons, right? Well it just so happened that they fell on the days when there was no snow, which was a relief to me. It was going to be challenging enough to be learning to use the hand controls (in a controlled fashion) in London, adding snow would have been over the top.
The lessons were okay, my instructor was chatty and fun to be with, so each of the hour long lessons went relatively quickly. "Don't forget to check your blind spots" became the mantra of my lessons. Bikers, pedestrians and other cars will apparently jump out at you from all angles. I really can not count as high as the number of times that I was reminded of this. My other downfall was not going fast enough..."we need to move with the speed of traffic". This was most funny to me, because I have been driving for 27 years and never have been accused of going slow...but I will say that speed bumps and hand controls are a bit tricky.
With my four lessons over I just needed to do my test, and that, of course, was when it began to freezing rain and snow. My test was postponed twice. For one of those times we were 30 minutes from London but the snow was so bad we could not even see where the road ended and the ditch began. So we turned around. The day that test day actually happened I climbed into the car, strapped on my wide velcro chest strap and off we went, carefully avoiding the Canada geese in the parking lot. Before we left the Parkwood lot my instructor noticed that the seatbelt light was on - because I had not done up my seatbelt! I stopped the car at the stop sign and turned to the assessor and said "please tell me I didn't just fail!" Having the chest strap on made me feel like my belt was on, but it wasn't. She just laughed and said "no" and we carried on. Thank goodness. I travelled all the one-way streets correctly and checked all my blind spots so I did pass, but I was reminded to not drive so fast. Really??
Now the waiting game continues. I am glad that we are going away for March Break because it will make the time pass faster and hopefully my new and improved official MTO "licenced with hand controls" will arrive in the mail while we are away. The next step will be developing the skills to get my chair into and out of the car by myself, but I figure that so long as I am going to be meeting up with friends, I will be okay.
So watch out Huron County, here I come.