We discussed at the rehab center, that injuries such as mine can be very difficult on a family and a marriage; and in my case my marriage did end.
Just like many families that go through divorce, there is a time of discord. We received an offer on the house, and the new owners allow me to stay in the house until my next residence is ready. It is too late to pull out of the deal, so I make the decision knowing that as soon as the building has finished, I’ll put that house on sale too.
In the meantime, I am learning to drive. The Texas Rehabilitation Commission, which is now known as the Division for Rehabilitating Services (DARS), approved to install and pay for hand controls in my sedan. In addition, they also approved driving lessons.
When the instructor knocks on the door, I follow him to his car. He watches as I transfer into the driver seat using a sliding board. He takes my wheelchair and places it in the trunk. When he sits beside me, he asks that I turn on the ignition and move the gear in reverse while pressing the brake. When I do, nothing happens, and when I look at him, he smiles and asks me to look at my feet. He tells me I have to retrain my brain to now no longer think about my feet, but my hands.
He tells me to shut off the engine and start again. This time when I turn the car on I pay special attention to my hands. I press the hand control forward to hit the brake as I put the gear in reverse using my right hand. After placing my hand back on the steering wheel, I release the brake and push the hand control down. I reverse the car into the street and turn the steering wheel by holding on to the knob that looks like a doorknob securely fastened to the wheel. As I reach the stop sign the instructor reminds me to push the hand control forward again in order to tap on the brake.
We drive around residential areas for a couple of weeks before we venture out to main roads. I eventually get to drive on the freeway. After a couple of weeks I am so comfortable driving, that I become quite fluid in my turns.
On the day of my test my instructor drives me to the DMV, where we meet his colleague, Janet, who will stay with me. The test employee from the DMV office also gets into the vehicle, and now I am following her instructions. We drive through residential roads, traffic lights, stop signs and then on to the freeway.
When I hear that I scored hundred out of a hundred, I look at her with a huge smile thank her as she hands me a piece of paper. Janet brings my wheelchair to me and we proceed inside the DMV to obtain my license. There’s a huge line as we went enter, but I notice even more so, the many eyes on me.
On our drive home, I stare at my temporary license to drive, and I feel as if someone just gave me a new breath of fresh air. Tomorrow I get to drive to physical therapy in my own vehicle. It is the first step to being truly self-sufficient.
The first thing I do when I go inside my house is head straight to my bedroom and pull out the grabber. After leaving it by the front door, I make my way to the garage and pull out the jumper cables and supplies to fix a flat. Knowing that I will be driving the children around gives me a heightened sense of urgency to learn things for myself.
My sister has been back home in London a few weeks now, and my brother is leaving this coming weekend to return home to Dallas. My mother will be back again shortly to help me find a live in nanny.
So, It is time to get on with my life no matter what obstacles I have to face. Emotionally, I am hurting on many levels, but I can’t afford to go there. I focus on the positive of becoming independent. The children only have me, and I have to be there for them regardless of what I am feeling.
The next morning I get into my own car and spend ten minutes taking my wheelchair apart and placing it on the passenger seat beside me, before I finally shut the door.
As I drive, I’m feeling invigorated, until I hear a police siren. I pull over and the officer tells me I’ve been speeding and I am surprised. After she gives me the ticket I burst into laughter as I think to myself, who would have thought this disabled woman would get speeding ticket on her first drive back to independence?
When I pull up to the outpatient therapy center, my therapist is so pleased to see I am driving that he runs back inside and returns with another sliding board. His is smooth and made of wood and longer than mine, whereas mine is short and plastic with ridges.
I practice sliding in and out of the car until he knows I am comfortable. Much to my dismay, taking apart the wheelchair is very difficult this time around. I don’t feel as if I will ever get it, but he continues to reassure me. This light chair doesn’t feel as light as it did the first time I got it, and I can feel my confidence plummeting. I am supposed to take care of the children, but can’t even get my wheelchair in the car a second time.
What mother has ten minutes to put herself in the car before tending to her children?
We continue working for weeks thereafter on breaking down the chair and when my sister returns a couple of months later she too helps coach me. The most comforting part of all is that she allows me to get mad, and isn’t at least perturbed by what I am saying out loud.
I realize I am not just mad at the wheelchair. Life as I knew it once, is gone.
My daytime ritual has become about what the children need. At night when they are asleep I tend to my own needs from eating, bowel program and showering; often hoping I will sleep well. Unfortunately, after all that has happened I lie in bed wondering, what is going to happen now?