For months I had been expecting the Motor Vehicle Branch to demand a physical exam if I was to continue driving. Still when the letter arrived in last week’s mail it gave me a jolt. It reminded me my 80th birthday is only weeks away.
To continue driving for another two years, a doctor must certify my fitness to do so. The government gave me 45 days to return the completed form with a doctor’s approval or they would revoke my driver’s licence. Once a driver reaches the age of 80, completion of this form is mandatory every two years. Current cost for the doctor’s exam is $64.80.
Immediately I made an appointment with my current doctor for the following week.
The exam began with reading the letters on a chart posted in the deserted hallway. The nurse trusted me to cover one eye at a time with my hand and not peek while I read down as many lines as were clear to me. Once my fingers sprawled. I could have used both eyes but I chose to be trustworthy. Somewhere in my chart should be a formal report from my eye doctor of tests done during six month exams. There’s no chance to cheat on those tests; the technician covers one of my eyes at a time with a pirate’s patch held snug by an elastic.
To test my peripheral vision, the doctor had me look straight ahead while he brought his index finger forward toward me from the side. I wanted to duck. Peripheral vision, the first to be lost, is vital for perceiving vehicular or pedestrian traffic approaching from either side especially at intersections or crosswalks.
To test my coordination, he had me quickly flip each hand like a pancake several times on the palm of the other hand.
Following blood pressure and pulse check, the doctor asked me how many of the conditions listed did I suffer from. The list includes almost every medical ailment we’ve come to know from TV ads touting medicines or devices for treating them: diabetes, heart attack, stroke, aneurysm, depression, narcolepsy, dizziness, HIV or STD. Alcoholism. Drug addiction.
I can understand diabetes, narcolepsy (sleeping sickness), a heart attack, stroke or aneurysm might incapacitate without warning. But HIV or an STD? How can they impair driving safety unless like hemorrhoids, their uncomfortableness makes sitting as distracting as texting.
He filled in blanks on the computer form before he swivelled around, leaned toward me, and earnestly asked, “Do you know where you are?”
My inclination was to laugh. I thought of the Reader’s Digest anecdote of the TV personality who visited a seniors’ home and bending down before an old lady in a wheelchair asked, “Do you know who I am?”
“No”, the senior replied, “but if you ask the nurse at the desk perhaps she can tell you.”
Knowing my driver’s licence depended on a sensible reply, and someone with dementia might not know where they were, I said, “I’m in the medical building on Park Avenue in your third floor office.”
His followup question was, “Do you see things?”
“Only you,” I said, hoping he could take a joke.
I thought of the November 7, 2014 New York Times article explaining seniors with glaucoma or macular degeneration may experience hallucinations caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which makes them see things like patterns and colours, strangers, even little green men that aren’t there. One senior insisted there were people in the cellar, on the porch, and in the house, when no one was present.
I’m cleared to drive for another two years. But if I fail a future exam, I’ll willingly relinquish my keys to a family chauffeur.