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Archive for the ‘drunk driver’ Category

I was curious about drunk driving in California and wondered what I could find on the internet which might shed some light on this nation-wide problem. Finding some information, I did feel a little disappointed that statistics on one particular site hadn’t been updated since 2006. Perhaps statistics don’t change much. What I did notice, however, were pages and pages of attorney’s advertising to defend the drunk driver. I found that interesting and yet a little troubling. I realize that everyone is guaranteed due process, but it was almost as if there was more concern for the intoxicated driver than for the those who might be victim to his/her recklessness, so I surfed a few more sites.

Finding more statistics, but of another nature, the new page calculated that three out of every 10 people will have an encounter with a drunk driver at least once in their lifetime. Nearly one third; that’s a lot of people whose lives can, are and may be altered by the recklessness and selfish act of drinking and driving. Recalling my youth, and another accident, I realized this was my second encounter involving the deadly practice.

A boy friend (I’ll call him Hank) of my oldest sister, Polly, had an adorable small car, a very pre-war (WWII) model coupe with a rumble seat. One evening Polly and Hank invited me, a friend and my other sister, Janet, for a ride, and we got to sit in the rumble seat.  We were so excited – as that was the absolute desire of our hearts. The three of us – I was 11, Janet 14, and my friend 12 – wedged ourselves into the tiny opening located where most cars have trunks. With Polly and Hank in the front, we sped down the hill from where we lived, the wind already blowing our hair in every which direction. Laughing, we soon came to one of San Francisco’s main southern thoroughfares; and at our point of crossing it was a very wide section of what was then Army Street. With the traffic light in our favor, Hank ventured forward only to notice one lone car’s headlights coming straight toward us crashing broadside into the sturdy little car. The three of us in the rumble seat bumped our heads together a few times, our tight fit into the seat no doubt holding us in place. Running the red light, the driver of the other vehicle and his lady friend were both drunk.

Hank called my father and the police from the corner store and we waited for dad on the sidewalk. Hank and Polly dealt with the accident and police report, while my dad took the three of us home. Our adventure was short-lived, and other than a good couple of knots on our heads we were all just fine.

Drunk driving is nothing new and has probably been around since before Henry Ford’s Model A; a timeless problem unresolved.  By comparison, the state is totally on top of people having a disease which might have an affect on their driving, but it seems they can’t get a firm and lasting grip on driving under the influence of mind-altering substances.

Upon the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Ken’s neurologist told us that by law the DMV must be informed of his condition. That was in January and by March, he received his letter requiring that he be retested. We both felt confident as Ken had renewed his license less than a year before and had passed with flying colors. However in just eight short months deterioration of his memory was becoming evident. Watching him from across the room at the DMV, I could see the puzzled look on his face. Undoubtedly, as he read the multiple choices, he had already forgotten the question.  He failed the written test so miserably they disallowed him taking a driving test. His license was revoked – forever.  He hasn’t driven since March of 2005.  Actually, that was a good thing; better the DMV than me concluding he was no longer a responsible driver.

My daughter, Julie, and I talked about the statistics and the many problems of people driving under the influence. The term DUI covers not only alcohol, but drugs, legal or not, or any other substance which might impair one’s driving ability, and yet many driver’s believe they are the exception. “Legislate more laws,” was Julie’s answer. “They don’t obey the ones already on the books,” I answered, adding that I had listened to young and old alike who carried a medical marijuana card and believed it gave them special permission to drive immediately after dragging in a few puffs of pot to dull their pain.

Back on the internet, one site claimed that sobriety checkpoints and other enforcement tactics would help, especially around holidays; and more education. When people know better they do better. “Sometimes,” was my answer.  Another page suggested, “If you want to do something about drunk driving, get involved.” Candice Lightner became involved when her 13-year-old daughter was killed by not only a drunk driver, but a hit-and-run drunk driver (who was eventually caught). He was 47 years old.   My drunk driver is in his late 50s. They were both old enough to know better.

Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving: MADD which has become a national organization. Through legislation, education and enforcing legal age drinking MADD claims to have dramatically reduced drunk driving. Yet, if you happen to be a statistic, it doesn’t matter what the reduction. For me, being a victim is 100 percent. So what can possibly help us as a state and as a nation in ridding our streets of drunk drivers? Being involved, enforcement, education or more legislation – or what? “It’s a conundrum,” concluded Julie, “It’s a conundrum.”

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“It sucks.”  That was the concluding comment on Facebook from my younger friend, Frank, after hearing one of his good friends had terminal cancer.  Both of them, still in their middle years, most likely had not experienced many incurable health issues among their age group.  Now, when one of them was stricken, it was a shock – and it sucked.  I couldn’t agree more.  Feeling compassion for all concerned, I replied, “Whatever it is that steals your health and time sucks.”

Steals:  That was the operative word.  Thinking about the countless thieves intertwining through our lives I couldn’t help but reflect on the time stolen from me and Ken by Alzheimer’s, not even to mention the time lost between my own mother and father, Ken’s parents, and his sister, Loretta, and her devoted husband, Mike.  Five of them victims of Alzheimer’s, and all of those good years, those productive years are gone – destroyed by this mind-boggling disease.  Alzheimer’s is a thief and quoting Frank, “it sucks.”

My focus is Alzheimer’s, but I certainly don’t mean to overlook the countless other diseases with their variations from which the world suffers, such as the aforementioned cancer.  To the list we can add heart disease, crippling arthritis, Parkinson’s, diabetes, lung diseases and a countless list which, undoubtedly, can fill pages.  No matter what the malady, all of them have a connecting factor: they steal one’s time, health and often life; thieves and they suck.

Let’s face it, though, thieves are not limited to illness; thieves — people, things or circumstances — are in and out of our lives constantly.  Remember the poem, “He who steals my purse steals trash, but he who robs me of my good name……….etc.”  Gossips are thieves, and he who took the purse is a thief.  So is the cat burglar who breaks into your house and steals your jewelry, TV and computer, and it’s a thief who stole your car.  (And at times that computer steals your time.)  Don’t forget the slacker at work who steals company time.  They who owe money and don’t pay it back are thieves.  Vandals are thieves, so are graffiti artists and litter bugs.  Their selfish acts cost someone else money, and taking or causing others to pay without consent is stealing.  How about the driver who steals your right-of-way or your parking space?  True, a small theft, but a theft nonetheless.  On a personal level the drunk driver whose thoughtless actions totaled my car is a thief removing from me and Ken our vehicle, our precious time, health, strength, stamina, causing endless costs and no telling what else is to come; they are all thieves and once again they suck.    

But that’s life, and being philosophical our sojourn here on earth does not come with a no-problem guarantee.  Life is sometimes the pits; it’s also wonderful and dangerous, carefree and burdensome, happy and miserable, sick and healthy, good and bad, lovable and hateful, joyful and sad.  Life is opposition in all things and even without a roadmap we choose to continue.  So yes Frank, even as we stand up and face the thieves in our life mustering every ounce of strength, energy and courage within us, there are times when it just sucks.

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After three weeks in the hospital I was tansferred to a convalescent/rehab center and still felt — comfortable — if that’s the right word — being a patient.  “Just leave me alone in my bed so I can get better,” was my plea, but the goal at rehab is to get you up and going and out — and home.  However, when I looked down my road to recovery I found that I didn’t want to go home.  As injured as I was, I didn’t want to pick up and continue with where I had been in February.

Ken was home.  After the accident he stayed several days in the hospital as my daughter, Debbie, wrote about in her guest blog titled   “One Simple Phone Call. ”   From the beginning I felt at ease knowing he was being cared for by her and the caregivers she had managed to assemble: all good people.  With everything in place, Debbie returned to her home in Utah several weeks after the accident to be with her family.  For me, the thought of going home was beyond comprehension.  I wasn’t ready to assume the responsibility of home and Ken and all it entailed.  I was still too caught up with me.

A few years back my neighbor mentioned she felt my family wasn’t doing enough to help me with Ken.  “They should take time and be with him for a while so you could catch up on some rest, take a trip — something — just get away.”  I smiled at my friend and jokingly asked, “If you lived in Hell and someone told you they would be willing to take your place for a week so you could get away, and you took them up on it and managed to have a wonderful rest and vacation, would you come back?”  All joking aside, while I dearly love my husband and the life we have had together, living with Alzheimer’s is Hell.

Laying there in rehab, that’s how I was feeling.  I had been given time off from Hell and I didn’t want to go back.  “Time off.”  That was almost laughable.  I hardly considered my hospital experience a vacation of choice.  I felt terrible not wanting to go home, guilty in fact, and sad, but after six years of being Ken’s only caregiver watching helplessly while my husband slipped away into the awfulness of Alzheimer’s, the cycle — the routine — the dedication —  all were gone; shattered by the thoughtless decision of someone who believed he could drink and drive.  My neck remained in a brace, my head and face were still healing from wounds, cuts and contusions, and my legs felt like cooked spaghetti when I managed to walk.  I just wanted to stay in bed.

Rehab was a zoo.  The halls were filled with visitors coming and going, and patients in all degrees of recovery.  Some strolled the halls hanging onto their walkers, some were wheeled about in wheel chairs either by friends, family or staff.  Doctors and nurses gathered around the nurses’ stations; medical aids, nurses’ aids and housekeepers busied themselves with whatever needed to be done while therapists of all kinds guided their charges to and from the exercise rooms.  The only time the halls were empty was after midnight.

No matter how badly I wanted to rest, it would only happen in rehab after I had done my part in getting stronger.  This was a workplace and I was part of their work.  So was Sabina.  They taught her how to change my neck brace making her an important part of recovery after I left.   I soon learned that it was necessary to turn my whole body, never my neck  if I needed to look around, how to shower safely,  to use my walker for support, to climb stairs even though my wobbly legs would rather do nothing, and to get into and out of a car without hurting my neck. 

I went to therapy every afternoon at 2:30, and then returned to my room where I cried — not from pain — it was more from the frustration of  everything combined.  Hadn’t I had enough on my life’s plate taking care of Ken, our finances, our business, maintaining the house and lastly — myself — without this added burden of dealing with a long list of serious injuries.  And so I cried.  My afternoon sessions with weeping seemed to be a release of pent-up worries and struggles, prior unshed tears, so much time lost, and the long aftermath yet to come where I would be contemplating, “What’s next?”  But even more, I was homesick.

I thought of the orange tree growing to the side of our house.  This time of year it should still have been filled with the succulent fruit and I imagined myself picking one, and then sitting down on the steps.  In my daydream it was warm — spring was just beginning.  Slowly, I dug my finger nails into the peel pulling it away from the fruit and tossing the discarded evidence under the juniper bushes telling myself  it was good compost for the soil.  I could almost feel the juice run down my chin as I relished my prize.   The  reverie vanished and I cried some more.  I wanted so badly to leave, but I knew I didn’t want to go home.

“You don’t have to go home,” said Julie, her husband Tim agreeing.  “Come and stay at our house until you feel strong.  Stay as long as you like, we’d love to have you.”

With my walker for support, Rehab discharged me after three weeks.  I walked to the car, got in without banging my head or straining  my neck.  Sabina drove me to Julie and Tim’s home, where they were waiting to welcome me.    Having been there countless times, it now felt rather odd.  No longer was I just Mom paying a visit, I was a houseguest with a room of my own.

That day was sunny, bright and blue — April — I have always loved April.  The countryside flourished green with spring and a few scattered daffodils bounced their yellow heads as if bowing to a passing breeze.  I sat on the front porch wrapped in a warm blanket on pleasant days just watching the season awaken.  Blossoms opened before my eyes as the days and weeks passed.  Wisteria vines flowered into full cascading clusters, followed by tiny leaves wiggling free from deep inside the gnarled branches.  Spring was healing winter’s visit — and me — making everything new again.   How grateful I was for this bonus time so badly needed to mend my body, my sadness and my broken spirit.

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