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  • Paul Fink

On the road again...

I am driving now (woohoo!) I received my license back eight months ago (~ July 2016). Prior to this, my license was suspended by VicRoads because of my stroke - particularly my paralysis and seizures. I will discuss my epilepsy after different post but, in short, I have epilepsy now because of my stroke and I delayed driving partly due my seizures. In order to re-qualify to drive, I needed to be seizure-free for at least 6 months.

In the early days of my recovery [in hospital], I heard so many people discussing driving with me. They were insistent that I can drive in the future... but I was thinking 'how'?? Because one side my body was paralysed - arms and legs - I was perplexed how will I feasibly do it.

My vision was affected of the stroke - especially two elements but not related. 1) My brain bleed, the blood extended into my eye and got stuck there (vitrectomy) and I had a minor surgery on one eye, and thankfully fixed the problem four month after (June 2014 still during inpatient therapy); 2) But I had peripheral (or side vision) almost two years [after my stroke] - commonly referred to as "tunnel vision." My eyes probRelationshiplems was fixed but I was definitely not ready to driving a car and I was comfortable with that. Also I was benefited from my support network (eg. Family and friends) and always offered a lift (eg. hospital, home, friends places, etc.). I am a responsible and patient person, and my thoughts (re- driving) was 'I am driving only if I'm ready'....saying that I was eager to drive.

Sometimes different men are obsessed with cars. I am not a 'rev-head'. I like driving because more independence and I can drive from A and B - that's all. Also I don't mind take public transport - especially I had no choice before - but I wasn't allowed to go on public transport immediately after my stroke, only after 18 months. Fortunately my direction navigation skills was unaffected by my stroke. After two years post-stroke, I was very glad my visions problems cleared up, and my seizures was controlled with medication, after that, I set a goal to drive.

First step of the process was the cleared with neurologist to drive, and after that I received this letter dated (18 May 2016) from VicRoads and allowed to proceed with the driving assessments with a Occupational Therapist (OT). I was excited because next step to be more independent. It was a huge milestone.

I met the OT at Caulfield hospital, where she discussing what modifications I will have in the future, and she said my license conditions was:

  • automatic car transmission

  • power steering

  • Left feet accelerator

  • spinner knob on steering wheel

  • Adjust indicator to be positioned on left hand side (Similar to European cars)

After that I completed two tests in the hospital. First test was tested my reactions time with simulator and, also a small test of the road rules. Thankfully I passed :) Next test was a on-road test at the same day. I drove the driving instructors car (with my modifications) and OT was also passenger in the car.

I was nervous about my first drive, but the instructor, David, was good and patient. He showed the modifications, revision of driving (eg. Wipers, indicating, blind spots, reversing, etc) and I drove to Brighton, Nepean Highway and Caulfield - all up 45 minutes driving. He also said to expect to be very tired and recommending low-key day. I was so fatigued after this drive, because so much concentration and focus. And I agree wholeheartedly with David's sentiments.

Last blog I was discussing neuroplasticity and new pathways the brain... And driving was perfect example of this - especially the pedals. I was trained to drive almost 20 years ago, but my modifications (and my driving) is now with brake pedal right and accelerate with left pedal (eg wrong way). My brain has not had a chance to wire up the skills and circuits necessary to drive but through repetition and practice, the neurons eventually the brain automates. The human brain is remarkable. After completed a four lessons with David - mainly more practice with modifications - he was satisfied with my driving and I was all clear to drive.

After that I booked my car in mechanic the modifications and next day my car was ready and I was allowed to drive. First drive with myself, I drove to yoga after that I drove home... I was excited and surreal - particularly in the efficient with my time because same route with public transport about 2 hours.... Driving was 15 minutes - big difference! I was extra cautious to driving - especially when including my family and my son (precious cargo) and I said with Loz 'maybe 2 weeks of driving solo' because of getting used to modifications... But next day after, I said 'I'm ready'... And I drove with Loz and Oscar.... and Oscar slept in the car.

The best thing about the car modifications is that anyone can still drive my car. The modifications are 'add ons' but the existing pedals, and indicators remain so if I am out and get tired or don't want to drive home, some one else can still drive my car for me.

Anything in life is negatives and positives, and only negative to driving is more tired after driving but in time and - each drive - I am more confident and less effort to drive, so outweighed by the many positives... Eg. more independence with me, with Oscar (eg. Kinder dropping off and picking up) and more helpful with Loz. Every time Loz had to go out to get take away or late night run to the supermarket, she would tell me "one day, you owe me!" Now I'm paying that back often!

Besides the initial set-backs with seizures, my driving timeline was approximately two months - relative very quick - and I am fortunate to more independent now. When I got the letter to call the OT to make the appointment for my initial assessment to drive, Loz thought it would be ages before I would get the all clear. I remember talking to Loz prior to that, and I questioned what is timeframe me driving? And Loz answered 'A long long the future....' Bottom line... Loz is shocked that I can drive now....but very happy also.

Because of this I can be more helpful, I can contribute more to my family and I can do more things on my own. It's even had a huge impact on my relationship with Loz because now I can come and go as I please and we can discuss what we do each day, because she hasn't been organising lifts for me or having me tag along with her. This was by far the biggest game changer for us.

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