Each handicap is like a hurdle in a steeplechase, and when you ride up to it, if you throw your heart over, the horse will go along, too. ~~Lawrence Bixby

Friday, August 5, 2011

Look Ma! No Feet! (or Learning to Drive with Hand Controls)

Yesterday was a big day: I had hand controls installed on the new rig. Yet another step on the disability path. My dear friends Gwenlyn and Nan went with me, partly to keep me company during the four hour installation process and partly to be my support team as I learn how to drive in this whole new way.

It’s appropriate that Nan was along on this venture, since she was a passenger in my car the night it became evident that I needed to think seriously about hand controls. (Her fingerprints can still be found embedded in the back seat of the Saturn.) We were leaving a house concert late at night; I was driving down the steep driveway onto the steep gravel road and thought my brakes had gone out – they weren’t responding to my repeated foot pressing. About half way down the road I realized that my foot hadn’t even been on the brake but somewhere to the west of it. The lack of feeling in my feet due to neuropathy had manifested one of my worst nightmares.

After our heart rates had returned to an acceptable level and we thanked goddess no one had been in the road, we discussed my options, Because Laurie doesn’t drive, if I become benched, getting around would be extremely challenging. We can't afford a chauffeur, so the next day Laurie and I started investigating hand controls.

As soon as we bought the Element, I made an appointment for the installation. I knew there would be a bit of a learning curve – after all, I’ve been driving with two feet and two hands for 43 years – but I was assured that it was pretty easy to catch on. What I didn’t think about was that my left hand will be on the combo accelerator/brake lever and unavailable for other duties, so I have to steer with just my right hand. This is not an easy task! Plus there are so many other things I need to be doing with my hands – tuning the radio, adjusting the AC, petting the dog, drinking water or coffee – and how the heck am I supposed to parallel park???

Remember the old steering wheel spinner knobs from days gone by? Did you know they’re illegal in most states now unless you’re a disabled driver? (They’re called suicide knobs now, apparently for good reason.) I remember picking one up at the auto shop and popping it on the steering wheel. Now I will need a doctor’s order and a chunk of change to get one installed, but it will make it so much easier to turn the steering wheel one-handed.

I spent about 20 minutes practicing in the parking lot after the installation was complete. Then I felt (sort of) ready to get on the road with Gwenlyn as my co-pilot (and kudos to her – I didn’t see one white knuckle or hear one “Oh Shit!”). I decided to stay off the freeway and drove a comfortable 35 mph most of the way home. It was a mostly uneventful trip - even though it was rush hour -  and I got the hang of it, but don't yet feel confident that I could handle any driving situation.

We have a road trip this weekend. I still have the option of using the foot pedals and I may opt to do that for this trip and get more practice in empty parking lots. The experts say that once you've decided to use the hand controls, it's important to commit to it and not switch back and forth. Today I'm feeling a little commitment phobic.

And now a little promotional message: If you're in need of any mobility products, I highly recommend All-in-One Mobility. They know their stuff and they are wonderful to work with.


Laura said...

Terri, congratulations on taking this important step!

Tiffin said...

Yes, it would be hard to undo 43 years of conditioning but as your feet have proven themselves unreliable (feets don't fail me now!), the sooner you train your brain and body to make the transition, the better, right? Once it gets automatic, you'll be ok. We adapt more quickly than we give ourselves credit for (remembering myself trying to learn to use a mouse on a computer for the first time). Bon voyage, Ter!

Nancy said...

Ya! Take it over to the high school parking lot, isn't that how we first learned? Kudos Kiddos, huge step, certainly going to be a big trip tomorrow. Will be wishing you well all the way! Take some breaks to check in with yourselves, eh? Breathe, sigh, giggle, keep you hand off Laurie's knee....


Gwenn said...

I have used hand controls and while I can't say it was "easy" it did make sense once my muscle memory kicked in. Good luck with this adventure in continuing independence!

Rubbermaid said...

I've had to learn how to drive sitting on the right with my left foot and left arm hanging over, and then a big truck with steering wheel and controls on the right and shifting with the left. You can do it. Think of it as a different song you haven't sung before. I can help if you want. It will put your focus and attention back where it should be-on your driving-instead of the dog or the coffee or g/f or anything else. It really is a full time job and your driving will improve.

Barb said...

Very interesting stuff, Terri. I rented a scooter from All-in-One Mobility for two weeks in July when my mom visited. It was a surprise for her. She can walk, just not far, yet her mind/heart wants to RUN!! So, we never get to venture out much. She was THRILLED! You should've seen her racing all over Oregon Gardens; she was carving crazy-8 patterns around people. She took out a thread display rolling about 3 mph at Fabric Depot. Oh what fun. She bought one the day she returned home. She, too, is experiencing the "curb dilemma" and realizing the perils of accessibility. Good luck, and good for you!