Let me begin by saying this is a tough subject to write about. When it comes to people with progressive eye diseases and answering the question “When do I surrender the keys, stop driving?” There is a simple answer. In life, sometimes we don't like simple answers, we would rather complicate the simple for the selfish. Please understand as you read this, I am coming from a place of experience, understanding and a genuine sense of caring about each one of you.
Let me start by telling you my story. At the age of 5 I was on a camp out with my father. One evening we were walking to meet some friends and I walked straight into a very large, very obvious tree, obvious to anybody who could see that is. That day my father knew there was something wrong. By the age of 8 I had figured out that there was something not right in terms of my vision. By the age of 12 my father sat me down and told me. All of the tests that I had been going through at the eye doctor were for a reason he explained. He then began to explain to me that I had Retinitis Pigmentosa or RP. It is a cruel disease, robbing you of your vision just a bit at a time. Over the course of my life, especially during the formative years, my parents treated me like a normal kid. There was no coddling in my house, you were expected to perform, be active, never allowing your limitations to dictate your future. Sure, they never pushed me to become a pilot or a surgeon, but they never let me escape the reality that life is what you make it. So at the tender age of 12 I had the answers for all the bumps. bruises and broken bones. However, rather than feeling like a victim, I chalked it up too being a kid, the kid my parents pushed to be better than my worst fears.
I went on to go to college, get married, have kids, work in the business world. But with each year my world shrank, my ability to do what I did shrank as well. That is the reality of a progressive eye disease. Along the way I learned to hack blindness, cheat a bit until one day while driving through a parking lot I ran smack into a cement light pole, just like that big old tree in the woods back in the day. I didn’t hurt anybody, just my Chevy Blazer and my pride. I shook it off and like many of you convinced myself that I was fine. A few weeks later I was driving to visit a customer and as I drove through the parking lot, BAM! It seems that I hadn’t seen the forklift to my right that had stopped with its forks down in my path. Again, the only thing I hurt was my pride as well as my car.
I tell you this because I was fortunate, lucky that the inanimate objects that I had hit with the weapon that was my vehicle were not things that possessed a pulse, people or some family's beloved pet. I went home that night and had the single worse night of sleep possible. It was a night filled with dreams of hitting some little kid that had darted into the street to retrieve a stray ball. Nightmares about hitting people crossing the street not paying attention to the traffic. The following day was filled with some powerful emotions, emotions I kept to myself and by the end of the day I was feeling okay. I swung by home, picked up my wife and my niece to attend a birthday party. I pulled into the gas station, got gas and as I exited the station I pulled into traffic only to hear a blood curdling scream from my wife. I slammed on my brakes and a very large semi seemed to pass through the front of my truck. Now I say it seemed to because as I carefully pulled my truck into the adjoining parking lot my wife asked me what just happened. It seems that she believed the truck had also somehow magically passed through our vehicle. We sat there in that Walgreens parking lot for what seemed like an eternity, all of us shaken. Quiet at first, but the silence was broken when both my wife and my niece asked me, “Didn’t you see that huge truck?” I sat there shaking, thinking, and finally admitting to myself that no, no I hadn’t seen it. I opened my door, walked to the passenger’s side of the car, opened my wife’s door and handed her the keys. That was the last time I drove a car.
So here it is, the moment that this is going to get uncomfortable if you are reading this. If you are wondering to yourself, “Is it time?” This is the question asked by not just those with progressive eye diseases but one asked by those who are aging, have other deteriorating physical conditions. For me you can call it luck, call it the universe deciding not to punish me because losing your eyesight is punishment enough. I call what happened to me blessings from God. Hitting the light pole, the forks of a forklift were messages meant for me to accept what God already knew. Having a semi pass through my truck was His last attempt to wake me from my stubbornness, my belief that I could cheat my future reality. The truth is we live in very different times now. Everything is digitized, categorized, collated and on record. If you drive and get into an accident, insurance companies now collect data from the black boxes in your vehicle looking at every detail of the accident. Phone records are looked at to ensure that you were not a distracted driver. Medical records are searched looking for possible correlations. Your presence on the Web is scrubbed. Your bloodwork is done making certain drugs or alcohol were not a factor. They can even deny you coverage if they detect you were not wearing your seatbelt. The truth here is that if you have a diagnosis, somewhere out there is a record and the fact that we live in the most litigious society in human history means that there is no such thin as “An Accident.“ Someone is always responsible. Translated, that means you and you alone could be responsible for the cost of any accident you get into. How long do you think it would take some intrepid insurance adjustor or lawyer to find out that you are going blind? How long would it take them to find the post you posted on social media asking the question, “When should I stop driving?" Forget everything except that last detail because it is in that moment a jury would look at you and seal your fate.
Now I know that many of you will read this and think to yourself, not me, it isn't time yet for me. You may have passed the last eye test for your driver’s license, I did that too. You may have asked your doctor if you should still drive and he may have said yes, reminding you of some restrictions, mine did. Your spouse or partner might not be able or willing to tell you the truth, bless her heart, mine wasn’t. And maybe it is true, maybe you have a few weeks, months or maybe years but the calendar nor the clock is our friend. What you have to ask yourself is, “Is the risk worth the reward?” How would you feel if it were your child or a member of your family or even a friend that was seriously hurt or killed by someone who wasn’t willing to accept that it was time to hang the keys up? Like me, many of you are wondering, how will I survive? How will I make a living? What does this mean for me and my freedom? All that I can say is that when one door closes, another door is open awaiting your arrival. For me, my life in the corporate world came to a close, that door shut. Because I am the Author of my own story I found the door that was waiting for me to walk through. Since I quit driving, since the lights went out, I have written 3 books, ghost written 4 more. Written for the print and digital media, worked as a political consultant, all of this because life doesn’t end when the last flicker of light leaves your eyes, it begins a new chapter in your life. So here is the simple answer to the question of “When do I give up my keys?” If you have read this far then you already know what my answer is. Now go and find that new door that is open and waiting for you to walk through, not drive through.
(Picture of a blind man driving a car with his cane extended through the window. Warning, do not try this at home!)