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Taking the Keys Away

Posted Mar 18 2012 2:03pm
My mom has always been the perfect driver, and I mean perfect. We're talking a perfect 3-car following distance, hands always directly on ten and two o clock, stopping for a complete three seconds at the stop-sign, never going a mile over (or under) the speed limit...she was always a textbook driver. In over 30 years of driving, she has never had a ticket or an accident. Perfect. With the memory loss problems she has been having, she has prided herself on her ability to continue driving.

Over the past year or so, we've noticed mom's driving skills are not quite up to her once-high standard. She tailgates and puts on the brakes suddenly. I remember following behind her in our own car, not too long ago, and she suddenly slammed on the brakes at a green light because a small tumble weed had blown in front of her. Luckily we had a safe distance between us and were able to stop before we hit her. Another time, she was driving my dad and reminiscing about her old family home down the street and she slowed down her speed. Dad had to tell her that it wasn't safe to suddenly slow down in the middle of traffic just to lookey-loo around. Needless to say, we haven't felt too comfortable with her behind the wheel and more recently we won't ride in the car with her driving. She, however, sees no problems in her driving, even after her very first fender-bender a couple of months ago. She was backing out of her parking spot when she hit a car behind her. She claims that person came from out of nowhere, and that is possible. But with her focus and attention difficulties, it's hard to know the truth. That was the first time we were forced to think about if she was really safe behind the wheel.

We knew it would be a battle when the day came that we'd have to take the keys, and quite honestly, I think it was a battle that my dad was not ready to face. UCLA made the decision for us, ready or not. They informed my dad that they are mandated reporters, which means that they are madated to report to the DMV the diagnosis of mom. They told him that they would receive a notice in the mail from the DMV and that mom could go down to the DMV to take a test if she was adamant that she is still able and competent to drive. The doctor wrote my dad an order on a perscription slip of paper with the words "Do Not Drive". Mom was very unhappy with the "stupid" doctors who said she couldn't drive and would not accept their order. My dad thought that he needed to break her in slowly (let her get used to the idea for a little bit) and was under the impression that she was still able to drive until they received notice from the DMV. After talking it over with several people-my sister, my Aunt and Uncle, another Aunt, and myself-my dad finally accepted the harsh reality that he was going to have to take the car keys.

Saturday night, my dad tried explaining to my mom that she was not allowed to drive. He told her that I would be over to pick her up at 8:30 am the following morning for church, since he would already be gone to church meetings prior to 8:30. She argued back and forth with him, not comprehending why she was ordered not to drive. She insisted that she's "a good driver". He tried to explain to her that she has a condition called dementia, and that people with dementia are not allowed to drive. That explanation went completely over her head.

I knew that she wasn't going to readily accept her new fate. And so I was prepared that on Sunday morning, I would most likely have a fight on my hands. I called her at 8:15 to remind her that I was coming. She gave me an adamant "NO, you are not coming to drive me, I can drive myself....I don't know why they're saying I can't drive, I've always been a good driver..." The argument ensued for the next ten minutes as I tried to calmly and gently explain to her that she was not allowed to drive. She wouldn't give in. Frustrated, I tried to call my dad. No answer. I sent him a text stating that she was refusing to go with me. I got in the car and drove to my mom's house. When I walked in the door, she had her back to me and ignored me, looking for something in a box of paperwork on the floor. I could see right away that she was mad. Fuming mad. With much hostility in her tone, she told me,

"I'm not going with you, no. I can drive myself".

I asked her what she was looking for. "That paper thing your dad says the doctor wrote. I want to see that."

Immediately, I found the note written on the prescription slip with the orders "Do Not Drive". I showed it to her, and she snatched it from my hand. Remaining calm, I tried to explain to her what the note meant. If she were caught driving against these orders, she could get in trouble. My words didn't register with her.

"I'm feeling really sad that you guys are all picking on me. I'm not happy with this doctor, he doesn't even know me. I'm not a bad driver, there's no reason why I can't drive."

Everything she says is with anger and hostility in her tone and with a scowl on her face. She put the note in her purse.

"I'm taking this to my Bishop too. And I'm taking it to Dr. Thio too. I'm mad at your dad for doing this to me."

I take a deep breath, "Mom, your Bishop can't do anything about it and neither can Dr. Thio."

She responded with, "I don't know why he's punishing me. I'm not going back to those doctors, I don't like them. It makes me feel like maybe I should just go die then!"

When she gets angry, and feels like she is being picked on, mom makes comments about dying. At first, we weren't sure how to respond to this. Sadly, we are becoming accustomed to these outbursts and know that it is her defense mechanism.

I tried to tell her that nobody is punishing her. We are not doing this because we're upset with her. I put my arm around her and told her that we are taking her to these doctors because we love her and want to help her. These doctors at UCLA are the best of the best, they have found out what is going wrong in her brain and it's called dementia. People with dementia are not able to drive. Sure, she may be okay today. But over time it will get worse and she may end up hurting somebody, or hurting herself.

She shook her head and answered with a firm and angry "No. I'm not going with you. I just won't go to church then." She plopped down on the couch, with her arms folded on her lap, each hand hugging the opposite elbow and her back slumped over.

I sighed. Just then, my dad called. He told me he had just gotten out of his meeting. He asked to talk to my mom; she refused to talk to him. He told me that he would swing by to talk to mom and coax her to come with him to church. I sat next to my mom on the couch while I waited for my dad, and with her head hung down and eyes fixed on her skirt, she snaps,

"At least this shirt matches this color," as she points to a paisley design in her skirt.

"What?" I was a little taken aback by the abrupt change in subject.

"At least this shirt matches. My skirt has some of this other blue color too. It's good I don't have to wear my black shirt," she says, not looking up, and most certainly not without the scowl on her face or crank in her tone.

I gave her a smile. "It's a nice skirt mom, is this the new one you bought at Kohl's the other day?'

"Yes," she snapped back. It was quiet for a minute, and then she began her rant and argument about the driving situation. "I have to drive....I have appointments to go to, you're not gonna take me to them..." It goes on and on.

A few minutes later, my dad walked through the door. Initially, she ignored him. When she could no longer resist, she stood up and began her protest once again with him. He told her that "besides, your tire on your car is flat. You can't drive your car anyway" to which she accused him "you did that on purpose." (In fact, it was just a coincidence that her back tire had become flat that morning...I hadn't even noticed it when I walked to the door).

She continued to argue and looked at the clock; 8:45. She once again threw herself on the couch and said "I'm gonna be late now. I'm just not going!"

It takes 10 minutes to get to the church. One of mom's obsessions is time. She has to be very early or she thinks she's late. My dad was very patient and very gently took her by the arm and said "Come on dear, let's go."

Eventually, after a few more protests, she gave in. But she made sure that my dad knew the entire drive to the church that she was not happy about this and that she was going to make sure to tell her other doctors about this. She will not go down without a fight!

At family dinner that night, she pulled my Aunt into my daughter's room as soon as Aunt Sharon walked in the door (Aunt Sharon is a nurse). She told her all about the incident and asked her what she thought. Aunt Sharon was very honest; she told her that we did the right thing and tried to explain some things to my mom. Most of it went over her head. She holds firm that she has always been a good driver and doesn't deserved to be "punished".

Today I drove her to her hair appointment. She seems to have calmed down a bit. Maybe once her tire is fixed she'll get a new wind. She told me she was thankful that I drove her to get her hair done. She also expressed her feelings, yet again, on the topic. I expect it will be a hot topic for quite some time. Every new person she runs into will hear all about it. We just need to be patient with her. It's a hard thing to lose one's independence. I feel for her. I know this isn't any easier on her as it is with us. We, at least, understand her condition. She is not capable of grasping what is going on in her brain. In the meantime, we are all doing our best to help this transition go smoothly.
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