Before I had MS I was a pretty keen walker and cyclist. Sure, I could drive, but I had neither the inclination nor the means to do so very often. And living in a town centre growing up, and later a city centre, I simply didn’t need to drive. My legs would always get me where I needed to go. But of course, that all changed in the new year of 2010 when my legs began going all wibbly wobbly and could no longer be relied upon – my ‘no-car hippy hoppy eco-friendly’ lifestyle just wasn’t to be and my partner and I (almost resignedly) purchased our first proper car. However, it wasn’t until months later that I would actually take to the wheel myself, and even then only for super quick journeys. Driving for the first time with numb-ish, heavy-ish, clunky-ish feet is awfully daunting and I found myself constantly checking that my feet were on the right pedals – more out of paranoia than anything else; I like to think I’m a safe and concientious driver – I would never drive if I believed it was unsafe to do so.
Anyway, following on from my recent Neuro appointment, in which the spasticity in my legs threw up concerns, I attended a driving assessment. Whew! And what an assessment it was! It’s incredibly reassuring to see the lengths at which these people go to in assessing people’s ability to drive. Two and a half hours of non-stop tests and examinations were performed; I was (in a non-intimidating and very friendly manner) subjected to a full and thorough MOT to ascertain my road-worthiness. I hadn’t even been allowed to drive myself to the centre in case the assessors deemed me unfit to drive and took my licence from me. Funnily enough, it hadn’t really entered my head that I would be found unsafe to drive a standard manual car, even though there was a very real chance that would happen. In fact, if I wasn’t safe to drive using my feet I would be unable to drive at all until my car had been adapted with hand controls – independence lost, that decision would have a HUGE impact on my car-reliant life. This assessment was super duper important.
Despite being physically wrecked lately I arrived at the East Anglian Driveability Centre full of bounce and almost wobble-free. This was both a blessing and a curse, you see I naturally didn’t want to “fail” the test (forgive the wording, this wasn’t technically that kind of test) but in the name of Road Safety I needed the assessors to get a true picture of how my MS affects me, otherwise what was the point? MS is an up and down condition, forever changing and surprising you and thankfully the lovely people at the driving centre knew this and so took that into account (making their job and their judgement all the harder for it).
With both an OT and a driving instructor present I was first “interviewed” so they could get a basic understanding of my everyday lifestyle and the issues I face thanks to MS. Next up was a test of my cognitive abilities – we’ve all heard of the dreaded Cog Fog that many MSers experience and I’m not immune to it myself, although I’m pretty sure my cog fog is more to do with the frazzling effects of having 3 kids! I was asked to pick out certain letters in a mass jumble of letters and then to do the same again whilst listening to a story and ticking off certain words I heard. I also did a number of simple tasks like grouping colours and shapes together (I seriously felt like I was back in pre-school and experienced that same giddy pride for being good at something!). A physio assessment followed, which put my upper arm muscles to the test – nailed it, obvs. My legs, on the other hand, were more of a concern. It’s really hard to describe spasticity without making it sound dangerous, which is probably why that became the main focus for the remainder of the assessment.
My vision was checked as were my reaction times using a static rig car simulator. Thankfully there were no concerns there – it’s amazing how quick a lesion-filled brain can still operate! There was, of course, talk of having adapted hand controls for my car, but the conclusion was that for the time being an automatic car would be the way to go. One last practical assessment awaited me – taking the assessors out for a drive! What are the chances that they actually had my exact model of car at the centre? Well, they did (I was assured that they don’t possess every car in existence!). For the second time that day my mind was taken back to an earlier memory – this time My Driving Test! However, the company here was delightfully more pleasant than the stern examiner I faced back in the summer of 2003 and we had a relaxed jaunt around Thetford, seeing all that the town had to offer. Safely back at the centre we all heaved a sigh of relief. I am safe to drive! BUT need an automatic car – pronto.