Driving Miss Crazy

WE'RE enjoying a quiet, extended celebratory moment here at Sagamore Manor as we approach the end of a 6-month transportation deficit. I’m pleased at last to announce I’ve been removed from The Duke Medicine No-Drive List. It's no longer necessary for me to bum rides constantly or consider awkward, unconventional modes of non-motorized transportation.

On January 1 this year my new cardiologist explained I ought not drive until we figured out why I suffered several episodes of sudden, complete loss of consciousness and collapse. I received this advice while resting comfortably in the Progressive Care Unit (intensive-care “lite") at Duke Raleigh Hospital. The moratorium on driving my Wrangler, or any motor vehicle for that matter, was understood to be for an indeterminate period of time. This created what we call here in the War Room, a “situation.” The Director of Domestic Tranquility, who already wears many hats at Sagamore Manor, suddenly became my new chauffeur. 

I’m pleased at last to announce I’ve been removed from The Duke Medicine No-Drive List. It's no longer necessary for me to bum rides constantly or consider awkward, unconventional modes of non-motorized transportation.

The Director took on her new responsibilities without complaint. She is an…adequate driver, devoted helicopter spouse, and first-class scold. But it’s all for the good. I can be moody, reckless, and petulant about keeping up with the quotidian tasks of medical maintenance therapy. These tasks are legion, complex, at times overwhelming, and they’ve grown old. I’m simply too tired, jaded, and grouchy to care at times. The Director, however, seems hell bent on seeing that I grow old regardless of my position on the matter. Thus, she also holds the title Chief of Nursing, Sagamore Manor. She’s been at it for 13 years now, and knows the ropes.

“Did you take your pills?”

“Yes.”

“Check your INR?”

“I did.”

“Well, what was it?”

“It was 2.9.”

“Then you’ll take 10 mg of warfarin tonight.”

“Fine.”

“What are you doing up on that ladder? Are you stupid?”

“I was just…I can’t...reach the…  Yes, I’m stupid.” (Trust me, it’s just freakin' easier.)

“Do your shots?”

“It’s late. I’m tired. You have to be on the ball for that…I’ll do them tomorrow.”

“All right then.  Good night.”

“Good night.”

“Turn out your light if you’re going to sleep.”

“Okay."

“Got your oxygen on?”

“Yup.”

“Did you change that cannula? It looked gross.”

“Good point… Stay in bed; I’ll be right back.” (Our bar is on the way to my cannula stash.)

And so it goes. 

It’s all good, actually…because I’m pathologically forgetful, and Nurse Muffin—as she’s known in the Sagamore Manor Infirmary—is on top of things. To say the least. You see, the Director is pathologically hyper-organized, which made her the obvious choice for Chief Financial Officer. In addition to overseeing Domestic Tranquility and nursing services, she also controls all finances. I don’t think I’ve seen a paycheck in 20 years. I don’t care. I don’t ask questions. We took a devastating six-figure financial hit after I was forced into medical “retirement” (AKA disability). Yet we now live in a beautiful new home in North Carolina, survived the moving costs, just installed a nice built-in pool, all our bills get paid on time, and we’ve a sterling credit rating. I just marvel at it all.

The Director, however, seems hell bent on seeing that I grow old regardless of my position on the matter. Thus, she also holds the title Chief of Nursing, Sagamore Manor.

The Director is also headstrong, likes to get her way, and won’t let things like the laws of physics or common sense thwart her indomitable will. She will, on a whim, rearrange any given room in the house on her own…without requesting assistance, or creative input. I’ve returned to find that the furniture that used to be downstairs is now upstairs, and vice versa. I just nod in amazed approval. It’s the prudent, safe course of action.

So with all that on her plate, it was somewhat of an inconvenience when I was grounded on New Year’s Day. Mind you, the cardiologist’s “suspension” of my driving privileges did not have the force of law behind it. He did not notify DMV of any restrictions, but it was entered in my records that I had been “instructed not to drive.” Had I ignored that admonishment and some unfortunate incident befell me (and/or others) involving loss of consciousness while behind the wheel, it would not bode well for me in any criminal or civil proceedings. Plus, there is the inconvenient fact that I had experienced four episodes of syncope and collapse with no warning whatsoever. Following his advice seemed like another prudent, safe course of action. So I became a temporarily permanent passenger.

In fact, I’m usually the passenger when driving with the Director. It’s always been that way. As a passenger, the Director is an insufferable nervous wreck…gasping, bracing for impacts that will never happen, standing on brakes that aren’t there, barking orders, shrieking unwarranted warnings, etc, etc. She would tell anyone who listened that I was an awful driver. In fact, friends and family know me as an exceptionally careful driver; cautious, but not overly so. I mind the speed limits, don’t try to beat red lights, keep plenty of for-and-aft space about the vehicle I’m driving, and try to maintain situational awareness of conditions several cars ahead. My driving record speaks for itself. One accident back in the 80s that wasn’t my fault; no injuries, no other vehicles involved. And I was ticketed for running a red light when I was 18 years old. The light was amber, but even at that tender age I knew that arguing with two burly, surly cops after midnight on a lonely side street is ill advised.

The Director, on the other hand, has a few bad habits, and her record is…well, let's keep that packet sealed. It’s not awful, but we have one or two examples of questionable judgment. Overall, her driving style is somewhat more aggressive than mine, more passive, and a bit on the edgy side. She is prone to tailgating, famously impatient with other motorists, is an inveterate over-braker, her reaction time is sluggish, she can be indecisive when merging or negotiating intersections, she's easily startled by almost any sound or sudden movement within or without the vehicle, situational awareness is hardly a strong point, and she’s too-often distracted by things like, oh…just about anything she happens to be driving past—an interesting house, thought-provoking landscaping, pretty flowers, road kill…whatever. She’s a rubber necker, and the narrow country roads we drive demand full attention and respect. I think she’s trying to improve in that area. But then there’s the Jekyll-and-Hyde thing.

Once the Director straps in behind the wheel, she becomes an autocratic despot. For example, no touching the controls when she’s driving…any of them. On one occasion, must have been back in the 90s, we were stopped at a red light on a hot humid day, and I reached over to turn on the air conditioning. Before my hand reached the control knob she slapped it away and hissed “What do you think you're doing?!

“I’m going to turn the air conditioner on. It’s stifling in here.

“You ASK first!"

“Did your brain hear what your mouth just said?”

“You don’t just turn on the air conditioner! It puts a strain on the engine, and we’re not moving!” (We were driving a Geo Metro back then.)

“What are you talking about…moving?”

“When the engine’s idling the air conditioner puts a strain on it. We could stall. So we have to be moving before we can use the air conditioner.” 

“Seriously? I don’t…”

"I’ll take care of the A/C. Don’t touch the controls when I’m driving; it’s hard on the engine.”

“It’s even harder on domestic tranquility.”

She’s calmed down since then…somewhat. But strange vehicular idiosyncracies aside, I’m happy to leave the driving to her, and I always have been. The Director convinced herself I was a menace behind the wheel, and driving with a passenger who travels at the edge of hysteria gets unnerving after a while. So we long ago adopted a nontraditional driving arrangement; the woman drives, the man is happy to read. I’m confident enough in my masculinity, reasonably confident she won’t get us killed, and truth be told, I’d rather read than drive anyway. But I do keep at least one vigilant eye on the road, extending our situational awareness. Just in case.

So taking on the role of chauffeur was hardly a stretch in the sense that the Director would be doing all the driving. Because that’s always been the case when we traveled together. Of course, we didn’t always travel together. Couples generally do not go everywhere and do everything together all the time. Before I was effectively grounded, I would gladly climb into my Wrangler and drive into town if we needed a loaf of bread, or another couple liters of gin, or if we were running low on ammunition. And we could go our separate ways, and do our separate things, as we saw fit. Not so since January 1. Whenever I had to be somewhere (ie, all my appointments) she had to drive. If we needed anything in town, she had to make the run. And no need for me to tag along. 

So we long ago adopted a nontraditional driving arrangement; the woman drives, the man is happy to read. I’m confident enough in my masculinity, reasonably confident she won’t get us killed, and truth be told, I’d rather read than drive anyway.

During these past six months, I rarely left Sagamore Manor except for health-care related appointments. And I’ve had plenty of those to keep. These appointments are at centers located either in Raleigh (about a half hour drive each way) or Durham (easily over two hours round trip). We’re probably looking at somewhere between 30 or 40 appointments thus far this year...with some eight or nine providers. So we’ve logged a lot of side-by-side miles together in 2016. The going wasn’t always easy. 

As mentioned earlier, the Director is transformed once she assumes command of a vehicle. I’m in poor health, generally uncomfortable, and that can leave me sullen and cranky. And tensions can run high in an enclosed, high-speed environment. All sorts of variables to deal with, so it’s fertile bickering ground. Which SiriusXM station to listen to? My "40s Junction" big-band favorite? Her 70s pop-classics channel? Windows up? Down? Air conditioner on or off? Who gets to work the controls? "How come we never talk in the car?” 

“Okay, let’s talk. How could you not gas up yesterday knowing we had to make it to Raleigh today…on fumes…with no time to stop beforehand?" 

"Oh, it’s always my fault, isn’t it? I can’t believe you wore that shirt…we’re dressed like twins." 

"Don’t worry; we won’t be seen together outside the Jeep. Whoa!! Could you get any closer to that semi?" 

"I know what I’m doing!" 

"Watch out for that “Stop” sign; a Stop sign doesn’t become a “Hit Me” sign just because it’s facing the other way." 

"Oh I can’t wait until you’re driving again."

WELL, that day’s arrived. I can drive anywhere I want, anytime I want. In fact it’s been seven days now since I got the official “okay.” But I still haven’t even cranked the engine. Oh I almost did. Last Sunday. I was smoking a pork shoulder (a 14-hour ordeal) and round about 2:30 PM, it looked like I might run out of charcoal. I texted a couple good friends in the neighborhood, on the outside chance they might have some hanging around. It’s six or seven miles to the nearest stores from our house, and I was hoping to save myself a trip. Chauncey got back to me quickly. He didn’t have any but kindly offered to make a run and pick some up. I told him I’d scrounge some somewhere…wouldn’t need much. Then I put myself together, grabbed my wallet, keys, cane, and headed for my Wrangler…ready to make a charcoal run and enjoy my first drive in half a year.  The Director saw me suiting up for the drive, and she started. “Where are you going?”

“I’m just going to make a quick run for a bag of charcoal.”

“No…no you’re not. I don’t think you should.”

“Why on Earth not?”

“Because it’s been a while since you’ve driven. You should take it slow.”

“I am taking it slow. I’ll be fine. I’ve been cleared.”

“Stay here. I’ll go.”

“No. Absolutely not. That’s not  necessary anymore.”

“No, really. I’d be worried. I’m going.”

“No you’re not. I am. You've been working in the yard…you’re grimy, sweaty, uncomfortable…relax…please. I’m going. You’ve nothing to worry about. I’m cleared to drive. I’m apparently fit to drive. And I am going to drive...whenever I feel like it.”

“No! You ASK first!!"

It’s not easy being the Director of Domestic Tranquility, or Chief of Nursing at Sagamore Manor, or Chief Financial Officer, or once-and-future chauffeur for your host. Lousy hours, lousy pay, lousy sleep. You’ve really got to love your work.


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