Saturday, September 29, 2007

OCT/NOV 1992- I CAN'T DRIVE 55! (cont.)

Every afternoon (Monday-Friday) a bus with a lift would pick me up, and take me across campus to driving school for 3 hours. Before attending the school I had to have my learner’s permit. I had no problem taking the test. I even had to make a trip to OKC, so they could see that I was disabled (duh)! I had the normal first day of class jitters. What will the other students be like? I hope the instructor is nice? I hope I don’t wreck the student vehicle or run over anybody!! 6 of the other classmates entered, and much to my surprise one of them was my peep Alicia!! I knew her from camp, and she was also a fellow FAer. The minute we saw each other we were both happy campers!! Alicia lived in Edmond. Alicia was just 16, and I am assuming because she lived there she knew about the school. We were friends at summer camp, but we did not have much to do with each other outside of camp. I always thought she had that Brooke Shields “Blue Lagoon” model look about her. Anyways, so we were instant class buddies. For the first day we took a simulated test to see which accessible adaptation would best suit us. Not everybody in the class was in a wheelchair. There was one person with one leg shorter than the other one, and someone who walked with a cane. I am not educated at all about the different options for driving. Almost anything can be adapted these days. Because one of the girls had a short leg she used break and gas extenders on the petals. Alicia and I were both in wheelchairs, and unable to use our feet. So we used hand controls. I think this is the most common adaption. It is a bar that is below the turn signals, and you push down for gas and in for break. There is a toggle switch on the bar for the turn signals so that you don't have to take your hand off the bar to do so. There is also a knob on the steering wheel to make full turns. After figuring out what everybody needed we spent the rest of the week practicing our driving on the simulation modules. When it was time to start getting on the road with the vehicles there were several instructors, and we had partners. You will never guess who my partner was? It was Alicia! Our instructor was a young good-looking preppie guy! Alicia and I were both happy about that, for now anyway. So Alicia and I would take turns driving the vehicle. We never really went on real busy streets or highways. I do not remember what kind of vehicle it was, but it was four-door, a brown color, and it ran! I was able to stand up and transfer into the drivers seat. God has blessed me with really long legs, although I think he forgot that I wouldn't be able to use them!! Since all the length was in my legs I sat on a cushion so I could see over the steering wheel. I would leave my wheelchair in the building. The next two weeks consisted of Alicia and I taking turns practicing driving with the instructor. I was proud of myself because I was not bad at going in a straight-line, but I could not get turning! I would overturn the wheel every time. One time we did go into somebody's ditch on a residential street. Thank God there were no children around! Through out this time the instructor and I tried to start up a friendship, but it was not meant to be! He knew who I was from back in the day (being homecoming queen, and getting my diploma), and we even had a friend in common. I do not remember his name and that is quite all right with me! He was getting frustrated, and so was I with the fact I could not get the turning thing down. One of the days he decided to teach us how to parallel park. I was a nervous wreck (no pun intended!) when I realized what we were doing. I had to park between 2 cones. I did it over and over. Surprisingly I only hit the cones once, and it was not hard enough to disfigure them! The instructor and I only spoke to each other when necessary. Alicia and him seemed to get along great-go figure. The straw that broke the camels back was when I saw him and Alicia come back from their driving lesson carrying a bag of tater tots! I was like “NO THEY DI-N’T!” They just took away time from my driving lesson to go have a little brown bag special at the Sonic Drive-In! Apparently Alicia was driving good, me on the other hand was not. I was still not sure of turns, and we only had the week left to practice before the big test. I thought I would give him a piece of my brown bag special mind, and see if he liked it. So I went to the head instructor telling him of my frustrations with the other instructor, and my problem with turning still. Because Mr. Brown bag was not the only instructor so I asked for another one. The head instructor took me as his new student. We used the same vehicle, and he was so patient with me. It made me not frustrated, and I got the turning technique right away. I never had to face Mr. Brown bag for the rest of my schooling.

I was feeling good that day as we got ready to go to the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles). Of course, the exam was on unfamiliar territory. I was doing fine until they called my name. I was again going to be driving the same vehicle so that was good. I got into the drivers seat, and a policeman got into the passenger seat. That is when I wanted to pee my pants, and call my mama! I tried to make small talk with him to break the ice. We went on a busy two lane street. He asked me to move into the other lane. It made me nervous to do that. I had a bad tendency of turning the wheel when I would turn my head to check my blind spot. I looked in the rear view mirror as I saw it was clear I then checked my blind spot. I did it! The policeman then instructed me to turn into a residential street. My turns were very smooth. As we came up on a street we saw two cars that were parked on the side, and there was room for another car to park in the middle. So he told me he wanted me to parallel park in between those cars. You talk about nervous. I am a girl, and normally have no ideas about the make and model of a car. But I do know the symbol of a BMW! That was what one of the cars was that I was to parallel park in between. Forget peeing, I felt like I was going to s**t at that point! I told the policeman I was extremely nervous, and he told me if I felt like I could not do it we could go back to the DMV. I was not about to give up just because of a BMW! I proceeded. and did it just like I had practiced with the cones. I kept telling myself that they were merely cones. I was barely inching into my spot, and gaining a little confidence.... when BAM!! I just knew my life was over as I had hit someone else's car. The policeman said, "you just hit the curb." I was so relieved. He told me to turn out, and go back to the DMV. I was shaking and almost in tears as I really thought I had just failed. As we pulled into the DMV he asked me to park in one of the spot's. I did not do the best job at parking. As I shut off the car I asked him what the damage was. He told me I did a good job and passed! I could not believe it. I told him I thought I was so goner when I hit the curb for the parallel parking. He told me that I showed him I could do it, and that even though I wasn't perfect at it this time he knows I can do it. He said there isn't very many times that you will ever need to parallel park anyway. I was so excited. And eager to look at my old instructor in the face, and smile really big:)

I know a couple of professor's at UCO now, and they tell me there is no more driving school for the disabled there:( Hoping thats because there are more places to go.

Soon after returning home from getting my driver’s license my friend Tonya threw me a surprise party for passing my test! Several friends of mine from high school were there. It was fun for us all to be there together. The cake was shaped like an Oklahoma driver's license. It was very sweet and thoughtful of her to do that for me.

Now tell me about your first driving experience? How did you learn? Did you pass your driver's test the first time? If you do not drive a vehicle you have probably driven something, power wheelchair, a bike, Scooter, a virtual car, you get my drift. Tell me about driving anything. Everyone's got a story of some kind.

Thank you for taking the time to read, Miss S

Sunday, September 23, 2007

OCT./NOV 1992- I CAN'T DRIVE 55!!!!!!!! (Sammy Hagar, 1984)

As I have mentioned in a previous post, before graduating high school I was hooked up with someone from vocational rehabilitation services in Tulsa, Ok. They helped and informed me about getting services due to my FA. Like helping me to get Social Security disability benefits, training for a job, and driving lessons! I was not aware that there was anything out there that would allow me to drive a vehicle. I always thought I would just be the female scrub hangin’ out of the passengers side of my best friend’s ride (Shout out to the group TLC, I love that song)!! I signed up for this right away. I think my parent's were not very optimistic on this one, but they supported my decision. The biggest obstacles that were in my way were the fact that the driving school was 2 hours away, and a month long. The driving school was held at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) in Edmond Oklahoma. The vocational rehabilitation would financially pay for me to have a helper stay with me, for room and board for me and my helper to stay at UCO during that month, and for the driving classes. Now I just had to figure out who my helper would be. Needing someone for the middle of October to the middle of November is a hard time frame to try and get someone. And it was only for a month. I asked several people, and finally my friend Crystal from high school said she would go with me. Crystal and I never really hung out with one another outside of school. I had all four years of Spanish class with her. She was my amiga!!

My Mom and Dad followed Crystal and I to UCO, and they helped us to get unpacked. I seemed to have brought everything but the kitchen sink while Crystal brought everything from the boy band New Kids on the Block (sheets, comforter, pillow cases, u name it she had it)! We stayed in the accessible dorms. Because the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) had just became law earlier that year the dorms were far from being perfectly accessible, and still have quite a few barriers to overcome. There was actually only one hallway of accessible dorms there. They were coed. There were not many people living in them though. The first person we met was a gentleman named Jason who lived across the hall. He was an actual student, and in a power wheelchair. I do not recall what his disability was. He lived alone, and seemed to know everyone. He took us in under his wing, showed us around, and introduced us to other folks. He became our best friend while we were there. A funny moment was that every weekday during 11 a.m. he would watch the soap opera All My Children, and I would watch Young and the Restless. Crystal watched All My Children as well, and would go to his room and watch it with him. I could hear them screaming and hollering at the TV! Eating in the cafeteria with a bunch of strangers was intimidating at first. We were shy, and would have only small salads like we were on a first date! It did not take long to warm up to the other students, make friends, and eat normal! Everyone was so nice. Crystal and I were getting to live the college life for a month! No parents, no curfew! My parents were never strict or anything, but it was a grown-up feeling I had. I did run into a couple of peeps that went to school there that I knew. Small world! I also got to hang out with some peeps from MDA summer camp. One of them of course was a firefighter named Scott and his daughter. Another one was my Diva Jen (! We had actually visited on a couple of different occasions. It was so good to see her. Because of our living distance we did not get to visit very much (we now live in different state's so it is even harder). Because UCO was closer for her to get to we took advantage of it. I had a blast being there! Normally Crystal and I would go home on the weekends.
Below is a photo of Crystal (Top row: 2nd on left, blue-green top), Alicia (Sitting far left, friend from class, i talk about her a lot in the next post), me (in wheelchair), and Jason (to my right). From the first week we were there we went w/ Jason to his Christian group meetings. They were all wonderful people.

To find out what happened in driving school you must check the next post. Did I run over anybody? Did I wreck the vehicle? Did I pass the drivers test? I have been working on this for several days (my voice dictation has not been cooperating), and figure instead of letting you read it all at once I will put it in 2 parts. I have already started writing about driving school so it should not take long (cross your fingers).

What was your first experience like living away from your parents or being away from them for a good period of time?

Thank you for taking the time to read, MISS S

Sunday, September 09, 2007


Since being in the wheelchair full-time since graduation walking became something that was very rarely done. While standing was something I tried to do every day. I admit I was clueless, lazy, and there were days I did not stand at all. Of course I look back now and wish I had paid better attention to my mom when she would say to me "If you don't use it, you will lose it." It made things so much easier for me especially during those menial everyday tasks that I had even taken for granted before things got really difficult. Like carrying a full glass of something to drink. I could just sit in my lap, and not have to worry about trying to walk with it. Not to mention spilling half of it along the way. I used to sit a TV tray across my lap, and only connect one side of the legs to the tray. That way I would not always have to get out of my chair to eat. I did get out of my chair though when we would have dinner at the dinner table. I also had a door mirror that was on my closet door of my bedroom. I would sit in my chair with my curling iron, and make-up to get myself ready for the day. Before using the chair I would just sit on the floor (I would still do that from time to time as it was good exercise for me to get up-and-down from the floor). Because of doing this I had several burn marks on my legs, and on my forehead from trying to curl my bangs! If you didn’t know me you would think I was being abused! It is not very noticeable, but I do have a scar on the left side of my forehead. The pain I would go through, and all for beauty! I also had a lawn chair that would sit in the tub so that I could shower without having to worry about falling. Getting undressed to get in there was always tricky, but I managed to do it! The biggest obstacle for me at that time (and still remains) is going to the restroom. Because our bathroom door like bunches of the bathroom doors is the smallest door in the house my wheelchair was unable to fit in there. So I had to park my chair in the hallway, wobble into the bathroom, and shut the door. The stool was right next to the door. Because my balance was so bad I was having to lean against the counter to try to steady myself enough to get my pants down. I would end up with all of these scratches on my lower back because our countertop was not rounded at the ends. I had even fallen a few times. My parents both worked, and my brother had moved out by this time so I was home alone during the day. My kidneys and blatter were not patient enough to wait 8 or so hours. Imagine that! So our neighbor across the street, Harold, was a carpenter (he built his own house!) came over to look and see if he could widen our bathroom door. Without much hesitation he came over, and dropped what that he was doing. He widened the way and installed a new door. He even drilled a grab bar in the door so I would have something to hold onto that was sturdy instead of leaning against the counter. It was a big relief and blessing to have that done. Along with a great security factor. Harold never did charge anything for his time. Now that I could fit my wheelchair into the door it did not seem to take as much time to go to the bathroom, and I did not fall any more or have scratches on my back! Our bathroom was not huge so I could not do donuts in there or anything. I would actually go in backwards so that I would be facing the grab bar.

Harold is another big hearted individual that deserves a shout out on my blog! I have special memories with the whole family. I have mentioned some of those memories throughout my blog already. I try to keep in contact with all of them by way of Christmas cards and stuff. I mostly talk to Diane on e-mail. She even made a surprise visit to my college graduation a couple of years ago! I love them all!

I learned to make do with what I had around me at the time. I would love for you to share about a time when you had to make do with what you had. How did you do it? Maybe you can share a trick that would be helpful for not only me, but someone else!

Thank you for taking the time to read, Miss S