Can I give you a lift?
I gave a friend of mine a lift home last week from our support group meeting. He doesn’t currently drive, recovering as he is from his brain surgery. It was a good opportunity to catch up with him, hear news of treatment, of recovery progress, to share the odd anecdote, and complain about Sydney traffic. We talked a little about how, as much as it would be convenient to be able to just jump behind the wheel and drive somewhere, the reality of not doing so is compensated to some considerable degree by firstly, being alive and secondly, being cogent enough to accept this reality. He seems to have incorporated public transport and the vagaries that go with it, very well into his travel itinerary. It seems almost trite to suggest that it’s a significant quality of life issue for people recovering from any type of brain injury and yet I haven’t encountered a single complaint from anyone in the brain tumour community about it.
Certainly some, I count myself among them, have bemoaned the apparent discrimination that at times appears to impugn upon all brain tumour sufferers the danger they present to society if they ever get behind the wheel, as if by default, they would be more prone to an error of judgement than anyone else possessing a drivers licence. So, it was with some considerable righteous indignation, and I am on safe ground here, there will surely be no argument with it, that I listened to a news report of a woman whose car had run into a group of children whilst she was sending, or reading, I never found out, a text message on her mobile phone as she drove her car to wherever she thought she was driving it to. This woman was also, in a double whammy for the courts, drunk. If the reports are to be believed none of the children, mercifully, were killed, although at least one of them is fighting for their life. It’s here that I draw two quite self evident and clear distinctions between the two distinct sets of people represented in this little narrative.
The person representing the first set of people in our story, the brain tumour survivor, is acutely aware that, for some, perhaps many, getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle capable of transporting them to wherever they may want to go, represents a risk that is probably not worth taking. Most of the brain tumour community is no more likely to have a cerebral failure behind the wheel of a car than the rest of the population but the key difference is that the brain tumour survivor is more self aware than the woman who downs a few glasses of cheap Chardonnay prior to jumping in her vehicle and sending a text message to her girlfriend to say that she’ll be late for the party, or the school pick up. The woman at the centre of this story will probably be fined, she may lose her license for a bit and no doubt she’ll be momentarily remorseful. She will not however give up her perceived right to again get behind the wheel of her car. I know this for a fact because it is a universal meme confirmed every single day, our society affirms it, by people who continue to assert their right to exercise the freedom they believe they’ve earned, by sneaking a look down at their mobile phone screen at forty kilometres, or more, an hour and reading what they surmise must be a message that surely must immediately be attended to, as they shuffle, or glide, along in the apparent benign line of traffic.
Self awareness, in these situations, is jettisoned at the alter of opportunity. Ironically, and there is always irony drooling in the background of these types of incidents, and I suppose, in the way I observe them, we, as a society, could prevent this horror with the stroke of a pen. The technology exists for mobile phones to be immobilised before a car engine will start but here is the real problem, it is seen as either too difficult or an impingement on the rights of the individual. Generally referred to as “political will”, there is simply not enough of it. There not only appears to be a lack of political will, there are any number of impediments that could act as a shield to this sort of radical cultural insurgency, this obvious threat to our cohesive society to which proponents of this glorious freedom might aspire. These progressive do-gooders would very quickly be put to the sword and marched back to their sanctimonious gulags.
Motor vehicle users have significant political pulling power, brain tumour survivors and cancer sufferers in general, do not. Thus, all the while these events continue to play out, and that they will there is no doubt, there will be men and women who will continue to assert their right to stretch the apparent inalienability of their tightly held privilege to within an inch of its tightly held life. Naturally, that would all change if ever their child was mown down by some other irresponsible citizen unable to calculate the amount of alcohol they had imbibed or not be able to summon even a modicum of will power to render the need to leave checking incoming messages until they had reached their destination. I saw it just yesterday, it was confirmed to me by the woman next to me, in the middle lane of traffic, waiting in her sports car at the lights, looking down at her phone only to be left floundering as the lights changed to green while the rest of us moved away and she, left stranded completing her message and perhaps mildly embarrassed that she had shown herself up.
Had I had the temerity to wind down my window and remind her of the distraction, I’d have perhaps been told to mind my own business, or perhaps she’d have apologised, I don’t know. There is the point that it is exactly my business, it’s where the fallacy of freedom contradicts itself. It’s all of our business, we just don’t like to admit to being part of the problem. A benefit of this brain tumour journey is that it teaches you things about yourself, about others, and about society in general that beforehand may have been hidden from view, and it confers a certain self awareness more precious than the perceived freedom of exercising some sort of faux liberty conferred upon the general populace. I am fortunate in that I’ve been able to return to driving, having never suffered seizures.
The main issues for me being double vision and fatigue, corrective spectacles taking care of the first slight impairment and a self imposed boundary being placed on the second one ensuring that I take unnecessary risks out of the equation. If my phone makes a sound whilst I’m driving the action is a simple one, I ignore it until I have come to a full stop. I am not being virtuous, I’m being sensible. I spent nine months not driving and I, we, coped just fine. I’d rather, in many instances anyway, take the train or bus, it provides opportunity for a bit of banter, some social interaction, perhaps an opening for a moment of storytelling, that goes some way to restoring faith in human nature and a little time to think, rather then rage, or sigh or humph at the traffic. Goodness me, I can even send a text message.