Two years ago I met with doctors at the sleep center of an Ivy League university hospital. I was seeing the sleep center doctors in hopes that they could rid me of my night terrors – hallucinations in the night that more often than not result in me screaming very loudly. (For the record I am not a screamer in my waking hours. Point of pride.) The appointment was important to me. I wanted answers. And yet, I wasn’t completely honest with my own answers. I minimized and dodged their questions about how tired (or woozy, as I usually describe it) I can get during the day, sometimes even while driving. We all know that lying to your doctors only hurts you in the end, but I did it without thinking because I feared they’d take my driver’s license away. (Can sleep doctors even do that?)
Sleep specialists aside, I suspect many chronically ill people like me have at some point gripped their steering wheel and asked themselves the alarming thought, “Should I be driving right now?” Whether you’re being impaired by intense fatigue, low blood pressure, overwhelming nausea, severe pain or a neurologically foggy mind, that uh-oh/OMG/WTF suspicion that you may not be 100% safe behind the wheel never feels like a simple black and white decision:
For starters, it’s hard to know where the line divides those days when you feel a little under the weather and those days where you silently pray Please God let me encounter no other vehicles, no animals, no kids and no sandy patches between here and my house because you suspect your brain and your reflexes may not be fully present. At what point between those two should you put away your keys? And then there’s your brain arguing with you Well, I made it through the vegetable aisle and the checkout…I can’t be that sick. Plus the fact that calling someone to come get you would be horribly inconvenient for all involved, you’d have to make arrangements to get your car later, plus you know that it would take much longer to wait for someone else than to just drive home yourself. But what makes me question my judgement most of all is that I seem to be the only person at all concerned with this. I’ve never read anything advising me to have reservations about driving while symptomatic. Driving while impaired with substances sure, but never about driving while sick. So I’ll sit in the Target parking lot wondering if I’m overthinking the whole issue, and just need to buck up and get myself home.
But with clear heads the rational among us know that this reasoning is bullsh*t. Don’t worry about what others think, just do what you know is right – that’s what we teach our kids right? I will cease and desist with potential paragraphs of preachy/high-horse/dramatic ruminations, but I will say this: the last thing I want is to lose my license or worry my parents, but some days I do wish that someone else decides for me: Should I be driving today?