I often think of Parkinson’s as a sequence of reluctant landmarks. The day we are diagnosed and the anger, denial, grief and depression that followed. The day we start taking medication, as we accept that we cannot fight the illness alone. The day we start levodopa and take its first steps on that path to dyskinesias. The day we give up full-time employment, that most symbolic act of emasculation. The day we submit to deep brain stimulation, as we run out of viable options. The day we are registered disabled, tacitly badged as worthless, the burden never expected. The day when we are taken into care, shown to our seat in God’s waiting room. And finally the day when there are no more days.
We are taken away from ourselves by degrees, some barely noticed, others cataclysmic. And of course each of us has our own personal landmarks, each in its own way an erosion of our capabilities, a narrowing of our horizons. Each landmark gnaws at our identity, our perception of self-worth.
For me, independence is vital. I resent every encroachment upon that independence. My driving licence is up for renewal in July and, as usual, the DVLA sent me the forms to fill out. Keen to ensure that this should be no break in continuity, I quickly completed the questions and sent the forms back to Swansea. Yesterday I woke to the sound of letters falling on the doormat. There it was, my letter from the DVLA. It’s normally takes months. I was very impressed. Good I thought, one less thing to worry about. I read the rest of my mail first and finally opened the envelope with that last sip of espresso.
“Dear Dr Stamford” it began “important: you must not drive”. I put the letter down, then picked it up and read through the beginning once more.
The rest of the letter provided some details but, like that moment of diagnosis, I took little in. All that mattered was contained in the first sentence. Not that my licence would not be renewed from July. That would have been tough enough. But no, it was instantly invalidated. No period of grace. No chance to get used to the idea. No final ride. My last drive in the car I bought last October was not to be some proudly symbolic bucket list thrash around the Nurburgring. My last motoring experience amounted to little more than the previous day’s nipping out to the farm shop to buy a pint of semiskimmed. A motoring whimper.
It wasn’t how I wanted it to be. I knew that day would dawn sometime and every year that passed the day drew closer. But like a cricketer who knows when to retire, I had hoped that I would know when the moment came and I would be able to take that decision myself. Not this way stealing that tiny dignity from me. And in that moment when I read the letter’s opening sentence, my motoring life flashed before me. All the cars I had ever owned. My first car, a tomato red Fiesta, the white Golf, the blue Golf, the red Sapphire, the brown Mini, the silver Puma, the gunmetal Galaxy and of course, the Jags, how could I forget the Jags. A silver blue S-type followed by an XJ6 in the same colour. Then another Golf, a B-Max briefly and then another deep blue Puma.
There are of course worse things than losing your driving licence. People go through worse. I will adapt as everybody does. Friends have been quick to offer lifts and to suggest the merits of bus passes, taxis, ubers and so on. And I shall get round to that. I shall get up again, dust down my gloves and swing punches again. It’s not as though it’s the end of the road.