Memo to myself when I look back in years hence:
So six months ago our PA Stephanie asked Ralph how much driving he did alone. And he told her: the convenience store five minutes down the road; the Spanish grocery ten minutes away where our handyman likes Ralph to drive him to cash his checks; and Ralph’s therapist in Atlanta.
Since his diagnosis that weekly trip to the therapist has been Ralph’s big expression of independence and competence. He has his route down pat. He stops at the post office and checks to check our box; he takes a load of garbage to the dumpster at our old office; he picks up lunch at Burger King; he visits his therapist; he drives home.
Stephanie took notes, then warned us both to keep an eye on Ralph’s driving. Not so much his skill set but his sense of direction. She explained that a new detour can really be confusing for a driver with cognitive impairment and that the anxiety can made the driver too confused to find his way back on track.
When she suggested I start driving him to Atlanta, at least occasionally to make sure it was safe, Ralph and I immediately took umbrage…Ralph because driving is part of his sense of his identity as a competent man, me because I didn’t look forward to giving up a whole day every week to drive him back and forth. But the next week I made some excuse to ride with him into town—he was not about to accept that I needed to drive him—to make sure I was not just being selfish. As I reported to Stephanie on our next visit, Ralph seemed fine. In fact, he seemed to be a better driver, more cautious and careful.
Jump ahead to this past weekend. We drove together to the small Florida fishing town where Ralph was meeting his long-time fishing buddy.
Although I wasn’t comfortable enough with him driving five and half hours that I didn’t come along, I was pretty comfortable with him as driver since Ralph knows the way like the back of his hand. So on the way down I was happily drinking my coffee and relaxing beside him as passenger. Then I looked down to read a text, and when I looked up I realized Ralph had missed the turn. A major turn from one big highway to the next. A well marked turn that is hard to miss. We went an exit or two and turned around. I was a little tense and probably showed it more than I should have. Ralph was more than a little tense, but as I told him repeatedly in the next few hours, these things happen.
We got to Florida. Ralph calmed down and actually enjoyed himself more than either of us expected, thanks to a fishing buddy who is amazingly understanding about Ralph’s conversational loops.
Today we drove home. Ralph insisted that he wanted to drive. I was in the passenger but on alert when my phone rang. I looked down to find it, and when I looked up Ralph had missed the turn we needed to take. The turn he has taken hundreds of times. I stayed calmer this time, brushed the mistake off, said we didn’t need to turn back, that this way might actually be a short cut. But he was truly rattled. For the rest of the trip we had to discuss road numbers and I had to reassure him we were on the correct road.
Twice in four days may be a sign. Next week, I am driving with Ralph to Atlanta.