I’m sure we can all think of personal stories like this one, a fleeting chance encounter at an elevator that has an alarming negative ripple effect. But I’d like to share it in the hopes that it will serve as a strong reminder about how important it is to be more aware when out in public.

Eyes wide open…

My dad is getting older. His mind is very sharp despite his age, and even though he has a few worrisome conditions that would convince most not to drive, my father is extremely stubborn and blind to this reality, and fights like a demon to keep his independence and stay in control of his life. Oh, and drive himself wherever he wants to go, whenever he wants.

He’s physically impaired so this isn’t easy, which is a good thing, but it’s not the obstacle that it could be, and should be, unfortunately.

We four siblings (all living in different states, spread out across 600 miles) have battled for nearly five years to find an effective way for Daddy Dearest not to get behind the wheel. But my father is a retired attorney, blocks EVERY suggestion, no matter how reasonable. He’s still keeping up with his legal life. Spending eight hours a day researching cases then typing up arguments, sending off letters to “corrupt” leaders and business executives. He’s fiercely determined to get his way, and becomes vicious when your suggestions conflict with his opinions.

Needless to say, there have been thousands and thousands of hours spent strategizing about how to succeed with our mission to stop my father from driving.

Hire a driver. Let the air out of his tires. Remove a vital part so the car won’t start. Take away his keys. Hide his license. Call the police.

Endless combative discussions. We all end the conversations feeling bruised.

I eventually sent him a pass for the town’s dial-a-ride, this at the encouragement of the town police. Yes, the police did get involved when a woman waiting at the entrance of Bed, Bath & Beyond with her friend, claimed that my dad was reckless and nearly hit them, then took “forever” to get out of the car and trek into the store with his walker (he’s an amputee with a fake right leg and his left leg has extreme arthritis).

So the policeman arrived. The officer saw firsthand how physically impaired my dad was, took his license, left the car in the parking lot, and drove my father home. But en route, my father was suddenly back in the court room, litigating in front of a judge, and went for the officer’s jugular, so that by the time they arrived at my father’s condo at the Active Adult Community where he lives, the officer had handed back my dad’s driver’s license and apologized.

The officer called my sister who lives in town. Explained that because there was no record of any past driving offenses or complaints, and because he personally hadn’t been a witness and thus hadn’t seen my father drive recklessly, he could’t keep the license. But he did start a file on my dad, and record the incident, so that next time his license could be taken away. He also strongly cautioned us, urging us to do whatever we could to keep him from driving.

So we continued to argue and suffer and blame each other for ten more months. THEN, the Friday before Memorial Day, my dad fell in his condo and broke his hip. He had surgery and was in rehab for three months. My other sister confiscated his keys and hid his car in the parking deck beneath the complex.

We celebrated that our despair and frustration was finally over.

My father returned home in September. We arranged for a nurse to visit each day from 10:00a-1:00p. She drives him wherever he wants, or simply dashes out and picks up whatever he needs. The four of us felt at peace. Whenever he screamed about his missing car key, we tuned him out.

But one afternoon this past October, he became fixated on driving to the library 200 yards from his condo. Laser focus. Man on a mission. With sheer determination, he swiveled his wheelchair to the elevator, pushed himself inside, hit the “G” for garage and descended to the lower level. The door opened, he tried to push himself out and became stuck.

After a few minutes, a fifty-something man arrived at the elevator. My father poured on the charm and convinced the man to help him get to his numbered car spot. The car wasn’t there. My dad instructed the man to search for the car in the parking deck and provided details. The man eventually located the car. My father then asked him to open the gas cap and find the key taped inside. The man retrieved the hidden key and handed it to my father. He then headed off to visit his mother upstairs.

None of us had any idea about a hidden key.

Now we’re all back to extreme despair again, fuming mad.

It took an army of people five years to get my father out from behind the steering wheel. It was completely undone in five minutes by a nice, pleasant, good man who wasn’t more aware that he was stepping onto an unexpected landmine.

I can’t get this ordeal out of my mind. I’m wracking my brain wondering if I’ve ever been this unaware. Have I ever missed “See Something, Say Something” opportunities?

The FBI and Department of Defense spend billions of dollars protecting us, but one tiny critical moment of someone not being alert can upend massive amounts of painstaking work and effort that becomes the catalyst for disaster.

And how about the days and hours leading up to mass shootings…at churches, concerts, schools, Walmarts, movie theaters? I have to believe these deranged murderers gave a few red flags leading up to the massacres. But no one noticed. Or did they and just not mention anything?

Our awareness can make a HUGE difference. It will definitely save lives.

We have to practice every day.

Eyes wide open and attentive, all day, every day, whenever we’re out in public.

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