6 ̶ Waiting for Godot
I felt perfectly capable of driving myself around. But I found myself caught up in an absurdist drama. Like the characters in Samuel Beckett’s play, I found myself alienated from normal society, searching for an elusive character who might have been named Godot.
The main preoccupation of Beckett’s characters was waiting. Waiting for something meaningful to happen. Waiting. And suffering. And questioning why they were waiting. Waiting for Godot to turn up.
I initiated a series of phone calls in pursuit of (a) a Pre-Driving Screen and (b) a Stroke Prevention Clinic. All doctors and health pros with whom I had talked led me to believe that by merely asking for a Pre-Driving Screen, I would be granted one. But no one was now prepared to talk to me. I left messages and got no call-backs. Dr. S. sent me an appointment for a Stroke Prevention Clinic for May 18 and promptly cancelled. I had no way of contacting her. As for C., the occupational therapist who would administer the Pre-Driving Screen, she did call me and set an appointment for July 27.
When I asked for the appointment to be moved up to early June, I was stonewalled. Only a doctor could change the date. But I could not contact Dr. S. So I tried contacting Dr. E., who had discharged me from St. Joe’s after an interview lasting less than two minutes, but she was unavailable. Telephone numbers I found for her got no responses. Searches of the Internet showed that she was an esteemed member of the medical profession with many degrees and several offices. Finally, finally, I found a number that worked. An accommodating receptionist promised to get back to me.
And Dr. E.’s receptionist did get back to me. She said that policy dictated that I had to wait three months after my stroke incident to apply for a Pre-Driving Screen. My stroke occurred April 26. So I could apply on July 27 at the earliest. Interestingly, Dr. S. had rescheduled the Stroke Prevention Clinic for that same date, July 27, not May 18. Was that when the policy changed?
Why did it take weeks to inform me of this policy? Perhaps it was a new policy, dreamed up by Kafka, played out by seekers after Godot, and administered by the medical bureaucracy.
Franz Kafka, the writer and philosopher, believed he lived in an absurd world. One morning he woke up and found himself turning into an insect. At first his family found this situation strange. Not absurd, but strange. The more he looked and behaved like an insect (sometimes described as a housefly), the less strange it seemed to his family. Why was this was happening to him? Everyone else treated the situation as normal. Which is absurd.
By July 27, I detected a growing compassion for houseflies. Which is absurd.
Meanwhile, I concentrated of getting healthy. I ate sparingly, exercised regularly, kept my mind occupied, and attended two weekly online sessions, eacn an hour long, conducted by speech therapist K. Sessions included memory components and solving logical puzzles. We both noted steady improvement.
Meanwhile, I waited. I read novels. I recovered my facility with tough crypograms. I started solving challenging crosswords. I watched tv. I took long rambles. I kept digital photo albums of wildflowers. I watched tv. A lot of tv. I started writing again. I read non-fiction books. I bummed rides to town to keep appointments, to pick up prescriptions, and to replenish food supplies. I wrote. I watched tv. Lots and lots of tv. I counted the days to July 27. The summer slipped by. And slipped. And slipped.
As July 27 crept up, I read the fine print in my instructions. I learned that if even if I passed the Pre-Driving Screen, it could take MTO a month to reinstate my licence. Damn. I still had no idea what a Stroke Prevention Clinic was, but I assumed it would be a group session with fellow stroke victims where we would be advised how to prevent recurrences. No such luck.
July 27 arrived. I bummed a ride to Thunder Bay. I reported to occupational therapist C. for an hour-long Pre-Driving Screen. My first attempt had occurred within a week of my stroke and I was pretty hazy on the details. I had, you will recall, failed the Screen. My memory was rudely refreshed. The Pre-Driving Screen is a battery of tests on my cognitive awareness and visual perception. Alright. Whatever. I was up for it.
The first series of tests were pretty simple. In fact, I scored 29 out of 30. I had to draw a clock face and draw the hands pointing to twenty after 2, link five letters and numbers to create a trail, replicate a parallelogram, name pictures of three animals (none of which, I might add, I have ever seen in real life), memorize a short list of single-digit numbers, recite them backwards, name as many words beginning with the letter “S” as I could in 60 seconds (yes, some tests were timed), recite a sentence verbatim, tap the table whenever I heard the letter “A” in a sequence of random letters, start at the number 90 and subtract 7 from the total until told to stop, identify the commonality of three named objects (e.g., all veggies), and name my birth date as well as the current date and location of the tests I was doing.
I had to remember five words and repeat them. They were repeated twice. C. emphasized that I would be asked to recall them later in the session.
The visual perception tests were tough. First, I had to draw a trail by linking letters and numbers, starting by linking letter A to number 1. However, there were not five letters and numbers. There were 19 letters and numbers. This was a timed test. The whole page with covered with 38 separate items, all scattered like a dog’s breakfast. I got lost once and took a while to recover. I failed that test.
C. allowed our daughter Laura to observe my performance, and she said later that she despaired of passing the tests herself, and she’s an excellent driver. C. said the Screen is designed to “screen out” drivers who are likely to fail a road test. Laura still has her driver’s licence. I still don’t.
Meanwhile, I forgot about the five words I was cautioned to recall later.
There were four categories of pictured objects, all abstract, and becoming more abstract as the tests unfolded. One category required visual discrimination, another judging spatial relationships, another relying on visual memory, and the fourth on making visual closures.
To test visual discrimination, I was shown, for example, a circle. C. turned the page. Then I had to count the number of circles I could distinguish in a mish-mash of geometric designs.
To judge spatial relationships, I was shown a design, and then, in a page of four designs with variations on the first design, I had to pick out the correct one. For example, if the original design looked with an old-fashioned tv aerial, then the four variations had the aerial with portions of the vertical and horizontal lines missing or even running in different directions. Only one had a configuration resembling the original aerial. I was ready to swear off tv.
To rely on visual memory, I might be shown four drawings of a duck. Each was tilted differently on the page. I was told to imagine the duck’s bills pointing all in the same direction. However, one duck had been reversed. I had to select that duck. To make it more interesting, in some cases I had to imagine the one image that was also upside down. I could have cheerfully strangled that duck.
In making visual closures, I was shown a totally abstract figure. It might resemble a wasp, for example, with light and dark parts and incorporating geometric shapes. Then in a line below was a series of four figures, each resembling the original but with crucial parts missing. Obviously someone had stepped on the wasp, mashed it down good. I had to imagine which figure was the original wasp. I could sympathize with Humpty-Dumpty. I could have used all the king’s men at that point, not to mention a GPS and Gorilla Glue.
Then came the pièce de résistance. The delayed recall test. I had to recall the five words I had forgotten about. I immediately named four of the five words ̶ truck, banana, violin, and green. I was pretty proud of myself. C. prompted me with a clue to the fifth word. She said “furniture” and I replied “desk”. Why she prompted me, I don’t know; she had already deducted it from my score. Ask me five years from now and I will recall those five words. Truck, banana, violin, desk, and green. With my luck, they’ll change the list.
She totalled my scores. I had passed with points to spare. That was the good news. Then the bad news. MTO would take six weeks to complete the paperwork. Meanwhile, I was warned not to drive, on penalty of a $10,000 fine.
When’s the last time you’ve heard of anyone getting a $10,000 fine for a driving offence? I should be able to kill a few bureaucrats for that price.
The Stroke Prevention Clinic took an hour, and it was not about stroke prevention. It wasn’t even a clinic. It was a debriefing on my hospital experience and recovery. Dr. Z., my family doctor, back in July, had already explained that stuff since no one else was prepared to do it. Two doctors, Dr. J. and Dr. S., weighed in on the debriefing. No one commented on or verified the speech therapy program I was doing twice a week. Other than some cursory questions on whether I was exercising properly, eating properly, and back to reading and writing, nothing was either verified or prescribed. I was given some pamphlets. Dr. S. filled out a form for the MTO bureaucrats. I was released.
I was free. Lucky me. I was free to wait another six weeks.
Lucky me. And I do mean that sincerely.
It could have gone worse.
And I know about waiting. Nothing to it.
Just ask the seekers after Godot. Godot, by the way, never did turn up.
But don’t ask Kafka. Kafka will just raise more questions.
And his questions can drive you crazy.