Why you should care
If you’re lucky, you’ll live to get old one day.
One day when my father was driving at the age of 55, he noticed the streetlights were wavering.
For most of us, that would have been enough to make an appointment, but it took my father several years before he finally consulted an eye specialist. The diagnosis: macula of the retina.
Since then, his eyesight has deteriorated so much that his ophthalmologist recommended a treatment: injecting an anti-VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) chemical directly into the eye. It’s supposed to inhibit the formation of new blood vessels behind the retina and keep the retina free of blood, lipids and serum leakage.
The upshot? The injections enabled his vision to stabilize enough so he thought he could still drive a car, but not enough that I didn’t worry.
His argument … his lateral vision was just fine, and since he could see the white marks on the side of the road, why worry?
So although he was nearly blind, my father kept driving. A lot, even if only locally. His argument regarding why this was safe: His lateral vision was just fine, and since he could see the white marks on the side of the road, why worry?
In 2015, I got in touch with Ligue Braille, an organization that lends support to blind and partially sighted people in Belgium, and I organized a meeting with my father and a social worker. My father was angry with me for arranging this appointment, but he attended nevertheless.
The social worker was extremely tactful. He never said my father was breaking the law. Or that people who can’t see shouldn’t be freewheeling cars down crowded city streets. Instead, he focused on the fact that his daughter cared enough about him to take a day off of work to attend the meeting. Because? Because his life mattered to her. And because his life mattered to her, it would be best to give up driving.
My father agreed. To everything.
But he kept on driving.
So a few months later I contacted my dad’s ophthalmologist. She had had no idea that my father was still driving. But even she wasn’t able to convince him to hand in his driver’s license.
Three years later, during the summer of 2018, my father had a car accident. He damaged both his car and another driver’s vehicle. No one was killed or seriously hurt. His response? He immediately bought a secondhand car.
This accident finally convinced my brother to side with me, and we decided to get in touch with the local police inspector. The law, however, said that unfortunately, there was nothing we could do apart from catching my father in the act of operating a vehicle.
He then suggested I contact my dad’s doctor, which I did. But the doctor explained that he couldn’t force my father to take an eye test. He advised that I write to the procureur du roi, the highest opportunity for mediation in Belgium and pretty much the only place to resolve conflict … amicably.
I explained that my father had become a danger to himself and to others. They took the case and once the procedure was underway, my brother and I decided that we should tell our father what we had done. We also told him about the home help he was entitled to.
His response? Unbridled fury. And in short order, he subsequently refused to listen.
Of course, I could see how difficult it was for him. He lives in the countryside, where it is a half-hour walk to the nearest shops and an hour to the train station. His car was a major means to independent living, and it must be hard to let go when you’ve been driving all your life, even if that driving might likely imperil your life. Or someone else’s.
It was a lot to digest at 83.
Ten weeks later, my father was summoned to appear at the local police station to give a statement regarding his driving. Our relationship grew tense. Reminding him that he would ask me to point out pedestrians back in the days when I agreed to get into his car did not help make him aware of his folly.
When I phoned him in January 2019, he was about to have his eyes tested and he was still extremely angry. He told me that he would never see me again. Only the next day did I get the irony of him never wanting to see me again.
As expected, he failed the eye test, and he had to hand in his driver’s license, which I was relieved that he agreed to do.
He hasn’t talked to me since, but he does talk to my brother, which is a relief as he is bound to need help at some point. My brother tells me that our father still refuses to ask for help with shopping, even though this costs very little money in Belgium.
It feels unfair to have been told by him that I “acted very wrongly,” and I’m sad that he has cut off all contact. But he proved to be so unreasonable that I’m unable to have regrets. And even if I did, they would be nothing compared to the regrets I’d have if someone had died.
I remain convinced that I did the right thing. And maybe, just maybe, one day my father will “see” that as well.