Saturday, April 20, 2013

Stroke recovery: First post-stroke drive

Amy, my occupational therapist, put me behind the "wheel" Wednesday for the first time since my April 22, 2011, stroke. Although the experience was scary, my driving posed no danger to myself or anyone else.

I was on a simulated drive. Once I was in the driver’s seat, there was a steering wheel I held with one hand. There was also a gear shift, a rudimentary dashboard, and three screens in front of me.

The YouTube video above was the one I found that was most similar to the version I used. My first attempt was a practice drive down a fictitious highway with two or three lanes all in the direction my vehicle was pointed. There were no other vehicles and mostly straight-aways with a few gentle curves and rolling hills.

I was definitely in the “little old lady” category as I crept along barely accelerating up to 10 mph. When I increased speed above 30, I nearly fell out of the seat. And the dizziness was even worse in my first “for real” sessions of simulated driving in the city on busy interstates and urban streets with heavy traffic. 

The dizziness was most severe on the extreme curves throughout the exercise. I continued to feel like I was going to tumble off the seat, especially on curves to the left.

With Amy’s advice I began conquering the dizziness by the second exercise by focusing on a far object. But working on that strategy left little attention for working on two other big problems I encountered: acceleration and braking.

That was never a problem pre-stroke; but during my two five-minute simulated drives, I invariably stopped too far from intersections and too far behind cars in front of me. I would start and stop several times before making it to the appropriate position.

I never did move beyond my antagonistic relationship with the gas pedal and brakes. There may have been some deficiency in depth perception in play, too.

When time was up, my score was 0%. I was exhausted and certain that driving is not in my immediate future. At least I didn’t run into stuff like super-brain Sheldon did in an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.”

And my big fat 0 was still better than the lowest score I ever received on a test. In my sophomore year of high school, I ignored warnings to avoid guessing on a national math test. I had no inkling about the problems on the test. I figured what could be worse than a score of 0. A minus 19, that’s what.

Happy driving!


  1. i smiled all the way through this torture you had to endure. sorry to hear about the dizzzy part, never thought about stroke causing that, though it makes sense. i loved and laughed hard at Sheldon and his simulator.

  2. This sounds like an ordeal! I had to smile at the "guessing score." I always wondered about that!

  3. You wrote a really excellent description of your driving experience and the simulator.

    What once seemed like simple routine activities we once took for granted being able to do are more complicated than we may have realized.

    All sorts of sensory changes do make us realize how the human body is truly all connected.

    Glad to read that your recovery is continuing to progress to which your positive attitude greatly contributes, I'm confident.

  4. You WILL get better, you just need to get used to it.

  5. Gee, that's awful. Will practice make perfect eventually? Good thing Walter is there to drive for you.

  6. Phew, that had to be one tense time for you. Sounded a bit like my first attempt behind the wheel for real as a teen. You will get better and the simulator seems like a great tool.
    Did get a chuckle out of your guess math test.

  7. Thanks to all. I basked in the sympathy for my driving and math deficiencies. And Ginny is right. It will just take work to get used to the combination of the differences in the driving system and the differences in my new sensory and neural realities. Joared's observations about learning about the complexity of how our bodies' movements occur were on target, too.

    Our bodies are truly fearfully and wonderfully made. I also thank God for the degree to which they can change, adapt and heal in response to insults and injury.

    Joared, I miss being able to comment on your posts. For other blogs where I hit this obstacle, I comment via email. Just know that I am still lurking and visiting.

    And scoring that national math test involved some kind of formula that reduced your score for guessing. Oh well!

  8. I am amazed at the advances in PT and OT too. How wonderful you could simulate driving again. Even now, I must force myself to drive, and I won't do it without company.

    The last few years, I lived in fear of a second stroke while commuting to and from work. Dianne

  9. Oh my heart just aches for you as I read about you trying to drive, even if it was not a real car. I remember trying to drive after my head injury. I was get so panicky, dizzy, and confused. It took me a long time to get over it and drive a few blocks on straight streets. The first time I tried to drive on a curvy highway, I drove exactly 9 minutes, and that was 9 minutes too long! I could not handle the dizziness and lack of response I needed to negotiate the driving of a vehicle. Thankfully, I am now driving again. You will get there. it will take a lot of strategies and time, but I believe you will get there.

    It is good that a 0 on a test is not as low as you can go. LOL There is a bright side to everything I guess.

  10. I am fascinated by the tools that are used for your therapy. Like others have said, you will get better.
    Keep on keeping on.
    god is so good and will continue to give you what you need.
    Thanks for your intimate look at your recovery.

  11. I'd never even considered the "driving aspects" of post-stroke! Thank goodness for patient husbands, who don't seem to mind accompanying us :)

    Perhaps, in time, your driving skills will improve. Just think of how far you've already come. Keep on keeping on!

  12. Yes, what a tough one. Now a million years later, I find my left hand jerks the steering wheel, and my eyes sometimes see too many images. See what you can look forward to? :)

    Seriously, bravo...keep it up. You are my hero.

  13. Oooops, perhaps you’d better stay off the road for now.

    As this is the first time since your stroke I shouldn’t get too disheartened. A break from driving for two years would give anyone collywobbles, even a healthy driver, so, nothing ventured nothing gained, get back behind that wheel and have another go. And another.

    The time will come when you do it. THEN get on the road.