Joseph and his son had always been close, but even more so after David left for college. They had the same, quirky sense of humor, a combination of Monty Python and Steven Wright. David was telling his Dad some jokes to pass the time.
But Joseph laughed so hard and for so long that he began to cough, and then fell forward slowly. David was panicked and reached for his father. "Dad, Wake up.” Joseph was unconscious but realized he was driving and recovered in a panic. His body shivered and his eyes opened to see that he was still stopped in traffic. "Oh, how long was I out?” "About 30 seconds, but I thought you had a heart attack.” Joseph took some deep breaths. "No I just blacked out. You better drive."
"We should go to a hospital", said David. Joseph wiped some sweat from his forehead. "No, I'm ok, let's get you back to Berkeley." David insisted, "No Dad, I'll take you home. Annie can take me back to school."
The next day Annie and Joseph went to the doctor. The nurse asked him why he came in. "I fainted last night, he said.” The nurse was taking notes. "Where did this happen?” Joseph paused. "My son and I were stopped in that traffic jam. He was telling me a joke. I laughed so hard I lost my breath and fainted.” The nurse looked up. "Didn’t you go to the ER?” Joseph reassured her. "No, I just went home and rested. My wife took him back to school.” The nurse took Joseph's blood pressure and listened to his heart. "So you were driving?” Joseph couldn’t believe what the nurse was saying. "We were stopped in traffic; I had my foot on the brake the whole time.” Later the nurse came in to get a signature approving treatment. Joseph didn’t notice that an admission that he was behind the wheel when he fainted was hidden in small text of the three-page form. The doctor came in and confirmed the exam. "Well, you seem ok now, but I want to run some tests.”
A few days later Joseph received a letter from the DMV. "Your license has been suspended. You may apply for reinstatement in 90 days.” Apparently the nurse had reported the incident, some law he wasn’t aware of. “If I thought this would happen, I would have said David was driving.” Calls, emails and letters to the doctor and the DMV were fruitless. Joseph understood the need to keep the roads safe, but his car never moved; there was never a moment when others were endangered.
Not being able to drive meant keeping a secret that would jeopardize his job and any future work he might apply for; you see, most applications include a question about your driving record and employers routinely check a DMV report before hiring. It didn’t matter that Joseph was healthy; it was the appearance of a serious health condition that put his resume in the rejected pile. So what do you do when you can’t tell the truth to explain a misconception?
These 30 seconds were threatening to derail Joseph’s career and life. The nurse didn’t discuss the issue with Joseph and the doctor; she just filled out a form and sent it in. She blindly followed a legal requirement and we know where that can lead. We all know doctors skew the facts in order to protect their patients. Isn’t justice more important than truth? It was too late to blame the nurse and the DMV didn’t care.
After the EKG, the halter monitor and the stress tests, Joseph had a clean bill of health. The doctor never apologized for the nurse of course, but he was sympathetic. He assured me that the cause of the fainting was a mystery and in all likelihood, wouldn’t happen again.
Well, 90 days came and went and Joseph expected a reinstatement letter. It didn’t arrive. Bureaucracies like the DMV have no incentive for efficiency, much less personal attention to cases that are suspect. Fainting while behind the wheel is more egregious than a DUI when it can’t be explained. After another month of appeals and meetings, the suspension was finally lifted.
Annie sat down with Joseph for dinner. “Honey, your license is reinstated tomorrow. How should we celebrate?” Joseph looked happy for the first time in months. “I think I’d like to take a drive to the coast. We can have lunch at that seafood place.” Annie smiled. “And maybe stay overnight?”
Joseph and Annie headed off that Saturday, around the winding road over the mountain towards the ocean. A morning fog was lifting from the Sun’s rays. As he turned around the blind corner, Joseph saw a truck in his lane swerving; the driver had collapsed over the steering wheel. Thinking quickly, he slammed on the brakes, put it in reverse and headed backwards around the corner of the road. The truck slowly veered off of the road, flipped over and landed 100 yards below. Annie screamed and grabbed her husband. “Joe, that man was asleep or had a heart attack. He would have killed us for sure.” Joe called 911 and waited.
The police took their statement. “Was he drunk officer?” said Annie. “No he had a suspended license for health reasons, bad ticker,” said the cop. Annie held onto Joseph. “It was the scariest minute of my life.” Joe nodded and said to himself. “Half a minute.”
Joseph and Annie left shaken on their way to the coast. LS