Thursday, August 19, 2010

second hurdle...

The second big hurdle was my driver's license. It's actually been an ongoing problem and everytime we thought it was taken care of another surprise would be waiting.

This story starts from when I was young. When I was 12 I was rollerskating outside and when I was finished I couldn't get the laces undone so I skated into the basement to ask for help from my dad. I slippped and fell on my butt, passed out and had a seizure. My parents took me to the hospital where they checked me out and said I was fine. Mom was concerned because there was another episode when I was 2 or 3 where I had fallen down a few stairs and had a seizure so we went to our family doctor and they administered some other tests but nothing was found so we let it drop. When I was 14 and we were on vacation in Indiana, I had a really bad ear infection. Mom took me to a doctor there and I was sitting on the table after he had finished looking in my ears and suddenly I passed out. None of these episodes lasted very long but because there was an accident (falling down stairs, slipping on the concrete, ear infection) the doctors thought it was all related. Again they couldn't find anything wrong with me.

I went through high school without any other incident. When I was 20 I had a bad cold and I remember passing out in the bathroom but there was no seizure that time. Then I got married at 23 and within a year I had two more episodes. These were more random, there was no accident or injury of any kind. The first one happened after we had been out all morning, came home in the late afternoon and had a nap. The phone rang around 5:30pm and I got up to answer it. It was my MIL and I remember calling Chikara and when he came around the corner I was out cold on the floor. My MIL hung up and called my parents and Chikara called 911. Everyone arrived around the same time but I was already awake. We went to the emergency room and again, they checked me out but could find nothing wrong. We went to our doctor the next week and she basically laughed at our concerns and said I was young and nothing was wrong with me. We switched doctors.

After the second episode we went to the doctor but we got a similar response so we just let it drop. Within a year we were thinking about trying to get pregnant and Chikara wanted me to try one more time to make sure there was nothing wrong before we started trying. We went to yet another doctor and he was very nice and listened. He said it sounded like nothing was specifically wrong but since we were concerned he would ask a colleague of his who was a neurologist and if she thought it was worth pursuing he would give us a referral. She did want to see us so we went, repeated my history again, underwent some more tests (EEG, MRI) and then she gave us a definitive answer. I had a mild form of epilepsy, but I would only have a seizure if two of three situations coincided. If I had low blood sugar (like right before a meal), hadn't slept well or had an adrenalin rush and I bonked myself I would most likely have a seizure. I didn't need to take medicine for it.

You might be wondering at this point what any of this has to do with my driver's license and this is where these two stories intersect. The neurologist said that anyone who has a seizure has to report it to the DMV and you can't drive for a year in case you have a seizure while driving. Within a year if you haven't had a seizure then your doctor fills out a medical release form and the DMV will reinstate your license. The neurologist told me all of this but because it had been a year since my last siezure she would file both forms for me so there was nothing for me to do. She also told us it was fine for us to try and have a baby. We felt good about all the information we had received and especially Chikara's fears were relieved.

So I went on driving as I had since I was 16 and in 2001 we moved to Japan. Chikara also got his driver's license in the States so when we moved he went down to the DMV-equivalent here and switched his license over to a Japanese license. It was a hassle and he had to take the driving test three times before he passed but within a month it was all taken care of. To this day I'm still not sure why I didn't switch my license at the same time. I know I was 3 months pregnant and Emi was 8 months old but I should've just done it then. But we didn't own a car and I didn't know how to go anywhere so Chikara just drove us around. After we'd been in Japan for 3 years we bought our house and bought a car. I got an International Driver's License and drove with that for a couple of years. At one point I realized my American driver's license was going to expire so on the next trip back home I went down to the DMV to renew it. I was shocked to find out that my license was on medical suspense from 1999. Shocked!

There was nothing I could do about it on that trip so I made plans to take care of it on the next trip home. My mother called our old family doctor who agreed to see me and I had his office fill out the medical release forms. The DMV accepted them and my license was reinstated but I still had to take the written and driving tests again. I spent all of my 2005 vacation working on it but on the very last day I passed the driving test and received my new license. Yeah! On the drive back up to Canada by coincidence we ended up at the same rest area as my parents and when I showed them my license I felt like I was 16 again! I passed! I passed! It was a great feeling.

I came back to Osaka with my license and a new International Driver's License and my only goal was to switch to a Japanese license. Chikara started researching and that's when surprise number two came up. In order to switch the license you had to have lived in the country of issue for 90 days from the issue date. At that point I only had one day alltogether. Then I found out I was pregnant with Natsuki and we had to put this issue aside. Natsuki was born and we went back home again and I got another International DL and we came back and now I had amassed 15 days in the US. Honestly I didn't know what to do at this point and there were a lot of other things going on. Emi started elementary school and I just had my hands full so I just pushed the license issue to the end of the list and decided to work on it when some new info came up.

Time went by and then Gina got her Japanese DL so I e-mailed her and asked for some information and she told me that she and her husband had found that you didn't need 90 days in a row but it could be spread out over time. By then I'd been home one more time so I had around 50 days and we had another trip coming up so we just decided to hold out until we had 90 days and then we would go for it. The other option was going to driving school but that cost $3000 and would take a few months and that just wasn't possible with two young kids at home.

This year after our trip to Arizona I sat down with my passports to see how many days I had amassed and I realized that when we flew to Canada and then went into the States they didn't stamp my passport. I checked Chikara's passport and they only stamped coming into the States and not going out. There was no way to prove anything but even then I only had 85 days. pooh...

Then in July, I borrowed my friend's car to go to the hospital for my hyperthyroidism because Chikara needed our car because of his torn Achilles Heel (see how things snowball) and as I was pulling out of her driveway I noticed an old guy on a bicycle way down the street. I pulled out a bit and checked both ways and was about to turn when I noticed that the umbrella he was holding was blown by the wind in front of his eyes. As I watched he started to lose control of his bicycle while still trying to get control of his umbrella and because I wasn't used to my friend's car I couldn't back out of the way and even though there was tons of room to go around me he slammed right into the hood of her car. Fortunately I was stopped and he wasn't going very fast but he still fell down and scratched my friend's car. He got up and was apologizing and I was asking if he was OK. I wasn't sure what to do next but he asked me what we should do about the scratch on my car. I ran back and called my friend and she said it was fine because there were scratches all over and he apologized and rode away.

Everything turned out OK since the guy never reported the accident and our friends didn't care but this prompted Chikara to worry and he thought we should just go and try and switch my license. I was upset because it's easy to say but could make my life really difficult in the middle of everything else we're going through and I needed him to understand that. After many discussions and a little crying on my part he finally called the DMV here and talked to a really nice lady and she said we could come and ask for "advice" instead of actually applying and they would let me know.

So we did that and after a lot of questions and paperwork they decided to accept my license on the basis that it wasn't "renewed" it was "reinstated" according to some records I had requested. All of a sudden I'm taking the written test and signing stuff and then I was allowed to schedule my driving test, the last hurdle in a marathon of hurdles to get my license.

Gina wrote about it on her blog but basically the test (like all things in Japan) is not so much about your driving skill but about your skill at taking their driving test. They are looking for really picky things that no real driver does on an actual road. But I knew this and I'm prepared mentally and have memorized the course. I wake up really early last Friday morning and Chikara drops me off the DMV and before the doors open I walk through the course mentally going through every move. Then I go in and wait in the line, turn in my paper, pay the fee to rent their car and go to another room. I wait and then my name is called and I'm given a number. I watch the other foreign drivers take their test and no one is passing which makes me nervous. Then my number is called and I go downstairs and wait. When the car comes back the guy before me is next and I get to ride in the back and watch. Beside the guy before me in front is a proctor and beside me in the backseat is another proctor. He starts the test and I have no idea how he's doing. Both of the proctors are marking things but the guy makes it to the end and I get out and I can see they're telling him he passed. So what I saw was a good test.

Then it's my turn and I'm the last one so there's no one riding in the back and watching me. The front proctor calls my name and I go look under the front of the car and then under the back. I look both ways before opening the door and I sit down. I hand the proctor my forms and I put my bag in the back seat. I say my name and birthday and he shows me a few things about the car and the test begins. I adjust the seat and the mirrors, put on my seatbelt and start the car. I release the parking brake, look back on both sides, put the car in drive and pull out. The first time I use the brakes (right before entering the course) I realize they are very sensitive and this throws me off. I'm trying to do all I prepared for and not stop too jerky (jerkily?) and I get past the first corner, second corner, streetlight and to the next stop and the proctor stops me and tells me to go back to the beginning. He tells me that my braking is too soft (even though I completely stopped and counted to three) and that I'm not pulling to the side of the lane before turning. I am embaressed at this point but I know getting mad or asking questions is not going to help so I get out and go make another appointment for the following Wednesday and go home. Chikara commiserates with me and the girls can't figure out why I failed. Emi even gets mad on my behalf but that led to a good conversation about life.

From Friday to Wednesday the driving course keeps appearing in my dreams. No matter where my dream starts it ends on the driving course and even that never ends well. I'm not freaking out but the fact that I failed once and could still fail again is always in the back of my mind. There are so many things going on in these few weeks but if I can pass the test within my summer vacation then I don't have to fit it in with the girl's school schedules and my class schedule.

On Friday we go camping with our friends until Saturday. On Sunday we go to church and we host a somen party in the evening for church families (at the church not my house thankfully) and Monday we try to relax but we have to prepare for the church's childrens camp that we're leading. My sleep schedule goes all wonky and I start getting dizzy periodically but I figure if I can hold out for one more week then everything will calm down. Tuesday ends up being a work at home day but we go out in the evening for a bit since it is the last day of Chikara's summer vacation from work. I go to bed at 10:30 but I can't get to sleep. I have my alarm set for 6:30 so I can take a shower (just in case there's a need to take a picture) but 12am rolls around and I'm still not asleep, 1am comes and I'm tossing and turning. I did finally fall asleep but I didn't hear my alarm in the morning. Fortunately Chikara wakes me up with time to spare and I quickly get ready and he drops me off at the DMV to try again.

I do the whole thing again except this time I'm #7 out of 8 and the first three people pass! The next lady is called and then I'm called to go downstairs and wait. #4 doesn't pass and #5 comes back after the second turn. Then I sit in the back while #6 takes her test. She turns out to be an unbelievably awful driver. I was actually scared to be in the car and I was happy when they told her she'd lost too many points to be able to pass so she would have to go back to the start. I was soooo happy to get out of that car.

Then it's my turn. I do the whole check under the car thing and get in the car. I pass my forms to the guy (different guy than Friday) and say my name. He asks me to look front so he can confirm I'm wearing contacts. Then I start the test. I'm prepared to do some heavy braking this time so I pull out onto the course never going above 20km/h so it won't be too jerky. I make the first corner, lane change, the second corner, the street light, the third, fourth and fifth corner, lane change, street light again, turn into the S curve area, make the curve easily, turn two more times, head into the crank turn area, stop once to back up just in case, but make it through and then a few more turns and lane changes and I'm back to the start. I'm holding my breath but he says I pass!

After he makes sure I know where I'm supposed to go next (appreciate the thoroughness but not the condescension), I'm out of the car and done with the last hurdle. It takes until 3:30pm to complete the final steps like signing forms, secret codes and picture taking but I walked out holding my license and a real weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn't realized how worried I was that I could be stopped by police and *have* to deal with this whole thing. I think not knowing how it would go but know it was complicated stopped me from just starting the process.

But there you go. Second hurdle. Done.


Gina said...

Yay right on for passing your drivers test! It's definitely not an easy test to pass. So congratulations! You did really good Sarah! : )

illahee said...

congratulations on passing!!

i remember the whole license and three months thing...i had just renewed mine before coming to japan, but luckily i had my old one so i could show that and it was all good! lol

how interesting about your fainting (?) history. good to know it's nothing serious!

Mom said...

CONGRATULATIONS!!!! I'm proud of you for getting the process started in the first place, and for following it all the way through. Done and Done. How long does your license last? Will you ever have to take another test again?

Abigail (aka Mamatouille) said...

Ganbatta na! I drove in Japan for a year on my int'l license and then they changed the law so that was it---I had to get a Japanese one after just driving one year. So I didn't drive for a whole year because I rode my bike to work every day, then we moved a bit farther away from Nagoya and I had to start driving to work. I worked a whole summer on getting mine---I had to ride my bike to the station in Chiryu (Aichi ken), take a train to Nagoya, then take a subway in Nagoya, then a bus to the driver's license center (took 1.5 hours each way). I actually did some driving practice several times with them because I wanted to know exactly what they wanted from me on the test. What a palaver! Glad you got yours finally.