T h u r s d a y, N o v e m b e r 2 8 t h 2 0 1 3
The joys of aging Getting a grip
I am not 20 anymore. In truth, that youthful boat sailed a long time ago.
All evening long, I kept hearing the warnings. I had driven as far southwest on
A couple of weeks ago I had this fact brought abruptly to the forefront of my mind when the simple
Highway 401 as it goes - in fact, I think I got to Kilometre Number 1 - in Windsor. I
act of getting out of a pool caused a mysterious injury to my left shoulder. Since the pool was on a
knew when the event at which I was speaking, on the Windsor side of the Detroit River, wrapped up, I faced the four-hour drive home to Uxbridge. At 10 p.m. I got in my car, started the engine and heard the weather forecast.
cruise ship that was sailing in the Caribbean means I may not be getting my requisite share of sym-
“Environment Canada has issued a weather statement,” the announcer said. “Wet snow or blowing snow will make
pathy. The injury initially appeared fairly benign - noticeable enough that the next day I asked my
husband to drag my suitcase, which had broken an axel on the outbound journey, but my shoulder
“That's OK,” I thought to myself. “With my snow tires on, everything should be fine.”
didn’t hurt enough that I didn't participate at all in the homeward luggage tug and tow.
In that breath I made the first of several incorrect assumptions associated with this time of year. First, I figured the
I began to self-medicate at my parents' house; one dose of ibuprofen with a couple of wine chasers,
weather forecast might not necessarily apply to where I was going to be driving - through the snow belt between
as I introduced my family to a visiting family friend I hadn't seen in 15 years. It would be better in
Windsor and Woodstock. Second, I figured the snow tires I had installed last week (and a defensive driving attitude
the morning, I reasoned, as we headed for home. The lure of my own bed was strong; it always felt
to slow down and watch out for the other guy) would expedite my trip home. Third, and most incorrect of all, I
good to come home from vacation to your own bed. Its restorative powers would have me healed
assumed that everybody else had done the same - installed their snow tires to deal with the bad driving conditions
we always face in Ontario between November and April.
At 20, the pain would have recessed to a minor discomfort by morning. Not so in my forties. The
I managed to get about 45 minutes up the 401 away from Windsor towards the GTA when I learned that most of
former easily dismissed discomfort not only stuck around, it wanted to party. And it was the loud,
my assumptions couldn't have been more incorrect. The EC forecast was dead on; light snow was falling, enough to
annoying, bang-on-the-ceiling-all-you-want-but-we-are-not-going-anywhere kind of party. Suffice it
make the highway where the temperature was right at the freezing mark slippery without decent traction. All of the
to say, my night's rest proved anything but restful. While the pain didn't eclipse the pain of child-
defensive driving techniques in the world weren't going to have any effect on the other guys' driving inadequacies.
birth, it ranked right up there the next day. For the first time ever I was watching the clock for when
And worst of all, I soon learned that too many car operators along that notoriously snowy stretch of highway didn't
I could safely take my next dose. Visions of Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, running cir-
have snow tires on their vehicles. Nor were they likely to ever have them, since they continue to believe all-weather
cles around the nurses' station yelling at the nurses “It's after 10. She just has to wait until 10
tires or four-wheel drive are sufficient to keep them out of the ditch.
o'clock. Give my daughter her shot” played in my mind. I used to sympathize with the nurses; now
Around Chatham, Ont., all the brake lights began appearing in the darkness ahead. And in seconds we were at a
I had to take sides with Ms. MacLaine. As the day progressed and the meds didn't touch the pain, I
dead stop. And there I sat with cars and trucks ahead and behind me as far as the eye could see with nobody mov-
began to worry that there might be more at play. At any rate, there must be better drugs.
ing. And I imagined a four-hour drive turning into an all-nighter. After sitting in the two-lane gridlock for nearly 40
Off to the hospital to see if anything would show up on x-ray. I was comforted to hear from the
minutes, I found a spot in the median where police do u-turns. I used it to cross the median and I carefully back-
doctor that there didn't appear to be any sign of a fracture (or metastasized cancer for that matter,
tracked and then drove around the problem, rejoining the 401 about where the road blockage had occurred. Police
which was good news since I hadn't been diagnosed with a primary one!) Diagnosed with damage
there told me that the problem was a driver without snow tires had spun out, causing an accident that blocked the
to the soft tissue around my left collar bone warranted a script for meds and rest. I haven't always
Wondering about the state of winter tires and winter driving, I called an acquaintance of mine, Ian Law, who is pres-
had success with pain medication. Once, in a delivery room, they gave me a shot of something to
ident and chief instructor for the ILR Car Control School. At 59, he's been teaching defensive winter driving techniques
help with the pain. The pain went away but I also became completely stoned. When they told me to
at so-called skid clinics all over the province for about 20 years. I asked Law about the problem. He agreed that driv-
get ready because a contraction was coming, I told them not to worry - there'd be another one.
ers who choose not to convert to snow tires in winter cause much of the chaos. He added, however, it's partly the fault
Suffice it to say, I was not an active participant in the delivery of that child.
of auto manufacturers too, because they sell their multi-wheel-drive SUVs on the premise that those features prevent
So at the hospital, in the state I found myself, I was looking forward to a little pill that would offer
a modicum of relief - and I was willing, if necessary, to suffer the unfortunate side effects of pain
“It's a false premise that four-wheel- or all-wheel-drive gives a better grip,” he said. “All it allows is better acceler-
relief I had experienced before. Imagine my disappointment when the acquired meds proved inef-
ation, better steering and quicker stops. … But it's not a safety feature. It's a performance feature.”
fective.on both counts. No pain relief; no visit to a happy place. I am told me that some people are
I wondered about the effectiveness of Quebec highway traffic laws that (since 2008) have required snow tires in
non-metabolizers and it appears I am one of them. To make matters worse, for the next few days I
winter. The Quebec legislation demands that about 4.5 million passenger vehicles, taxis and rental cars have winter
suffered one of the more unpleasant, anticholinergic effects of the wholly ineffective drug. Only
tires between Dec. 15 and March 15. According to the Rubber Association of Canada, a 2011 study of the first two
ibuprofen was my friend. I was like a junkie, needing to know where the bottle containing my next
seasons of the mandatory law reduced the number of victims of winter road accidents by five per cent. Over all, deaths
and serious injuries due to road accidents in winter weather fell by three per cent, the study said, thanks to the law.
And then it got better. I missed a dose. Then, another. I got cocky. I did too much. And I am back
“Anecdotally,” Law said from his regular checks of GTA parking lots and road sides, “I see probably 70 to 80 per cent
at square one. I put my arm in a sling. Not because it needs to be immobilized, but as a reminder to
of vehicles with snow tires. Maybe people are finally getting the message.”
myself that my body has reached the 'it takes longer to heal' stage. It is a self-imposed smack-up-
I'm not so sure if that percentage applied to vehicles I saw on Hwy. 401 Monday night. En route home there were
the-side-of- the-head that I need to take it easy. It also opens the door to lots of inquiries about what
three more accidents with passenger cars in the ditch, SUVs into guardrails, and beleaguered police officers trying to
did I do to myself and lots of suggestions of how best to answer the question. Be vague, I am told.
keep things moving. I think it's time for Ontario lawmakers to consider the Quebec model. It would have reduced my
Keep them guessing. Not a pool accident, make it a pole accident? Telephone pole? Polish guy? Pole
dancing? The possibilities are endless. I have a new perspective. This sling thing is fun - it makes mefeel like a kid again, or at least 20.
For more Barris Beat columns go to www.tedbarris.com
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