For those that don't know, or have forgotten, I have had Narcolepsy most of my life. Narcolepsy isn't just a great comedy excuse, meaning people can just fall asleep where they stand, it's also a serious illness that if controlled means people can live perfectly normal lives.
I first started having blackouts when I was about 11. These 'blackouts' weren't full unconsciousness, just severe tiredness, followed by complete tunnel vision and cataplexy. By the time I was 15 I was seeing a neurologist, and whilst undiagnosed life went on. At 16 I rode my first motorbike, my father's Honda C50 left in the garage. A year later, and now legal, I got my provisional licence and I got myself a proper motorbike to be mobile around Reading. Meanwhile a visit to my doctor's about my licence had her concerned about previous investigations into Narcolepsy. She write back to DVLA 'on my behalf' advising them I had had blackouts of unknown origin, and that perhaps driving wasn't such a good idea.
3 months later, and I had an appointment with the consultant neurologist at the Royal Berkshire. It was the day before Good Friday, 1990, and I rode to the hospital fully expecting to ride home again legally. I was diagnosed as narcoleptic, and the delightful Dr. Hyman asked me "Do you drive?"
"Yes," I replied, "my motorbike's outside."
"Well that'll have to go."
That afternoon, he faxed DVLA in Swansea my unfitness to drive, and I found myself without a licence. I sold the bike as quickly as possible, lost my job because I was now unable to get there, and slunk into a depressed state. I spent the next few years floundering from one job to another, always working locally or living on site. I'd cycle a lot, but I always wanted my licence back.
4 years later, and with the arrival of my son, I doubted I was unsafe to drive and contacted DVLA about getting my licence back. They told me I'd need my GP's (doctor doctor, I want my licence back...) recommendation that I was safe to drive. He couldn't see why I was without licence in the first place, and wrote a very nice letter to DVLA medical division supervisor Margaret Hunt. I got a letter back saying that Narcoleptics are not allowed drive full stop, and to basically stop wasting her time. The application was rejected.
Another year later, and again I re-applied. This time I got a Neurologist to write explaining the condition and how it was no more serious then someone having hayfever and sneezing whilst driving. Once again I was rejected, because Mrs. Hunt could reject the application. Finally I appealed and even got a testimony from the original Dr. Hyman at Reading to state that he didn't know enough about the illness, and it was his mistake to recommend I didn't drive. Mrs Hunt was now getting fed up with my applications, and said I would never drive.
A year later, in 1997, I had moved to the Swansea Valley. I thought, 'in for a penny, in for a pound,' and reapplied for the fifth time. Much to my surprise, I had a phone call from a nice gentleman at DVLA. The conversation was surprising...
"Mr. Aitch?" he enquired. "It's about your application for your licence. We have a couple of simple questions for you."
"Oh yes?" I said, expecting the usual questions asking for my inside leg measurement. I was pleasantly surprised.
"We notice from your application that the last severe narcoleptic seizure was January 1996, following a general anaesthetic*. We're happy for you to get your licence back, but you're going to have to start again from scratch. No tests passed, no points. As far as the licence is concerned you will be a new licence holder. Are you happy with this?"
Duh. Silly question, huh? They'd also told me they didn't know why I'd lost my licence in the first place. Mrs. Hunt had now retired, and wasn't able to comment. I really think they'd seen I'd only moved 15 miles up the road, and when I applied they thought "we'd better give him his licence or he'll be down here slashing our tyres."
Sure enough, 6 weeks later, I had a new provisional licence. That weekend, I went out with a friend for a night out in Swansea. Whilst in a lively bar with a DJ, the DJ asked if anyone's got anything to celebrate. I told him it wasn't so much of a celebration, but I'd just got my licence back after 7 years. He relayed this to the crowd...
"Apparently we have a guy in who's just got his driving licence back after 7 years. Anyone in from DVLA?"
A cheer went off at the back of the bar.
"You bastards," he said. A definite beer/nose moment.
I took another 18 months before I finally had enough money for lessons and a test. I told my instructor about how I could drive, I just hadn't had a licence for nearly 9 years. I also asked him how I could pass my test quickly, and one hint he told me was to take my test in an automatic. I objected, saying I wanted to drive manuals, but he said (and I've never forgotten this line) "somewhere between you passing your test, and you getting your licence, someone will forget to tick the little box saying you've only taken your test in an automatic."
He was right. After 6 hours of lessons, and a matter of weeks from first contact, I had my full car licence back in October 1998. I will re-do my bike test in the future, but why when I can drive the 50cc hair dryer perfectly legally.
So there you go, the story of unpassing my test for nearly 9 years.
*See story, definition of pain
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