The Driving Lesson

Erin spotted the driving school’s car parked in the loading zone as she exited the main doors of her school. She adjusted her heavy backpack and tried to calm her nerves. She was so stressed out – she had failed the pop quiz her math instructor had given them that morning, she had a major assignment due in English tomorrow, and now she had to go on her first driving lesson with Mr. Breckenridge. Her friends, who had already taken lessons, had warned her about him. “He likes to scare his students,” everyone said. “You’ll see.”

Erin was embarrassed that her palm was so damp when Mr. Breckenridge shook it. He smiled. He didn’t look imposing, and he seemed friendly enough. His hand was cold, but he was sweating a bit much for such a chilly spring day. It was disgusting and weird, but how could she judge when her own hands felt the way they did?

Mr. Breckenridge walked her through an external inspection of the car, then they got inside, Erin taking the wheel. He showed her the controls. She could see that his hands were trembling. That didn’t make the butterflies in her stomach feel any better. She had not been eager to learn how to drive, but her parents had insisted. And, she had to admit, it would be nice if she didn’t have to rely on rides all the time.

“Okay, let’s get going,” Mr. Breckenridge said, and Erin fumbled with the keys to start the car. She stepped way too hard on the accelerator as she left the parking spot, and she suddenly couldn’t remember where the brake was. This was so humiliating! She desperately hoped her friends weren’t watching. Through it all, Mr. Breckenridge seemed calm, yet he took a tissue from his pocket and mopped his forehead. Was he nervous to drive with her? She didn’t blame him. She was ready to give up right then and there.

The next few minutes were a blur. Erin made one mistake after another: she forgot to turn on her signal light, she didn’t slow down and try to stop when the traffic light switched to amber, and worst of all, she failed to check her blind spot and nearly sideswiped another vehicle. She felt like throwing up. There was no way she could do this. Mr. Breckenridge would surely call off the lesson.

“Let’s do something big,” Mr. Breckenridge suggested instead. “We’re going to go on the Deerfoot. If you can do that, the rest will be a piece of cake.”

Erin’s mouth went dry. This was the thing everyone had warned her about. Hadn’t she done enough for one day? Mr. Breckenridge was as bad as they said, after all!

Mr. Breckenridge talked her through it, and Erin finally made it onto the infamous Calgary road. Her hands were slippery on the wheel and her heart pounded. “Step on the gas!” Mr. Breckenridge urged. His voice suddenly seemed wrong to her, garbled somehow. Was he okay, or was she just so nervous she was imagining things? Cars whipped by her. She pressed the accelerator. It was difficult staying in the lane – every car that passed terrified her. The car swung aggressively from side to side with each small correction she tried to make with the steering wheel.

Mr. Breckenridge didn’t seem to notice. He was way too quiet for Erin’s liking. She didn’t know where she was going, and her sense of panic increased. Soon, she would have a full-on freak out. “Mr. Breckenridge?” she squeaked.

“Uhhhh,” he said.

Uhhhh? What was that? Erin dared a sideways glance at her instructor. His head had rolled forward onto his chest. “Mr. Breckenridge!”

He groaned again. Erin wasn’t sure what was wrong with him, but she knew she had to get off the road and call for help. There was a sign overhead: Anderson Trail, 3.0 KM. She tried to swallow, but saliva wasn’t happening. She was on her own now, and three kilometres seemed insanely far. “I can do this,” she whispered. “I have to do this.”

When the exit appeared, she just barely slowed down in time to avoid rear-ending another car, then she forgot the turn signal yet again and earned a robust horn blast from another driver. “Be more careful!” she admonished herself.

Her plan had been to turn off at the first parking lot she saw and phone 9-1-1. But there was a dentist office up ahead – someone there would know first aid, right? She barreled into the parking lot, turn signal forgotten yet again. The valance of the car scraped on the speed bumps, but she didn’t care. This was an emergency!
Parking properly was impossible. She pulled into the fire lane and managed to remember to put the car into park. She rushed out, her wobbly legs nearly collapsing beneath her, and staggered into the clinic. “My driving instructor – there’s something wrong with him!” she shouted, startling everyone in the waiting room.

The receptionist recovered quickly. “I’ll get someone to check him,” she said, and a dental assistant in scrubs appeared from the back almost immediately.

“Show me,” she said, and Erin guided her outside. The receptionist was already dialing 9-1-1.

Fifteen minutes later, Erin was gratefully sipping a glass of water in the waiting room when a paramedic came in. “Mr. Breckenridge wanted me to talk to you. It is possible he may have diabetes,” he told her. “We’ll have to confirm this with his doctor and run some tests to make sure. He had a hypoglycemic attack, which happens when your blood glucose levels go really low. Not everyone who experiences hypoglycemia is diabetic, but unfortunately, that’s often the case. He’s okay now, just needed something sweet to eat and some time to recover.” He smiled. “Not only was it tough on him, but it must have been pretty traumatizing for you. He said it was your first driving lesson.”

“Yes,” Erin said, smiling back. Just as Mr. Breckenridge had promised, she knew the rest of her driving lessons would be a piece of cake.

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