Saturday, April 2, 2011

How Many People with Parkinson's Disease Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb ?

When it comes to the bulb in a headlight assembly of the 2009 Ford Fusion, and I am the person with Parkinson's, the answer is "none".

It should have been a simple task. Having worked part-time in a Chevron service station as a teenager, I learned to change tires, do oil changes, fix flats and replace turn signal light bulbs and headlights. But that was in the 60s. Today, it seems, you need to be an automotive technologist (the word "mechanic" is now outdated, following blacksmith, milkman and carhop) in order to even change the wiper blades on any vehicle.

For the last 6 weeks I had been driving with one headlight out. Based upon what I thought was my junior garage mechanic status, I concluded it could not be all that difficult to change a headlight bulb. I went to the local Canadian Tire store and found a six-foot high (2 m) rack of bulbs that stretched 30 feet in length (6 m). Now, apparently, every vehicle has at least 2 different kinds of bulbs, one for high beam and one for low.

I asked an aimless, surly-looking sales clerk how I could find the right bulb for my vehicle. He muttered, "Look in the book". About halfway down the aisle of bulbs was a dog-eared book the size of a family Bible perched on a small shelf. Being trained to read critically, I found the make, model and year of my car and quickly located the line that displayed what I was looking for: "Low Beam Bulb – T9045-A". Looking at the rows of packaged bulbs I noted that they all had numbers on them. However, none of the bulb numbers were sequential. Repeating the right number to myself, I went column by column until I found the right number. "Eureka".

Having paid the $29.45, plus tax, for the little bulb I had hunted down, I felt I was almost finished the job. But once home, after reading the vehicle maintenance manual and popping the hood, I realized that I had been a little optimistic. As anyone who has looked under the hood of a recently manufactured automobile can tell you, the engine compartment resembles a suitcase tightly packed with wires, hoses, belts and plastic sealed units. There is very little space left for any intruding hand, especially if that hand, shaking uncontrollably, belongs to a person with Parkinson's. After 15 minute search I found a hatch had been cleverly hidden in the front wheel well of the passenger side of the vehicle, a plastic flap covering an opening the size of a softball right behind the headlight. "Easy", I thought as I removed the access panel, reaching elbow-deep in to grasp the burned out bulb.

After more than an hour of suffering scraped arms and bruised knuckles in my attempt to dislodge the bulb from the cramped headlight housing. Looking carefully at the one I had just purchased, and then the one that I had extracted, I realized that I had purchased the wrong bulb.

So, before heading home after work the next day, I stopped at the same store and asked a salesperson to find the right bulb for me. He asked me which one was needed, and I showed him the bulb that I had extracted with such difficulty. He found a replacement easily and even volunteered to put it in for me. That may have been due to my scab-covered knuckles or my trembling in trying to extract the proper amount of money from my wallet. But, unfortunately, I had left at home a small clip that was needed to complete the job.

So, on my own again at home, I managed to replace the bulb somewhat triumphantly after only 45 minutes this time. However, I was premature in proclaiming victory as, turning on the headlights, the right side was totally dark. Exasperated, I quit, vowing to take the whole thing into the shop next day to fix the wiring or whatever else was wrong with the headlight. This was clearly a task above my pay grade.
I marched into my home office to bury myself in work that I could actually accomplish. My 26-year-old son, Adam, who was visiting, poked his head in and asked me what was wrong. When I explained he volunteered to try his hand at fixing the stubborn headlight. In a matter of moments, me staring over his shoulder offering useless advice based on my failed attempts, he announced, "Dad, you were changing the wrong bulb."

It turns out that I had purchased the right bulb the first time, but removed the wrong bulb from the headlight assembly. In addition, Adam found that I had dislodged the turn signal bulb, thereby making it useless.

You know, I have decided something. If ever I am tempted to fix some small automotive maintenance problem, and Adam is not available, I will remember my mechanical misery and have a professional fix it. It will be worth it.

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