Medicine on the run

| October 05, 2005

Drivers might be far from home when injury or illness strikes, but support is usually nearby.

When you’re on the road 80 percent of your life, there’s a good chance a medical issue will come up while you’re away from home.

And because you’re a trucker, you might face additional medical issues.

“Truckers have this macho attitude,” says Marlene Fedin, Travel Health writer and consultant and author of “A lot of them don’t do a lot to stay healthy.”

With most health issues, prevention is the best cure.

“If they would just walk 25 minutes a day,” says Dr. Kenn Seals of Dr. Izzy’s Chiro-Stop at the Sapp Brothers Truck Stop in Salt Lake City, Utah. “The human body is designed to help the heart pump the blood through movement,” he says. “Sitting still takes all that away.” This leads to a host of other problems, from what Seals calls “numbness or tingling in the fingers from sitting for 11 hours” to deep vein thrombosis, in which blood pools in the veins and often clots.

For some drivers, just brushing teeth daily would be a breakthrough, and their teeth suffer for it. “Most drivers know very little about dental hygiene,” says Angie Breeze, office manager at Over-the Road Dental, also at the SLC Sapp Brothers Truck Stop. “Their teeth are in very poor condition.”

But what do you do about medical care once the damage is done: after the neglected tooth gets infected and starts to throb, after the flabby muscle gets torn, or worse? Fortunately for drivers, quality medical help is usually available and nearby, and there’s always 911, QUALCOMM and the CB. If your medical problem is immediately life threatening, communication is probably the first step to saving your life.

“The driver can send a canned medical assistance macro to his service team leader,” says Don Osterberg, Schneider National’s vice president of safety and driver training. “The STL can then contact the occupational health nurses. They have in their databases the locations of the nearest medical assistance.”

For drivers with most large carriers, that option is available 24/7. Osterberg says Schneider’s occupational health nurses work every day. “At night we have a third-party medical assistance provider, and their nurses can provide essentially the same services as our OH staff.”

Good trucking companies care about the health and welfare of their drivers, and for safety’s sake they don’t want sick or injured drivers behind the wheel. “We empower our drivers to pull over, because we don’t want them to drive if they’re injured, sick or having an issue,” Osterberg says.

One of the first and biggest obstacles to medical treatment is getting drivers to admit they need medical attention in the first place. “It’s more typical with men than with women,” Fedin says. “They get warning signals and they ignore them.” Warning signals can be anything from a persistent stomach ache to chest pains. “They might be worried about losing their jobs,” Fedin says. “But they could lose their lives.”

The irony is that getting medical care on the road is relatively simple and easy because, for one thing, most trucking companies provide drivers with very good coverage that’s designed to meet drivers’ travel health needs.

“It does vary from plan to plan,” says Rachel Widmer, human resources representative at Koch Trucking in Minneapolis. “There can be a ton of differences between health plans. But as long as it’s an emergency situation you can go to any health care facility and it will be considered within our coverage network.” Widmer says most other coverage plans are the same way.

Some states have laws requiring hospital emergency rooms to render care in a crisis, coverage or none. But it’s good to know the bills will be covered.

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