Bottom Line
Health crisis: What do you do?

—by Sharon Mitchell, LPN

You are a long way from home, and you “just don’t feel good.” Do you ignore it and push on because you’re under a hot load? Do you pull over for a while and see whether a little rest won’t make you feel better?

Chances are, you have been in this position more than once during your career as a driver. It’s not a comfortable feeling at all. First of all, you may not know what is wrong, so how can you possibly know how to handle it?

Here, you will find some helpful tips on how to know what may be ailing you, how to take care of it, when to seek emergency medical care and who to call when you do.

A medical emergency
First and foremost, if you are having any of these symptoms, this is a medical emergency:

  • Chest pain;
  • Trouble breathing;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing;
  • Difficulty moving an arm or leg.

1. Pull over to the side of the road and dial 9-1-1 on your cell phone or use the CB radio to seek assistance. Most state police monitor Channel 9 on the CB; however, in today’s high-tech era, dialing #77 on your cell phone is just as effective.

2. Try to give a description of your truck, and describe your problem if possible.

3. Put on your hazard lights.

4. Hang something white from the window — do anything you can to identify yourself as someone needing assistance to rescuers.

5. If you are experiencing chest pain that you think may be a heart attack, taking one aspirin while you wait for assistance may help in the long run. Do not attempt this if you are having trouble swallowing your own saliva. Leave the aspirin bottle in plain view in case you can’t speak when help arrives.

All interstate exits leading to hospitals are designated by a blue sign with a white H in the center. Routes from that exit to the facility will continue to be designated by the blue and white signs.

Parking may be a problem for tractor-trailers. If possible, park elsewhere and call a taxi or an ambulance for transport to the hospital.

Dialing #77 on your cell phone will contact state police, who can be very helpful in securing any medical assistance you may need.

Non-emergency situations
Other ailments and conditions may not be as severe or life threatening as described above, but may limit your ability to work comfortably or safely nonetheless.

You can do a lot to help yourself or access help from professionals no matter where you are. Following are some of the most commonly encountered ailments and how to deal with them:

If you suspect you have ingested a poison, or that you have been bitten by a snake, spider or scorpion, immediately call 1-800-222-1222, the poison control number.

If you suspect you have contracted food poisoning (characterized by “projectile” vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, dizziness), report to the local emergency room for treatment to avoid dehydration. The ER personnel may question you about what and where you ate so the appropriate authorities may investigate if necessary.

Gastroenteritis or stomach upset
Many are quick to blame a good old-fashioned stomach virus on food poisoning. Cases of true food poisoning are not as common as one might think, although it can and does happen.

Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be the result of numerous causes, but the treatment is generally the same, and the ailment tends to run its course over a 24-hour period. Whenever vomiting is a problem, it is best to restrict food and fluid intake until the vomiting stops. This may be for as long as 12 to 24 hours. As you begin to feel better, begin slowly taking sips of clear fluids (any liquid you can see light thru). 

Increase the amounts over a period of several hours until you are sure that your body will not reject them. You may now slowly reintroduce bland foods over the next 24 hours.

If the above symptoms persist for longer than 24 hours, if you stop producing urine, if you become lightheaded or dizzy, or if you experience heart palpitations, seek immediate medical attention. You may be dehydrated, which can become life threatening.

Colds and flu
While these ailments are not life threatening in their own right, they sure can make you feel like you’re dying. They also can progress into secondary conditions that can severely threaten your health if left untreated. Immunization against the flu on a yearly basis is your best defense.

But should you find yourself with a fever, muscle aches, nasal and/or chest congestion, and a cough, rest as much as possible and push your fluid intake. Fluids keep the body hydrated, help keep body temperature down and play a big role in keeping secretions looser to aid in coughing them up.

Over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers are fine, but read labels to make sure you are not taking a medication that may interfere with your ability to safely operate your vehicle.

Alternating doses of Tylenol and Ibuprofen every four hours seems to help reduce high fevers better than taking just one or the other exclusively. Antibiotics are not used to treat these viruses.

Symptoms lasting more than seven days, coughing up blood, or not improving after three to four days all require immediate medical attention. Viruses such as cold and flu can weaken the body’s immune system and allow for secondary infections such as bronchitis, sinus infection and pneumonia.

These infections may require antibiotic therapy to improve.

Sprains, strains, bumps, bruises, fractures
Soft tissue injuries can be quite painful and limit full motion of the affected part. To best treat these types of injuries, use ice on the affected area (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off) for the first 48 hours. Elevate the injured area above the level of your heart as often and as much as possible. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as Motrin, Advil or Aleve will help with pain and swelling. Always read medication labels for precautions.

Elastic wraps and supports must be used properly to prevent additional complications. If swelling, numbness, tingling or discoloration occurs below the support, circulation is being impaired. The support must be removed or loosened immediately.

Total immobilization of the area, if necessary, should not be done for longer than 48 hours. Limiting the use of the affected body part and gradually increasing that use as tolerated will help to prevent complications such as blood clots, muscle atrophy and dependent edema.

If you think you may have fractured a bone, immobilize and elevate the area if possible. Ice the painful or swollen area, and seek immediate medical attention.

Mild scrapes and cuts generally heal without much problem, but using an antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin in the first 24 hours and a light, covering bandage may reduce the risk of infection and promote healing.

When bandaging, do not apply dressings so tightly as to impede circulation.

Burns are classified by degrees and are treated differently depending on the severity of the burn and the amount of skin surface involved.

First-degree burn: redness of the skin (as in sunburn), no blistering or open areas.

Cool the area by immersing or running cool water over the area until burning stops. Sunburns may be treated by applying an Aloe-based lotion. Do not apply bandages, dressings or ointments of any type.

Second-degree burn: Redness, blistering and open areas may be present.

Do not open blisters. Cool the area by immersing or gently running cool water over the area until burning stops. When possible, leave open to air but protect the area from further injury with a light, non-adhesive-type dressing. The blisters will resolve on their own, but if they should burst, protect the open area from contamination with a light, non-adhesive dressing. 

Watch for signs of infection. Signs of infection include: redness and swelling, drainage, warmth at the site, red streaking extending from the affected area. If you note any of these symptoms, you need immediate medical attention.

Second-degree burns affecting a large area of the body (over 1/3) are a medical emergency.

Third-degree burn: These burns involve all layers of the skin. The appearance of the burn may include blackening around the burn area, visible underlying tissues and structures. There may be little pain since nerves are damaged. 

Any burn of this nature is a medical emergency requiring immediate professional attention.

Lacerations and puncture wounds will bleed profusely. Controlling bleeding is the first step in treatment. Elevate and apply direct pressure (using any clean cloth) to the area for at least 10 minutes. If the cloth becomes saturated, add more cloth to the top. Don’t remove and replace it.

Avoid the urge to peek. This disturbs any clotting that may have begun. Bleeding that cannot be significantly slowed or controlled within 10 to 15 minutes requires immediate emergency assistance.

If a foreign object is imbedded in the wound, do not remove it. Removing an imbedded object may cause further damage and bleeding. Try to cover and protect any protruding part of the foreign object and seek immediate medical attention.

Eye problems
A foreign body or chemical in the eye can cause instant discomfort and visual disturbances. If driving, close only the affected eye and pull off the road as quickly as possible.

Never rub your eye. Flush the affected eye with large amounts of water. If flushing does not ease the situation, seek immediate medical assistance. If a chemical is the culprit, make every effort to identify the substance involved and let any medical professionals know what may be in your eye.

Some foreign bodies or agents in the eye can actually damage the cells of the eye. This can cause severe pain and lead to increased damage and loss of sight. Until professional assistance can be obtained, try to keep the affected eye closed by patching and/or taping the eyelid shut. Do not attempt to drive while your eye is patched, as this will seriously affect your depth perception.

Waking up with sticky, reddened eyelids and feeling as if you have something in your eye are the first symptoms of conjunctivitis, commonly called “pink eye.” This is a highly contagious malady that can rapidly spread from one eye to the other, as well as to other people. Good hand washing before and after touching the affected eye is extremely important. This common problem is best treated with an antibiotic specially made for use in the eye.

First-aid kit
Any traveler should have a well-stocked first-aid kit before leaving home. Anyone who travels for a living will carry different items than someone who goes home every day.

The basic ingredients of a good kit should include:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen, Advil or Motrin
  • Disposable heat/ice packs
  • Large and small band-aids
  • Sterile, individually wrapped, absorbent gauze dressings
  • Gauze wrapping for bandaging
  • Elastic bandages
  • Eye patch
  • Medical tape
  • Neosporin or other antibiotic ointment
  • Tweezers
  • Scissors
  • Sterile water
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Iodine-based disinfectant

Accessing your health information
All of this information may be quite helpful, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, before you even think about heading out the door to get in that truck, there are a few things you need to have in your possession to help ensure that you stay safe, healthy and on the road.

These things are more important to your health and safety than your CB radio, your cell phone or any other item you think you just can’t live without. Just what can be that important? Your health information, that’s what.

Drivers spending long periods of time away from home are also a long way from their loved ones and the medical professionals who know them best. In an emergency, the driver may find he or she is dependent upon total strangers to help them and maybe even save their life. A little pre-planning may make the difference between a mild illness and a major health issue, a slight injury or a major one, and even life and death.

A simple wallet card to be carried with you at all times should contain the following information about you and your health. A copy may be secured to the visor of your vehicle.

  • Your name and address
  • A list of any allergies
  • A list of all medical conditions you have had or currently have. Some conditions may warrant a medical alert bracelet or necklace as well.
  • A list of all medications, including vitamins, over-the-counter medicines and those you only take on occasion. Dosages should be included.
  • The name and phone number (home and work) of who you want contacted in the event of an emergency. This person should be very familiar with you personally, know your medications and why you take them. They should have access to your insurance information. If this person is not your spouse, be sure to provide them with a letter granting them the right to discuss your medical information. Today’s privacy laws can restrict the flow of information needed by your loved ones.
  • Your doctor’s name, address and phone number.
    Should you ever be in a situation where you cannot speak for yourself, immediate access to this information can give medical professionals a definitive edge in providing precisely the care you may need as quickly as possible.

Sharon Mitchell, LPN, is a partner in American Business Medical Services, a clinic with a location TA Baltimore South Truck Stop in Jessup, MD. She answers medical questions under the screen name Nurse Red on the TruckNet forum.