About two weeks ago, I thought I was going to suffocate in my sleep. My CPAP machine, which I depend on to keep my airway open and prevent my sleep apnea from occurring, rolled over and died. It was sudden, with no warning at all. The familiar rush of pressurized air ceased and I couldn't breathe. Sat up and ripped my mask off, with my slumber on hold. "What's wrong with this freakin' thing??!!" I wondered aloud. No answer came, so I investigated.
Is the inverter working? Yep. Green "on" light is glowing. Plugged into the inverter all the way? Yep. Plugged into the CPAP all the way? Yep. Pressed the "go" button on the machine. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Well, shit!! Looked at the status panel and saw an ominous error message: ERROR -- E03. Pressed the "go" button half a dozen times. No change. Message stayed as-is. At that point, I pronounced the patient officially dead, unplugged it and put it back into its carrying bag, then stowed it away. So much for that. No CPAP for you!!! Hello, Mr. OSA! We meet again!!
And so we did. My old enemy, my sleep apnea, returned with a vengeance. It seemed like I was waking up every ten minutes or so. Doze off, wake back up, doze off again, wake back up -- an endless cycle. I was made quickly and acutely aware of just how much I depended on that machine to help me get a decent night's sleep and it decidedly sucked without the thing's aid and support! I knew that the earliest I'd be able to take the thing in to the hospital outlet that provides and services them would be Monday. Four nearly sleepless nights to look forward to!! Gee, whiz -- what a thrill! Next morning, tired and groggy, I called in and left a message on my dispatcher's voice mail, since he was busy and unavailable in person, as is usually the case. Told him I had to take Monday morning off, to see about getting it fixed, as I couldn't take many breaks without the thing. Emergency! Gotta have it!
He found me a more or less suitable load and I headed home on Friday, tired as hell from lack of sleep, but able to drive safely in spite of it, because driving when you're dead-tired is something all truckers learn to deal with on frequent occasions. I didn't sleep any better at home -- worse, in fact, because I'm much more used to sleeping in my truck's bunk than I am my own bed. So, as you might imagine, I was glad when Monday dawned at last. I had been so pooped over the weekend that I didn't even have the energy to ride Velvet. She stayed parked all weekend. Not about to risk getting out on her so tired and maybe crashing her and hurting myself. No way, Jose!
I was lurking like a vulture in the parking lot of the hospital equipment outlet, waiting for them to open up. I pointed to the CPAP bag I carried. "It died. Fix it, please!!" Or something to that effect, anyway. I had to leave it and go back home until their technician could perform an autopsy on it. They called after about three hours and the news wasn't good. Motor was burned up and the tech said it was due to neglect; I hadn't changed the filters often enough. I argued mightily. I DID wash out the foam one at least every two weeks or so, and always had done so! I can't get in town every month to get a new inner filter, as I'm on the road all the time! It's very hard for a trucker to do anything like that, when everything's closed on the weekends when I am at home! Told them that I suspected that the thing may have ended up too close to the sleeper curtain in my truck and that was what probably blocked the air flow. I couldn't put it up on a shelf, because the cord wouldn't reach to the plug in my cab and also the risk of pulling it off the shelf and having it conk me in the head! Not safe, so I had to put it on the floor. Our trucks aren't equipped with the desks that others have. Nowhere else to put it. I tried to keep it away from the curtain, but sometimes, in spite of all your efforts. . . .
My company had just gone on a new insurance plan and although I didn't have a claim on it as yet, the outlet was required to write a letter, explaining why the thing died at such a young age. Insurance will only replace them every five years, normally. Mine didn't last quite two years. When the insurance company got the letter, they'd likely deny the claim and the whole thing would come out of my pocket, instead of just the $500 deductible. No way could I afford that; the five hundred bucks is going to strain me enough, but I might come up with enough in my Comdata "credit union" account to cover most of that. But NOT the whole enchilada!!
Finally, it was decided that since I didn't have an insurance claim as yet, they would refer me to another outlet in town and I could get a new machine from them. That way, I was a first-time buyer, with no previous machine that had died on me. No letter would be written and my insurance would pay their part of it. So, that's what happened. Went over there and the hospital outlet had faxed my sleep study and all the other pertinent information to them. I walked out of there with a new CPAP. A different brand; smaller, and made different, so that there's no risk of it getting too close to that curtain again. And they'll mail me new filters each month, along with mask cushions and a new mask at certain intervals. Everything worked out for the best in the end and by my next break period, I was sleeping like a baby again. Ahhhh -- sweet relief!!
That relief would be short-lived, though, because this past week was a holidaze weekend. Thanksgiving, specifically. The busiest travel day of the year and the exhorbitant gas prices weren't stopping them this year. Holidays present even greater challenges to truckers. Plants and warehouses tend to close early before a holiday and don't open up until the long weekend is over, so it means you're in a mad rush to deliver and pick up your loads before quitting time rolls around.
Such was the case with me on Wednesday of last week. I had a long run down to North Carolina from the area around our yard in Illinois. Started Tuesday, but didn't get far before my hours ran out. I drove over them a bit, in fact, making it into Indiana before I shut down, then logging myself further down the road than I actually was. This was so that the time when I fueled would coincide with my logbook and I wouldn't drive too long getting to the truckstop. If you don't understand all that, trust me. I know what I'm doing when I cheat. I had to save all the hours I could for the marathon I'd be running the next day.
Wednesday, I started out an hour and a half before my log says I did, fueled in Kentucky, then drove all the way to Sanford, North Carolina, non-stop. I was scheduled to deliver at 3 P.M., CST, but I wanted to get there as early as I could, both to beat the brunt of the traffic nightmare I knew would be coming, and to get my load delivered and skedaddle to my next pickup, which would presumably take me home for the holiday. Show up after they close, and you ain't going home, Jack! You'll sit out the holiday right there!
Stopped twice for bathroom breaks and that was it. Pulled into the customer at Sanford at 1 -- two hours early. I think the forklift was on the truck before I bumped the dock. They want to get 'er done and go home, too!! By that time, I was actually almost three hours over my drive hours in reality, but due to my clever logging, I had an hour and a half left on paper. Amazing what one can do with a little creative arithmetic! That wasn't enough, though, in spite of my creativity. I got my next load pronto -- dispatch was even in a hurry to get the heck out of Dodge. Yep, they sent me to South Carolina to load again, almost a tradition when I'm in Sanford. To a paper mill, which, according to the load info, would be open at least until midnight. Over 150 miles, by HHG reckoning, and pretty accurate this time, because the back roads ARE the quickest way to get down there from where I was. That happens occasionally. But I required more than ninety minutes in order to cover that distance and not show my 65 mph truck running 85, or something like that, which would be unacceptable and would get me written up for a violation.
To hell with the log for now! I gotta get that load picked up WAY before they can close and the later it gets, the worse traffic will be, heading out to grandma's, or wherever. So, I once again went on the old tried, true and well-tested "Drive Now -- Log It Later" strategy. No scales out in the woods anyway and most of the interstate scales would be closing early, as they pulled the DOT bears off the trucks and put them on the roads for extra traffic patrols. Truckers get a free pass often on holiday weekends. The bears have too many 4-wheelers to worry about. So, chances of getting caught for HOS violations are slimmer.
I got to the paper mill about 6, after fighting increasingly heavy traffic all the way down there. I figured up my hours after I had dropped my empty caboose and hooked up to my loaded one and found that at that point I was only 7 1/2 hours over the 11 hours I'm legally permitted to drive. Eighteen and a half hours on the road, straight. Call me Iron Man!!! I wasn't tired -- much. Just nearing a total collapse, as you might imagine. New CPAP wasn't doing me any good at all ifI couldn't get INTO the bunk in the first place. But it was necessary, if I was to have any holiday at all. My marathon over at last, I made my way to the nearest truckstop, found a space at the curb, ate a Subway pizza, then went to sleep.
I got up later than I meant to Thanksgiving morning and made my way home, again through fairly heavy traffic, but feeling much better after the rest I'd gotten. finally. It was after 2 P.M. before I arrived home. Caught up my logbook, showing a break in North Carolina that I actually drove through, mostly, then another shorter break in South Carolina, so that once again my fuel time would coincide accurately. Crossed all the "T's," dotted all the "I's," and went to the house. Took my mom out for dinner. I hadn't eaten much all day and I pigged out on fried chicken.
And now it's too blamed cold to ride Velvet, dang it!! I thought about it until I stepped outside and could see my breath in the air. I went back inside and Velvet's still parked in the garage, sound asleep. I ain't no polar bear. Supposed to warm up again next week. We'll see.