Saturday, May 9, 2009
THE END OF THE ROAD: A TRUCKER'S FAREWELL
There are countless miles of roads in our nation and in the past eleven years, I have seen my share of them, day-in and day-out. But roads are not without an end. They have to start somewhere and they have to end up somewhere else, ultimately. You run down a road long enough and eventually it will merge with another road, or it will reach a dead-end; a point at which you can travel no further.
My personal road, as a commercial truck driver, reached its end on Saturday, May 9, 2009. As I write this, I am at home to stay and am no longer employed in my former occupation. I delivered my final load on Friday, then returned to my terminal, where I gathered my belongings up for the trip back home.
The reason my career has ended is medical. I have been diagnosed with COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which can take the forms of asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, as well as a couple of other nasty varieties. The symptoms are similar and often interchangeable because all of those forms amount to the same blanket disease. In my case, it is early emphysema, and although it is not yet severe enough for me to lug an oxygen bottle around, I may end up doing so in future years. COPD is described as "progressive" and "irreversible," in doctor language. Once you have it, it doesn't stop, but keeps going. It can be slowed down, but not halted completely. There is no known cure.
One of the symptoms is coughing, sometimes in fits, and expellling excess mucus from the lungs. Another symptom is shortness of breath, sometimes quite severe, taking the form of an asthma-like attack, where you can't fill your lungs with sufficient air to give your body the oxygen it needs. It's like someone has placed a fifty-pound dead weight on your chest and your lungs can't expand enough to suck in the air you require. Quite alarming. It's downright scary, in fact, and the panic reaction sets in automatically, as your body goes into survival mode. The panic reaction makes everything much worse and you begin to wheeze loudly and gasp for air. That's what happened to me early last Monday, on the fourth, when I ended up in an ER in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for several hours, undergoing outpatient treatment. The pure oxygen I was breathing and the inhalation therapy got me unstopped and breathing normally again, but at that point, the writing was on the wall for me. I had already had a couple of very bad attacks prior to that. But this latest one was the worst one so far and they certainly weren't going to be getting any better.
So, it came as no surprise to me when the ER doctor at the hospital advised me to seek a different occupation. The two EMTs who had treated me at the rest area where I was parked, and transported me to the hospital had already advised me thusly, but the doc was the clincher. What if? What if I had a coughing fit while driving, lost my breath and passed out from lack of oxygen while at the wheel of my truck?? Are you okay with the idea of an 80,000 pound truck roaring down the highway, out of control, with an unconscious driver at the wheel? Of course not! Who would be, in their right mind? Too much to risk. Way too much. I didn't feel safe and when a driver doesn't feel safe, there's only one thing that can be said -- GAME OVER.
So be it. Exit, stage left. I'm outta here for good.
Eleven years of my life. A ton of memories, some good and some not so good. A few just plain bad ones. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to go places and see things that I otherwise would never have seen at all. I've seen the sun come up over the skyscrapers of New York and I've seen it set over Tampa Bay. I've seen the majestic purple mountains in the early light and I've seen them frosted with snow in the winter. I've watched the wind ripple in the wheatfields of Kansas, and the vast cornfields of Illinois and Iowa. I've watched shooting stars over Lake Erie and seen a rainbow over the St. Louis Arch. I've weathered a tropical storm in Fort Pierce, Florida, outran one hurricane and drove through the aftermath of Katrina. I've been close enough to one tornado to feel those powerful winds.
I've been lost and found and then lost again. Driven roads so narrow that I was only an inch or two from trading mirrors with the passing trucks. I've been stuck in sand, stuck in mud, stuck in gravel, and stuck on ice and in snow. Sometimes I got my own ass out, sometimes I needed a little help. I've blown every tire there is at least once and one time blew out four all at once. I've broken down, torn up, dropped valves, torn up one clutch and watched helplessly once as a busted turbocharger sucked all the oil out of my pan and burned it in the engine. I've torn off more than one trailer door. Even ran the hell over one of them. I never claimed to be perfect, even once. But I learned from my mistakes. Failure is the Mother Of All Teachers.
It's all called "experience" and there has been plenty of that in my time at the wheel. I wouldn't trade it for anything else I've ever done in my entire life. Take the good along with the bad and it all adds up to one incredible eleven year ride and it's been an unforgettable one.
This blog isn't going anywhere, my readers. I'll still be right here, maybe a little more frequently now. It's still a Dawg's Life, after all. That life has just changed now, that's all. One chapter has closed and another has opened up. Not an end at all, but a new beginning.