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Driver Lifestyles

Little Thought of Occupational Health Hazard: A Roller Coaster Ride

By Sandy Long
Posted Oct 1st 2014 3:46AM

A couple of years ago, my health started going downhill. I thought part of it was because of my age, part due to having been driving so long that I was just wore out. I am one of those people that go to the doctor when I am sick enough, so had been seeing a lot of my doctor. Last year I ended up in the hospital twice, in January for double pneumonia, again in October because I put on so much water weight that I could not breathe. While there, it was found that my gall bladder was ‘going bad’ in the doctor’s words but no rush to deal with it they said. I took off 60 pounds of water weight in three weeks, could breathe again, and returned to work.

gallbladder.jpgApproximately five weeks later, I started swelling up with water weight again. By the first week in January this year, I had to remove myself from the truck as a safety hazard; not only could I not breathe, but also I could barely walk and could not get in the truck without great struggle. To the doctor I went prepared for another hospital stay.

Instead of putting me directly in the hospital, she sent me for testing. The next day she called saying she had made an appointment with a surgeon for the next day to talk to him about gall bladder surgery, my gall bladder had quit working. He put me in the hospital for a couple of days before he would even consider doing the surgery; he said my gall bladder was ‘very nasty’. After three days in hospital, the surgeon sent me home to try to get built up before he would do surgery, I was so sick that he was afraid I would die on the table at that time.

Two weeks later, 80 pounds lighter and breathing normally, I went to Kansas City to the hospital and had my gall bladder out. I put those two weeks of waiting to good use, I researched how a gall bladder could cause one to be so sick, and I found it is an occupational hazard for truck drivers. How could this be?

First off, what does a gall bladder do? From Wikipedia, “The main purpose of the gallbladder is to store bile, or gall. The gallbladder is part of the biliary system and serves as a reservoir for bile, which is produced by the liver. The liver produces the bile and then it flows through the bile ducts into the gallbladder. The gallbladder releases the bile in response to a hormone called cholecystokinin that is released from the small intestine. When the bile is released, it is released into the small intestine and its purpose is to break down large fat molecules into smaller ones. After the fat is absorbed, the bile is also absorbed and transported back to the liver for reuse. During storage in the gallbladder, bile becomes more concentrated which increases its potency and intensifies its effect on fats.”

You notice that the gall bladder reacts to fats. Truckers are notorious for not eating healthy and many of the choices found in truck stops, especially for those working the late night shifts, are fat heavy foods such as hot dogs, sausages and fast food. This is what makes gall bladder issues an occupational hazard for truckers. When people think of gall bladder problems, they automatically think of gallstones, there is another issue though concerning the gall bladder directly caused by ingesting too many fats, which is the gall bladder filling up with ‘sludge’ comprised of fats. When the gall bladder fills with sludge, the sludge blocks the bile ducts and causes inflammation so eventually the gall bladder causes all sorts of problems and will soon quit working all together, sludge is as bad if not worse than gall stones.

The symptoms most experience for a bad gall bladder are, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain in the upper right area of one’s abdominal area, abdominal tenderness or bloating, sweating, chills, fever, and yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice). I only exhibited the bloating. The symptoms I had were not typical for gall bladder, but the gall bladder was the underlying problem of the symptoms that ended up including the heart and lungs. Because of the atypical symptoms, my doctors missed my gall bladder problems for four or five years.

About five years ago, I thought I had pulled a muscle in my right side trying to deal with a frozen landing gear. My boss said it sounded like gall bladder to him when I told him I needed to go to the doctor and why. I told my doctor what he had said and though she thought too that it was pulled muscles, sent me for an ultra sound test on my gall bladder. The test came back that I had some thickening of the gall bladder wall, but that was normal they said for my age. Took a few days off with some pain pills and went back to work.

Everything was ok, I thought but soon my health started to fail. I started having problems with my digestive tract, my immune system was down causing me to catch every flu, cold, sinus infection that came around, I started having serious breathing problems, and I started to have very swollen legs. I saw my doctor often thru the next four or so years, even ended up in the hospital twice, but the gall bladder was not thought to be the problem until last October during the third hospital stay, and even then, it was just said that I would need to think about having it out, no rush.

As I related earlier, it all came to a head in January this year. What I found out was that my gall bladder had become so filled with sludge that it got swollen and put pressure on my liver that put pressure enough on my diaphragm, the muscle that allows you to breathe deeply, causing me to be unable to breathe normally. Not breathing normally caused fluid to build up causing my heart to not work properly. In response to my heart and lungs not working properly, my body, to protect the heart started to pull fluid away from the heart. The fluid got so much that not only were the cells full of fluid but in between the cells got full too, which caused congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension. A side effect was that my body started to not function at all properly, things like my kidneys not functioning right. I almost died.

What can you do to keep your gall bladder healthy? You can cut down fat intake to a minimum. Drink more water to keep your body hydrated properly, without proper hydration using plain water, your body cannot dispose of fat so it becomes stored in the body and can contaminate the gallbladder. Eat beets a couple of times a week, they are usually found on any salad bar, there is something found in beets that helps cleanse the gall bladder.

Furthermore, watch for any signs that your gall bladder may be acting up. Besides the pain that may or may not occur, check when you empty your bowels for any changes in color each time you go, a gall bladder starting to go bad can cause stool to appear loose, sticky and be a milky color. Many times gall bladder can mimic irritable bowel disease symptoms also. In addition, if you are having any of the symptoms, but your doctor does not have a gall bladder test done, ask for it. The initial test is just an ultra sound and takes about 10 minutes.

In today’s world, we have to be our own advocate in our health. Too often, one condition may mimic another or a specialist coming in for a symptom may only focus on their specialty and not look deeper for the underlying cause. The last few years have been a roller coaster ride health wise for me, I sure would not wish those years on anyone.


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