Sunday 30 December 2012


Texting and driving is stupid.  But I've already ranted enough about that.  Drunk driving is even more stupid.  Sure, I could end this post here, but everyone knows all of this.  I bet even the idiot drunk drivers are thinking, "My god, what the hell am I doing??" while they're doing it.  So what the hell is my point?  Unless you've been living under a rock (which is probably one of the safer places to be these days), driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol isn't the only stupid thing you can do at the wheel.  You have also heard of drowsy driving.

What?! You haven't? Have you been living under a rock?

Put simply, drowsy driving is driving while you should be sleeping. About one in 6 fatal traffic accidents can be attributed to driver fatigue, which can impair judgment, delay reaction times, and impairs coordination.  Sound like anything else?  Exactly.  It's been shown to be at least as dangerous as drunk driving, if not more so.

Yet another car accident victim was being brought to me at 2 AM on a night when I had already had 15 patients come in.  I was tired, I was cranky, and I was in no mood for another fucking moron who had thoroughly earned a trip to my trauma bay.  Unfortunately that's exactly what rolled through the door.

A very large woman rolled in on the gurney, and the medics were having a very difficult time stifling their laughter as they told me why she was here.  She had just been prescribed a new medicine, one that notoriously causes drowsiness.  She had taken her first dose that evening and had supposedly discovered another side effect - a severe case of the stupids.  So in the middle of the night, already drowsy from sleep deprivation and her new medicine, she thought it would be a fantastic idea to go out for nachos.  And much to the surprise of NO ONE, she fell asleep and ran off the road into a tree.

Fortunately she was not seriously injured, and after a negative workup I sent her on her way.  I have no idea if she stopped for a snack on the way home.


  1. I have a friend of a friend who got hit by a semi while she was stopped at a toll booth on the highway. Both drivers died in the crash, the truck driver never slowed down. The police thought that the truck driver must have fallen asleep because he had been driving for a long time and it was 2:00 in the morning. Thanks for talking about this, Doc, and keeping people informed. It is sooo dangerous to be sleepy while driving. If you ever get sleepy while driving, pull over! Take a nap, get some coffee, do what you have to in order to be awake enough to pay attention to the road and be safe.

    1. It just scares the shit out of me that even a safe, cautious driver can be killed in an instant through no fault of their own, just like in your story above. The toll booth worker was likely horrified.

  2. Commercial drivers, at least in the UK, have very strict limits on the time that they can be at the wheel.

    Without intending anything personal to you doc - it's the system rather than those who are living by it - I wonder why people who drive for a living can only work a certain number of hours while doctors are virtually forced to work a ridiculous number. The consequences of an error in either occupation are potentially quite dire.

    Can you wield a knife more safely at the end of a long shift than you could drive, doc'?

    1. This.

      Each and every time I had to have surgery (three times so far) I kept thinking "I hope the doc didn't have a night shift before, I hope he was able to get a good night's sleep, I hope he is properly awake!"

      The crazy hours that doctors are required to work in hospitals scares me like hell every time I set foot in one.

    2. Scares me damn well too. What hours are doctors usually required to work?

    3. Driving while tired is very different than operating while tired. Admittedly I've done both, though I haven't driven while that tired in about 10 years. There IS no fatigue in the operating room. Even if I've been awake for over 24 hours, as soon as I enter the OR, the cobwebs clear. Plus, there is a team of people there (nurses and techs) ready to help in case you need it.

  3. I am sure it does not help, but I will drive with my windows down, blare the radio, whatever I need to so I can stay awake. (I work full-time on the graveyard shift and go to university full time as well.) I will even but my phone on speaker and have my father talk to me and keep me awake during drives home. I hate that I am so tired, but I have to work. I do hope that I never hurt myself or anyone else. Thanks for reminding people this is a big problem.

  4. I am in a car with my parents some times and my mother (who is driving) dozes off. There have been some stop shorts and swerving but never a crash, but i understand the risks as it freaks me out at times. Most of the time i have to play loud music or talk loudly so she will stay awake. I feel for you docbastard.

  5. I have an interesting little anecdote of my own to add. It's very similar to the case of the woman above, but with a little key difference. I only heard about this after the fact because my brother "didn't want to worry anybody". Apparently he had gotten quite depressed, and decided to go see the doctor about it. The doctor prescribed him some antidepressants (which ones, I do not know). Apparently one of the rare side effects of this one was sleepwalking. Or in my brothers case, he sleepwalks to his car and starts driving...and ends up totaling his car, upside-down in a ditch. The police found him crawling out of his car, completely dazed and with no idea how he got there. He ended up being unhurt, and nobody else was injured, but after that he decided the antidepressants weren't worth it. Also, he ended up getting out of his depression through changing his outlook on life and his life goals, so in the end everything worked out for everybody save for his car.

    But it could have been much worse... and it's a little scary looking at the possible side effects on some of our medicines.

    1. It would certainly make for a funny episode of "Cops" if they pulled over someone who was sleep-driving.

    2. Isn't there a statistic/fact that if you're awake for like 17 hours or something it's the equivalent of having a BAC of .05? I don't remember where I saw it.

      There's a guy that my fiance used to work with who almost killed his entire family falling asleep at the wheel. I have no idea why they put him in charge of driving because he's so overweight that if he stops moving or doing something for a short amount of time, he falls asleep. He was on the line at the restaurant, with his belly on the table, asleep standing up. More than once.

  6. Sounds like it was Ambien. I was put on that medication
    And my husband says I've done crazy thing and it changes
    My personality and I do things I don't normally do with no memory of it the next day. Needless to say am no longer on
    That medication.


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