Dear Prudence for Smart Talk?


I am obsessed with a Slate advice column called "Dear Prudence." In fact, after I first stumbled upon it, I engaged in a few marathon sessions reading through the archives (not at the office, Liz). Sample headlines: I've been banned from my vegan grandbaby, how will she get her meat and cheese; Since starting on antidepressants, my wife has been cheerful and optimistic. I hate it; and this recent fave: Help! A neighbor has been poisoning our cat colony.

So imagine my joy at finding an opportunity to incorporate Prudie into an HME News blog. It's from about a year ago, I believe.

Q. New Job: Back in May of 2011, I decided to get back into truck driving. A large faith-based company agreed to hire me. I went through orientation, and was in the process of putting my belongings in a truck when I was called up to the safety department. The director of safety had found out that I have mild sleep apnea (my roommate snitched on me). He wanted me to travel back home, undergo another sleep study, and get a letter from my doctor stating that I could drive without any restrictions. Here's the problem: The safety department never had me sign any release for them to discuss this matter with me, or anyone else, let alone even look into it. I asked a lawyer friend about this, and he told me that it's a violation of my HIPAA rights. I am currently driving for this company, but I am tempted to quit, and file a lawsuit against them. To sue, or not to sue?

A: I often get chastised that I don't suggest more often that people just sue. But your letter beautifully encapsulates the litigious world we live in. You're considering suing over the fact that the trucking company that employs you discovered you have a medical condition that could result in your falling asleep at the wheel. I'm wondering whether in the papers you signed for your job there wasn't a line about disclosing relevant medical information that you neglected to note. In any case, your roommate snitched presumably not out of malice, but out of concern for the other people on the road. Instead of entering the legal system, enter the medical system and find out if pursuing this line of work could mean you're a danger to yourself or others.

Now, it's not the most interesting letter, but it does show how far there is to go in many cases, with understanding sleep apnea. In the May issues (coming soon to a mailbox near you) I have a feature on some soon to arrive guidelines from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration geared to just this population.

Another thing about Dear Prudence, is because it's an online forum others will weigh in with their two cents. In this case, 2 cents that isn't worth the copper it's stamped on:

Q. RE: Sleep Apnea: Prudie, I believe that you are a bit confused as to what sleep apnea is. It is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal pauses in breathing or instances of abnormally low breathing, during sleep. Each pause in breathing, called an apnea, can last from a few seconds to minutes, and may occur five to 30 times or more an hour. So, it would have no bearing on his ability to drive a truck, it is not like he has narcolepsy and is just going to fall asleep at the wheel!

Now this person obviously knows what sleep apnea is, but note the last sentence! Really?

By coincidence, Dana Voien, of SleepSafe Drivers, sent me a study link over the weekend. Sleep apnea patients are--wait for it--more likely to fail driving tests. So, there's obviously still room for growth in this market.

Meanwhile, if you want to check out Dear Prudence: "Help! My girlfriend kisses her cat and it grosses me out!"