As COVID-19 cases rise, truckers share their stories of diagnosis and recovery

July 30, 2020

Wendy Parker

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During his 50 years on the road, Phil Usher has learned a thing a thing or two about trucking. Unfortunately, one of them was how to get back to work after recovering from a bout of COVID-19.

In a recent telephone interview, he described the illness as something he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy.

“I didn’t think I could get that sick and live,” he said.

Usher runs 35 states for Hardcore Trucking hauling a reefer that is usually full of ice cream. He’s been back at work for a little over two weeks after a nasty bout of COVID-19 took him off the road for nearly a month-and-a-half.

“I was in the hospital for nine days total,” he said. “I went home and laid in bed for a week before I could even think about getting back to work.”

Thankfully, Usher has recovered remarkably well and is back on the road. Even though he’s had the virus, he still wears a mask and takes plenty of precautions, and he reports that most of his deliveries require masks and temperature checks anyway.

“I’ve been following the rules at the distribution centers since the beginning,” he said, “And I keep on wearing a mask even though I’ve had it.”

Can you get it twice?

Like everything else about this virus, the official medical consensus is, “we don’t know yet.” The Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at Penn State University posts, “As of yet, we are unsure of the nature of human immunity to the coronavirus.”

Sherri Snyder doesn’t know what to think. She’s not a driver, but her son, son-in-law, boyfriend and brother-in-law are all drivers. Snyder has experienced being on the road, and she’s missed about a month and a half of being a support unit to her family of drivers because of COVID-19.

Her positive test came back on July 2, a full week after she began feeling ill. In a telephone interview, she related her difficulties in just getting tested.

“It was a whole process,” she said, “I was instructed by my regular doctor to call the local emergency clinic, where they had a COVID doctor on staff.”

After a telemedicine visit, Snyder was sent for her test on Monday, June 29. She received her results on July 2.

“That’s when the county started following me,” she said.

Snyder says Jefferson County ordered her and her partner, who had mild symptoms but was never tested, to quarantine for 14 days, which they did. He returned to work after the 14 days with no lingering issues.

Snyder, however, continues to have a fever on and off.

“The county stopped calling after the quarantine was up. They wanted 14 days quarantine and a 72-hour stretch without a fever,” she said.

When she continued to suffer symptoms and be feverish beyond that point, she became concerned.

“I even called the health department to tell them I was still having fevers,” she said.

Their advice? Continue to quarantine. But they’re not following her progress anymore.

 Speaking of progress …

It’s been a roller coaster ride for small fleet owner Anil Gharmalkar.

Gharmalkar shared his COVID-19 diagnosis and recovery with Land Line this past month. Since late April, he has been completely off the road due to COVID-19 and complications from it. When interviewed in June, he was at home recuperating but still having bouts of swelling in his throat that impeded his breathing.

Since then, Gharmalkar took a turn for the worse and had to be re-admitted to an intensive care unit for continued issues in his esophagus and throat.

(Don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.)

This past Friday, he underwent a tracheostomy to alleviate his breathing issues. The procedure was a success, and his oxygen levels and breathing have improved to the point that he is once again chomping at the bit to go home from the hospital.

It is unknown whether or not the trach will be permanent, but the Gharmalkars could care less. Believe it or not, Anil was able to be interviewed by phone on Wednesday. He talked about his fleet, and how business was going during his setback.

“Business is still strong,” he said. “We finally have drivers in the new trucks, and everyone is pulling together to make it work.”

Wait. What was that? New trucks?

That’s right. Gharlmaker and his wife, with the help of a dedicated and reliable group of drivers, have actually increased their fleet by three trucks since his illness began. Apparently, there’s no stopping this guy.

Again, he credits his drivers and strong business planning for their success.

“If you haven’t built yourself a business, you’ve bought yourself a job,” he said.

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker has covered the trucking industry since 2012 after she says she “lost my mind and decided to climb inside my husband’s big truck to travel with him as an over-the road, long-haul trucker.” Her unique writing style that ranges from biting satire to investigative journalism coupled with her unbridled passion for fighting round out a wildly talented stable of writers.