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It Never Dawned On Me

It Never Dawned On Me
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As told by Ron Dvoracek: 

I am like so many car guys.  When I’m on a mission and have a deadline, nothing else seems to matter. 

The mission was to have my ‘67 Chevelle ready to go for CarCraft.  It would be another long day and night in the garage - the show was only a few days away.  I opened the garage door as it started to rain.  I’d have to work inside with this type of weather and there wasn’t even a breeze.  It was early in the day and it was already hot wearing a T-shirt and jeans.  Good thing I would be under the car all day painting the underside and the concrete would help to keep me cool.  It was a two day job, but I got most of it finished in one by staying at it.

I cleaned up and got ready for bed.  I would need to start again first thing in the morning. Permanent rust preventative coating is especially hard to remove and may not come off for several weeks but I did my best without taking my skin off.   As usual, my hands and arms had paint on them (my latex gloves had torn) and I even had it in my hair and on my scalp.  I went to bed and tried to sleep, but something strange started to happen.  My mouth began burning at the back of my throat and then throughout my entire mouth.  It was intense, and I tried everything to cool it down – I rinsed, I brushed, I drank water, but I couldn’t make it stop.  I had no idea what it could be - my wife’s cooking doesn’t usually have this effect.  It only lasted about 10 minutes, and then it was gone. 

A few days later the pain started.  My stomach hurt all day and all night.  I was sick. I became very sick.  But hey, I’m a guy and can tough it out.  I come home from work and do what car guys do.  I’d go into the garage and work on my car to get my mind off of being sick. It was like therapy until I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was curled up in a ball with severe abominable pain. I had never felt such unrelenting pain. I couldn’t sleep.  I couldn’t work.  My guts were on fire.  I’d already been to urgent care, but after a week and with my wife’s insistence, I finally gave in to the pain and made the first of what, over two weeks, became two trips to the emergency room. 

On the first trip to the ER, I was asked the usual questions on the form.  They were concerned about several possibilities – appendicitis, kidney stones, and a whole list of other pancreatic and digestive diseases.  But they were puzzled.  No nausea or fever.   My bloodwork and labs were normal.  A virus?  It should be getting better, not worse.  They ordered a CAT scan.  It was hazy, showing inflammation and fluid around my major organs but no apparent cause.  I was sick and the doctors didn’t know why. When the ER and Urgent Care doctors are scratching their heads – it scares you.  They sent me home with pain meds and instructions to come back if it didn’t get better.  It didn’t.

On the second trip to Urgent Care and then the ER the doctors once again asked the same questions and got the same answers. I was frustrated. They ordered another CAT scan, this time with contrast.  Same results.  Same hazy images and the labs were still normal.  The doctors still had no idea what was wrong or causing the pain but they offered to admit me to manage the pain and to get a consult with a GI specialist.  I went home and saw the specialists but they could offer no explanation or relief.  Only more tests and a round of antibiotics that only made it worse.  It should resolve itself in two weeks.  It didn’t.  What could I do?  Nothing.  Except continue to rest and drink plenty of fluids.  And wait.

And then I received a phone call.  A friend that restores cars and antique snowmobiles full time as his main occupation had a similar experience that lasted 10 months.  His doctors were as puzzled as mine at first.  And then they performed toxicity tests.   It never dawned on me.  I had been using the same automotive product that he used before he became sick.  And I had been working for years with automotive chemicals with no adverse effects.   I tried to be careful, but I didn’t always wear a mask and the thing with chemicals is that they can accumulate and build up in your system over the years until you build up intolerance.  I never put these things together as I had been using this automotive product for many years without any problems at all. 

Gradually, the pain became tolerable, and finally, after eight weeks the pain stopped.  My follow up tests show that everything is fine and the lesion the doctors thought they saw on my liver is no longer there.   My stomach is still not the same as before.   My sensitivity to chemicals is heightened and there’s still the risk of some type of long term damage that could show up later.  I hope never to experience this type of pain again and that this experience brings forward awareness for the reader as he/she uses automotive products:

1.    If you are feeling sick and you don’t know why, and your doctor doesn’t know why, let them know you are a car enthusiast and working around automotive chemicals and exhaust fumes.  When I was in the ER, they were focused on any work related exposures.  They didn’t know that what I was doing outside of work could be making me sick or the amount of time I spent doing it.  Doctors may not always know the right questions that may need to be asked. 

2.    Automotive products are great when used properly. Be familiar with the product.  Some chemicals are worse than others – you have to heed the warnings even if you have used it before with no problems.  If you are using a new product you are not familiar with pull it up online and read what the manufacture says.  You may be using a product that needs extra precautions.

3.    Take Precautions.  Wear gloves and protective clothing and the correct mask and eye protection.  Always be conscious of your environment and ventilation.   If you become sensitive to a chemical or product stay away from it. There are always alternative products you can use to complete the project.  

Cars are my passion and I really enjoy working on them.  But once I became sick I realized how important it is to stay healthy and to take the precautions needed so I can continue to enjoy the hobby.  I will still use automotive products but always with the proper protective clothing, equipment and ventilation.