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This testimony is from an email received by John at the Aerotoxic Association on 21 October 2008. With the kind permission of the author, we have reproduced it here.
Currently I am still flying, however on a very reduced schedule. There was a time where it was normal for me to fly 120-130 hours or more per month, then later I dropped back to around 100 hours per month. We are scheduled 80 hours per month as a minimum. Average company assigned lines fly in the 90 to low 120 flight hour range. Currently, between having to call out sick often and giving trips away to other flight attendants so as to reduce my schedule, I am only flying 20 to 40 hours per month. Flying 80 hours or more is almost impossible lately. There have been months where I have not been able to fly at all. I was out sick last winter for 3.5 months with no flying. Up until now, I just dealt with feeling so bad the best way I could with changing my schedule around etc. Now, my continuing health and livelihood are threatened. When I am not flying I am not making money, as any sick time was depleted long ago. I have a house with a mortgage. So as you can see, the illness has significantly affected my life. I know you have heard it all before.
“When I read over some of the information on your web site, it was as if I was reading about myself. I am so grateful for your efforts.”
Looking back, the symptoms started as subtle, however progressively continued to worsen. Now that my health has gotten so bad, I am having to contemplate whether I can continue my flying career at all. One of the 1st symptoms I experienced was excessive muscle twitching in my face, then anxiety, depression, chronic diarrhea and upper respiratory infections. I also developed a severe seafood allergy within the 1st year of flying. So who knows.......
The most debilitating part of the illness for me is the extreme fatigue and headaches, along with excessive body sweating. I am always hot and sweat profusely when others are comfortable. Seems as if my "body thermostat" has been reset to a different setting than others. I sweat so much on some days that I have to go through multiple sets of clothing. This can be quite embarrassing since we interact with the public so much.
The only concrete diagnoses I have received thus far are Hypogonadism (Andropause) super low testosterone along with anxiety and depression. I am on hormone replacement therapy because of the low testosterone and of course multiple antidepressants. When I try and explain all of my symptoms, I usually get a very strange look from the doctors. A few have been downright rude and dismissive. I was able to show some of the Aerotoxic documentation you have made available to my Hematologist, she indicated that she would review the information later at home. I gather from your email that doctors generally do not give credibility to the documentation? It's humiliating when your doctor tells you that you’re crazy since all the "usual" tests came back fine. As I read on your site, I did have a low white cell count on one of the tests, and have a super low HDL. There were a few other items on the bloodwork that were still "normal", however, borderline either high or low (doctor ignored them). I recently consulted a cardiologist and he has subsequently ordered a treadmill stress test, and an Echocardiogram. He suggested I get into Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic which are great learning hospitals here in the states. Hopefully, this will give some credibility to my symptoms.
When I read over some of the information on your web site, it was as if I was reading about myself. I am so grateful for your efforts.
There are a lot of flight crew out there suffering, they just don't know how to get any answers …
Since you are a pilot and have experienced what you have, I wanted to ask, how much of a problem is hydraulic fluid? I'm wondering if an emergency landing that I was involved in, which included an entire loss of hydraulic fluid (A-B, Standby) could have played any role? Also, when firing the engines up in the morning for the 1st time each day it is very usual for there to be a large puff of black exhaust from the engines. These fumes then are transferred into the cabin interior as a strong, oily, exhaust smell. I ask as this is a very regular occurrence. There have been numerous other events, such as deicing fluid entering the APU and fogging the cabin, to exhaust fumes, bird ingestions and engine failures. I'm just trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
I would also be interested in the options you had given concerning sending blood out for testing. If you have any other information that would be great.
I have to say, in talking to other crew members when flying, the common thread I keep hearing is endocrine problems, and extreme fatigue. There are a lot of flight crew out there suffering, they just don't know how to get any answers, nor do they know it's so common and that they aren't the only one. I felt that way myself until I found your web site.
When I am flying, it is almost guaranteed that extreme fatigue along with severe headaches will hit all at once and come on very rapidly. Another daily issue when flying is that my body will turn a bright red skin color. Looks more like I had gotten a light sunburn, however it is not painful. The most recent symptoms have been numbness and tingling in my extremities along with problems with memory, balance (lost my "sea legs" on the aircraft) and thought process. I have included a comprehensive list of my symptoms. They have occurred at different times and in many combinations.
I usually fly 3 day AM trips. When I get to the hotel after a usual day’s flying I basically spend whatever time I have left, trying to feel better. Usually the exhaustion and headaches are so bad its a matter of mustering up what little energy I have left to order food and then go to bed. All so I can try to feel better for the next day, to do it all over again. It's a repeating cycle.
When I return home from a trip I spend the next week or two trying to regain energy and feel "normal" again. I enjoy gardening, however I can only do things in small doses. I might last only about an hour, or if I'm pushing things maybe two. Then its back to resting many times longer to feel better.
I hope this information can be useful. Any further insights you can offer a appreciated.
Thank you again for your ongoing efforts.