Nfld. & Labrador

Trucker wants solution to 'disheartening' obstacle in getting an eye exam during pandemic

A commercial trucker in western Newfoundland says new pandemic-inspired rules are preventing him from getting an eye exam that he says is necessary to deal with a worsening eye problem.

Rules for rotational workers are too restrictive for truckers who have short stopovers

Curtis Cutler's work takes him near and far. He says he needs attention for vision problems, and consideration given to the nature of his work. (Curtis Cutler/Twitter)

A commercial trucker in western Newfoundland says new pandemic-inspired rules are preventing him from getting an eye exam that he says is necessary to deal with a worsening vision problem.

Commercial truck driver Curtis Cutler says while the long-distance eyesight he relies on for his work is unimpaired, he has issues with his short-distance eyesight. By law, he said, he is required to wear glasses while driving.

After arranging an appointment with an optometrist in Corner Brook last December, Curtis said his appointment was cancelled due to the nature of his work.

"Because I am not home to isolate for 14 days, or be able to be home for seven days and do a COVID test as rotational workers are able to do, my eye exam has now been cancelled," he said.

Generally, said Cutler, his time home is only 36 to 48 hours.

For rotational workers — including those who work in other provinces for set numbers of weeks — the provincial government requires a minimum of seven days for isolation, as well as a COVID test.

Given the nature of his work, Curtis said, that would be difficult to organize.

"With the amount of freight that needs to be moved, unfortunately most drivers like myself, we don't have a set schedule," said Cutler. "We come and go basically at random as loads are needed to be moved."

While the province has put in place rules and regulations for those who need to travel for work, Cutler said he's disappointed that truck drivers seem to have fallen through the cracks, especially when it comes to health care.

"I thoroughly understand and appreciate everyone wanting to stay safe," said Cutler, "but there are basic medical needs that drivers such as myself are needing, and are unable to avail ourselves of because of the nature of our work."

Truckers home for as little as 2 days at a time

Cutler contacted his MHA and Health Minister John Haggie's office directly for guidance on what he and other truck drivers should do in this situation.

"My MHA did respond, telling me that he would bring it to the attention of the minister of health," Cutler said. "My response from Minister Haggie's office was outlining the rules for rotational workers."

According to Cutler, his eyesight has been getting progressively worse over the past six months. Now he's worried that if he can't get his prescription updated soon, it may have permanent consequences.

"I'm actually starting to get concerned that it may turn into a larger issue affecting my eyesight, my long-distance eyesight," said Cutler.

"Unfortunately, I would end up losing my licence and not be able to work and help provide for my family."

Despite public support for essential workers across the province, Cutler said, he doesn't feel like truck drivers are being supported in addressing medical needs.

"I don't know the right words to express it," he said. "It's very disheartening."

Cutler has appealed to Health Minister John Haggie for assistance. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Cutler said he'll have to talk to his family to see if they can arrange for him to quarantine for two weeks so he can get an appointment. That task is easier said than done, he noted.

"This is only if I'm able to get another appointment — we actually made these appointments back in early December," said Cutler.

"So we're going to have to see about another appointment at home if we can swing it to do 14 days [quarantine]."

While Cowan's Optical in Corner Brook, where Cutler had his appointment cancelled, would not comment on the story for privacy reasons, it said in a statement its offices follow self-isolation rules and "remain committed to these efforts until they are no longer needed."

CBC contacted the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Optometrists. In an email, it said the association "does not provide any regulations or guidelines to optometrists in reference to appointments, or operations of clinics, or pandemic guidelines."

The Department of Health and Community Services said while it cannot address individual cases like Cutler's, "We can certainly empathize with the situation this individual finds himself in. While we understand the frustration, it is important that the public follow self-isolation guidelines." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Newfoundland Morning

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