© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2002
HALF OF ALL ADULTS who drive say they've done so while drowsy, and as many as 14-million people admit to falling asleep at the wheel.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that more than 1,550 people die every year in accidents caused by drivers who either fall asleep or are too tired to react to sudden situations on the road.
On Wednesday and Thursday, government officials and researchers will meet in Washington to discuss how to raise awareness about the problem and to seek solutions.
Those most at risk of driving while sleepy are young adults ages 18 to 29. Senior citizens are the least frequent offenders. Adults with children in the house are more likely to drive drowsy than those without children, according to a poll just released by the National Sleep Foundation. What are some signs a driver needs a break?
Difficulty holding up the head, inability to focus the eyes, blinking or yawning or trouble remembering the last few miles driven are symptoms of fatigue. Steer clear if a nearby vehicle tailgates or drifts from its lane or onto the shoulder.
If drowsy, let someone else take over driving, experts advise, or find a well-lighted, staffed rest area and take a nap.
GETTING BLOOD DRAWN for everything from cholesterol to blood counts should be a snap. But there are times when the technician makes it feel more like an ordeal.
"I can't seem to find a vein. Your veins are so tiny. Bleed!" These were some of the actual tech comments overheard at a St. Petersburg lab during a recent visit.
So why all the trouble?
Valerie Polansky, the instructor in charge of the medical laboratory technology program at St. Petersburg College, trains future medical professionals. There are various reasons for difficulty in drawing blood, she says.
Typically the phlebotomist will use the median cubital vein in the crook of the elbow. "It's a larger vein that's anchored. It's easiest to puncture and least likely to bruise," Polansky says.
But the vein is hard to find in some people. The elderly and children have smaller veins. In those who are obese, veins are deeper, Polansky says.
Alternately, the technician will stick the back of the hand. "We never draw from lower extremities," says Polansky, due to a greater risk of infection and blood clots.
All this for 3 to 5 milliliters -- about 1 teaspoon -- of blood.
-- Times staff writer Susan Aschoff and Times wires contributed to this report.