The Truck Stops Here

And when it does, nurse practitioner David Kleberger is ready.

Delores describes herself as "stinkingly healthy," but health is relative at this Commerce City truck-stop clinic, where she is undergoing a mandatory Department of Transportation physical. This is not the territory of low-risk cholesterol, weight or heart rate.

"Oh, our health problems are all the same," Delores says. "High blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and drinking, used to be." Although none of that applies to her, she has other problems that mean she'll have to keep reciting her complicated medical history forever.

"I was diagnosed with Graves' disease in 1997," she says. "My heart rate was 187. I'd gone from 147 pounds to 87. Couldn't sleep. I had two blackout spells, but it hit me gradually. I was running with a bad marriage at the time. My husband noticed the change in me, but he didn't care. Finally a state trooper pulled me over and sent me home to the doctor.

Keep on truckin': David Kleberger ministers to the mobile.
Larry Winter
Keep on truckin': David Kleberger ministers to the mobile.
Keep on truckin': David Kleberger ministers to the mobile.
Larry Winter
Keep on truckin': David Kleberger ministers to the mobile.

"Well, of course, that was when I got pneumonia," she continues. "And my thyroid decided to pitch in and help -- by killing me! They thought I was going to die, but I'm too mean."

Nurse practitioner David Kleberger, who owns the clinic at Sapp Brothers truck stop in Commerce City and is conducting Delores's exam, finds her much improved today despite the elevated heart rate, which, in a way, is to be expected. Delores, a truck driver, has been drinking coffee all night.

"Any pain or discomfort here?" Kleberger asks. "Here? Here?"

"Well, yeah, there. I've fallen off the truck a few times," Delores explains.

"How about here?"

"No -- and say! My goiter's almost gone!"

"That's good," Kleberger agrees. At the end of the exam, Delores's DOT card is renewed, making her job as a big-rig driving instructor secure for another two years.

Kleberger keeps long hours, charges reasonable rates and doesn't take insurance. If a driver stricken with the flu happens by Sapp Brothers, Kleberger likes to think that he'll pop in for fast medical treatment.

"Lately, several of the truck stops have clinics," Delores says. "At the Triple T on I-10 outside Tucson, they have a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, even a dentist. We find it very handy. The hardest place to get medical treatment is in your big cities, mostly because you have to find a place to park your truck. L.A. is a nightmare."

Kleberger's clinic has plenty of parking for semi-trucks, almost instant service and a ready-made clientele. One trucking company alone sends him 600 mandatory physicals each year. DOT regs also require that half of all truckers undergo random drug tests annually. When that happens, what could be easier than ordering your driver to stop at Sapp Brothers?

"I've never had any particular interest in truckers or trucker culture," Kleberger says, "and I never thought I'd end up owning this kind of business in a million years. I didn't even know there was this kind of business. But I found a group of people who need medical care, and I can help them, and I like that."

Once the youngest EMT in Missouri, Kleberger started out as a registered nurse assisting at surgeries. He put himself through nurse-practitioner school when he decided he needed more autonomy. "I thought I might stick with surgery, but it was God's will or whatever," he recalls. "I ended up working at this clinic when another company owned it. They were overextended and ended up giving all the employees their two-week notice, and the manager here at the truck stop practically begged me to keep the business open, so I did."

Kleberger reopened the clinic's doors in February 2001. Since then, he's built a clientele that's about 65 percent truckers, with the difference made up by locals without health insurance, transients from nearby hotels, and office workers who need something beyond the occupational medical clinics in the area. He's become a familiar, if incongruous, figure at Sapp Brothers as he roams around in his crisp Ralph Lauren slacks and shirt.

This is a hot day redolent with diesel fumes, and truck traffic is brisk. People have this erroneous idea that truckers are always on the move, Kleberger says, when the truth is they might end up hanging around a place like Sapp Brothers for two or three days, waiting for an order and killing time playing video games, or watching TV, or doing laundry, or just waiting. It's a good climate in which to set up a free blood-pressure screening down at the convenience store. With all that time on his hands, a guy might decide to come up to the clinic for a complete workup.

"You'd be surprised," Kleberger says, "I get morbidly obese guys whose blood pressure is fine. More often, I diagnose Type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. A lot of times, they have no idea, and I try to educate them, but I try to start slow. I never say jog. I say walk -- for twenty minutes, twice a week. I try to get them off just two foods: regular soda and potatoes. You eat potatoes all the time, they turn directly to sugar in your system -- and anyway, in places like this, they're soaked in fat."

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