Éliane Plamondon’s life was turned upside down in the summer of 2019 during a leisurely motorcycle ride through La Mauricie National Park. A motorist, who had pulled over on a curve, re-entered the road just as she came up from behind.
There was no avoiding the collision. The motorist never stopped. And it took an hour and a half before Plamondon was rescued from a wooded area alongside the road. But the journey didn’t end there. An infection in her wounded leg led to seven operations in 18 months, all of them unsuccessful.
In January 2020, exhausted and tired of the pain, she decided to have the leg amputated. That was completed the following October, and since then she has been wearing a prothesis to get around and work as a truck driver for Transport Double W in Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, Que.
Plamondon graduated from the CFTC training school in 2004 and began driving in January 2005. “I wanted to see outside: the sun, the rain, the seasons,” she says of her career choice. And over the years, she has driven a bit of everything, from dump trucks to B-trains. There has also been work in a brokerage and as a dispatcher, an experience that led to a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of transportation. (“When the dispatcher tells me something today, I know better whether he’s right or not,” she says with a smile.)
While she was working as a dispatcher at VTL Express when the accident happened, the amputation actually put her back behind the wheel of a truck in January 2023.
“After the accident, my mindset changed. When I returned to work, I realized that I no longer wanted the stress that dispatching entails. I didn’t want to put in so many hours on the job,” Plamondon explains. “Yes, you put in the hours when you’re a trucker, but you get peace of mind. There’s stress because you have to concentrate on your route, there’s traffic, but the mental load can’t be as heavy as on dispatch. Because on dispatch, you’re always putting out fires. You always have to anticipate, have plans B, C, D, E. I didn’t feel like dealing with that anymore.”
Climbing back into a cab
She admits there were concerns before climbing back in a cab.
“I was afraid because of my condition. I was afraid of having difficulty doing the work. Even if it’s dry van, you have to get out to hitch and unhitch, climb into the trailer to secure the cargo,” she says.
“When you’ve got both legs, it’s fine, but when you’ve only got one leg and you can’t feel the other, it’s not the same. I got over that and told myself I had to adopt different logistics.”
A small two-step ladder helps her perform some trucking-specific tasks. But there are still other needs to address. It takes an hour every morning to prepare her leg and put on her prosthesis, and everything needs to be cleaned at night. “If I don’t take good care of it and injure myself, I won’t be able to work. Lesions can appear. It can get infected. I can’t skip a day.”
Then there are the challenges that emerge when reaching many Canadian truck stops. Their showers are often not accessible to people with reduced mobility, Plamondon says. And she also needs to bring a walker, an improvised accessory, that allows her to sit down to shower.
“Most Pilot Flying J, TA and Petro truck stops in the United States offer several places for disabled people — always full, by the way — and perfectly adapted showers. But this is a big gap in Canada, and particularly in Quebec. Quite often, the showers are small and my walker won’t fit.”
For those times when she can’t find an accessible shower, she carries buckets, water cans, wash cloths and soap.
Searching for accessible parking
To compound matters, there’s the challenge that builds on already-limited truck parking.
“In the United States, all truck stops have disabled parking. When I wasn’t [disabled], I wondered what the point was, but now I understand,” Plamondon says. But in Quebec, such parking for disabled truckers seems to be limited or lacking altogether.
It’s why she calls on truck stop and rest stop owners to reserve such spaces close to their buildings.
There have been emotional challenges to address, too. She consulted a psychologist for three years after her accident.
“It was very difficult. All of a sudden, I lost my passion, motorcycling. I lost my autonomy. I was losing a lot of things. And I was in pain 24/7.”
While Plamondon doesn’t fear driving a truck, she has no interest in climbing back on a motorcycle.
“Right now, the post-traumatic shock is still too much. On a motorcycle, I got cut off by a car. On a truck, even if a motorist cuts me off, I’m not the one who’s going to take the hit.”
But looking at the entire experience, Plamondon believes the accident has helped her become a better person.
“I’m much more calm and gentle, and I live from day to day. I’m alive. I have everything going for me. I’m missing a bit of a leg, but that doesn’t take anything away from the person I am,” she says.
“It’s more than an accident. It’s life that changes afterwards. But I’m happy. It put my values back in the right place and now I’m biting into life.”
- This article originally appeared in Transport Routier, and has been translated from French.
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