Blackout on the Blacktop
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 3 ALEX CARY
A Company 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment
Fort Rucker, Alabama
It was spring and my old unit was holding an organizational day at Remington Park on Fort Drum, New York. There was going to be squad- and platoon-level sporting competitions throughout the day, and I was eager to participate. I was a squad leader in C Company, and we’d missed out on first place in a battalion squad competition the previous fall that was held during a training exercise on Fort Pickett, Virginia, so I wanted redemption.
In those days, pre-workout supplements were becoming popular and many people played pretty fast and loose with them. I’d never been interested in supplements, but since my fellow squad leaders and many, if not most, of the Soldiers were using them, I decided this would be an appropriate time to give it a shot. I bought a small container of a popular supplement, mixed some into a bottle of water and drank it on the way to the park.
When I arrived, my platoon sergeant immediately turned a buddy and me around to go get some supplies that were left behind. We got into my truck and headed back down Remington Pond Road. We were about to pass an RV park where there was a large culvert under the road followed by a steep, 10-foot dip. At the time, I was healing from a dislocated thumb on my right hand. At one point, I reached up to scratch my nose and bumped the base of my thumb on the steering wheel. It hurt a bit, but I didn’t think anything of it until my vision began to darken and I got a strange metallic taste in my mouth.
The next thing I knew, we were riding off the side of the road and my buddy was steering from the passenger seat to avoid a tree on our right and telephone pole on our left. Luckily, the truck stalled and came to a stop between them. I had blacked out, veered off the right side of the road, and jumped the truck off of the culvert at about 35 mph. Miraculously, the truck landed on all four tires and was not damaged. Best of all, nobody was hurt.
Once back at the park, the medical personnel that checked me out determined the high caffeine, creatine and other stimulants in the supplement caused my blood pressure and heart rate to spike while also dehydrating me. When I bumped my injured thumb, the sudden pain further increased my blood pressure and heart rate. This all resulted in syncope, a type of blackout caused by irregular blood pressure regulation.
There are two lessons I learned from this experience. First, always conduct thorough research (and probably seek medical advice) prior to introducing new supplements into your body. If you decide you still want to use them, it’s a good idea to test the effects on your body in a controlled environment where you’re less likely to be injured.
Second, even though we all know drugs and alcohol are dangerously detrimental to a person’s ability to operate a vehicle, other substances that are much less obvious could have catastrophic effects in certain situations. If you put something into your body other than normal food and fluids, you should probably pay attention to its ingredients and how they may affect you. Failing to exercise due diligence could result in an outcome you never intended.
Operation Supplement Safety — the Department of Defense’s dietary supplement resource for the military community, leaders, healthcare providers and DOD civilians — provides evidenced-based information on the risks and benefits of supplements at https://www.opss.org/.