Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Suffering-Part 2-Crash

You hear many people these days debate whether or not waterboarding is torture. I come down on the “no” side, but that’s not why I bring it up. What makes waterboarding and other non-painful enhanced interrogation techniques work, is that the person being interrogated does not know when the suffering is going to end. This is even what makes actual torture work too. Albeit more quickly. Someone undergoing unpleasant or painful interrogation is actually tortured by having no answer to the question, “when will it end?” This is what breaks a man. John McCain had his arms and shoulders broken. And was beaten with truncheons at the spot of the breaks. He and his fellow prisoners endured extraordinary levels of pain. And didn’t break until they were convinced there would never be an end to their suffering without giving in. It was the mental weight of the endlessness of the pain that grew too heavy to bear, not the pain itself.

In my opinion, the medical establishment did not acquit itself very well in all of this. When I stopped counting in 2007, I had been treated by 41 different doctors trying to discover the source of my problem. And this doesn’t include multiple physical therapists along with massage therapy and acupuncturists. The more time passed, the more I could not seem to get across to each new doctor how desperate I was for a discovery. I’d get an obligatory head nod, some would say ‘don’t worry I’m not going to give up on you.” Yet, every one did. The only doctor who really meant it, was the one who finally diagnosed the problem. The scariest words a person can hear from a doctor are these, ‘there is nothing I can do for you.’ Hearing those words do not merely reduce a person’s hope, they pulverize it. As I said earlier, hope is the life ring that keeps a person from going under. I reserve special criticism almost to the point of disdain, for the two pain management doctors who treated me while I was still married and living in Ohio. Doctor ‘A’ had been a referral from an orthopedists who’d thrown up his hands. His initial examination was encouraging. For four hours he poked, prodded and manipulated my body. Very thorough. My ex and I were both impressed, and of course became more hopeful. At the end of the exam he said I might be a very lucky fellow, offered his opiniative diagnosis (tendonitis in the adductor tendon) and asked if I would consent to a steroid injection into my groin. I was going to say no? The injection had no positive effect.

He then prescribed some medication (Darvocet,Ultram & ibuprofen) I had already tried. When I pointed out that his choice did not relieve my pain, he assured me that at the dosage he was prescribing the effect would be better. It was not. So for the next 18 months, once a month I returned for a follow up visit. Dr. ‘A’ was convinced my problem was nerve related and nothing I could say about what I was feeling moved him off his perch. At every follow up I would ask, then beg for stronger medication. In tears once or twice. But he cared only that I not develop any dependency. He accepted no argument about my need for relief and the psychological damage and mental suffering his denial of relief was doing to me. Every two months or so, he’d suggest some new injection in a yet un-injected place in my spine or pelvis. These injections were not the mildly uncomfortable epidurals I saw my ex-wife get in preparation for childbirth. Both the placing of the needle and the injecting of the medicine were painful in a way I thought cruel. A particular injection (a "caudal" placed behind my coccyx) was so painful, I demanded he stop before all the medication was in, and when I got off the table I could not walk, was put into a recliner and had to suffer terribly for 90 minutes waiting for the pain to subside.

I use Dr. ‘A’ as a typical example of the kind of medical treatment I received most of the time. The most striking thing was the refusal of the doctors to actually listen to what I was telling them and try to factor that into their treatment. Close behind was a total indifference to the duration and ever deepening level of my suffering, evidenced by the fact that not one of them ever prescribed a medication that provided relief. The more I experienced the indifference of the doctors, the stronger my sense of never escaping this plight became. I was being ignored by my wife and my doctors. Having no one close to even suggest to me that all was not lost and somewhere out there was a solution, my spirit shriveled up and I began plummeting into real depression.

In May 2006 things accelerated downhill. My ex was present in person, but had totally left me emotionally. One Saturday she and my daughters were gone for the day. I had a few thoughts about suicide. Everyone always says that if you ever have those thoughts call someone. I did. And boy was I wrong. The police came, brought an ambulance, and took me to a hospital. At the ER they actually gave me pain medication that worked. The relief I felt was indescribable. Feeling like I did, I knew a bearable state of being was possible. I had a weapon to battle my suffering. It was hours before my ex showed up at the ER. By law I had to agree to a 72 hour watch at the psych ward of a local hospital. I did, and was transported at 4:00 am right into the Cuckoo’s Nest. I say that because it was true. The place was right out of Ken Kesey’s imagination.

Once home, I had a discussion with the ex, while having a smoke in the garage. She asked me how I felt (surprise) and I said I was very afraid. She wanted to know what of. I said “I’m afraid you’re going to leave me.” She said, “I would never do that.” Five weeks later, while in a room dressed in a hospital gown, awaiting yet another injection, my ex turned to me and said, “There’s not much left here anymore, I’m going to take the girls and leave you.” “Mr. Ballz?” “Yes nurse?” “The doctor is ready for your injection now.”



SallyRags said...

My pain doctor was also very reluctant about giving me anythin stroner than Vicodin. he kept telling me that the govt., I assumed DEA, was really trying to crack down on suspected prescription druh abusers. The vicodin helped, but never really got the job done to the point of restoring a real quality of life. I was also very lucky to finally found a doctor who would not give up, and found my problem. Mine was some semi-rare disintegration of bone in a cetain vertebra "S" something or other. You haven't said what your problem was. So, what was it?

'manda said...

Compared to all of that water boarding doesn't look so bad now. Being a person with chronic Lyme, I can say I feel some (granted only some)of your pain. Lyme disease now is a common and well know ailment, however, when I was first diagnosed 13 years ago, it was not. I was "cured" of the disease after 6 weeks of antibiotics and then accused of being a teenager seeking attention and avoiding responsibility when I still complained of symptoms. After tests still showed the spirochete in my blood work, my family and I were told that false positives were common after having been treated. They refused to give more of the antibiotics which most likely would have cured me, and now it's too late. I don't blame the doctor in this, instead I blame our health care system. If Doctors were allowed to listen to their patients rather than to what health care believes to be required, and if they didn't live in fear of our litigious society... Maybe then they could actually perform their craft.

Auguste Ballz said...

We've eaten some of the same dirt. I'm sorry to know that. To be encouraging, there are doctors out there that will listen and forgr ahead politics and insurance execs be damned. But you need to be dogged in you determination to find them. I know I will be much faster giving a tepid doctor the hook from now on. And I'll add this, if you think the ins. co.'s are bad and unqualified about making recommendations regarding proper treatment, how're gonna feel when it's a anonymous govt. bureaucrat doing the deciding?

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