Sunday, February 26, 2012

Searching for a Pain Doc: Part 1

     More than fifty million Americans suffer from chronic pain. Many more suffer from protracted pain that doesn’t qualify as chronic.

     Let’s take a minute to think about pain. There’s the hang nail. How you baby the afflicted hand for days. You yelp every time you bump the thing and soon it feels like the whole finger is infected. Next you’re holding it up and away as you do stuff and you can think of nothing else.

     Then there’s the pulled muscle. My God, will it never end? You limp along, wincing every time you move, clutching and grabbing to ease your suffering. Forget bending over. And it’s not your fault you cry out like a little girl when you happen to sneeze or cough or do something to call into question the enflamed area, which, by the way, might as well be on fire. It hurts that much.

     And surgery…what can we say? You’re a basket case and need a hand-maiden for weeks, no questions asked.

     So what about the poor guy who falls three stories to the ground and lives through it? Or the one whose neck whips back and forth like a rubber band when his car is hit from behind by a guy going fifty?  Or even the guy whose left leg is two inches shorter than his right, so his spine twists and his muscles pull and contract and torture him all day every day no matter what he does?

     When we have pain, we can buck up for a few days but, by gum, things had better turn around after that or we find ourselves fit to be tied. For many people, the relief never comes. They suffer in ways most of us cannot fathom. Some of them are barely hanging on and, pretty soon, they’re thinking they’d rather just let go.They roam from doctor to doctor in search of relief. Maybe, the next one will think of something different.

     Then they come upon Cecil Knox, the guy from Texas with a pony tail hanging down his back. His cowboy boots are worn. So are his jeans. There’s a POW flag flying off the roof, a peace hatchet stuck into a stump in the corner, and sacred ash hanging over the door jam. He’s ‘eccentric’. He’s ‘interesting’. They call him Cecil instead of Dr. Knox. As it turns out, he is the doctor that will try everything until he has helped them.

     This doctor is at the office before dawn and late into the night, fretting over what he can do for Patient A or Patient B. He’s down in the basement on weekends developing braces to relieve their pain. Everyone has his home phone number and he thinks nothing of piling out in the middle of the night because a patient is feeling down. Does he get creative? Well, if stretching doesn’t work, maybe orthotics or bracing will. And there’s always physical therapy, Rolfing, acupuncture, cranio sacral therapy, aqua therapy and OMT. Mental health counseling might help. You might try colostrum and other supplements. I could go on.

     When you find a Dr. Knox, he becomes your friend, your lifeline. He is the one you have been searching for.

     Unfortunately, there is a ‘but’ to this story. It goes like this: But, most pain patients also require pain medication. Narcotics. When the powerful narcotic, Oxycontin, came on the market in the mid-1990’s, it was seen as a Wonder Drug in the treatment of chronic pain.

     In my next post, I’ll talk about what happened with Oxycontin and how it all went bad.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Federal Case: Part 2

Yesterday, my daughter asked “Is your blog going to be all about Dad’s case?” The answer to that is No. A blog could never do it justice. I have written a book about Cecil’s case and the far-reaching tentacles it left behind. Hopefully, that book will be on the shelves soon for people to read.

This blog will be about meeting life as it comes to you. For us, Cecil’s case was a turning point. It serves as a place to start the blog. I mean, there’s a lot of material there. I could nuance the thrill of seeing your children plastered on the front page of the newspaper as they leave the courtroom after yet another hearing. I could (and I will later) share with you the humiliation of a Perp Walk. A view from inside the jailhouse lends itself to countless narratives. But this is not intended to be a shrine to what members of my writers group call my 'bitching and moaning' about what happened. To their utter frustration, I’m sure there will be a fair amount of that, despite my best efforts.

But, there will be more. I love vignettes. Some will sting the heart, but others will be humorous. Many other topics flow from the seed. Ambition. Crossroads. Facing Death. Divorce (not us!). War and the havoc it wreaks. Life behind the Iron Curtain. I used to pity myself the uncommon experience. Now, if I can't have what I lost, I am at least grateful for the depth of experience. 

In the telling, I suppose it is inevitable there will be musings, and maybe a few epiphanies. One thing I've discovered: the good part of a nightmare is that, eventually, you wake up and realize that, notwithstanding the stink that can happen, real life is not all bad. It’s a matter of perspective, and a determination to look for good things that lie, like a faint heartbeat, beneath the rubbish that has scattered from corner to corner of the landscape you can see.

For us, Cecil’s case was a life changing event. In my last post, I touched on the government’s largess, shall we call it, in going after him. Initially, he and I stood like deer in the path of a Mack truck, waiting for the splatter that would follow. For a year, when we wanted to talk in the house, we wrote notes to each other, then flushed them down the toilet, certain our home had been bugged. It would have been easy to let ourselves be eaten alive. The tendency was to dress up in ‘woe is me’ and wear it all day, every day.

When we caught ourselves doing that, we made a conscious decision to knock it off. First, we turned Woe is Me into Screw Them. That helped a lot.

Then we designated our family life as off limits. We went searching for Normal and made it our mainstay. Whatever calamity waited on the doorstep, our home became our solitude.

When we closed the door behind us, we shut out the nightmare and carried on with our lives. The sons-a-bitches would be lurking the next day, ready with some hideous take on how justice gets meted out but, for those few hours, our life together would be our own.

I don’t mean we sat around in a circle, holding hands and fretting together as a unit. I mean we allowed ourselves to breathe. We would sit before the fire and read. The kids would argue one minute and cuddle under a blanket watching TV the next. Food fights erupted on a moment’s notice. When my hair caught fire during a singing of Happy Birthday one year, they doused me and we laughed. We finished the song and then exaggerated the hell out of the story for the rest of the night. Each year we tromped through the woods to find our Christmas trees. Each night we ate dinner together, talking about the kids’ school and a million other things, but never The Case.

We did all this, not because we weren’t taking the government’s threat seriously. We did it to survive. To be consumed by a barrage of destructive emotion, without respite, can be catastrophic. You lose your sense of how life was before and how it needs to be again. Although our circumstances would forever be a part of our kids’ childhoods, we did not want the mess to become a part of who they were. I think that’s key.

By saving Normal, we stayed tuned into life beyond the feds, and kept ourselves from becoming jaded. In short, good can come from almost anything. Today, I am less judgmental. Little things are so much sweeter than they used to be. We take challenges in stride; the sky is hardly ever falling. Cecil and I appreciate each other in ways that hadn’t occurred to us before. As for our relationship with the kids, well, we went through something terrible together. The trauma seared its mark into the fiber of our family dynamic. It was frightening then; it has transcended into something special.

When terrible things happen, allow yourself to go through them, but distinguish between the moment and the long run. There will be wreckage, the burden of which might change the path you choose in the future. But you have to keep walking, and looking forward to the rest of what’s waiting for you. We found a way to keep walking, even during the calamity. I think that saved us.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Federal Case: Part 1

We’ve all heard of the Federal Case. What does that actually mean? There is the proverbial kind. Like, when your spouse goes off on you because your clothes have been lying around the bedroom for a week now and you snap, “Don’t make a federal case out of it.”

Then there’s the kind where the federal government seeks a several hundred count indictment, seizes your assets so you can’t afford to pay a lawyer, drags your name through the mud and back again, and tries to put you in prison for the rest of your life. That’s the kind of federal case that really sticks in your craw. Kinda makes your reaction to the chastising for messiness (which, let’s face it, you probably deserved) seem a tad overstated.

I’m thinking back to when the feds first came into our life. Some of my husband, Cecil’s, patients came into his office, whispering and looking over their shoulders, telling him how agents had threatened them if they wouldn’t wear a wire and help set him up as a drug dealer. He’s just a doctor, mind you, but they were going for drug dealer. Then there was another patient, this one a postal worker, who came in to say they were going through Cecil’s mail at the post office. Then came the first raid – FBI, DEA, DOJ, and lots of their friends – all in bullet proof vests with guns on their hips. Then the second raid…more vests and guns and the whole battering ram thing, which we’ve already discussed. And, finally, the third. This time the guns were drawn, one actually to the head, and lots more lettered vests yelling things like ‘nobody leaves,’ as though people were going to just saunter out in the face of all that. My favorite part was when they brought out the cuffs and shackles and carted everyone off to jail.

To appreciate the full impact, you have to imagine yourself, as we did, to be just regular ‘ole people, living regular lives, raising a family. You know the type. You spend Saturdays running alongside the bicycle teaching your kids to ride. Then, late on Christmas Eve, you’re writing notes from Santa in disguised handwriting, and drinking milk and eating cookies that, truth be told,  make you want to upchuck cuz you’re way past the cookie hour, but the kids left them out – so innocent in their belief – and you have to do it justice by forcing the cookies down.

We were the kind of family that had ‘have a heart’ traps to catch mice instead of the kind that snap their heads off. Cecil would pile out early in the morning, the newly captured critter sitting in the passenger seat, in search of just the right new home for the guy somewhere by the creek.

Cecil was the kind of doctor that would have carried a patient on his back over the mountain and through the woods to find something that would help ease the pain, even though his wife (that would be me) was following him, with just a hint of bitchiness in her voice, wondering why he was always putting his patients before her and the kids.

So, when the feds came knocking and accused him of doping people up, and killing people, and trading prescription drugs, you can imagine that we were a tad surprised. We knew they were going after ‘pill mill’ docs. We just didn’t know that the pill mill part was something fabricated to suit their agenda. We didn’t know they would go after a good guy and throw the weight and power of the federal government against him, expecting the world to accept their say-so that he was bad. To make their point, they jazzed it all up with things like racketeering and conspiracy and fraud. They threw in an obstruction of justice and, actually, so many counts it’s hard, now, to remember what all they were.

And, not to fast forward too much here, let me just say this insanity went on for five friggin’ years. I mean, all out, guns a blazin’, hand-to-hand combat. I’m sure they thought we would lie down to their power. It never crossed our minds. There were ulcers. Meltdowns became a way of life. I remember having a twitch for a while. Anxiety took over the nights when we were supposed to be sleeping. But, there was no giving up. The battle raged on.

The case was in the headlines every day. By the end, they had three hundred thousand pages of documentary evidence in their war room. The trial lasted eight weeks. The government put on more than a hundred witnesses and spent untold millions of dollars. It was an unseemly display of prosecutorial excess.

Now that's a federal case.
 Come on back for part two of this post in a few days. Talk to you then.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Battering Ram

The Battering Ram

Who has actually ever seen a battering ram? I hadn’t.

One day, the feds showed up at our door, with a battering ram: lettered vests, guns - lots of very scary stuff. That day, and all that flowed from it, changed our lives forever. It changed us.

It’s not so much the battering ram itself, though it is a pretty mean looking tool. I’m more bothered by the idea of it all. A bunch of guys standing outside, ramming (hence the name) this big ‘ole heavy thing into your door, again and again. The door you’ve always trusted to tuck you in at night and keep out the boogey men. Now, here it is, splintering and cracking and shredding to pieces, until it simply falls apart. And that’s just where it all begins. Next, the guys come jumping through the breach, likely as not with guns drawn and an attitude that would really piss you off, if you weren’t so scared.

We all hear about these things but, typically, they have nothing to do with us. Battering rams and such are brought out for drug busts and SWAT operations. We assume there are bad guys behind the door who will be scurrying about trying to hide the dastardly things they are doing. They might quickly flush or otherwise dispose of all the evidence. They might shoot without warning. We figure a battering ram is necessary – to catch them; to protect the good guys at the door, who need the element of surprise. And force. And power.

They didn’t need any of those things with us. We were a doctor, a lawyer, two children and our dogs. They wanted documents. We would have handed them over without the guns.

That day with the battering ram turned into years of much anguish for us. This blog will be a place to discuss things that happen. Bad things, yes, but also the wonderful things that, somehow, manage to live within, throughout and on the other side of all the hardship. This discussion will visit the pain from which we all recoil, and the beauty that lifts us up, like the first sun upon the horizon of each new day.

I’m just getting started here, but I look forward to the discourse.