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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Appointment with the Medical Director -- August 16, 2012

Today, I was finally able to see a medical doctor after months of waiting. In February, I submitted my first request for an appointment when my prescription for Diclofenac was abruptly discontinued. Diclofenac is known by its brand name Voltaren. This was the main medication I relied on to manage my chronic lower back pain and sciatic from two crushed disks in my lumbar spine. Since February, I have submitted over ten more requests to see a doctor, filed several grievances, and wrote the Health Care Unit administrator. These were all ignored, and in July the other two prescriptions I take also expired and were not renewed. It was only after my attorney called the prison and threatened legal action that I was finally seen. The medical care at Stateville is horrendous and often inmates will not receive any treatment unless they file lawsuits.

Prisoners are notified they have passes to the Health Care Unit the day before the appointment via the general mail delivery. The pass is a general form and usually only has a check mark next to a medical subject such as lab, dental, mental health, etc. My pass had a check mark next to medical director. The medical director at most prisons is a doctor who supervises the work of other doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners. He will also authorize surgeries or other types of major treatments. However, at Stateville, the medical director acts as both a supervisor and a doctor. There are no doctors at the prison, only a medical practitioner and various nurses who are here to help inmates. The former medical director, Dr. Carter, either quit or was fired in February, and in his stead the health care insurance provider has been sending a doctor to the prison on an occasional basis. Waxford and the IDOC are more concerned about costs than meeting the medical needs of convicts.

My pass to the Health Care Unit was not until 1:30 and I did not intend to get ready until 1:00. My cellmate had gone out to the small yard to socialize and play cards. It is infrequent that I have any time inside my cage without him present and I always attempt to make the best use of my "freedom." A cellmate can greatly obstruct or distract daily activities. The cell is only 6 x 11 feet and I always feel uncomfortably cramped. At least O.G. Bobby is less obnoxious and social than my former cellmates in C House and I do not have to hear him yelling out of the cell often or engage him in conversation I care less for. The guard came to my cell early attempting to ruin my solitude. It was only 12:30 when he asked me if I was ready to go on my health care pass. Fortunately, he was not demanding that I leave immediately and I was able to bathe in the sink before he unlocked the door.

In the holding cage downstairs near the door to the cell house I waited until a prisoner was ready to go on his visit. The escorting guards do not like going back and forth to the same destination more than necessary. The visiting room was not far beyond the Health Care Unit and those who have visits and medical passes frequently are sent together. While I was in the holding cage, Steve, who is in a cell not far from the pen, asked me where I was going. After I told him, he asked me to write down the new medical director's name so he could write him up in a grievance. A couple of inmates laughed because the medical director has only been on the job less than two weeks and Steve already had a complaint. I knew he had a lawsuit pending regarding lack of treatment and I assumed he wanted to incorporate the new doctor's name because he holds a supervisory role and thus is legally culpable for negligence.

Steve and many other prisoners have valid medical complaints at Stateville. However, I tend to believe the former cruise ship piano player who has only been incarcerated several years has yet to become accustomed to prison life. It was the middle of the day yet as I listened to Steve he was wearing pajamas, a bath robe, and some house slippers. They were prison commissary clothes but I could imagine if he were able he would be dressed like Hugh Heffner. With a man who was standing next to me, I made fun of Steve's attire and former pampered lifestyle which he seems resistant to change. When I mentioned how he must still feel demeaned by his radical change of environment and lifestyle, the prisoner next to me spoke of how this must be even more true for myself because I was innocent. I did not see the parallel of perspectives. Although both Steve and I come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, I have been in prison nearly 20 years. Even before my arrest I never coddled myself or lived a life similar to Steve's. The fact that I was wrongfully convicted only made me bitter and angry, not demeaned.

The Health Care Unit is not far from the enormous building which holds over 1,200 general population inmates. It is a newer addition to Stateville and was built along the corridor leading to the entrance of the prison. Upon entering the Health Care Unit I gave the guard working the door my pass and he let me into yet another holding cage. Fortunately, this cage was not packed with inmates shoulder to shoulder as is common, particularly on weekday mornings. There were about 20 prisoners in the cage most of whom were sitting on the six wood benches. I went to the back of the room where there were two thin long rectangular windows. Before I peered out from my confinement, I noticed I had almost stepped on a gigantic roach. The cockroach was dead and lying on its back with its 6 legs and antennae splayed. The penitentiary has an infestation of roaches in some of its buildings, but it is unusual to see them in the H.C.U.

While looking out the window, I could not but overhear the conversations of the other inmates. Much of the talk pertained to medical lawsuits and the denial or delay of medical care as well as malpractice. There was a man who almost died due to being given the wrong heart medication, and another man who staff at the H.C.U. refused to give any medication. I heard about a prisoner who had a gum infection that was not treated as well as a torn Achilles tendon. The inmate was told the tendon must tear further to warrant surgery. A young black prisoner was wheeled in and he also had a litany of health problems. He spoke about how medical staff had tricked him into taking a medication he was allergic to and he suffered tremendously from the reaction. I also heard a man people call "Big Mike" talk about how the medical staff pretended not to know about the birth defect he had, despite how he has been in prison numerous years and gave them his records a long time ago. Big Mike is more appropriately called "Monster Mike" because his face is horribly disfigured. I wondered how doctors could not see what was readily apparent, however, possibly Mike was speaking about another health problem other than his deformed face.

I looked at Mike to discern what could cause such a deformity. I was told by a former cellmate that he had Wagoner's disease, but from what Mike said, he was born that way. While scrutinizing his disfigurement I saw the white man who tried to blow his head off. After killing his wife, he put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Amazingly, he lived, but his face was now nearly as bad as Mike's. Originally he had a gaping wound down his skull and his nose was split in half. However, now that the surgeries had healed, he was just left deformed. As I told him before, he should have used a larger caliber pistol or a shotgun.

I did not speak to any of the men in the holding cage except for a black prisoner who was complaining of back pain. He had four herniated lumbar disks and I sought to find out what type of treatment he was receiving and how well it worked. He was being given pain pills but did not know what they were only that they were ineffective. The inmate told me he was demanding surgery and if the new medical director did not authorize it, he was going to file a lawsuit. Another man chimed in that was the only way to make them act. I tend to agree. The medical supervisors and health care insurance oftentimes will rather pay the expenses of the prisoners who file lawsuits than give them adequate treatment. From a cost analysis, they spend less in settlements than they would if inmates were given proper medical care. The poor quality of health care and the excessive delays in treatment are similar to what I expect is in store for all Americans if Obamacare is not eliminated. Obamacare and Statevillecare seem very similar.

Eventually, my name was called and I was let out of the holding cage to walk over to the primary doctor's office. In the room was a nurse's station, two gurneys, and in the back a desk where a bald man of Middle Eastern descent sat. I assumed he was the new medical director and sat at a chair next to him. While he went over my medical folder, a nurse took my vitals. I do not think she bothered to write anything down, but my blood pressure was nearly a perfect 117 over 80 and I had a heart rate of 45. Eventually, the doctor said, "Are you there? Are you with me?" I assume I gave him the impression of a distant look and someone who was absorbed in his own thoughts. I was in fact thinking about other matters and had not said anything because I did not want to interrupt the doctor's reading. I reasoned the doctor had just been given my file and knew nothing about my lower back injury.

The doctor had just finished reading a report from the neurosurgeon at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He asked me if I remembered the doctor I saw a few years ago and my opinion of him as well as his age. I told him he was a middle aged man who seemed very competent and educated. Part of his recommended treatment plan was for me to receive occasional cortisone injections. The medical director asked me if I wanted him to give me one. I know cortisone injections can be given by regular doctors but that injections to the spine were much more dangerous and required skills I did not believe he had. Although he told me he did a few before, based on the competency of former doctors here, I did not want to take a chance of being a paraplegic. I have in the past always been sent to an outside hospital to have this procedure done by a specialist. It seemed the medical director was attempting to save money at my expense.

I informed him of my severe lower back pain, sciatica, and loss of feeling in my left leg. The cortisone shots were only minimally helpful and typically lasted only for a couple of months at most. What I wanted him to do most was simply renew my prescriptions, particularly the NSAID Diclofenac. He replied that God was with me, which was not a common saying in here. It reminded me of the background of the doctor, and I speculated he was Islamic. I looked at his name tag to get the proper spelling for Steve. Inmates in the waiting cage were calling him Osama, like Osama bin Laden. However, his name differed greatly from the former Al Quada leader and was more similar to the U.S. president in pronunciation.

Dr. Obaisi told me he was going to renew my prescription for Gabapentin, but order me an NSAID that was stronger and seemed to help people with my type of injury better. The name of the drug is Meloxicam which I have never heard of. After writing this information down in my medical folder he said it may take some time for me to receive the medicines and if I would like something like Tylenol in the meantime. Tylenol has no effect on my pain and I still had some 500 mg. ibuprofen that a prisoner had given me. Before I left he said he will reschedule me for a check-up in a month to see how the Meloxicam was working and if I needed something more for my pain. I greatly doubted I would receive another pass to the H.C.U. after waiting 6 months for this appointment, but I thanked him anyway.

As I went to leave I noticed the Polish nurse standing at the nurses station. She had a big smile on her face and I asked her if she was hiding from me or now that she has some seniority if she need not do rounds passing out medications anymore. She said she was not trying to avoid me but inferred she preferred to stay out of the cell houses and do other work. I did not blame her. I would not want to pass out psychotropics to the madmen at Stateville. I told her since she will not come see me, I will try to come see her more often. There are only a couple of attractive nurses at the prison and they have cut their working hours, or like the Polish nurse they stay at the H.C.U. There are very few Caucasian female staff working at the prison and these few who do work here are mostly unattractive. However, it would be odd to have beautiful women working at a place like Stateville.

It was close to count and there was a possibility I may be stuck in the holding cage for an hour or longer. Once count begins, there is no movement in the prison and inmates must remain at their location until there is a tally from the NRC, MSU and Stateville. Fortunately, however, a guard I know and got along with was stationed at the front door of the H.C.U. He kept a look out for guards going back to the cell house and when none were forthcoming, he got on his radio to find me an escort. At the cell house, I was allowed to climb the stairs to my gallery. I went to the cell of a former cop and firefighter who once was training to be a paramedic to see if he knew what Meloxicam was. He did not know but he looked it up in a medical book. It merely stated it was an NSAID which I already knew. He did notice it only came in 7-1/2 and 10 mg. pills which led him to believe it was a strong medication.

I did not take any ibuprofen today. I only have a few left and am saving them for my workouts. As I write this journal entry, I am sitting on my bunk with a pillow behind my lower back to give it support. For a month, I have been in a great deal of pain and sometimes I will move about like a cripple or a very old man. Certain movements will immensely sharpen my pain and I have found myself on occasion pulling myself up. It was foolish of me to do squats and dead lifts with over 600 pounds of iron when in my 20's, but more so to ignore the repeated injuries to my back. I have a high tolerance for pain and can push myself beyond it, however, in my old age these injuries have caught up with me.

Early this morning, lines to the Bureau of Identification were run. About a third of the inmates in my cell house were sent to the office to have their mugshot taken. I was one of them and I currently have my new I.D. card clipped to my bunk in front of me. Because of the poor tint of the computer that prints the photos, I look like I have jaundice. However, what strikes me the most is how old I appear. I still have a mental image of myself as being 18 years old, the time at which I was arrested. Time stopped in many ways for me when the Palatine Task Force surrounded me at gunpoint and took me into custody. Even in the vast majority of my dreams, I am still a teenager. The reality that I am a crippled middle aged man is sobering. There are men older than me here with even greater physical deterioration and I wonder if I will not follow their footsteps to the grave. Although I may sometimes have illusions it is still the early 1990s, I cannot stop time and the decay which goes with it. Unfortunate I am also captive to the healthcare within the IDOC which I expect to only get worse.

2 comments:

  1. I was once prescribed Meloxicam and took it for a short period of time. For me it didn't really help my issue, but when I was told they had to do blood chemistry once a year to check for liver damage because I was on the drug I declined to continue using it. You should ask your family to do a little research on it for you so you will at least have a more informed picture of what you are taking. For a short period of time it probably does not matter, but it is not without potential side effects.

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  2. I am surprised John the Cop is still at Stateville.

    ReplyDelete

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