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Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Week of Back Pain -- Jan. 27, 2014

Since December, I have been requesting that my prescriptions be renewed. One of the medications I take is Indomethacin which is an NSAID similar to ibuprofen, but more potent. The drug helps relieve the sciatic and lower back pain I experience from two crushed lumbar disks. Not surprisingly the requests I submitted were ignored and I went through my supply of pills despite rationing them. For the last couple of weeks I struggled to exercise and occasionally moved about like a cripple. I have endured over 20 years of imprisonment yet the physical pain added to my misery. My already unhappy life is made worse and the bitterness I feel being wrongfully convicted deepens.

In the IDOC, most medications are given to prisoners in cardboard sheets rather than little pill bottles. The sheets have clear plastic bubbles where the pills are contained and can be popped out from the back side. On the top is information such as the name of the prescribing doctor, inmate's name, and when the prescription expires. Noticing my prescription expired the first week of January, I began to fill out medical request forms in December to see a doctor. From prior experience, I knew how slow the Health Care Unit was to make appointments. By mid-January, I had turned in 5 requests and still had yet to receive a pass to the HCU. I was considering filing a complaint, but prison grievances are a joke.

Before the NFC and AFC championship games the Sunday before last, I was determined to work out despite how my back felt upon waking. I began by stretching for ten minutes but this did not help much without an anti-inflammatory. The intense callisthenic and cardio routine I do nearly every day I expected to be a particularly grueling challenge, and it was. I had to push myself past periods of great pain and the muscles around my spine constricting. A few times I almost lost my balance and cracked my head on the steel and concrete surfaces which surrounded me. It is difficult when not in any pain to do a P90X type workout without hitting any objects let alone when your back feels like seizing up.

After exercising, I again stretched my spine to loosen it up and reduce the pain. I still had many activities to do before being able to sit back and watch the big games. The first of these were bathing and washing clothes. For most people, this meant just taking a shower and tossing some clothes into a washing machine. However, for me it meant a 2-3 hour ordeal. I had to bathe out of a sink which dribbles out water and then after scrubbing out my toilet with soap and disinfectant, using it as a basin to wash clothes by hand. Occasionally, I will use my small property box but the toilet still had to be cleaned because this was the quickest way to rinse clothes.

Throughout the playoffs, I have done amazingly well picking teams with the spread, but my luck was at an end. A gambling addict who has repeatedly pestered me throughout the football season gave me 6 points to take the New England Patriots. I thought the team had a chance to win the game outright let alone for them to lose by a touchdown or greater. Unfortunately, their offense sputtered and they lost by 10. Part way through the second game, the same prisoner offered me another wager. He liked the Seattle Seahawks and was willing to give me a field goal to take the opposing team. The San Francisco 49ers were already up 10 to 0 and thus I agreed. "Double or nothing" I told a prison cell house worker to relay back to him. The 49ers gave up their lead ultimately and lost 17 to 23 and I thus lost double. I sent him a bag of commissary goods and then went to sleep. I did not mind losing a little store and was pleased to lay down taking pressure off my spine.

Monday, I waited for my cellmate to leave before exercising. With him gone, I had the entire cell to workout in rather than just a small space near the bars. Furthermore, I thought it was considerate of me so he did not have to be bothered with the noise I made or any body odor. I use a deodorant but I doubt this is 100% effective particularly in a little cubicle. Cellmates continually have to deal with not only each other's body odors but the smell of their shit and gas. Unlike in medium security prisons where men can leave into a day room, prisoners are trapped with their cellmate nearly 24 hours a day unless one or both have job details. Even prisoners with jobs will complain of their cellmates and this week I heard my neighbor, Hooch, gripe that his cellmate's gas was bad enough to peal the paint off the walls.

When my cellmate returned from chow and the prison store, he was disappointed I had not finished washing up. However, after working out, I shaved and then gave myself a haircut. Pushing myself through my exercise regimen was not easy nor was tapering my hair with beard trimmers and only a couple of small plastic mirrors to use. I have given up trying to find a prisoner at the barber school who can cut my hair properly. They sometimes are not even able to do a bald fade. My cellmate just had to wait by the bars to put his store away and go back to sleep. I took a nap myself after eating a lunch of salmon and uncooked Ramen noodles which were a substitute for crackers.

Monday night my choice of television shows was a Republican debate on PBS. This April, a primary will be held to choose a candidate to run against current Democratic Governor Pat Quinn. The election will have significant impact on the residents of the state but even more so on prisoners in the IDOC. Bruce Rauner is the current Republican front runner with his millions of dollars to spend on the campaign and message of breaking up politics as usual. However I do not know how effectual he will be in Springfield. Congressman Bill Brady may be a better choice, although he lost narrowly to Quinn four years ago.

Tuesday morning there were wind chills of -10 and yard was cancelled. Apparently, administrators did not want to be liable for any prisoners afflicted with frost bite. Ironically, though, they care little about men under their authority receiving adequate medical care. Health care passes were backlogged and grievances filed by prisoners for lack of medical treatment or mistreatment were systematically dismissed by the warden. Recently, I received a reply to a grievance I filed last year about yet another delay in prescribed medications. According to the warden and review board, my grievance was without merit because I finally did get the pills even if a month later.

At noon, my cell along with five others adjacent were searched. My cellmate was sleeping and I woke him up to walk downstairs into the cell house holding cage. In the cage were other prisoners whose cells were being searched along with a man I knew who lived on an upper gallery. I asked what he was there for and he explained he was just informed his grandmother died. The counselor had also offered him the use of a telephone to make a call. All my grandparents had passed away long ago and now I wondered when I would get news a parent had died.

For dinner I put these ruminations behind me. Actually, it was difficult having any deep thoughts during chow lines because of the crowds and noise. For pizza, nearly everyone in the cell house came out and they were louder and more rambunctious than usual. At a table in the chow hall, I pocketed my small slice of pizza and was bored listening to everyone talking over one another and about nothing of importance. I turned around to notice a long shoe lace dangling from the back of a cell house worker's jumpsuit. The shoe lace which went through a loop on his waist I tied around the underside of the stool he was sitting on. When guards shouted for prisoners to leave, he tried to get up but was stuck. I said to him, "Come on Little Johnny. It is time to go." Walking away with a stiff gait my cellmate told me I may not want to play around with my back in bad shape. I replied, "That's why I tied him down. He will be lucky to get out of that knot before we are back in our cells."

After returning from the chow hall, mail was passed out. I received 5 letters and 2 Christmas cards. All of the mail was post marked from mid-December. I looked at the cards but then put the other mail away to boil some chicken breast meat to use as a topping on my slice of pizza. While I ate my dinner, I watched the female Australian Open quarterfinals. Most prisoners at Stateville had ceased to watch the tennis tournament after Venus Williams and then her sister Serena lost. However, I did not care for either player and hoped Agnieszka Radwanska would contend for the win. I was pleased to see her smart and finesse play defeat Victoria Azaranka who was an ugly butch from Belarus.

My cellmate, as customary, slept through my morning workout on Wednesday. I have told him I will wait until later in the day if I am disturbing him, however, it seems he prefers to lay in his bed while I exercise and do other things. There is only so much space in the cell to share. Even when he sleeps late, we will oftentimes get in each other's way. I do not like playing the game Twister and can get annoyed or angry when he is intentionally crowding me. Before lunch, he was getting ready to go out and repeatedly invaded my space before I punched him in the gut. I did not hit him hard, just enough to express that I had enough of his antics. He said, "Listen old man. You are in no condition to fight" referring to my back pain and the way I have been hobbling around the cell. He is a fan of the movie Rambo and so I quoted a part of the film saying, "I was trained to ignore pain."

Outside the cell on the gallery waiting for the chow line to leave, a guard recognized me. He asked if I was the same person he once took out on hospital writs to get cortisone injections. Yes, that was me but I had not had one in a couple of years. He went on to say I had to look friendlier and show some emotion. It was no wonder the jury found me guilty despite how there was no connection to me and the crime. If I ever get another trial, he advised faking some emotion just so I looked more human. Another guard who is a regular in the cell house commented that maybe I did not have anything to be happy about. There was probably some truth in what both of them said.

I was reading over some of the mail I received the following day when a nurse dropped off a couple of sheets of pills. I told her I was surprised the doctor finally wrote out a new prescription. She replied that they were behind due to the holidays and winter weather. Lockdowns and many medical personnel not coming to work were causing delays. I thought this may slow my prescription to an extent but not well over a month.

Oddly, later I was given an in-house sick call pass for Friday. I assumed it was in response to the repeated Health Care request forms I filled out despite having finally had my medications renewed. Periodically, nurses will come to the cell houses and act as intermediaries for doctors. Stateville only has a couple of doctors and they spend time both at the N.R.C. Unit and maximum-security prison. The nurses do not get paid nearly as much and can address many health issues themselves. If they cannot, they will schedule an appointment with a doctor.

Friday afternoon I spent an hour in the cell house holding cage waiting to see the nurse. While in there, men in the shower area began to yell the water had been turned off. They were furious because it had stopped abruptly and they still had soap on themselves. Guards said they would look into the matter, but I heard someone say a pipe burst. There was no hot water in the cell house and even the central heating system seemed to not be working. Cool air was blowing out a vent I was standing by.

Eventually, my name was called and I walked through the sergeant's office to the first cell on the ground floor which served as a makeshift medical office. A friendly nurse greeted me and asked what she could do for me. I already had been re-prescribed my medications, but I wondered if the Zantac could be switched to Prilosec. The Zantac did not work well and I was concerned the NSAIDs I took were eating away at my stomach lining. Furthermore, Zantac seemed to have undesirable side effects the Prilosec did not. She said she would see what could be done but Prilosec was no longer on Wexford's pharmaceutical list.

Earlier today I spent another hour in the cell house holding cage in handcuffs this time. The prison was on lockdown due to the extreme cold and purported lack of staff. While in the cage, I spoke with Fat Pat who was in a cell directly across from me. He and all his neighbors were dressed heavily and some even wore jackets and insulated hats. The heat had been fixed as well as whatever hot water pipe broke, but temperatures outside were below zero and a draft of cold air was rushing in. A major came by to take temperature readings and I do not know what the thermometer read but it felt like it was in the 40's on the lower floor.

In the sergeant's office talking to the nurse was "Lunchbox," an intellectually challenged prisoner with a litany of other problems. I said to him, "I have been waiting all this time for you?" Before he replied I told him there was no cure for his ailments. To the nurse I joked and asked if the retard was giving her any problems. She assured me no and we walked back to the quasi-medical office. The nurse had done some research on the types of stomach acid inhibitors. Prilosec was a blocker while Zantac just reduced some acid. A drug which was on Wexford's list called Protonix was much stronger and apparently they all had the same side effects. She asked if I was willing to try it. I agreed and thanked her for her time.

The health care at Stateville is deplorable. Wexford and the IDOC continue to be more concerned with costs than providing rudimentary care to a growing elderly and sick population of prisoners. My inability to get a simple prescription in a timely fashion is only a microcosm of the pervasive problems in the prison's health care system. I can understand to a degree the neglect to treat convicts particularly in max security. However, many prisoners are vastly over sentenced or prosecuted. Some are even innocent. Fortunately, there are also some intelligent and caring medical staff who try to do their best in a less than ideal place.