Rick a Few Weeks Ago
“Holy shit, Rick! I am so glad to hear your voice. Is it getting any better for you?” I asked.
“Well, I don't know. I died last night.”
“Yeah, I was dead for three and a half minutes. The entire room was filled with people pounding on me and racing around when I woke up,” he said.
What the immediate future holds for Rick is impossible to predict. His support group and Rick keep hoping that he will recover and return to his comfortable country home someday. Lots of people get sick and suffer each day in this world. But to me this entire scenario could have and should have been avoided.
I didn't have any idea that a pressure sore could be such a big deal. That is until an experienced worker with the disabled told me that a pressure sore the size of a dime could be life-threatening and could cost around $30,000 of medical treatment to cure.
“If it gets the size of a nickel, it could take months to heal and could cost hundreds of
thousands of dollars to cure.”
Often we talk about society's problems as if they were abstractions.
But when I see problems become real-life, concrete, observable dilemmas then my frustration with bullshit gets nearly out of control. This is my main problem with Rick's suffering. It didn't need to happen.
It Was To Be a Three-Day Stay
Rick got a sore, evidently when one of the new day
aides put him in his wheelchair without the cushion be
inflated and positioned correctly. This young woman was the thirteenth day worker in the four years I have known Rick.
She is a part of a never-ending collection of rotating workers
paid a buck over minimum wage per hour that Rick trains
and then ends up counseling as many of them are struggling
with their own existence.
The sore would not heal at home and finally the
doctors ordered Rick to the hospital. He was supposed
to go in,have a procedure, and head home three or four days
later for a six-week convalescing period in an air bed at his home. Well, that was the plan,
at least. The sore did not respond as hoped and his stay was extended. Rick started feeling
anxious which always increases his already chronic, nagging, daily pain. For those in the know concerning chronic pain management, humanity is in the dark ages still.
He ingests several Oxycontin pills, a few Valium, and a handful of Hydros each
day to get by. He has a pain pump and an experimental spinal stimulator that was implanted
in him a year and a half ago. This stimulator actually worked for almost a year and Rick was a different person living pain free for the first time since he broke his neck while wrestling
with his son fifteen years ago. But the stimulator's effectiveness slowly diminished and
he had to return to the one source of relief that worked consistently-marijuana.
Rick's pain level on even a good day is about a six on the one-to-ten scale. By taking
a few tokes of pot three or four times a day he could reduce the pain. He has so many health problems in addition to his paralysis that he needs constant one-on-one attention. A hospital
is not set up for that needy of a patient. He started to feel helpless away from his regular routine, caregivers and his marijuana. This increase in anxiety multiplied the normal pain to the point
that he was in tears most of the time by the second week of his stay. The doctors tried to
administer to his pain by pumping him full of morphine which did nothing but make him
incoherent, uncomfortable, and confused. He started telling me about morbid, vivid dreams
that scared him. I read him a story and played a full Elbow concert on his laptop before
leaving him for the night.
A cavalier, mean, callous attitude toward
those in chronic pain held by an ignorant, loud mob has kept marijuana possession and use a crime even with all the mountains of evidence of how innocuous and helpful a substance the wonderful green herb actually is.
If marijuana was suddenly discovered it would be hailed as a miracle, natural substance with no troubling side-effects. But no, we have allowed our brothers and sisters to be put in jail for recreational use, simple possession, and prevented medical marijuana use for serious illnesses and pain relief.
This is unreal and unacceptable.
Rick Enjoying his Home
The next morning, I got bundled up and grunted
up the fairly steep hill on my mountain bike
o the hospital a dozen blocks away from my home.
I enjoyed the challenge of defeating a hill as I knew the reward would be a fun few seconds blasting downhill
later and feeling like a kid again. Plus, I appreciated
that I was still able to do physically challenging things, especially after seven straight days of visiting and
seeing my good pal, Rick, crippled up and stuck in
a hospital bed suffering with his chronic pain.
I parked my trusty bike and entered the hospital on this Thanksgiving morn. I could not shake the memories this damn place keep dredging up as
I strolled down the hallway toward Rick's room. As a young man, this was the very spot
where my lovely, vibrant wife had her insides torn out which made bearing children for her impossible and I was the lucky guy that got to tell her. These haunting reviews came to
an abrupt end when I entered Rick's room and noticed a syringe sticking out of his neck.
"Good morning, Rick. What the hell is a syringe doing sticking out of your neck?"
"Really? I didn't notice."
"I'll go get someone," I said in a fake soft voice that I used to protect Rick from
my flash of anger. I was ready to chew some ass and believe me, that is a skill I am a
master at performing.
I stopped the first nurse and quietly and calmly informed her of my concern. She gave me
a brisk, "I 'll be back to check on it," and bustled off toward the nurse's station. I got the
distinct feeling that she thought me an asshole for even mentioning it. I'll spare you the
litany of cuss words I mumbled, perhaps a little too loudly. I could see the nurses were
overworked here, like probably everywhere, but this was no place for a guy like Rick
who needed constant, individual care.
Rick is a remarkable man and a most courageous fighter. How he ended up in a hospital again is part one of this tale. It went like this. Idaho is ruled by right-wingers who last year tried
to cut out all money for mental health services and severely restrict the care hours for those with physical disabilities.
The theory was that volunteers and the churches could serve those with mental ill problems and guys like Rick could travel for treatment as home services were advertised as a frivolous luxury
that a cash-strapped state could no longer afford. After these mental midgets found out that they would need nearly 30,000 volunteers they backed off and reduced the services which was at
least something as many of us were concerned of what would happen if all the services were eliminated.
But Rick needs professional care; instead he gets young, inexperienced kids who have no idea
how to care for themselves let allow a man with all of Rick's health concerns. Still, he adjusts
with patience and kindness toward the mistakes and incompetence, even when it causes him discomfort or pain. He couldn't get comfortable the entire day I was up there. He kept asking
me to press on his stomach area so he could try and cough. He kept nodding off and wasn't able
to communicate like his normal self. I stayed around, tried to feed him but he wasn't interested.
I was worried as I packed up for the night and rode down the hill in the dark.
I started seriously wondering if my pal was ever going to make it back home- a series of
thoughts I tried to shrug off.
A wrestling accident changed it all
This poor soul broke his neck fifteen years ago while wrestling with his twenty-year old son, who had just that day had made the University of Idaho's varsity basketball team as a walk-on player, an amazing feat to accomplish. They were going to head into town for a celebration steak dinner. They were goofing around like they had done thousands of times before, Rick fell and couldn't move.
An hour later, he was taking a helicopter ride to Spokane, the dinner forgotten, where he spent four months learning to deal with his new life of being a quadriplegic.
He is a former successful business owner and manages his home, his health and his rotating helpers with skill and effectiveness with help from his father, John and his new wife, Lois and support from his siblings and friends. The one stable worker is Nathan Foster, a bright, kind college kid who lives with Rick and cares for him at night. Well, he was certainly not in control at the hospital and was not listened to by the staff, who had no idea of how much he managed his own care.
Rick's Room is Empty
I got up to the hospital earlier than usual the next morning only to find Rick's room was empty. After
some nonsense about me not being a family member
and such, I was finally allowed to receive the information that Rick's lung had collapsed and
he was ICU. He was totally knocked out when I
tried to visit.
The three-day stay has turned into a real-life nightmare.That was nine weeks ago and Rick is
still in ICU, in a special care hospital a hundred
miles north. He calls me three or four times a
day but can barely carry on a conversation for more than a minute.
There seems to be this attitude
That medical marijuana is somehow a bit of a con game by individuals who really want to simply get high. Many falsely believe that pot is not as effective as "real painkilling drugs." This is bullshit of the highest order. Smoking pot is the only thing that works for many, many chronic pain sufferers. It is not a con; it is not a damn game. It is called survival. Rick's problems all came about because he was denied pot which was replaced by other drugs that did nothing to help him.