Voices from the Inside Out: Quality care needed

May 14, 2022

From the May-June 2022 issue of News & Letters

Art by Billy Sell, one of the hunger strikers at Corcoran State Prison, who died during the 2013 hunger strike. See http://www.prisonerexpress.org/anthology/Anthology_9.pdf

Art by Billy Sell, a prisoner at Corcoran State Prison, who died during the 2013 hunger strike.

First, do no harm. That is the wisdom of Hippocrates and it has served as an archetypal cornerstone in medical practice since the beginning of time and treatment. But Hippocrates never had the misfortune of experiencing healthcare in a Pennsylvania prison. Perhaps the oath should now read: First, do no healing.

Pennsylvania prisoners are not afforded any quality care, or otherwise meaningful relief, not even from aggressive and debilitating conditions. Not even from the doomed curse of disability. And, given the evidence, not even from wanton and careless caregivers. And there is no end in sight.

Recently I experienced one of the worst travesties in the state’s foul history of medical care. For several months, I have been prescribed a medication to treat a chronic illness and disability. It has, instead, caused an array of distress and discomfort. Nor has it prevented or relieved any of the ailments I’m suffering through.

I informed the on-site practitioner that it would be wise to discontinue this hazardous drug. It was causing violent migraines, nosebleeds, and nausea—for months. In all likelihood the drug was probably rendering extensive and irreparable damage. Then, to my horror, this barbarian actually said: “Just keep taking the meds.”

I had literally just informed him that these meds were causing an assortment of malice to my body. And that is his action? Truly, we have entered a savage and treacherous time when these would-be professionals—whom we entrust with our safety and well-being—so callously encourage further pain and personal disaster. This episode signifies a larger and potentially more catastrophic plight: The slow death of quality care.

What would Hippocrates say? And where are all those noble and soul-stirring decrees when we need them the most?

To the afflicted, languishing under wretched and merciless conditions, it is only par for the course.

Hippocrates may have been right. His philosophy may have been the gold standard in days of old. But here and now, in this deranged era, the medical professionals we seek out to ease our pain and cure our maladies all seem to be serving a different master, worshipping at the altar of cruelty and sadism.

And, as we all have understood since childhood, there is no known cure for evil.

Prisoner, Waynesburg, Penn.

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