Keeping 'em in Stitches

Crohn's disease sufferer Damon Dreckmeier was sentenced to 111 days in the county jail. Denied a few dollars' worth of daily prescription medication, he was rushed to the hospital five times, undergoing two surgeries. Taxpayers will pay for his treatment,

He says one of them responded, "Get the fuck away from the door."
"When you're in jail," Dreckmeier says, "when you're behind closed doors, it's another world. The only people you can complain to are the guards, but they don't care. They don't give a shit about you."

Dreckmeier says that all week he had sent written "tank orders" to the jail's medical staff, asking for his medication. He pleaded with the guards that transported him to court. He finally prevailed on one detention officer who admitted that Dreckmeier looked terrible. A doctor's appointment was scheduled for him the next morning.

Dreckmeier had to spend another night in his cell, vomiting and doubled over in pain.

Inmates' medical needs are served by Correctional Health Services, a county agency which has served the jails since 1992. With a staff of 160 and a budget of $12 million, CHS runs clinics in all seven county jails as well as in juvenile facilities. When inmates require care that CHS cannot administer in the jails, most are transported to the Maricopa Medical Center, the county's hospital (some emergencies require that inmates go to other hospitals).

Two years ago, New Times requested access to medical records of inmates served by CHS. The county's response: that such records were public but too difficult to retrieve. Limited records of inmate deaths were released; during Sheriff Arpaio's tenure, at least 19 inmates have perished.

After a night of vomiting and pain, Dreckmeier was examined by a doctor. That doctor sent him on to the county hospital, where he was administered steroids and pain medicine.

Over the next three months, the same pattern would repeat itself: Jail medical staff either failed to supply Dreckmeier his required medicine or gave him an inferior substitute until he had to be rushed, three more times, to Maricopa Medical Center for emergency treatment.

After his initial, weeklong stay at the hospital, Dreckmeier was moved back to jail with instructions from hospital staff that his mesalamine prescription regimen be followed. But jail medical staff told him the jail didn't stock mesalamine, and nurses began giving him sulfasalazine instead. Dreckmeier told them he'd tried sulfasalazine and that it hadn't worked to keep his Crohn's disease dormant.

Dreckmeier says doctors at the jail told him about another option: If he could get a new prescription for mesalamine from an outside doctor, the jail would distribute it for him. But Dreckmeier's doctor, gastroenterologist Murray Cohen, hadn't seen Dreckmeier in more than a year, and refused to write a prescription unless he could examine him.

"Usually the physician who's there [in jail] would examine the patient and then pass on what he found. But the only communication I got was that a prescription was needed, and I couldn't write one if I hadn't seen the patient in such a long time. That would be bad medicine," Cohen says.

Nobody from the jail contacted Cohen again.
He backs up Dreckmeier's statement that sulfasalazine did not work as well for him as mesalamine. "It makes a difference particularly with the patient. And if he already has the experience that mesalamine worked well for him, then he's probably right."

"When I was on the sulfasalazine," Dreckmeier says, "my stomach was upset and I couldn't eat and I would get diarrhea. I'd never suffered from these kinds of symptoms, even when I first found out I had Crohn's. When I did get mesalamine from the medical-center doctors, I had no problems. If the jailers had just given me mesalamine, I would have been all right."

Dreckmeier was stuck with the sulfasalazine. Doctors at Durango Jail told him several times that sulfasalazine was as good as his mesalamine despite Dreckmeier's objections. He also didn't get as much of the sulfasalazine.

Dreckmeier's regimen of taking medication four times a day didn't match jail patterns, under which inmates were given medication at odd hours and only three times a day. One medicine call occurred each morning at 3, when a nurse would appear, say "First and last call for meds," and then leave before many sleeping inmates could respond. Only those who managed to set an internal clock, wake up and stand at a counter at that hour ended up with medicine.

Besides the inconsistent and inadequate medicating, Dreckmeier continued to be fed a diet that would aggravate his condition. Doctors had told him he would get a special diet, but day after day, he was fed with the general-population foods that were precisely the kind of thing that caused him complications: rancid cheeses and spicy foods. When Dreckmeier complained, he was told what other inmates also heard: If you don't like it, don't eat it.

About 10 on the evening of March 2, Dreckmeier began throwing up blood.
Blood also began staining his pants as it drained from his rectum.
He and his cellmates began a campaign to get the attention of guards, but Dreckmeier says their cries for help were ignored.

By midnight, Dreckmeier was vomiting alarming amounts of red fluid into the cell's toilet. He was losing so much blood he felt his fingers tighten up and freeze as he lost power in them; he also became unable to focus his vision.

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