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,

At midnight, Dreckmeier says he and his cellmates were told by guards to pipe down, that if Dreckmeier needed attention, a nurse would be around at 3 a.m. to deliver meds.

A half-hour later, Dreckmeier's cellmates were yelling angrily at guards--they knew Dreckmeier was gravely ill. Dreckmeier remembers the response they got from a guard: "I fucking told you, go back to bed. The nurse will be here in two hours."

Dreckmeier was terrified. He began to lose sensation throughout his body. Then his jaw froze shut.

His heart raced.
At 1:30, guards finally came to his door in response to his cellmates' calls. When they opened it, Dreckmeier tumbled out on the floor.

Blood covered his chin and stained the seat of his pants, but Dreckmeier says guards were laughing. One said, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"

He says his cellmates told them that Dreckmeier had been vomiting blood for hours, and if they would come in and look at the toilet, they would see for themselves. But guards refused to enter the cell. Dreckmeier says he couldn't believe it--they still weren't taking him seriously.

That's when he retched once again, and this time blood shot out of his nostrils and through his clenched teeth onto the floor near the feet of the guards.

Only then, he says, did they decide to get him some medical attention.
Unfortunately, Dreckmeier next had to convince jail nurses that he needed emergency help.

He was taken to the jail's clinic, where nurses took his blood pressure.
"This can't be right," one of them said. Dreckmeier says the nurses assumed that something was wrong with their gauge and retrieved another. Again, he says, they couldn't believe the results of the test.

Dreckmeier's blood pressure was dangerously low, but he says it seemed like an eternity before the nurses realized that they had an emergency on their hands. Paramedics records show they weren't called by the jail until after 5 a.m., nearly four hours after Dreckmeier had been taken from his cell.

After calling 911, the clinic's nurses decided to get an IV started to replenish Dreckmeier's lost fluids.

One of them balked, however, saying that she wasn't qualified to put in an IV. The other admitted that she hadn't done it in two years but said she'd do her best.

"I'm thinking, 'Oh, my God, they're going to let me die here,'" Dreckmeier says.

Ten minutes later, saying, "I don't think he's going to make it," the nurses were still jabbing at his arm when Phoenix Fire Department paramedics arrived and started the IV properly.

Dreckmeier was told by paramedics that if they had been called 15 minutes later, he probably would have died.

Two more times Dreckmeier would return to jail with instructions from Maricopa Medical Center doctors that he be given mesalamine and a special diet.

And, still, with the county's tab for Dreckmeier's care climbing, jail staff could not or would not follow through on those orders.

Dreckmeier says he was put on the same erratic and inconsistent schedule of sulfasalazine and a poor diet.

"Sorry, we cannot get your medication at the pharmacy. You will take what we give you," wrote a nurse to Dreckmeier on March 10.

He was forced to take the ineffective sulfasalazine. Then, days later, the jail ran out of that, too.

On March 19, Dreckmeier sent an inmate request to medical staff, writing, "I haven't gotten my meds for 3 days and last time I lost 4 pints of blood because of the wrong meds and not given them to me. I need the right meds or I'm going to get real sick again. Thank you."

It came back with a nurse's reply: "We are out of your medicine and can't get it till next Monday, if you start to get sick again, please tell the guards right away."

Not very comforting words after Dreckmeier's last experience with the guards.

On April 18, Dreckmeier was sentenced and moved to Tent City. There, he was ordered to work from 8 to 4. That meant that he couldn't get medication during that time. And the work left him exhausted and unable to wake himself up at 3 a.m. to be ready for that meds call.

Dreckmeier was getting an inferior medicine and only half as often as he should.

On May 17, Dreckmeier had to be taken to the county hospital for a third time, this time for two full weeks. He spent four more days in the Madison Street Jail's infirmary, where jail doctors finally began giving Dreckmeier mesalamine four times a day. He was then sent back to Tent City, where he was told the mesalamine would continue to get to him.

In the next four days, Dreckmeier should have received a special diet and 32 mesalamine pills. But even after three hospitalizations and mounting costs for the county, the jail's medical staff was still unable to follow this simple directive. Dreckmeier says he was fed aggravating foods and received doses of mesalamine a total of six pills in that four days.

On June 4, Dreckmeier was taken to the county hospital for the fourth time.
He was given Demerol and says he was groggy when surgeons asked him to sign a consent form for surgery. He remembers signing it.

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