Just Make the Pain Go Away

The nagging aches and pains from a minor traffic accident sent Eileen and Paul Moore to the doctor in 1982. They just wanted him to make their pain go away. But over the next 23 months, until their insurance ran out, Dr. Ranjit Bisla sliced into their bodies ten different times--seven surgeries for Eileen, three for Paul. She was 38 then; he was twenty years older and in excellent shape from his years as a truckdriver and dockworker.

Now you can't stay very long in the small, warm living room of the Moores' Phoenix home without hurting right along with them.

Eileen Moore is 45 years old now, but she slumps in her easy chair like an old woman. Her feet rest heavily on a footstool. Some days, when the pain gets so bad she can't walk, Paul rents a wheelchair so she can get around. Paul Moore's "deep-bone pain" keeps him from sitting or standing in one position for more than ten minutes. "I eat Tylenol with codeine," he says.

The Moores wonder how this nightmare could have happened to them. Or how they allowed it to happen. They feel hurt and betrayed by the nice doctor they had so trusted. And they live each day wondering if a single surgery was even necessary.

EILEEN MOORE didn't have a single doubt at first. When she trusted Bisla enough to remove a disc--the cushion-like material between each vertebra--from her back. Or when she trusted him enough to replace both of her hips, one by one, with artificial hips. Or when she trusted him enough to operate twice on each knee. Problem was, an infection crept into one of her knees and ate away at her bone. She had to stay in the hospital for five weeks that time, but even now she recalls warmly that Dr. Bisla got her out of the hospital for Mother's Day.

She kept thinking each surgery was the last, only to find her doctor suggesting another one was necessary. It was only after both hips had been replaced, she contends, that Bisla told her the surgery would probably have to be repeated in ten years.

None of those surgeries took Eileen Moore's pain away. She has it still. On the days Eileen feels well, she hobbles around her small house trying to get the housework done. One leg is now shorter than the other and even on good days she has a peculiar gait. But what saddens her the most is that even after she's swallowed her pain pills, some days it still hurts too much to cuddle her grandchildren. Paul figures his pain has a lot to do with the three times Bisla operated on his back. As he recalls, Bisla told the couple that if they wanted to live in pain, they wouldn't need his help. But surgery would make the pain go away. He'd fix them right up, they remember him promising. So Paul docilely permitted the doctor to remove bits and pieces of his vertebrae; strip off a few discs; graft part of his hip to his spine.

After each surgery, Paul recounts now, the recovery period stretched on and on, never concluding before it was time for another operation that was intended to kill the persisting pain.

Paul recalls the time he'd just come out of the hospital when Eileen checked herself in for one of her seven operations. Paul wanted to visit his wife, but he couldn't turn his neck enough to safely drive the car. His mother-in-law sat beside him in the car, telling him when it was okay to change lanes.

Back then, the Moores couldn't even imagine that one day they'd sue this kindly doctor who had promised them relief. Or that at least a dozen other patients would sue Bisla for medical malpractice in just five years in Maricopa County Superior Court. Or that Bisla would become a "household word" at the Arizona Board of Medical Examiners (Bomex).

Later this month, a formal hearing will continue on Bomex's allegations that in 1985 alone, Bisla needlessly sliced into people's backs ten times. At the least, Bomex could find the allegations are unfounded; at the most, it could stop Ranjit Bisla from practicing medicine in Arizona.

"SOMEBODY HAD TO say `Enough,'" says attorney Kenneth Clancy, who represented the Moores in their 1987 malpractice lawsuit against Bisla and Humana Hospital-Phoenix. The suit charged that Bisla's numerous surgeries--all done at Humana--had permanently disabled and disfigured the couple. It also alleged the hospital was negligent: Its staff doctors had not properly performed their legally required peer-review duties. If they had, the suit charged, they would have realized Bisla was operating far too often on the couple. Clancy said he took the Moores' case, as well as three others, after "about fifty" people called his office about Bisla. "I began to see a thread," he recalls, as each caller questioned another surgery Bisla had performed. "What Bisla was doing was dead-wrong," Clancy maintains. "He preys upon the weak, the susceptible, the non-knowledgeable, the infirm." In the Moores' malpractice lawsuit, Clancy specifically charged Bisla with negligence because of "his apparent readiness to do unnecessary surgery, his disdain of conservative treatment and his choice of inappropriate surgeries. . . . "

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Terry Greene