That's Cold

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Let's call him Frank. Thirty-seven, poor, black, schizophrenic, dying from an aggressive form of cancer. He can't get pain medications. He's on MediCal. I'm a mental health worker and I try my best to explain why he can't get his pain medications. But maybe I'm the one who really doesn't understand and Frank does. His response: "That's cold."

Less than six months ago, Frank was a big muscular guy. Now, he is skin and bones. His eyes somehow contrast more vibrantly against his emaciated body.

He called me earlier in the week, rambling about how when he was a kid, his report card fell out of his backpack. Some kids found it, saw his last name, and teased him from then on about it. Despite things like that, he still keeps his manners.

I deal with the mentally ill, not the dying. It doesn't seem like it should be all that complicated to get Frank his pain medications. He says his pain is "excruciating." I go to the pharmacy as he asks, because Hospice has refused to help him. After I spend hours in a vicious cycle of going back and forth between the pharmacy and the doctor, I give up. MediCal will not authorize the pain medications that Frank's doctor is prescribing. That's cold.

Frank wants the freedom to die at home. I want Frank to die and just go away. I know that's cold but I can't help him. He sent me on a simple mission, go to the pharmacy and pick up some pain medications. I couldn't. I ended up against a nonsensical bureaucracy. Meanwhile, Frank lies in pain, dying. My colleague tells me that dying is beautiful. It's hard to understand this when you look at a dying man in "excruciating" pain.


Frank called a few more times after that. I stopped answering his calls. I can't help him. I'm another cog in system that has failed Frank.

You've been very brave Frank. You have faced a whole lot of adversity. I hope it's warm wherever you are. Thank you for being a thorn in our side. You're a good guy and we'll miss you.

With a Perspective, I'm Judy Quittman.