Working 4 You: The Price of Pain

LITTLE ROCK , Ark. - "What if I'm cleaning my gun, and I shoot your privates off? Here's $500,000 and sorry about that?" An extreme hypothetical posed by a State Representative during the tort reform debate isn't so outlandish or unbelievable after Working 4 You speaks with a Central Arkansas man about the injuries he suffered following a serious case of nursing home neglect. 
 
"Go, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change." 
 
Mike tries to surround himself with peace, even while fighting the anxiety and embarrassment he's felt for nearly 10 years. 
 
"I say that prayer over and over and over," he said.
 
He's not ready for you to see his face or know his full name. By the end of his story, you might understand why. 
 
When Mike watched the news last week, and learned about lawmakers' efforts to cap damages touted as tort reform, the positive affirmations did little to help.
 
"I'm just one person out of thousands -- and people, they just don't...the lawmakers just don't understand," he said. "My blood boiled."
 
In 2008, Mike would have been among those affected if tort reform had been in place back then. He's had spina bifida his whole life, and a foot sore from his leg braces required an outpatient procedure for the injury. Afterward, he needed therapy. He was transferred to a now-closed nursing home in Heber Springs. 
 
"I was there for wound care and rehab," Mike said. 
 
"And how did you leave there?" this reporter asked. 
 
"In a stretcher. In severe pain," he responded.
 
According to Mike, court records and a survey from the Office of Long Term Care, a nurse at the facility failed to insert his catheter properly. None of the staff noticed until they heard his screams from the bathroom three days later. He felt something burst inside him, according to his complaint, and blood and urine began pouring from his privates. Because of his neurological condition, Mike's pain tolerance below the waist was higher than the average patient. 
 
"Nothing has ever hurt me that bad in my life -- it was a screaming nonstop pain," he said. "The call button in the bathroom wouldn't work. I just had to scream for help." 
 
The nurse hadn't inserted the catheter into Mike's bladder. The balloon had stopped in his urethra, inside his penis. The pressure from the balloon tore a hole, which caused blood and urine to leak out. That infection turned into gangrene, which spread through is penis to his scrotum. He was rushed to Springhill Baptist Hospital in North Little Rock after initially being transported to the hospital in Heber Springs. 
 
"I had to have surgery and I had to be castrated," Mike said. "When the doctor came in and told me what they had to do, that was the worst day I have ever had. I've never had a worse day since then and I won't have one worse than that."
 
At 43 years old, any chance Mike might have had for a family legacy or an intimate relationship was cut short. 
 
"Every minute of every day I have to live with knowing that," he said. "No sex, no kids, no grandkids. I can't do the family thing like everybody else can. I just deal with it,"
 
"Would you accept $500,000 if I was sitting here cleaning a gun and shot your privates off so you couldn't have a sex life? Representative Doug House asked his fellow lawmakers during a committee meeting discussing tort reform on February 23. 
 
Rep. House told this reporter that he had proposed it as a somewhat outlandish hypothetical. 
 
"No sex for the rest of your life. Here's $500,000. We're real sorry about that - but it's the limits," he had said during the meeting. 
 
Mike's life is proof unthinkable horrors do happen to innocent people. 
 
"I have to think about it because I have to see it. I have to see the damage, the scars. Everything else," Mike said. 
 
He endured seven surgeries, spent seven weeks in critical care. He nearly lost it all. 
 
"I almost died. I was right at the edge of death when they got me to the hospital," Mike said. "It wasn't like I just got sick and had to spend time in the hospital. I was on the verge of death by the time I made it to North Little Rock. 
 
Having survived, he has to take daily testosterone. A catheter no runs through his stomach to a leg bag he must wear around the clock to empty his bladder. He'd be lying, he said, if he told you he hadn't wondered at different points whether it was worth it.
 
"I still have a reason to live, but I have a little bit less reason to live. It hasn't gotten far enough for me to put a bullet in my head," he said. "I've lost one of the most valuable things a man can lose. But, if I killed myself my family would have to live with that. It would be over for me, but my family would have to endure that." 
 
Mike no longer contemplates romantic relationships. Losing a part of himself has led him to wall himself off and create barriers if people get too close. 
 
"When it comes to women, I don't let them get too close. In adult relationships, one thing leads to another. I haven't talked about it except with people I'm close with. Embarrassment is a huge part of that." 
 
State Senator Eddie Joe Williams also represents Mike's district. Williams has been a staunch supporter and co-sponsor of the tort reform effort. Williams voted in favor of it on Wednesday. 
 
"What the hell are you thinking? Trade places with me for about a week and I bet you wouldn't even make it a week," Mike said of what he'd like to say to Williams. "You would change your mind about what you're doing."
 
Despite Working 4 You sending multiple notes inside the Senate Chamber following the vote, texts and emails requesting an interview, Senator Williams has yet to respond to our requests. Others who have supported this bill say it would be better for business owners. 
 
"So they don't have to worry about being driven out of business that every single day they'll have a judgment against them for the rest of their life that they'll have to deal with," said Rep. Bob Ballinger, during the same committee meeting with Rep. House. 
 
"Someone did something they shouldn't have done...I paid for it and I'm still paying for it," Mike said. "There's no fixing what happened to me. My life was turned upside down and it's forever and always." 
 
After two years in the courts, Mike agreed to a confidential settlement with the nursing home. 
 
"I eventually just had to stop fighting," he said. "The company could have gone bankrupt by the time we made it to trial. I would have been left holding the bag. I had to come to a point where there was an amount I could live with, even though they could have handed me the keys and all of their money and it wouldn't be enough." 
 
Mike added that a cap on damages, would have prevented him being able to have any leverage to go up against a corporation. He has no doubts that setting caps would have that effect on other victims. 
 
"At least I would have had the opportunity for a jury of 12 people to look and see what happened to me and decide if they wanted to be on my side and against what the nursing home did," Mike said. "At least back then, the jury could have decided what was enough. The jury, people like me, were making the decisions. These lawmakers are playing God. They have a God complex. We already have a God, we don't need them to do that." 
 
He can only hope the voters of Arkansas, another jury of his peers, can imaging life as he lives it and send a message to lawmakers by rejecting tort reform in November 2018. 
 
 
Attorneys often take cases on contingency when a client cannot afford to pay an hourly rate upfront for representation. Proponents of the effort have claimed tort reform would reduce frivolous or "junk" lawsuits and provide predictability across geographic areas for civil liability.
 
Compensatory damages are calculated as medical costs, lost wages or earnings, property damage and lost earning potential. Punitive damages are awarded to deter or punish the behavior. Not all plaintiffs are entitled to those damages. Non-economic damages would include pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship in cases of death and other intangible costs from harm to people or property.
 
The Senate Joint Resolution passed on Wednesday and has been delivered to the Governor.  
 
To follow this story and all of Marci's coverage, click here for Facebook or here for Twitter.
 
DO YOU NEED KARK WORKING 4 YOU?
 
KARK Working 4 You is committed to highlighting issues that are important to Arkansas. If you have a story that needs to be covered, call Reporter Marci Manley on the Working 4 You Tipline at (501) 340-4448 or email at working4you@kark.com.

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