Saturday, 2 January 2010

Sherry's chronic pain, and what didn't happen when Cindy lied...

We have a guest post by our dear Mrs Tarquin Biscuitbarrel. She analyses and compares the fates of two women in very different circumstances.

Social and economic class still determine how Americans will be treated in a court of law. It's downright painful to see an attorney deliberately make the divide between rich and poor yawn wider, as Thomas Van Flein did in the now-uncovered custody battle over Tripp Johnston, when he matter-of-factly linked the following sentences:

"Ms. Johnston is a convicted felon. She is also a chronic pain patient and undergoes daily, regular, and sustained narcotic infusions." As though "felon" is equal to "chronic pain patient"! "The side effects of such narcotics are well known, but often include sleepiness. The baby cannot be left with Sherry Johnston without someone there to supervise, as Ms. Johnston could fall asleep or be too drowsy to appropriately monitor the baby. Further, in the light of the illegal drug dealing by Ms. Johnston, there is the risk that she may re-offend, keep medications around the house which could be accessible to the baby, have illegal drug users come to the house (or she could take the baby in her car during a drug sale), or otherwise engage in behavior (criminal or negligent) which could result in a variety of harms to the baby."

There's another blonde, middle-aged mother of young adults who's been much, much more intimately involved with the diversion of narcotic drugs than Sherry Johnston, over a much longer period of time. And she hasn't spent a day in jail, nor a minute with a monitoring bracelet around her ankle, and nobody has implied that she's not fit company for anyone's child. Her name is Cindy McCain.

Let's crank up the Wayback Machine and go back to the early 1990s. At that time, Cindy McCain was director of a medical charity called the American Voluntary Medical Team. Not only did Cindy steal large quantities of Vicodin and Percocet from AVMT, prescriptions for much more were written in the names of her employees without their knowledge or consent, and diverted into Cindy's handbag. One of the doctors who wrote the prescriptions lost his medical license. Senator McCain professed to be completely unaware of his wife's drug dependence until the story threatened to go public.

Tom Gosinski, who worked for AMVT until he was terminated by Cindy McCain, kept a journal of her "drug meltdown" from July 1992 through January 1993. He liked Cindy, was genuinely concerned about her, and was amazed that her parents and husband were unaware of her heavy intake of narcotics. He had suspected that prescriptions were being written in his name, so he called the Drug Enforcement Administration and asked what he should do in such a case. Report it, they replied. So he did, and Cindy canned him. Only after he learned that he would not be eligible for unemployment benefits--the AMVT, as a non-profit organization, had the ability to "opt out" of the unemployment insurance system--did Gosinski sue for wrongful termination.

At this point, John McCain got on the phone to John Dowd of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the attorney who helped ease him out of his mess with the Keating Five incident. Dowd cooked up a deal for Cindy with federal prosecutors. McCain also called Maricopa County Attorney Richard Romley and complained that Gosinski was trying to extort money from Mrs. McCain. The Senator called in political consultant Jay Smith, in order to "reframe" Cindy's wrongdoings in the most flattering possible light. On August 19, 1994, just days before the records were to be made public, Jay Smith brought Cindy to meet with a selected group of journalists, where she said that her "confession" was intended to quell rumors and to encourage others with drug problems to turn their lives around. The first round of stories is adoring, with no mention of extortion or Gosinski.

According to Amy Silverman of the Phoenix New Times, who covered this story extensively (with the best headline ever: "Opiate for the Mrs."), there remained a number of gaps in the narrative. Cindy McCain told the reporters that she went into residential drug treatment early in 1994, but she told investigators she had undergone treatment in 1991 and 1992. "Whom did she lie to--investigators or reporters?" Silverberg asks.

* If Cindy McCain did undergo treatment before 1994, as she told investigators, the Senator's claim that he didn't learn of his wife's addiction until January 1994 simply defies credibility.

* Cindy McCain and Jay Smith lied about her status with federal prosecutors. She told a Tucson reporter that she already had completed a pretrial diversion program. Smith told another reporter that the case had come to "resolution." In fact, Cindy McCain hadn't even been accepted into a diversion program.

* Jay Smith misled the Arizona Republic when he said that Gosinski had tipped federal DEA agents as retribution for failing to get a cash settlement. In fact, Gosinski was talking to the DEA 11 months before he ever filed his wrongful termination claim.

* Tom Gosinski no longer has a civil lawsuit against Cindy McCain. It died of neglect in the summer of 1994.

But this is all olllllllld news, isn't it? Not quite. Gosinski reappeared during the 2008 campaign to tell his story once again.

And in the fall of 2009, Cindy McCain--flatteringly coiffed and photographed--confided to People magazine about her "secret struggle" with migraines, severe migraines that she says she has suffered "for over fifteen years." Back when Cindy was briefly in the soup for diverting thousands of tablets of Vicodin and Percocet, she reportedly had "back trouble."

So okay, now Cindy has migraines. And for how long? "Over fifteen years." Gee, that would take us back to... 1994?

Cindy McCain is revealing "her painful condition in the hope of raising awareness and encouraging more research. She says one of the first challenges was finding the words to describe how painful the headaches can be. When she first told her husband, a former POW during the Vietnam War, she used a word she knew he would understand.

"'Torture,' she says. 'Being tied to a chair for four days, I can't imagine how unbearable that pain must have been, but yeah, I can, because a migraine may come close."

Wow. Just wow. Mrs. McCain also claims that "for years she tried to downplay the pain, not wanting to burden her family." Assuming that a migraineur has any contact whatsoever with his or her immediate family, how could they not know that they have migraine? Nobody's upper lip is that stiff. Cindy McCain does not say what it is that she takes to relieve migraine: A number of highly effective non-narcotic remedies have come on the market in the past fifteen years, but they don't work for everyone. And certainly "finding the words to describe how painful the headaches can be" isn't the main problem for most people. Migraine sufferers who are fortunate enough to have medical insurance still have to find someone to treat them, a physician who is willing to offer a variety of treatment modalities until something clicks, something works. This takes time, and this takes money. People who don't have insurance are, quite simply, screwed to the wall. If they follow the stated Bush-Cheney health plan and head to their nearest emergency room, they may be labeled a "DSP," medical shorthand for "drug-seeking patient." They might be treated there for acute pain, if they are lucky, but the discharge instructions invariably will tell them to "follow up" with a private physician.

Ask me how I know. I've had migraines all my life. When I experienced the first one I remember, I was three years old. The migraines became intractable--meaning "constant"--some sixteen years ago. It took several more years to find a doctor who would treat me aggressively and appropriately. I've been worked up, brushed off, and scoffed at by a wide variety of Washington-area medical specialists before getting the help I needed. I've even been called a "DSP" by an ER physician who was quite chagrined that his patient understood what he was saying about her. And yet, I'm one of the lucky ones, because I do have insurance, and I do have relief on hand at all times (in childproof containers, securely zipped into an inside pocket of my handbag), so that I'm only partially disabled by chronic pain, rather than fully disabled. I "undergo daily, regular, and sustained narcotic" treatment, although I take my medication orally, rather than through an infusion pump like Sherry's. And for years, while taking Schedule II-regulated, narcotic analgesics, I've also taken care of my own children full time, as well as looking after my friends' children on innumerable occasions, without ever once falling asleep, nodding off, or having--as Van Flein assumes--drug-addict friends hanging around my house like flies at a picnic.

Migraineurs across the Internet seem a bit bemused that Cindy McCain feels she needs to "raise awareness" of migraine as a potentially disabling medical condition, but they conclude, well, we suppose it's all for the good. "Migraine headaches were, as everyone who did not have them know, imaginary," wrote Joan Didion forty years ago ("In Bed," The White Album). "All of us who have migraine suffer not only from the attacks themselves but from this common conviction that we are perversely refusing to cure ourselves by taking a couple of aspirin, that we are making ourselves sick, that we 'bring it on ourselves.'" So if Cindy McCain wants to raise awareness, in her brave, brave, I-don't-want-to-bother-my-family way, I guess we don't have anything to complain about. Except that I don't think the situation is quite as simple as the way she is framing her argument. And it helps if her readers, or listeners, don't have the pesky, flypaper memories that some of us do. Some of us remember when Cindy McCain was diverting oodles of drugs. Even Rush Limbaugh paid for his cigar-boxfuls of OxyContin.

With her vast fortune and her husband's contacts, it's inconceivable that Cindy McCain would have been unable to obtain the best medical care this country has to offer, for whatever pain problem she has now, or has had in the past. What we don't know if whether Cindy McCain had, in fact, a legitimate pain problem in the 1990s, or whether she was diverting narcotics for her own use, to self-medicate or to abuse. Her husband's Senate office managed to obtain a diplomatic passport while Cindy worked with AMVT, so her bags were never searched at the airport. In 1999, when John McCain previously nursed dreams of winning the White House, Salon noted, "Cindy McCain's staged, teary drug-addictions have been vintage John McCain. His MO is this: Get the story out--even if it's a negative story. Get it out first, with the spin you want, with the details you want and without the details you don't want."

Sherry Johnston does not have $900 an hour--the current rate an attorney like John Dowd would charge--to reframe her botched hysterectomy in a more flattering light. She has no media consultant to advise her on make herself appear to be an appropriate caregiver to Tripp Johnston. What Sherry does have, and most likely will always have, is chronic pain. When she broke the law, she suffered disproportionately for the magnitude of her crime. However, when Cindy McCain broke the law, her husband's advisors looked around and found another scapegoat, Tom Gosinski. I wouldn't trust Cindy, would you? But I would trust Sherry, though I've never met her. We have something in common, something bigger than we are. We have chronic pain, and children we love. Sherry has a grandchild, too.

Mrs. Tarquin Biscuitbarrel

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