If you turn on a television, at any given time, you’re likely, as not, to find an attorney talking about the evils of some form of polypropylene mesh. They are ready to pounce, the second there’s an FDA recall or a corrective surgery. I’d like to talk to you all about how mesh has affected my life.
I live my life in excruciating pain, all the time. It feels like I’m wearing an undergarment madeout of barbed-wire and like somebody is constantly electrocuting my left thigh. When the air pressure changes, due to rain or snow, I am adept at predicting the oncoming precipitation; all because an industry wanted to cash in on a common operation, which worked just fine before that industry’s involvement; better, in fact.
In 2002, an emergency room doctor referred me to a surgeon, with regards to a left inguinal hernia, which was not fully “presenting.” The surgeon, in question, to whom I was referred, found said hernia with his pinkie finger.
“Oh yes, you have a very small hernia, right here.” He said. “I recommend elective surgery to correct it.”
I agreed. I had had an inguinal hernia fixed, once before, at this same hospital, several years ago. It was on the opposite side of my body (my right side). It was repaired using the tried and true Shouldice method, using dissolving sutures. That hernia repair worked and I never had another problem, until 2002.
“We use a polypropylene mesh, now” He said, hesitantly. “It helps to reduce the chances of re-occurrence.”
“Okay. Like bionics? What are the risks of doing that?” I asked, like you should.
“Almost none,” he stated, “Ninety-five per cent of people who are implanted don’t have any issues, at all. Some people, about five per cent, feel a little bit on numbness at the site of the implant. About one per cent get chronic pain at the site.” He replied, confidently.
I was in. I had a pinching sensation in my lower gut, when I strained and a burning sensation when I urinated. Looking back, I would like with that pain back, over what I wound up with. I signed up for an inguinal hernia repair, scheduled for that following Wednesday.
That Wednesday, they put me in a hospital johnny. They took my clothes, they asked me three times what procedure I was there for and for which side of my body, they took my personal possessions, they shaved my body, and after all of that, they presented me a clip-board and a pen.
They hit me with a damage waiver, under the gun, moments before surgery. This document, presented before me, two minutes before the operation, basically, said that I understood that there was a risk of severe nerve damage. The problem is, I didn’t. So, like you do, I called a doctor over to explain, before I signed.
This doctor told me the same thing as the surgeon. “A very small percentage of people get a little bit of numbness at the site of the implant,” he reassured me. Not, so much, lying, as parroting what the pharmaceutical company was feeding them for information.
I felt confident, going in. I just kept reminding myself that it was just a little piece of mesh, sewn into my abdominal wall. I’d be back to jogging in a week. I was delusional.
I awoke from the surgery, about twenty-five minutes after it began. Pain was the first thing that I noticed. I was only comfortable with my hip joint bent outward, turning my leg inward hurt. I said something about it. They ignored me. The medical documents that I would order, ten years later, would not show that complaint listed.
Three days later, I went back to the surgeon, for a follow up exam. I told him that I was experiencing extreme pain at the site and having range of motion issues. He assured me that this was very normal. I pressed him to take note of the discomfort that I was reporting.
“No, please, understand, this really hurts a lot; a lot more than my last hernia operation.” I said, practically pleading for him to take the complaint seriously.
I saw fear on this man’s face. He spun on his heel, out the door. On his way out, he quipped, “It should all clear up, very soon. Sometimes we have to hurt to heal,” spinning on his heel and fleeing. It was the last time that I would ever see him. When I got the documents from that meeting, ten years later, the report from that day would state that I was “feeling fine” and “healing well.”
When I asked other doctors about him, ten years later, the story I always, always, always got was the same, “I think he stopped practicing.” It was amazing to me, how every doctor seemed to know that. I looked him up. He was still practicing, they were all covering his behind.
A month and a half after the operation, I, actually, did feel fine. I was up and jogging, again. No problems, for years.
The good times lasted until around 2008. Five years after the surgery, I started to notice an electrical shock feeling down my left leg and a soreness at the implant site. If anything touched the leg, it felt as if it was on fire. I started getting an unusual itching on my hands and feet.
In 2009, I started having extreme pain associated with sex and motor activities; a during and after activity pain, in my left testicle. I started to develop rashes on my hands and feet from my auto-immune system reacting to the foreign object embedded in me.
Now, I needed answers. I started digging and went back to my excellent GP with the complaints. What we uncovered, horrified us.
First, this was not a “small piece of mesh” sewn into my abdominal wall. It was four inch appliance, which fastened, with a rivet, to my hip-bone and under crotch and was fast-sutured to several tendons. Also, It was wrapped around my spermatic cord, and doing damage. Every day, it eroded a little bit into my reproductive system a little bit more, doing damage. I could lose my potency or my testicle. Nobody at the hospital told me any of this in 2002. I would have said no.
And, that is why nobody told me. The FDA MAUDE complaints about spermatic cord damage for this implant went back to the year 2000.
Over time, the part started creating scar tissue and never stopped doing so; choking off nerves, blood flow, reproductive parts, constantly cutting into me, as it hardened, as I moved, and causing extreme and terrible pain; almost constantly, worse in the rain.
By 2010, my GP and I felt the part needed to be adjusted or removed. The downward spiral began. It was a battle to even get any one of them to admit that the mesh was the problem, in any way. The surgeons feared pharma, greatly, on this mesh issue, for some reason.
“Taking out the mesh is kind of a big deal that will leave you with a giant hole in your body and you have a good chance of losing your testicle in the operation,” said the first surgeon. “I’ll refer you to pain management.”
“This is ten year old mesh? I would need a chisel and more mesh to fix it,” said the second surgeon, who, literally, entered the room, petting a small, soft piece of surgical mesh, just to show me how fluffy and harmless it was. I remained unconvinced.
“Pain management,” he said.
“I would do more harm than good in trying to remove it. Maybe if I went in with a urologist, to try to minimize the damage but that’s still going to leave you with a brand-new hernia, which we’d use mesh to fix,” said the third and most understanding surgeon, followed by the words,
Pain management wanted to give me shots of steroids, to shrink the scar mass and reduce pressure on the nerves. I said, no. A year later, the steroids that they wanted to use on me would be recalled because they gave people fungal meningitis and they died. The paranoia bone in me kicked in, when I heard the news.
“Were they trying to kill me with bad medicine for reporting bad medicine?” I wondered.
I was, quickly, back to my GP asking about options, after turning down weekly shots of steroids.
“Do you want to try some Vicodin?” he asked. I sure wanted to try something.
We know where the story goes from here, as far as opioids go. Small Vicodin turned into big Vicodin, quickly. Big Vicodin turned into small OxyContin, and small OxyContin were just about to turn into big ones, when my GP ordered a CT scan of the mesh area, in an attempt to photograph the damage (futile).
The CT scan revealed several interesting facts, none of them about the mesh. Foremost, was a lung spot, which, later, was revealed to be scar tissue but prompting more CT scanning. Most alarming, though, was the non-alcoholic fatty liver issue that the scan detected, due to my liberal use of pain meds, as prescribed. I was highly productive, again, but the opioids were already killing me, after less than a year.
My saving grace was a medical marijuana card, which I obtained in 2011 and started to use, in earnest, while dropping the opioid use, altogether. Does it help? Yes. Does it help as much as the opioids did? No, but it gets me through my days, without crying.
What choice is there, with those choices? The opioids will kill me. A surgery will maim me.
As industries and governors open fire on the validity of medical marijuana, let me be the one to say that the alternative, which is, ironically, the option covered by insurance, seems much deadlier. My insurance company should be paying me to be on medical marijuana, because their alternative cost could be a liver transplant or a rehab program. It comes out of my budget, while I can have all the OxyContin that I want, fully covered. And we're surprised by theopioid epidemic in America?
And, more frustrating, is that I can’t seem to sue for the damages or losses. Malpractice expires after one year. Lawyers say that if I don’t get a corrective operation, then they can’t help, unless the FDA launches a recall on the part. The FDA will not launch a recall on the part because it didn’t happen to enough percentage of people with the part to merit their involvement. At least, that’s the story.
When I looked up my specific implant on the FDA’s MAUDE adverse reaction complaints listing, I found hundreds and hundreds of similar complaints to mine, along with several different complaints (part migration, poking out of the skin, etc.) going back to the year 2000, just sitting there, with the FDA, while the FDA ignores them. Apparently, the device was never tested, either. I was a test subject; myself, and hundreds of others, just like me.
For a nominal fee and with the right documentation, a device manufacturer can pay a $4,000 fee to the FDA and claim that their device is enough like another approved and tested device to forego any clinical trials. That was the case with my particular implant and many other polypropylene mesh products.
Doctors have used the Shouldice method for decades. It is low cost and highly effective; at worst, a repeated hernia happens, as a side effect. Why would we risk nerve and structural and bio-rejection damage over that? Money? Money.
I was on the table twenty-five minutes instead of forty-five. Instead of several small, close, carefully placed, dissolving sutures, a rivet gun and a hasty tie-down to a tendon were utilized. The doctor wasn’t trying to injure me. He was just doing what he was told was the safest, newest, fastest thing. He didn’t ask the FDA about clinical trials or defect rates. He accepted the numbers as they were presented by the manufacturer. I don’t, however, think that I needed four inches of plastic to fix a one-quarter inch hernia. The hospital bought the parts and he put themin. From the amount of other people that I have met, who have been injured by these implants, I would judge that the figures he’d received from the manufacturer were not entirely accurate.
I wrote this story, in the hopes that the medical community would see it and understand that there are “misters,” and then, there are doctors. The “misters” want the doctors to help them sell their products. They have no Hippocratic Oath to keep. The have a bottom line to maintain. They will tell you, “There’s no harm.” I am a limping example of the harm.
How did snake oil salesman find a way through our medical protections? How are they able to con doctors into helping them? Why use an implant when better, more solid, less destructive methods are at your disposal andhave been, since 1880?
I put to you, that unless absolutely necessary, to preserve life and limb, no permanent plastic attachments are a good idea to leave inside of a human being. I speak to you, as a human being who has a permanent razor-wire jock-strap, which fits, snugly, under my crotch, sending lightning bolts down my leg, crushing my gonads, giving me rashes, and helping me predict the weather by feeling like a shot-gun slug is embedded into my abdomen.
There are some things that only mesh can fix. Hernias are not one of them.
I, also, wrote this story, in the hopes of reaching potential hernia repair patients or others who are being told that the mesh is “fine,” with few complications. Dig deep; make sure you really need it. Make sure your doctor knows all the risks; as I found out, the hard way; he may think he does, but the deeper story is hidden from, even him, on purpose, to help drive up sales. If there’s another method available, demand it. Refuse to get the procedure if there’s mesh that you find to be questionable, for any reason. Make the doctor tell you which implant he plans to use. Take the time to look up the part on the FDA MAUDE reporting network, before you are implanted, should you decide it’s worth the risk for you, at all.
All I can do, now, is manage the agony, at my own personal expense. It is my deepest hope thatyou, the reader, as a patient, can manage to avoid living with it, as I have or, as a doctor,can stop it from happening, again. We don’t need mechanical parts implanted into us to heal hernias and we never, actually, did. Somebody sold us that line. It causes suffering.