My name is Mike Robichaux and I am a physician from a small town in South Louisiana called Raceland. I am a pathologic news hound and I read 5 or more newspapers daily, cut out clippings of interest, scan the clippings and store them in my computer. I have done this for about 30 years, having been forced to scan the stories because I ran out of place to store the clippings.
With these thoughts in mind, I was dragged forcibly into the Deepwater Horizon oil spill by my curiosity and I read and then laminated each page that contained any information on the spill for several month. After about 4 months I had gone through several rolls of laminating paper, and I found myself gitty while speaking to my office staff and suddenly realized that I had been inhaling entirely too much vinyl fumes. This was in spite of the fact that I placed my laminator next to a window and had a fan blow the fumes out of the room.
Up until that time, I had accessed everything I could on the internet and specifically screened the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and other editions that carried original articles. I SERIOUSLY doubt that anyone was better informed than myself on this issue.
Raceland is a critical crossroad that connects New Orleans to the epicenter of the oil and gas producing, located at Port Fourchon. This corridor contains resources that impact about 1/3 of our nation's energy needs.
As a populist who has lived on the bayou all of his life and whose patients are mostly from the Southern part of the parish, I know thousands of fishermen and oilfields workers who were involved in cleaning up the oil spill residue. Until well after the spill, I was not aware of a SINGLE worker who was adversely affected by the cleanup operation, in spite of the fact that I was asking workers and their families if any illness were being experienced.
A few months ago, long after the spill was contained, I received a call from Marylee Orr, a wonderful friend who heads an organization called the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. She asked me if I would mind drawing blood on a commercial diver from Mississippi. I contacted the young man and we met at a restaurant in New Orleans where I spoke to him and she assured me that had gotten violently ill after diving in the oil plume in the Gulf of Mexico.
I later met with Al and several other individuals at my office in Raceland where I drew blood on several of them. I was skeptical of their problems at the time, although, from his history and physical exam, I knew that Al had been quite ill. Of interest was the plight of a 3 year old child named Cameron. Cameron had been swimming in an outside pool in Pensacola, Florida, while workers were cleaning "Booms" that were soaked with oil on the beach.
Cameron returned home with his parents and became violently ill, and was rushed to a hospital in Baton Rouge. The doctors at first believed that he was suffering from a severe urinary tract infection and they even performed surgery on Cameron when they suspected he had kidney stones. After a week or so in the hospital, Cameron's father asked the doctors if they would draw blood to see if his trip to Pensacola might not have exposed him to toxic fumes resulting in his illness. My recollection of Cameron's father's response was that they flatly refused to do so and abruptly discharged Cameron without a final conclusive diagnosis.
Even with this history I was not convinced that the child was ill from this illness and I recall being a bit impatient with his father when I was trying to find my way through the throng of people who had come to my office. I later realized that this poor infant actually was ill from his exposure and I was soon drawing blood from patients from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and the entire Louisiana coast.
What was interesting at the time was that none of these patients were from my community (That being my patient population from my home to the Gulf of Mexico.)
Each one of these patients had very convincing stories to tell and when I was able to sit down with them and get a comprehensive history, their stories became quite compelling.
One day my wife and I were visiting with a close friend whose husband had been using his fishing vessel to clean up the oil spilled in the region immediately west of the bayou that housed Port Fourchon. She had a paper in her hand and I asked her what was on the paper and she stated that she had been quite ill and doctors at a local charity hospital had thought that she had leukemia.
I asking her when her symptoms began and it was immediately apparent that she had been washing her husband's clothing and had gotten exposed to toxic chemicals in his soiled clothing. She further indicated that one set of clothing was so soiled that she had to discard them.
A few days ago I met with Laura and her husband and 6 or so other workers who had been involved in the clean-up operation and I obtained a comprehensive history on Laura that indicated that she had far more symptoms than she had first indicated. Her husband was with her at the time, and he had never considered himself to be ill. His answers to my questions indicated that he was severely affected by this exposure also.
What was quite interesting in his story was that while he had worked for 95 days with his boat, his location had little oil present and he actually skimmed oil for less than a week and the oil was heavy for only about three days. These three days were the only days Laura was exposed to a significant amount of oil.
Then there's the story of Paul and his family. Paul is a 22 year old man who was planning to join the Marines when he went swimming in the gulf in front of his home in Pensacola. His mother, an RN and ICU nurse stated that other than Paul, no one in the family ventured to the beach on more than three occasions during the time that there was any signs of oil being in the water. (The family lives about 700 feet from the Gulf.)
Shorty after swimming, Paul developed severe seizures and was taken to the hospital where extensive studies were performed and he was diagnosed as having pseudo-seizures. The family was told that his seizures were psychogenic in nature and yesterday I listened to a recording of one of his doctors telling the family how he was somehow concocting these events and that his did not have a true seizure disorder.
The family's subsequent saga is the stuff that has amazed and baffled numerous health care individuals. The reaction of these health providers revealed the ignorance, arrogance and fear that most of the physicians involved in Paul's care have exhibited.
After his care in Florida was inadequate, I talked Paul and his family into transferring to Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, assuring them that they would be treated appropriately at that facility. I was later to regret my decision. Paul and his mother obtained an "Angel Flight" from Pensacola to a small airport in New Orleans. Upon arrival at the hospital emergency room, they were soon told that they would be discharging him.
I rushed to the hospital to see Paul as soon as I finished with my office and when I arrived there Paul began with a non-stop series of seizures that required that his mother and I hold him in the bed. Earlier in the day, Paul had been told by his ER physician that they were not going to be able to perform a MRI until he stopped faking his seizures. Paul was given, in my presence, HUGE quantities of intravenous anti-seizure medicines that would have rendered me unconscious for days, and they appeared to have little effect on his illness. Unlike epileptic seizures, Paul's seizures did not result in posticteral state that left him confused or unconscious. He could actually hear and understand conversations as soon as his seizures stopped, but he couldn't speak or otherwise communicate.
I immediately asked to see the ER physician who had told Paul he was faking his seizures, but he was unavailable and a very pleasant resident spoke to us. I made certain that the resident physician and his attending nurse witnessed the seizures with us and recorded their findings in his chart.
Paul was next admitted Paul into the ICU and when I visited him the next day he was so drugged that I couldn't speak to him.
His mother was a basket case and had not slept, bathed or brushed her teeth in days. I told her I'd watch over him and would stay with him as long as she needed me to do so.
Ochner's main campus hospital has an attached hotel called the Brent House and I brought Paul's mother there and got a room for her. She was extremely embarrassed as they did not have the money to pay for the room. I made certain that she knew that she could charge meals to the hotel account. I was surprised that she agreed to stay there for the evening and I returned to Paul's room to speak with him.
When I reached the ICU he was so obtunded from the drugs that I walked out within less than a minute. When I stepped out of the door, I was told by his ICU charge nurse that I shouldn't be in the room. I mentioned that I was his physician from another Ochsner Clinic and he stated that I could not be with him in the room nor could I stay with him in any manner that evening.
I was not a happy camper and I told the nurse and the aide/nurse sitting beside him that I thought this was a *($%#$) situation and left the unit and the hospital.
I then met again with the administrator of the Ochsner facility in Raceland and told him I would like to transfer Paul to my care in Raceland. I then spoke to the house supervisor and made arrangements with a neurologist to assist me in his care. The Neurologist was quite gracious and agreed to assist me with Paul's situation.
Without me initiating the contact, the young neurologist called me and told me that Paul did not have a true seizure disorder as the classic test for this diagnosis is to film the patient while he/she is having an EEG performed and having seizures at the same time. She mentioned that Paul had not met the criteria. I then called the hospital administrator and he told me that Paul did not meet the criteria for transfer and we could not admit him to Ochsner St. Anne Hospital.
With regard to the seizure detecting criteria used on Paul, given enough medicines to make someone comatose does not qualify as an appropriate study to assess a disorder such as Paul was experiencing.
I happen to be the oldest full time physician on the hospital staff and I have been a surgeon for longer than anyone else has been or is likely to ever be!
This was the first time since 1975 that I have ever been denied the right to admit a patient to any hospital under any circumstances.
Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge, Paul did not receive any specific treatment for his disorder while at Ochsner Hospital.
Paul and his mother then made arrangements to travel to Cedars Siani Hospital in Los Angeles. Once again, no definitive diagnosis or treatment was established for Paul.
He returned home still suffering with his original dilemma.
Paul and his family spent several days with us in Raceland this week and he is doing considerably better. I did not witness a single seizure, nor did he appear to be the least bit confused in our conversations.
His has numbness of his left arm and cannot move no does he have any feeling in his left leg!
Paul's mother and brother, both of whom spent less than 4 hours in toto outside of their home since the spill, had a small cut on her finger that became inflamed. She was seen by a physician who panicked when he saw the results of her blood work and sent her to a hematologist, telling her that he thought she had leukemia. She has been very weak and with headaches and has done remarkably well considering the stress she has been encountering.
Pauls younger brother who, like his mom and Paul, had been in excellent health, was found to be severely anemic and with low iron stores.
PLEASE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS THE STORY OF ONLY ONE FAMILY. Jim Woodworth met with this family and spoke to them but did not have the time to hear the entire story.
Jim also met with Clayton. I first met Clayton when he and his wife spoke at a public meeting. Clayton's wife had the entire auditorium sniffling and crying as she described how the family had spent every penny they had on Clayton's medical care and she and Clayton and the two grandchildren they were raising had lost their home and were being evicted that very day because they were unable to pay the rent on their home.
To say that Clayton looked like hell would be a great understatement. I was able to get him into my office after hours and perform a history and physical examination on him. I drew blood on him and his blood fats filled the upper part of the tube indicating that he had extremely high levels of fat in his blood stream.
I paid for further blood work and later for his medicines. Someone else helped him secure a place in which to live.
By treating multiple organ systems one at a time, he improved dramatically and I put him to work helping others with their illnesses.
He went to Grand Isle last week-end and he and his wife came back seriously ill. He claims they were spraying dispersants and he described the scout planes that searched for the surface oil and the planes that then flew over the oil and sprayed chemicals to hide the oil slick. I treated him with a few medicines and he responded beautifully, only to wind up in the Emergency room of a local hospital last evening when he did not inform me that his blood sugar had shot up from the meds he had been taking. He is doing considerably better at this time.
These are only a few of the stories that are out there and these are not necessarily the most impressive. I'll close by telling you about a man I had heard about several weeks ago but only met 2 days ago. His name is Freddie and he was blinded by oilfield chemicals that flew in his eyes.
Freedie was working near some of booms that were used to control the oil when some of the material flew into his eyes. He experienced severe burning and his vision began failing almost immediately. Since that time he has been seeing an ophthalmologist at Ochsner clinic and he was told by this physician that his optic nerves are scarred and that he will be permanently blink, When Freddie asked him to write a letter so that he could pay for his health care, he was told "The oil that got into your eyes did not cause you to be blind." Freddie currently owes $180,000 in medical bills, I assume to Ochsner Hospital, and is unable to pay for his care.
Please ask yourself, why would a doctor and facility that were owed $180,000 dollars refuse to acknowledge that the responsible party was not responsible for paying off this huge debt - to themselves. THEY WILL NEVER RECOVER THE MONEY FROM FREDDIE. I wonder what their board of directors think about this??
I'll copy them with this letter and allow them to straighten this out on their own.
Sitting here this morning/afternoon this whole issue appears surreal. How could this be happening in our nation and how can state and federal officials allow the people they swore to protect to be continually abused by a foreign corporation acting under the protection of the United States Government.
I find it hard to believe that President Obama is aware of this situation, and if he is, he certainly does not realize the significance of our dilemma.
Irrespective of his situation, the buck stops in his lap and he is on the cusp of a dilemma that will be "Obama's Katrina."
He needs to clean house with his advisors or we need to clean house with a president that my immediately family and I supported with the utmost enthusiasm.
Michael R. Robichaux, MD
P.O. Box 68
Mathews, Louisiana 70375