Header image by NormaliltyRelief via Flickr. CC 2.0
Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.
In the Summer of 1978, I accompanied my mother to Los Angeles so that she could receive treatment for Multiple Sclerosis. I was home on break from college, and my parents let me know in no uncertain terms that it was my duty to go with mom for the treatment. I was miserable, since I knew that the treatment was a sham and a fraud, but they wouldn’t listen, so off we went.
Mom had an initial manifestation of MS when she was 30 years old. It was pretty typical, with visual anomalies and numbness in the lower extremities. It was quite difficult to diagnose MS in the days before neuroimaging, and she was never officially diagnosed with the disease at the time. Her symptoms disappeared, and she had no more signs of the disease until 24 years later. The diagnosis was confirmed at the Mayo Clinic in 1977. Mom was devastated. She had to quit teaching, but remained able to walk unassisted and drive. She set out to find a cure for herself, and the treatment in Los Angeles held out great hope for her.
MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body destroys the lining of the motor nerves so that electic impulses can’t travel down the nerves efficiently. People lose the ability to move their limbs. There is no cure.
Mom heard from other local people with MS about a surgeon in Los Angeles who claimed to have great success in increasing blood flow to the brain and reducing or eliminating MS symptoms. It was interesting how the information about the treatment travelled in the days before the internet and social media. Mom talked to people who either had the treatment or knew of someone who had, and all swore by it. Mom contacted the doctor, who was more than happy to take her as a patient.
We arrived in LA and spent the first night in a residential hotel that the doctor had arranged for us. Mom had an initial examination at the doctor’s office. He declared her a perfect candidate for the procedure, and she was admitted to a private hospital in the Century City area of LA. The doctor was a vascular surgeon. He claimed that the medical establishment and insurance companies wouldn’t accept his treatment as legitimate for MS, (although he and his patients knew the truth of the matter), so it was billed as vascular treatment for clogged arteries. He reamed out his patients’ carotid arteries, thereby increasing blood flow to the brain. That was it. No repairing of the nerve linings, an impossible task that is the only thing that would have made a difference. He just removed what little accumulation of fat that lined the carotid arteries. His patients stayed in bed in the hospital for a couple of days after the surgery. By the time they were ready for discharge they were quite well rested and of course told the doctor they felt better. They were discharged home and never saw the doctor again.
I spent my time hanging around the hospital talking with other patients and their family members. They came from all over the US, from Florida to Illinois, to Nevada. All were so hopeful, and talked of the doctor as a misunderstood saint. I slept on a cot in my mom’s hospital room. Somehow I found that a nearby theatre, the Century City Shubert Theatre, was putting on a production of The Sly Fox, a modern adaptation of Ben Jonson’s Volpone, with George C. Scott in the title role. He had initially done the play on Broadway. I managed to get a ticket to a matinée. I had never seen a professional production like this before. It was wonderful. It was so ironic to see that play about a con artist when I knew my mom and the other patients were in the hands of such a sympathetic and sincere con artist. I knew he was a fraud, but how can you dash people’s hopes. He had set up a perfect scam, founded on the hopes of desperate and trusting people.
We returned home after a week. We heard several years later that the doctor had lost his medical licence due to insurance fraud. Mom had very little to say about her LA experiences, but eventually agreed with me that the doctor was a con artist. She lived to be 91, still living at home, able to walk using a walker, still a fighter.
What are your experiences with sly foxes?