When the lights go out at Columbia Correctional prison, George Horn hunkers down in his wheelchair and tries for a few hours of rest.
Sleeping in his bunk is unthinkable.
The 53-year-old says he can lie only on his left side and only for about 30 minutes before the pain kicks in.
Horn has no hip joint.
Relief isn’t available. Prescribed morphine for two years as the joint rotted, Horn was forced off the painkiller cold-turkey.
Horn’s troubles started well before Wexford Health Sources took charge of his medical care, but it is Wexford that left him without a hip joint.
Serving time on an 11-year burglary sentence, Horn’s defective artificial hip joint became infected. Two private-practice specialists hired by the Department of Corrections prescribed surgery to replace the joint. That didn’t happen.
Instead, over the next several months, a state prison doctor drained pus from the hip, said Horn. Antibiotics failed to stem the infection. He was placed in a prison unit providing relief to terminally ill inmates.
In February 2013, he was sent to Kendall Hospital for a heart procedure.
The same two doctors who had recommended hip surgery 19 months earlier saw Horn on a stretcher. They asked how the surgery went, said Horn. “When I told them I hadn’t had it, they thought I was joking,” he said.
Seven days later, a specialist operated. But the delay was costly for Horn and taxpayers alike: Instead of a joint replacement, complex surgery was required to save Horn’s badly infected leg from amputation. And instead of one surgery, another three surgeries would be needed.
The last surgery would replace Horn’s hip joint, as the defective one had been removed.
Wexford, which by then was providing medical treatment at the prison housing Horn, authorized the procedure.
Then it unexpectedly required another opinion.
The new doctor said he would not operate on Horn.
Wexford subsequently denied Horn’s surgery, leaving him without a hip joint.
For two years, Horn said he had been given liquid morphine to deal with the pain.
However, a Wexford doctor abruptly stopped the painkiller. “She said she would not be a drug dealer,” Horn recalled. Morphine had been found as contraband at the prison, and, according to Horn’s suit, the doctor said she would not be giving it out any longer.
In addition to significant and prolonged flu-like symptoms, rapid withdrawal from morphine can be dangerous, triggering everything from increased heart rate to decreased blood sugar levels. Symptoms can linger for weeks. The longer the use, the more severe the symptoms.
They can be reduced with medical assistance. Horn said he got none.
Horn has been transferred to a prison where Corizon handles medical care. Recently, he said another consultation with a surgeon had been approved.
“Being in prison is my punishment to pay my debt to society.” said Horn. “I messed up.” But, he said, “I’m a prisoner, not a monster.
“It’s a terrible thing to say, but I wish God would take me.”