Waco – Staying healthy with a chronic medical complaint or getting well from wounds and sickness while locked up in McLennan County is no doubt a complicated affair. Hundreds of pages of official documents bear testimony to that fact.
One must read between the lines amid the numerous complaints by inmates and their families, the most common being about not being able to obtain medication – even when it’s been provided and placed in the hands of medical staff at the McLennan County Jail.
All things being equal and allowing the benefit of the doubt, it’s easy to get the impression that one should give that a lot of thought before placing one self in a position to spend time in any jail.
That’s before you read the notes on the case of a person referred to only as “Inmate Woodall.” It gives a rational person pause in a moment of clarity.
Amid the 530 pages of material obtained by a Public Information Act request regarding the state jail commission’s various investigations of inmate complaints, this one stands out in sharp relief.
Like any medical records released to the public, the recollections of Dr. John Wells about the macabre treatment of an abdominal wound by a jail medical staff member licensed as a Registered Nurse are heavily redacted.
We don’t know who Woodall is, or how his abdomen became wounded. What little we do know is to be found in an alarming series of memoranda from Jail Captain Ricky Armstrong to Dr. Wells, and his response in a “letter of recommendation” regarding what he described as “malevolent medical and cognitive dysfunctioins on the part of Debbie Tucker, R.N.”
What we do know is that as an inmate at the county jail, Woodall relied upon the nursing staff for care of what Dr. Wells described as an abdominal wound that had been healing “without complications, signs of deterioration or increased infections…” – until it became necessary for his hospitalization due to Tucker’s treatment, based on the recommendation of “Carrie R LVN” – on the morning of January 22, 2016.
Wells discovered “rapid and stark changes…from the prior days.” He recommended an immediate transfer to a local hospital.
To be sure, there are photographs accompanying his report, but they were excepted from the materials obtained through a public information request.
By checking the charts, Wells determined that Woodall’s wound “had been wrapped in a plastic trash bag the night before…”
He noted in his letter, “A plastic bag could potentially produce a ‘greenhouse’ effect which increases the heat, moisture and growth of infectious bacteria at an accelerated rate…
“This is both an unauthorized and deleterious form of wound and dressing care. Applying a heat producing nonabsorbent dressing to an already moist and saturated wound site is a receipt for developing speedy bacteria growth and skin breakdown. This is neither a wound care technique that is taught in nursing, nor at this facility. This inmate was hospitalized for several days and was diagnosed with ____________ and treated with substantial ______ antibiotics and placed in isolation.
“The application of the plastic bag to this type of wound also shows limited clinical experience and medical cognitive functions. As a result, of these actions it is my opinion that the other nursing staff members, McLennan County and I may be held liable for any future malevolent medical and cognitive dysfunctions on the part of Debbie Tucker, RN.”
Further documentation in a memo from Armstrong reveals that Tucker had “already resigned.”
The record is made murky by its disorganized presentation in a form lacking chronological relation; it’s unclear if the complaint resulted in what the bureaucrats who ride herd on Texas jails call a nasty-gram – a “Technical Assistance Memorandum” – signed by the jail commission’s Executive Director Brandon Wood.
One wonders what the infectious complication to Woodall’s abdominal wound may have been, but it is frightening to consider that it was severe enough to have resulted in a stay in an isolation ward of a local hospital, according to John Wells, M.D., who voluntarily walked away from a $330,000 per year contract as the jail doctor at the McLennan County Jail, treating inmates and supervising a medical staff employed by the Sheriff’s Office.
One is reminded of the tales of prisoners of war held by the Japanese in southeast Asian jungles during World War Two, men who developed a “jungle sore” one afternoon and died the next day of rampant systemic infection in the tremendous heat and humidity of the triple canopy jungle.