I Know Why Alan Frazier Shot His Doctor. And I Understand.

– Posted in: Chronic Pain, Nevada, Reno, Tammy Thinks

On December 17th, 51-year-old Alan Oliver Frazier walked into his urologist’s office and shot three people.

And I understand why he did it.

Read this carefully —  I don’t condone what he did. But I understand. I understand it all too well. And when I heard the details of this story — when we heard the details, my husband and I — it made our hearts hurt.

You see, we’re in the fortunate or unfortunate position of seeing this tragedy from all sides. My husband, Tenzin, is an ER doctor. On the day of the shooting, I was listening to the radio in my car and heard four words: shooting, Reno, hospital, and a street name. All of it matched up with where Tenzin was working. And of course I’d picked that particular day to forget my phone.

So I waited — without panicking but having a sort of out-of-body experience — until the next news update. I’m not unreasonable but I’m also not stupid. We’d recently had a school shooting at a middle school, and my friend’s husband (a teacher) was almost shot. I don’t live life thinking every school and workplace is under siege. I think of these horrible shootings like lightning strikes. But I also know lightning can strike anyone. I know life can change in a heartbeat.

So I drove around, waiting to hear more details, and it soon became clear that my husband was safe. As it turned out, two other doctors were not. The shooter walked into a urologists’ office and killed one doctor, shot another doctor, and also shot a woman who was there with a patient. Then he killed himself.

My husband often works with stressed out, unstable people. It’s a touchy job. He has his stories about people going off the rails, but I can’t say it’s ever disturbed me that much. People in the medical field tend to compartmentalize, and I suppose their spouses do too. But when you hear that someone’s come in with a gun and is pretty clearly targeting doctors, it makes you feel like you’re watching a bad episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

We quickly heard more about the doctor who was killed: close to my husband’s age, two kids — just like we have, and from all accounts, a great husband, father, and doctor. Reno is a small town in the sense that just about everyone is three degrees of separation at most from everyone else, so the stories keep rolling in. And we keep feeling more heartsick.

But as this unfolded, I had a terrible gnawing about what we were going to find out about the shooter. Something about the way he passed up everyone in the waiting room and told them to leave. How he clearly targeted those people. And then it all came out.

“He got really sick, and he lost his mind.”

Frazier had apparently gotten a vasectomy in 2010 — presumably from one of the doctors at the urology office. After that, he started suffering from a rash of physical problems. According to he Reno Gazette-Journal, he connected with others in an online vasectomy pain group and described his post-vasectomy pain (PVP) as sharp pain that began in his groin and moved up through his abdomen, chest, and throat. But he had other symptoms as well:

“Big joint pain and random body aches, low energy, just like fighting an aggressive flu pattern only worse. Tight full abdomen, burning arm pits and chest pain a certain allergic/immune reaction. My lower back has also had issues worse than ever,” he said. “Interesting note: I have every symptom of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but one (fever) and this was all brought on by the vasectomy.”

From the sound of it, he was told that his condition wasn’t related to the surgery by doctors and that he had no malpractice case by lawyers. I don’t know what other kind of medical treatment he sought out from doctors or health professionals other than his original urologist, but it sounds as though he was somewhat obsessed with researching treatments.

Friends described a recent situation when he was unable to go out on a specific hunting trip:

“He was hurting. He went out again on the 13th day but he was too weak, he lost his energy, lost his appetite. This vasectomy was killing him.”

“He was not a dangerous person, but he got really sick, and he lost his mind.”

The Four Levels of Chronic Pain

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into our kitchen after a dentist’s appointment and broke down into a sobbing, hysterical mess. My husband stood there, holding me for about 20 minutes while I cried and choked out, “I just can’t do it. I just can’t take it anymore.”

I’ve had chronic pain for 20 years. It’s difficult to describe what living with chronic pain is like to someone who doesn’t have it. Pain is at the forefront of my mind 24 hours a day. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I go to sleep. It has its hands down my throat while I’m reading to the kids. It invades every conversation I’m having with a friend at Starbucks. It sits with me at the movies. It’s the ménage a trois in our bedroom.

That day I came home from the dentist — where I’ve been undergoing a treatment for the last 5 years — was one of my lowest moments. I’ve had many. And for almost all of them, Tenzin has been there. He listens, he supports, he fills in when I can’t function. And because he’s a doctor, he’s constantly trying to find something to help.

For a person in pain, there are a few levels of hell. Level one is the stripping away of everything you used to love. The loss of the little joys. Not being able to listen to music because it feels like an ice pick in your ear. Not being able to drink a glass of wine with dinner because that in combination with your medication will wipe you out for a day. Not being able to drive more than 20 minutes without your leg starting to fry.

Level two is not being believed or validated. Being told you’re “depressed” or that “anxiety” is causing your pain. Being advised to “de-stress.” Being reminded how lucky you are that you’re not {choose any category} because things could be so much worse, and to look at your situation as an opportunity to “grow, learn, and seek introspection” (great advice that’s so easy to give when you’re not the one whose head is ready to explode and so hard to take when you’re the one whose head is…).

Level three is the relentless chipping away of your stamina. It’s the “Atlas carrying the world” feeling. The pain never goes away and all you can do is endure. And sometimes, enduring becomes too much.

And then there’s level four. Level four is the shear, unadulterated fear that the pain will become unbearable and no one will stop it. And that one day, you won’t be able to take it anymore.

A Chronic Pain Safety Net

If you’re supported like I’ve been, you can handle the four levels. If you have a doctor who prescribes sufficient medication and doesn’t leave you hanging out to dry so that you become some consistently drug-seeking ER patient because you’re, ironically, consistently trying to alleviate your pain, then you’ll — big frickin’ surprise — be less anxious and less depressed. If you have friends and family who listen and help you, you won’t feel so alone and the weight of the world might be lifted at least a little bit. If you have people who believe you, you can get past all of that crap and get down to getting some actual help.

And if you feel like your pain can be stopped — like you have an out no matter what — you don’t go through life feeling terrified.

I’ve had so many moments of lost hope. I’ve had times when I’ve seriously thought, this is it. I’m done.

I. Can’t. Take. It. Anymore.

If it weren’t for my husband, frankly, I would probably be dead. He supports me financially, psychologically, and medically. He takes care of our family when I can’t. He’s my advocate with other healthcare providers. He’s done enough research about pain and had enough experience with pain to be able to write a freaking book on pain. He’s become so committed to it that he’s actually decided to open a pain management clinic so he can help other people like me (it’s a bummer he can’t be my doctor…).

For the last 20 years, I’ve been surrounded by people who’ve, for the most part, believed I was in pain. Who’ve tried to figure out a fix. And who’ve never, ever left me to feel like I didn’t have a safety net. I’ve always felt like I’ve had an “out” with my pain. Whenever I’ve gotten to that place where I think, “I’m going to die” — where I’ve wished someone would just kill me — I’ve always had enough medication to make it stop.

But I’m one of the lucky few. The number of people with chronic pain who are properly cared for is staggeringly low. And Alan Frazier was clearly one of those people. When we read his story, it was so clear that this was a guy who was alone, unsupported, unheard, and untreated.

And when he got to that “I can’t take it anymore” place, there was no one waiting for him in the kitchen to tell him it was going to be okay.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome

My theory? Alan Frazier wasn’t in pain because of an allergic reaction to sperm that had to be absorbed by his body due to his vasectomy (apparently what he was convinced had happened — this my friends, is what happens when you’re sick and you get on the internet). I think he was suffering from something called CRPS or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. In very basic terms, the body experiences an injury — could be from surgery, could be from a sprained ankle — and it freaks out. Your nerves go haywire and start sending out the wrong signals. Suddenly stuff that didn’t hurt is hurting. And when your nerves start flipping out, all sorts off crazy can start happening.

The problem is, your specialist doesn’t give a damn. Let me rephrase that — most specialists don’t give a damn. They’re focused on their little part of the body, and if you start having other problems that don’t relate to that little part of the body and you tell them about it, you might as well be speaking Swahili.

Right now, Alan Fraizers all over the country are phoning their doctors’ offices, relentlessly hoping someone will give a damn. They’re the patients who call incessantly. They’re the patients who are met with front desk people who give them an eye roll and a heavy sigh because “It’s Alan again. . .”  They’re the patients who are thought of as annoying and even kind of nuts.

From the perspective of a urologist, Frazier was kind of nuts. He was complaining of a malady that had nothing to do with urology. What I wonder is, did anyone try to send him to someone who would try to help him?

A Medical and Social System that Fails Chronic Pain Patients

The additionally tragic part of this story is that there are very few doctors out there who are equipped to help people who have nothing “wrong” with them except that they’re in pain. So even if his doctor tried to refer him or if Frazier looked for a pain doctor on his own, chances are, neither of them found anyone to help.

At some point, the medical profession and the rest of the population will catch up to the idea that chronic pain in-and-of-itself is the problem that needs to be treated. That there is nothing “underneath.” That pain is the underneath.

But the fact is, none of us should end up like Alan Fraizer. Because for every one Alan Frazier — of whom we all said, “Why didn’t he just kill himself?” — I’ll guarantee you there are a thousand people out there just like him who have.

But none of us gave a damn.

And this time, the collateral damage of a system that grossly undertreats people in chronic pain was not only one person, but four.

I Know Why this Chronic Pain Patient Shot his Doctor. And I Understand.

 

*Someone will inevitably wonder why I chose to name the shooter in this story and completely leave out the names of any of the shooting victims. While I in no way support the idea of turning murderers into celebrities, as we often do in mass shootings, this would’ve been a difficult piece to write without using Alan Frazier’s name. As for the doctors, I chose to omit the names because of the nature of the post. I in no way want to cause any additional pain to the families of the victims, and I was afraid that any specific references to them while making these arguments could be construed as accusatory in some way. I was just trying to put myself in their shoes. 

12 Comments… add one

AlwaysARedhead December 23, 2013, 6:36 pm

You have described my life, I have suffered from chronic pain for over 30 years, thankfully I have a husband who married me this way and is completely supportive. I have a wonderful family physician who also keeps me medicated but allows me to function, & a bff who lets me lay down when I visit. I too, understand why Alan Fraizer did what he did, scary as that is.
AlwaysARedhead recently posted..Ice Storm December 2013My Profile

noey keys December 23, 2013, 6:40 pm

OMG — I so agree. Pain is my constant companion and no one seems to understand……

Cher December 23, 2013, 7:25 pm

My heart goes out to those involved in the tragedy and especially to you and your family for what you endure… So sad.
Cher recently posted..Build an Awesome Container for Storing Recyclables!My Profile

Mary December 23, 2013, 8:07 pm

What I got out of this is what a wonderful and amazing man you chose as your life partner. He never tells you that you are crazy and loves you, warts and all! THAT is the special take away here. The love that can conquer all. Hugs.

Vidya Sury December 23, 2013, 8:22 pm

Tammy, I completely understand what you are saying. My Mom, who was diagnosed with lung fibrosis, developed a whole lot of other complications thanks to the medication prescribed. Frustrating thing was – the medication did not always work and triggered other issues, that in turn, went through treatment attempts. In the process, we ended up seeing several specialists because each one focused on their own little part of the body, never caring about the effect of what they recommended. During the last few months of her life, she was in supreme pain and the doctors experimented pain management with her, making her utterly miserable. Fact was, the pulmonary TB she was recovering from has spread to her spine.

It took us months to get a second opinion. But the pain she experienced, was like you said.

My heart goes out to all the Alan Fraziers. What it must be like is something we can’t even imagine.

Thank you for this post. And, Tammy, I’m adding you to my morning prayers. Hugs, girl!
Vidya Sury recently posted..That’s What Friends Are ForMy Profile

carol tlw December 23, 2013, 8:32 pm

The take away cant be live conquers all be the take away is that the medical system is so afraid of someone becoming an addict that people are routinely denied pain relief,and, what is worse, are disbelieved about their level of pain because the go to attitude is a person wanting pain relief is a drug addict. Tammy is fortunate to have Tenzin,but the answer isnt that everyone with xhronic pain marry a Tenzin. (And what is even more fun is if you have been diagnosised with a specific seroius illness, you get sent to the specialist for everything but pap smears.)

Verity December 23, 2013, 10:58 pm

So well said, my friend. Hugs to you and I hope that all the Alans in the world can get help. So, so sad. Thank you for writing this.

vanita December 24, 2013, 2:58 am

though i do not have a chronic pain i do experience extreme pain on the left side of my face every so often that can last as long as three days and usually brings me to the point where i want to pull out all my teeth with a pair of pliers and dig my eye out with a spoon hoping it will take the pain with it. the doctors offer aleve. they says it’s arthritis. they have offered tylenol with codeine too. that sits in a cabinet in the home office. it doesn’t work unless i take several and i’m always afraid of doing that but when the buzzing in my head starts from lack of sleep, i’ll break down and take it.. and then dream of pulling out all my teeth. and what do the doctors do? send me to the dentist who says my teeth check out fine. no reason to feel this kind of pain. must be arthritis. but really, if it is arthritis what can they do? i get that pain though. that pain that will drive you insane.
vanita recently posted..Google Plus for Entrepreneurs: How To Reach Your MarketMy Profile

Jessica December 24, 2013, 11:16 am

Reading this. I thought of my dad. He died today, or five years ago today. His autopsy reads “Heart attack” as cause of death, but I know he died of pain and the inability to properly be cured of pain, pain in his joints and legs and heart and mind. He was prescribed drugs to treat the tiny thing that was supposed to be the “problem,” but nothing ever worked because his problems was much bigger. Until reading this, I had never heard of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I think my dad had that, I think and lacked the support to make it better, to make him feel better.

Thank you for sharing this and I am thankful to have read this.

The AnimatedWoman December 24, 2013, 2:20 pm

The human body is complex. All the bits are interconnected. Why more \’specialists\’ don\’t work with teams of \’overallists\’ on pain patients (and all patients) is a mystery to me. I have someone very close to me who injured one wrist very badly, but the pain she endured for years was in the other wrist. No one believed her for a long time, but it turned out it was a kind of nerve pain dystrophy. I\’m sorry you are suffering Tammy. I had no idea. Your husband loves you very much.

Sandra Pawula December 29, 2013, 9:43 pm

What a powerful post! I understand as I’ve lived with chronic pain for a part of my life, and what you’ve said is just so true. Fortunately, I’m far better now, but I still have my challenges and understand how they can be unnerving. Thanks for having the courage to say this.
Sandra Pawula recently posted..The Best of Always Well Within 2013My Profile

Kate/WitWitWoo February 27, 2014, 11:12 pm

Wow. Had no idea about this story – I guess our UK news is just full to the brim with its own variations. For what it is worth, I think that you are extremely brave. It is so much more common than I ever realised – I have several friends that are sufferers. I can’t begin to imagine the pain this man went through but can understand that feeling of sheer desperation. Such a sad situation all round x

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge