I have a friend, we'll call him "M". M is one of those people who are ridiculously smart, articulate, funny, all around great person. He methodically reads all the science he can get his hands on and I would not be exaggerating if I called him a genius. Of this I am certain. One day, M was running from the coffee shop to catch the bus at 19th and Walnut. He fell at least 20 feet into a manhole, the cover of which had been removed by some drug addict looking for money for scrap metal. M's fall literally shattered his vertebrae (the bones protecting your spine) in his lumbar region (the region below your ribs and above your butt. He was pretty banged up and bruised and was rushed to the hospital immediately. They were able to stabilize his back and perform some surgery to fuse the shattered vertebrae to healthier vertebrae. He was not paralyzed, but he was in a lot of pain. He suffered several setbacks, like blood clots in his lungs (very bad) and pneumonia and lots of other things. He was on pain meds to kill the pain, laxatives to keep his bowels moving because the pain meds kill your digestive tract, heparin to prevent blood clots, etc, etc. He began to experience more and more pain after the surgery and doctors determined that his healthy vertebrae that were holding up his shattered vertebrae were actually collapsing on themselves and needed to be shored up. He then underwent an over-8-hours-long surgery to fuse his vertebrae to more vertebrae from the back and from the front. That's right, they opened up his stomach, pulled out all his internal organs to access his vertebrae from the front. Then they sewed him all up and thought that should do it. He's been on copious amounts of pain meds ever since. He was taking some opiates (like percocet, oxycodone, etc) when they stopped working as well (he developed a tolerance for the drugs). He has now graduated to fetanyl pops, which are cherry flavored lollypops with enough opiate in them to kill a horse. I kid you not.
M was an extremely promising MD/PhD candidate at the time of his fall. He had completed the first year of med school, had nearly completed his PhD at the time of his fall. He had published a really nice paper in a high profile journal that he was really proud of and he was doing some experiments to follow up on that paper. Everything changed in that instant. He was unable to finish the work for his PhD, and thus was awarded a PhD without having a formal public defense (his situation did not allow him to stand and address people for the hour-plus time needed to defend). He will likely never complete medical school and likely would be unable to practice medicine in his impaired state. More than likely he will not be able to work at all because normal, everyday tasks, like sitting at a desk, riding in a car, etc are extremely challenging. He got married about a year ago and was unable to go on that dream honeymoon because he couldn't sit on a plane for too long. Right now, he is going through a trial, trying to sue the company responsible for maintaining the manhole covers here in Philly. The company apparently did a cost analysis of a locking mechanism for the covers and determined that it was too expensive. My boss just went to testify, telling M to his face in court that he will likely never be able to work in this business and that he saw no way for him to complete medical school. Both M and his wife were visibly crying. I can't imagine going through this all. My heart goes out to them and it makes you realize how precious every second of life is. I just hope that the jury makes the right decision because M will have medical bills for the rest of his life, however long that may be. In this case, that company who decided manhole cover locks were too expensive should have thought about the price a person would pay if the manhole cover were gone. But nope....it's all about the cost effective strategies. Assholes. And I know my friend M may never get his life back, but hopefully a settlement will ease the pain of the medical bills.