A Tragic Spiral Downwards

A few weeks ago a deranged lunatic murdered two people on a train in Oregon after they interrupted his verbal assault on a Muslim woman and her friend. One of the victims, Ricky Best, was stripped of his wedding ring and backpack as he lay dying by one George Tschaggeny in what was described as a “completely heartless” act by the Portland Police. Tschaggeny was seen stealing the items on CCTV and was later found in a homeless camp wearing the wedding ring.

This Tschaggeny sounds like the sort of man you’d want to drop into a deep hole and forget about, but Samantha Matsumoto, a journalist at The Oregonian, has done some splendid work and written an article which suggests we might want to pause for a moment:

Tschaggeny’s ex-wife remembers, they built a great life together.

[He] introduced her to Australian shepherds, and soon, they had four.

They spent their days hiking, mountain biking and lifting weights. At home, their TV was always tuned to the Western movie channel. Tschaggeny tended to the rose garden in their yard and, every day, he made his wife lunch for work and then dropped her off.

Tschaggeny was honored by police in June 2010 for stopping a bank robber a few months earlier, Portland police spokesman Sgt. Pete Simpson said. The robber led police on a car chase, then crashed into a bus at Providence Hospital. The robber ran into a nearby neighborhood.

Tschaggeny, who was in his front yard of his home with another man, Scott Morales, saw the robber with a knife in his hand running from officers. They chased him down and took him to the ground, holding him there until police could arrest him.

The awards ceremony lauded the men’s “courageous and selfless” actions.

So what went wrong?

Tschaggeny started going to a clinic for knee pain he still had from injuries he’d gotten as a child. To help him deal with the pain, his ex-wife said, the clinic prescribed him pills.

“That’s how it all began,” she said.

The change happened slowly. Tschaggeny’s ex-wife noticed he was angry and not interested in their usual activities.

At some point, though his ex-wife isn’t exactly sure when, he began to use heroin.

From there it was all downhill: Tschaggeny became a different person, his marriage failed, and he started getting in trouble with the law. It’s easy to criticise people for getting hooked on drugs, but this guy didn’t set out to become a junkie, he was fighting what sounds like chronic knee pain. And as the article says:

Four in five new heroin users reported they started out abusing prescription pills, according to a 2016 report by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Many say they turned to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids, the report says.

I’ve had a bad back for years which has recently gotten worse (yes, I’ve been to a doctor), and I am trying everything I can to manage the pain without taking pills other than the occasional paracetamol. It’s not bad, easily manageable, but on the days when it flares up I can imagine what it must be like for somebody who must live with intense pain in their joints day in, day out, year after year.

I doubt the poor chap in the story above knew quite how badly heroin would destroy his life, but he obviously thought it worth the risk for few hours without pain. Yes, perhaps he was weak and had other flaws which lead him down this path more easily than others, but still…there but for the grace of God, and all that.

The whole thing is a tragic reminder of how easy it is to slip between the cracks of life, and how hard it is to climb back up. It’s hard to know what to do really, other keep an eye on those around you and help them where you can.

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21 thoughts on “A Tragic Spiral Downwards

  1. This is a subject that interests me because, from anecdote and personal experience, there is considerable variation between individuals responses to drugs which seems to be largely ignored by the medical profession.

    I am entirely resistant to a common dental anesthetic and was unaware until a couple of years ago that it was possible to have dental work without agony. Different dentist, different anesthetic. No previous dentist seemed the slightest bit interested that their “anesthetic” had no effect on me.

    I have been given morphine in hospital, and very nice it was too, but I felt no compulsion to sell my granny for more afterwards.

    It would be a considerable advance if some researcher could figure out a test to predict these diffences.

  2. Tim

    Go to a posturologist, a doctor specialised in posture 🙂

    France is the home of these people. I had chronic pain and muscle seizures in the back, once even provoked by reaching for the salt!!

    A video computer analysis and sharp observation by an experienced pro, found hips out of kilter and a very slight limp with one foot with a tendency to splay out, rounded shoulders and a bad head position. Actually you probably wouldn’t have noticed. I put it down to a three month leg problem after a motorbike acident at 18.

    Treatment was easy, only painful after one month when a pain started in the bad hip and over a week shifted to the lumbar region and down the other hip. Apparently, the nuscles adapting. 4 weeks with a special insole, certain simple exercises, manipulation on a treatment bed and keeping my right foot in-line, shoulders back and head up but correctly positioned and bingo..

    Then, the 12 minute drive home had me limping out of the car like a true oldie, now I can do the 4 hour (cough, cough no self incrimination here lads) drive from Madrid and leap out of the car like a 35 year old.

    If there is anything else wrong they will discover it too. Do not put up with it.

  3. There’s a difference between people’s toleration of pain, too, which is another thing the medical profession seems to care little about.

    Perhaps they’d have time for a full, proper assessment of each patient if they weren’t spending all their time satisfying the latest whims of bureaucracy?

  4. “It’s hard to know what to do really, other keep an eye on those around you and help them where you can.”

    Yep if you cant look our for your buddy then whats the point.

    My brother in law called me just before to tell me that his long term partners nephew a 28 yo father just had his life support system shut off. He was estranged from her family, I have never met him or knew anything about him until I heard that he was rescued from a suicide attempt last Friday. Anyhow the point is that he commended me and my wife for looking after his nephew this year who was the same age. He had some bad stuff going on including a dangerous drug habit, we took him in and have helped him to get back in shape. He is now in a house share, uni and has a part time job, he will always be at risk and we will always be keeping an extra eye out for him.

    I broke my arm two years ago and had some of those thermonuclear painkillers prescribed once I finished with the morphine. Pretty hard core stuff and I can see why those with addictive type behaviors could get caught up in them. I have one of those short circuited dopamine systems as well but opiates and smack were never my thing.

    Only recommendation from me would be to decriminalize heroin and all other recreational drugs for that matter, take the mafia out of it. Maybe this might have prevented that killer ending up where he did. The rise of heroin production in Afghanistan is off the scale, plus they are actually making heroin there as well now. Demand must be through the roof.

  5. My memory is that perhaps thirty years ago US doctors were extremely reluctant to hand out effective pain-killers, to the extent that British doctors thought they were being needlessly cruel to their patients. Then (I understand) US attitudes – or perhaps regulations – changed and they handed them out like sweeties.

  6. Wow, I live here in Portland and didn’t even know this. I guess you’ve proven my success in blocking out any local news service since it’s usually unbearable, progressive garbage. Everything related to that story is absolutely tragic.

  7. My experience of chronic back pain has led me to two important conclusions;

    1. An aging rugby player should always marry a cute physiotherapist if presented with the opportunity.
    2. Buy shares in medical marijuana.

  8. I’ve found that paracetamol, which is helpful with headaches and knee pain, does nothing for my back.

  9. dearieme,
    Same when I had crippling back pain. Paracetamol and ibuprofen didn’t do much.
    Naproxen might be worth a try as it certainly worked wonders for me. In the UK you will need a prescription.

  10. Strikes all sorts. Chris Christie made a very powerful speech a few years back (when he was still in contention to be the GOP presidential candidate) about drug reform and the opiate epidemic, including a personal anecdote about a very well-to-do law school classmate who succumbed. A highly recommended six minutes – been a long time since I heard a British pol give such a good speech.

  11. Tells the story of America’s opiate epidemic. Incredible stuff.

    I’ve heard about that. It hasn’t been as well publicised as the crack epidemic of the 1980s (or whenever) but it is horrific.

  12. This is a subject that interests me because, from anecdote and personal experience, there is considerable variation between individuals responses to drugs which seems to be largely ignored by the medical profession.

    Indeed. And what JuliaM says, too.

  13. Go to a posturologist, a doctor specialised in posture

    I would if I could find one! Do you know any in the Paris area?

    One of the problems I have is not only finding one who speaks English, but finding one who will actually take me on as a patient and work with me to identify the problem and fix it. I now know what the problem is – a dehydrated disk at T4/5 – but in ten years of seeing physios and specialists each just seems mildly interested, coming out with lots of suggestions: “Maybe try doing some sport…” or “Perhaps you should change your chair…” as if I haven’t fucking tried that already.

    What I have never had is somebody say: “Alreet fella, we’re gonna fix you. So let’s start with X, if that doesn’t work we’ll know it’s Y or Z and we’ll then do A, B, and C and eventually we’ll get there.”

    Most of them seem happy to collect the fee for the consultation, but have no interest in ongoing sessions or treatment.

    To be fair, my back isn’t bad – just uncomfortable sometimes, particularly when driving. But I don’t want it getting worse.

  14. Anyhow the point is that he commended me and my wife for looking after his nephew this year who was the same age. He had some bad stuff going on including a dangerous drug habit, we took him in and have helped him to get back in shape. He is now in a house share, uni and has a part time job, he will always be at risk and we will always be keeping an extra eye out for him.

    Good on you, Bardon.

  15. I’ve found that paracetamol, which is helpful with headaches and knee pain, does nothing for my back.

    Yeah, it varies for me. The anti-inflammatory Diclofenac worked for a while, not so much any more. Paracetamol seems to work better than Ibuprofen for my current ailment.

  16. Chris Christie made a very powerful speech a few years back

    I’ll watch that today: thanks!

  17. A very good and important post. Also timely as the recent revelation that Ant McPartlin of TV fame is addicted to alcohol and legal painkillers as the result of botched knee surgery. Fortunately Ant has money and back-up.

    I have been there – almost. Co-proxomol and Stella nearly wrecked me for a year and a half. I had chronic back pain. I saw many doctors and they could find nothing wrong with me. Annoyingly they seemed to think I ought to be relieved by this news. I wasn’t and neither was “The Rodent”. That was what I called my pain because at it’s worst it felt like a rat gnawing at my spine from the inside. I Inearly failed my Astrophysics MSc, I split form my girlfirend who I adored but she was from the USA and I needed top form to secure any kind of future together which I couldn’t do justice to either Jessica or my course with the rodent always there. I lost a lot and this was deeply depressing which really didn’t help. I understand the process of the spiral. I lost a lot at a key point in my life – I lost but I was relatively lucky because I got a physiotherapist who sorted me. If I hadn’t had that guy working on my back God knows where I’d be now. Probably dead. Yeah, I lost my effectively lost my career in astrophysics (I just squeaked a pass and I had only one of six fully funded berths for MSc Astrophyics in the entire UK for ’95) but I then got into computers (to be fair I’d never really been “out of computers” since my first Speccy in the early ’80s) and I met another girl eventually and last October we celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. I still think about what might have been but I have been lucky. I didn’t save everything but just enough to survive and to be able to gradually rebuild happiness once the rodent was gone. Thank you Dickon – for that was the name of the physio. Due to him I veered off the helter-skelter of doom just at the last exit otherwise God knows but it wouldn’t have been good. It was so bad not just because pain hurts but it interfered with me when I was at the height of my powers – 22, fully funded MSc, nice flat in London, good mates, stunning girlfriend, the heady days of Britpop (I had – still have – a velvet jacket) and all that. The future was so bright I hadda wear shades but there was always The Rodent. Try concentrating on something (like US/UK immigration or General Relativity) when there is always something else there – ALWAYS. It wasn’t agony but it was all the time (though it did vary in intensity and sometimes it was very, very unpleasant) but that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was it being continuous and seemingly eternal. I mentioned the doctors I saw who had no idea and the open-ended, insatiable nature of The Rodent was deeply distressing.

    In short I have almost been there and I know. By the grace of Dickon, good fortune and sheer bloody luck I saw

  18. Blimey Nick, that sounds awful!

    The worst was it being continuous and seemingly eternal.

    Yeah, that. I’m glad you got it sorted.

  19. “They spent their days hiking, mountain biking and lifting weights”: weight lifting?

    (i) It will search out your weaknesses, won’t it?

    (ii) Steroids?

  20. Tim

    On it. Will get back to you. My guy trained studied medicine in Spain but posturology in France.

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