I Am Thirsty But I Cannot Drink

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by Ira Katz

Recently by Ira Katz: Evil in Fact and Fiction

My brother died Saturday.

Stan was only 52 years old, but he lived his life well. This statement may seem odd to those who know some of his story in that he has been arrested more than once, he had not worked for almost two decades and he did not do much more than play tennis and watch sports.

Stan was an extremely brilliant student. He took calculus in high school at the nearby technical university. At Clemson University, he majored in electrical engineering and premed. He had all A’s with the exception of a B from a graduate student teaching English. Of course she was extremely left wing and had assigned some social purpose to giving him a lower grade than he deserved. He did not miss a single question on a homework assignment or a test in organic chemistry. After graduating with the highest honors he entered the MD/PhD program at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston (MUSC). His thesis work on shock using an isolated rabbit lung was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology (Katz et al, JAP, 1988 v65, pp. 1301-1306).

It was during his graduate work at MUSC that the first symptoms of bipolar disorder occurred. After one major incident he seemed to be stable for several years. He again completed his MD/PhD with the highest honors and then completed his medical internship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After doing well there he entered the residency program of the Neurology Department. He was destined for a great career in academic medicine. But it was not to be. He suffered several relapses and then restarts to his career at many different hospitals around the country. We have described this history and much more in a book we wrote together. It was a learning experience even for me to read his insightful descriptions of the illness that devastated his personal life and stunted his career. Finally, after years of turmoil he only concentrated on staying healthy as part of the simple life I alluded to above.

Eight months ago he began to suffer from continuing stomach pain. He thought he had developed an ulcer. After several weeks of this problem, where standard ulcer treatments were ineffective, a CT scan was taken. It revealed a massive tumor on his pancreas. There really was nothing that could be done as the tumor had already invaded his arteries making it inoperable. Unfortunately he underwent radiation and chemotherapy even though I do not think they ever had a chance of being successful in any way. He suffered greatly. He told me a couple of weeks ago, "I am hungry but I cannot eat. I am thirsty but I cannot drink." At the end he was literally skin, yellowed with jaundice, and bones; but was as comfortable as possible through the diligence and care of my other brother and his wife at their home where he died.

I was and will always be very, very proud of my brother for his well-lived life. Well-lived because in the face of these enormous challenges and disappointments he was always a kind and gentle person to everyone, and who in his own way exemplified heroic courage.

I thank Lew Rockwell for allowing me to express these sentiments on his website. But I can add more to the story that is related to many recent themes on LRC, specifically psychiatry, Big Pharma, and the power of the police.

In our book we wrote at length about psychiatrists and their modern tools, so called mood stabilizing drugs. We were cautionary in a philosophical way, without directly attacking them. In fact we were scared to write what we really thought. He continued to see psychiatrists and take the medications even though he did not believe in their efficacy. In fact, he thought they were certainly doing him harm. Lithium had already destroyed his thyroid. He also had to live with drug-induced tremor that made it difficult for him to hold a soup spoon or to sign his name. Why would he be afraid to say, except to me, that his psychiatric medical treatment was not only ineffective, but was hurting him? Because then he would be in danger of being labeled noncompliant and thrown in jail if any future incident occurred. The police had once come for him in the middle of the night so he had reason to be afraid of them.

Stan and I had both read many scientific articles related to these drugs. There were the years of experience with virtually all of the drugs and more than a dozen psychiatrists to form our opinions. It was only slightly gratifying, because it is still such a long way before the situation has really changed, to see a mainstream source begin to question psychiatry the way we did. I am speaking of the book reviews by Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, in the New York Review of Books (here and here) that restated the fundamental fallacies of the field.

This is very relevant if you consider Stan had absolutely none of the risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Furthermore, if you knew that one of the medications he felt forced to take was valproic acid, marketed as Depakote by Abbott Laboratories. Medline, a website sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, gives the following warning, "Valproic acid may cause serious or life-threatening damage to the pancreas. This may occur at any time during your treatment." It is my opinion that taking this drug for almost two decades was the likely cause of his cancer. I have searched the literature but have not found longitudinal studies on the risks or benefits of this treatment. I think Stan must have been one of the early cohorts to start using it as the Psychiatric Department at the University of Texas at San Antonio where he had been treated did many early clinical studies. Stan was even featured in the Abbott stockholders magazine. If you or someone you care about is taking this medication I would certainly investigate the dangers.

Thanks again to Lew for allowing me to praise my brother; may he rest in peace.

Ira Katz [send him mail] lives in Paris and works as a research engineer for a French company. He is the co-author of Handling Mr. Hyde: Questions and Answers about Manic Depression and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics.

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