Rotting away in jail

Kevin Young earned his trip to the Dallas County jail, but no one deserves what happened to him there

In early July, Francis Young went to the jail to see him. She was shocked. "His face was all swollen up," she says, "and he was so sick and weak, he could barely hold his head up."

Young says he has a vague memory of those weeks, blurred by pain and semiconsciousness. Ironically, one of the things he remembers is an act of kindness by a guard -- kindness, in the relative context of the jail.

"I was vomiting all my food," he says. "I couldn't hold nothing down at all. And this guard brought me a little thing of milk of magnesia. He give it to me, and he told the other guys in my tank they had to try to help me hold something down, or he would have to put me in solitary confinement."

The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.
The hospital wing of the jail is run by the county health department, not the sheriff.

Young was terrified of being alone with his illness, without human company, with no one to call out for him if he began to die. Even though he was sick, he says, even though he stank of his own urine and feces and was beginning to stink of death itself, his fellow prisoners tried to help him stay out of solitary confinement by encouraging him to eat.

"We all got along pretty good," he says.

On July 3, a hastily scrawled notation on the chart -- barely legible, a dark hen-scratch, as if written under emergency circumstances -- shows that he has been vomiting all food; his skin is hot to the touch; his heart is beating faster than normal; he aches all over; and he is being sent back to Parkland.

Dr. Charles Silver, who treated Young after he was finally released from jail, says emphatically, "They saved his life at Parkland."

Parkland officials would not discuss Young's case, but a portion of the Parkland medical chart obtained by the Observer shows that the staff there considered him to be in critical condition. At the hospital, according to Young and Parkland's own records, he was informed that the 3-inch diameter bedsore he had been suffering when he went to jail had become a galloping case of gangrene during his 90 days there. Parkland doctors told him they might have to remove his right leg up to the hip to keep him alive.

Young agreed. He underwent three major operations in two days. The Parkland doctors were more successful than the worst-case scenario they had presented him. They didn't have to cut off his leg.

Two weeks later, on July 16, Young was returned to the jail. His multiple deep surgical wounds were not sewn closed; instead they were held open with Penrose drains -- devices used to keep a wound open while it dries and cleanses itself. When they sent him back to jail with open surgical wounds, the Parkland doctors also sent along a detailed list of instructions for diet and dressings as well as a list of prescriptions, including one for a powerful painkiller and two others for antibiotics.

Young says he never got the antibiotics. He says he lay in jail with open, running wounds, recovering from near-fatal gangrene, still battling a roaring urinary-tract infection, and they never got him his medications.

"I never got no antibiotics," he says. "I asked every day, Where's my medications? Have you got my antibiotics? They just said they was on order. All they give me was Motrin."

Young says the nurses were not unkind to him about it. "Some of them are pretty nice. But they got to work within the system. They just said it was on order, and it wasn't nothing they could do about it."

Betty Culbreath, after consulting with her staff, said that Young was either mistaken about what medicines had been given to him or lying. On a speakerphone with her head nurse in the office, she ticked off the names of powerful antibiotics she says he had been given.

The chart seems to disagree. Three days after Young left Parkland, his wounds were oozing green again. One leg was turning out at an odd angle. Young says he was rotting again. The July 19 entry on his chart, the last before he was released from jail, says, "Is he getting all of his meds on med card? I need to know today!"

From the context of the chart, the notation seems to have been written by a doctor.

A note just below it shows that he has received Lortab, a pain medicine. Next to it, a note in yet another hand says, "Meds on order. Dr. Bowers notified."

Culbreath says it is a misreading of the notation to conclude that Young's medicine was still on order, that it had not yet been received.

"It's not that kind of order," she says. "That's a reference to the doctor's order. That note means the medicine is on the doctor's order."

Possible. Doesn't seem to add up, in context with the rest of the chart. But possible.

The jail doctors were not available for comment. Culbreath spoke for them. She says the responsibility for providing Young with his medicine lay with Parkland, anyway -- that it's Parkland's job to order the drugs from its own pharmacy and send them back to the jail with the inmate.

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