My full time return to West LA was wonderful. I had been recruited by Payam Afsharian, who had purchased Brentwood Surgery Center and was looking for clients to use the facility. I was able to bring my own surgical staff, including an anesthesiologist and scrub
tech, but more importantly, I also got Payam and his staff.
Payam was an excellent administrator who paid attention to detail. He was diligent in his paper work. He was kind and accommodating to patients, and was just a pleasure to be
around. I always joked with him that he had an immigrant mentality, he paid attention to notices that most Americans ignore.
It was the best situation I could have possibly hoped for and I was grateful for the opportunity. My practice had become more body contour work and we had perfected the “mommy makeover”, which included a breast lift with augmentation, a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) and liposuction. We were getting especially good results in our heavier patients by extending the abdominoplasty circumferentially to include a belt lipectomy.
The holidays were rapidly approaching and our volume had picked up. We were scheduling more surgery and I was happy to see Payam beginning to reap a return on his investment.
Then Donda West died. The rug was pulled from under all of us. The press became mean, and the Department of Health Services, the Medical Board of California, and the Los Angeles District Attorney joined in the fray. I especially felt bad for Payam. He had done
absolutely nothing wrong and these regulators were engaging in acts of intimidation. They would send in investigators who would walk around the center, doing nothing in particular but looking. They’d ask for paperwork they already had. No amount of logic could explain this predicament, our predicament. I had done nothing wrong and Brentwood Surgery Center certainly hadn’t. I really had a hard time understanding where it was all coming from. The Medical Board of California had the facts, yet they continued to engage in
intimidation by requesting meetings and reviewing material they had already
gone over. It basically came down to harassment. It never went to court!
In one instance, Tom Byrne, my attorney and a guy always looking for resolution rather than a fight, stopped the proceedings. His excuse was that he had “remembered a meeting that he needed to attend and that the interrogation with the Medical Board and its representative, Robin Hollis, was taking longer than he had anticipated”. When we got outside he informed me that he ‘was sorry” and ‘needed to get me out of there”.
I asked him, “Why?”
“These people aren’t trying to resolve this” he said, “I didn’t know it until now, but Hollis was fishing.” He shook his head in disgust. “What a group of jerks.”
I just shrugged. I had known that all along. I had pointed it out to him earlier that there was no need for Hollis to come by Brentwood Surgery Center unannounced; there was no reason for Health Services to send inspectors there trying to intimidate the staff. That
was all part of institutionalized thuggery.
Tom now understood why his advice to remain quiet and not to engage these people or the press was eating me up inside. They were all using this ladies death for their own gain. It was sickening to see this in a government agency. I didn’t want to believe that that was happening in America. I understood the press, but not the Medical Board. I didn’t
understand why all the pressure was coming from them (they had all the records), and even more troubling, I never understood Rick’s (Payam’s partner) statements that even “people in Washington wanted our licences”. What people in Washington? Who in Washington gave a “shit” about us, or Donda West? That was naïve. People care about everything that gives them some kind of advantage.
Ultimately we were all cleared but not before the system and its mercenaries had exacted their toll, their pound of flesh. I was exhausted. I had not hurt anybody. I didn’t deserve to be where I was. My enemies deserved no such advantage. I was at my wits end. Brentwood did not deserve to be run out of business. None of this made sense.
At the request of my mother, I went to Oakland to rest. Itwas a smart move because I was starting to get angry and identify those who were passing on lies. It was March, 2008. I was tired, and needed to re-group and plan my future. By three months in I was lost. I had failed to revise any goals and for the first time in my life I was without a plan. I trusted no one and unfortunately had become too comfortable being alone.
On June 26, 2008 I left my mother’s home heading to Walnut Creek, California. It was about 1:30 pm and I was on my way to Kaiser Permanente Hospital to volunteer. I had no idea of what it entailed but I needed to be doing something. I needed to get back in the
game of life and I needed to do it now. As I wandered the halls looking for the Volunteer’s Office, I felt a great deal of sadness. I did speak with the administrator though I never really registered her name. Sitting across from her, listening to her questions, all I
could think of was what am I doing here? I don’t belong here. This is not my life.
I left in a daze and headed back to the car, my mother’s car. As I headed for the freeway, I became more distraught; this was not going to happen to me. I needed time to think, to
plan. I decided on lunch, a late lunch and went into a Middle Eastern restaurant on the main street. The food was great and I sat just staring out the window as people passed by. Following lunch I decided to take a walk. I was having trouble with my ankle, and needed surgery for subluxation of the joint. It hurt often but this time it was particularly bad. I went back to the car and began the drive home.
I decided on ice cream and stopped in Montclaire to by a cone. I could barely walk up the hill. Why was this all happening? Why me?
I continued on to my mother’s house but then the walls began to close in on me. The cycle of depression, sadness, and doubt had become complicated by physical pain. I felt miserable and I entertained only miserable thoughts. I hated life and I hated myself. I
didn’t deserve this. I was too tired to lash out at anyone, but I was beginning to note who they were. I didn’t care anymore. I wanted it all to stop. I wanted to be left alone.
It was a sunny day. I had to get out of the house. I decided to drive back to Walnut Creek where it was flat, and I could walk or sit in a café. Being outside would be good, and rather than feeling sorry for myself, I could spend time coming up with a plan. I didn’t.
I made the decision to enter the restaurant, 1515. I decided to do some “thinkin’ drinkin’” and by five o’clock the bar area of the restaurant was full. A number of patrons recognized me as “the guy on TV” and soon my fate was cast. I drank and talked with the people I met and it felt good to connect to other human beings. Later that evening I was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.
But it is true, there are no coincidences. Things happen for a reason. And the reason for this, amongst other things, was to expose, from where, all the meanness out of Sacramento and the Medical Board of California was coming:
On Saturday, July 5, 2008, an article entitled “Troubled Drug Program for Doctors Shuts Down” appeared in the Scramento Bee. The article, bylined by Aurelio Rojas, was written after an interview with then State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas. In the article Rojas states that “a Los Angeles Coroner’s Office probe did not fault surgical errors
for (Donda) West’s death, but State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas said the case underscores why California needs an effective program to monitor doctors with
drug and alcohol problems. Turns out, Ridley-Thomas was grandstanding, and
because of the publicity surrounding the case was defaming a physician with the
help of the Medical Board of California, with false and inaccurate information. That allegation was put to rest before. I now knew the culprit behind it all. He had become arrogant enough to show himself.
Ridley-Thomas was on the Senate Business and Professions Committee which oversees the Medical Board. Being a black politician from Los Angeles it is not a stretch to tie him to the West family, and those officials in Washington, like a congressman or woman, who could exercise some authority (that is what Rick was talking about). There was no need to associate my name with that failed program. It was pure meanness on his part. I called him on it and he refused to answer my calls. He hid, and that was confirmation of his treachery.
I also called Aurelio Rojas and his boss, Scott Labar, at the Sacramento Bee, to offer corrections to the story and document that what the Senator was saying was not accurate. Despite my production of documents to the contrary (and I sent them all the documents), Mr. Rojas and his boss refused to follow-up on the story. Mr Rojas stated that “those were direct quotes from Ridley-Thomas and not his words” .
I also forwarded a letter to a Mr. Bill Gage, the attorney for the Senate Business and Professions Committee, on January 22, 2009. He in turn had another lawyer call me who represented members of the legislature in personal matters, who assured me that Ridley-Thomas’ information was indeed coming from the Medical Board, itself. His job was to protect Ridley-Thomas. The lies had made a complete circle with no one taking responsibility for them, and no one concerned about getting it right.
For me, that spoke volumes about the legislature and the people who work there.