Monday, June 23, 2008

More Bad Truckers on the Border

Police in Weslaco, Texas are on the hunt for a trucker suspected of causing an accident that killed four people on the Pharr International Bridge five months ago. Allegedly, the 18-wheeler was entering the United States, when the driver made a U-turn that sparked the series of events leading to the fatalities.

Officials on the U.S. side of the border are looking for the 18-wheeler.

Mexican authorities don’t believe it exists.

Texas Combats Truckers Working for Cartels

Texas’ Governor Rick Perry announced a new plan to stop smuggling operations bringing drugs and illegal immigrants across the border from Mexico.

The Austin Bureau of the El Paso Times reports:

Standing with U.S. Border Patrol sector chiefs from Texas, Perry said that cartels have started coercing commercial truck drivers into hauling narcotics and humans. Starting now, he said, Texas will aggressively pursue drivers who fall prey to that temptation and permanently revoke their commercial drivers' licenses.

According to Perry, Border Control has already caught over 400 truckers hauling nearly 2,000 illegal immigrants and more than 112,000 pounds of drugs.

One wonders: how many of these truckers are abusing the illicit substances they’re hauling?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sprains, Strains and Other Confusing Diagnoses

Sitting in the doctor’s office following an injury, you try to listen to every word he or she says while laying out the facts about the cause of your pain. Some terms are familiar; some sound like a foreign language. You leave thinking, what does all that really mean?

Cut through the confusion with some easy definitions for common injuries:

  • Sprain. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments. Ligaments are tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect one bone to another. Common locations for sprains are your ankles and knees.
  • Strain. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. People commonly call strains "pulled" muscles. Hamstring and back injuries are among the most common strains.
    Source: Mayo Clinic
  • Fracture. A break or crack in a bone.

Healing time for sprains, strains and fractures vary from person to person. It is a general rule that strains take less time for recovery, because injuries to areas which have a good blood supply, like muscles, heal faster. Since ligaments have very little blood supply, they take longer. Fractures to bones with a greater blood supply are also known to heal more quickly than injuries to bones with a lesser supply.

  • Contusion. A bruise, or contusion, is caused when blood vessels are damaged or broken as the result of a blow to the skin (be it bumping against something or hitting yourself with a hammer). The raised area of a bump or bruise results from blood leaking from these injured blood vessels into the tissues as well as from the body's response to the injury. (from

Spinal injuries have a set of terms all to themselves. Many are interchangeable and some are used differently from doctor to doctor. Rather than focus on terms, it’s important to understand the source of the pain to determine the best course of action.

Dr. Peter Ullrich, Jr. provides a list of terms used to describe spinal disc abnormalities in an article on, these include:

  • Pinched nerve
  • Sciatica
  • Herniated disc (or herniated disk)
  • Bulging disc
  • Ruptured disc
  • Torn disc (or disc tear)
  • Slipped disc
  • Collapsed disc
  • Disc protrusion or degeneration
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Disc disease
  • Black disc

According to Ullrich, the diagnosis determines the pain generator. The key factor in the clinical diagnosis is to determine if the patient has a pinched nerve or if the disc space itself is generating the pain. These two common conditions produce a different type of pain.

  • Pinched nerve. When a patient has a symptomatic herniated disc, it is not the disc space itself that hurts, but rather the disc herniation is pinching a nerve in the spine. This produces pain that is called radicular pain (e.g., nerve root pain, or sciatica from a lumbar herniated disc, or arm pain from a cervical herniated disc).
    On, this type of condition is referred to as a herniated disc.
  • Disc pain. When a patient has a symptomatic degenerated disc (one that causes low back pain or other symptoms), it is the disc space itself that is painful and is the source of pain. This type of pain is typically called axial pain.
    On, this type of condition is referred to as a degenerative disc disease.

As with all injuries, the diagnosis determines the treatment. By providing your doctor with accurate descriptions of your physical limitations, pain and degree of suffering, he or she will be able to combine that with medical testing to pinpoint the source of your problems. Treatment for each injury varies. Pain caused by a bulging disc will not be resolved by treating a muscle sprain, and surgery may not be appropriate in many cases.

Before considering any treatment, make sure to discuss it thoroughly with your medical care provider.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Vioxx Appeal Verdicts Are a Slap in the Face to Consumers

From the AP:

“Appeals courts in New Jersey and Texas on Thursday scrapped verdicts against the drugmaker Merck & Co. Inc. stemming from some of the earliest trials involving its once popular painkiller Vioxx.

A Texas court reversed a $26 million verdict against the drug company stemming from the first trial. The court found no evidence that Robert Ernst suffered a fatal heart problem from a blood clot triggered by Vioxx. He had been taking the now-withdrawn drug for eight months before being stricken in May 2001.”

Despite the fact that Merck pulled Vioxx off the shelves voluntarily after its own studies found that the drug doubled the risk of heart attack or stroke, the company refuses to accept responsibility for the lives it has claimed. After the Texas appeal verdict, it’s painfully clear that our conservative courts are more than happy to protect deep pocketed pharmaceutical companies at the risk of consumers’ lives.

A more in-depth discussion of the appeals can be found on Mark Lanier, attorney for the plaintiff, found that the appeals court judges opinion is "judicial activism for corporate America." This type of judgement from Texas’ higher courts isn’t unusual.

Houston plaintiffs lawyer Tommy Fibich, a partner in Fibich Hampton & Leebron who has settled all of his 250 or so Vioxx suits, says the 14th Court opinion in Ernst is a reflection of Texas' conservative courts.

"They look askance at every plaintiff's verdict. . . . Mark Lanier knows the rules on causation, and he and I thought he had met those under the Texas rules," Fibich says. "Our courts are conservative. It's like they try to find a reason to reverse a case these days."

Fibich says it's a sad day when appeals courts "substitute themselves for the judge who tried the case and the jury who heard the evidence determination."

The Houston Chronicle echoes these sentiments in an editorial on May 31, 2008, claiming that the "Houston appellate court usurps role of trial judge and jury."

What’s it going to take to make sure consumers are safe?