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Golden Rule: In memory of Robert 'Bob' Mason

Golden Rule: In memory of Robert 'Bob' Mason

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Last week, like many others recently, saw a couple of twists and turns in the "ongoing saga" of "embattled" Helena physician Mark Ibsen.

On Tuesday, the state board of medical examiners indefinitely suspended his medical license on the grounds of failure to meet standards of care in record-keeping.

Two days later, District Judge James Reynolds suspended the board's suspension by issuing a temporary restraining order and injunction against it, thereby granting Ibsen at least 30 more days to practice the healing art.

Ibsen's "ongoing saga" with BOME began in July 2013, when an investigation into allegations of over-prescription of painkillers began. Despite the fact that a hearing officer for the Montana Department of Labor and Industry later deemed Ibsen’s pain-pill prescriptions were for legitimate medical reasons and said that he employed and encouraged alternatives to medication for chronic pain, the case wears on.

But today is not the time further focus on Ibsen's dedication to pain patients or BOME's dedication to keeping him from the Hippocratic oath. Today is dedicated to Robert "Bob" Mason, a chronic pain patient caught in the crossfire. No ink has yet to be spilled over him.

About 20 members of the public showed up at or phoned into Tuesday's hearing -- many of them (former) patients and colleagues. Several of them said they were participating not only in support of Ibsen, but also in memory of Mason.

Here's what I've been able to find out about him, mostly from Ibsen anecdotally but not from Ibsen's records, to which the doctor no longer has access.

Robert "Bob" Mason was born 65-some years ago, maybe in New York state. He died in Helena on Jan. 16, 2016, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

Bob went to college, had at least two sons and a daughter and worked with children, possibly at Head Start. He could have been any of us.

Then, somewhere along the line, he injured his back lifting. Many failed surgeries later, Bob was left in abject pain and misery with something common enough to have a name, "failed back surgery syndrome." Failed back surgery syndrome hijacked Bob's life and left him on the margins of society.

Pain medication afforded him some relief, but the current political climate and fear often denied him access to it. Doctors dropped him or were not allowed to prescribe what he needed at the level he needed it. One accused him of killing his son, who had died of an overdose.  

Suicide took another son, as well.

Understandably Bob himself had suicidal thoughts -- amid feelings of desperation and abandonment -- especially when he was in withdrawal, which is where he found himself this winter a couple weeks after losing access to a prescribing doctor on Dec. 31.

When he showed up to support Ibsen at his seven-hour hearing on Jan. 14, "he was completely out of medication and it showed."

Two days later, he was gone -- without fuss or fanfare. 

Peace, Bob Mason, peace.

Leah Gilman plans to honor Bob Mason's memory at the voting booth this fall.

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