On Oct. 24, at the outset of Dr. Chris Christensen’s trial, the Ravalli Republic and the Missoulian ran an article, the first sentence of which said: Chris Christensen either is a caring, compassionate doctor who dutifully cares for patients with chronic pain, or a calculating criminal who provided an easy path to pain pills for addicts, based on opening statements Monday in his negligent homicide trial.” Obviously, it was a question of Dr. Christensen’s character.
Even though my experience was ruled “irrelevant” by Judge Langton, I would like to share it with you. My wife had a congenital abnormality that caused lymphedema and extreme obesity. Doctors failed to diagnose it for decades and told her she just needed to diet, which she did her entire life. The conditioned worsened, and by her mid-50s she could barely walk. It was apparent she would be bed ridden soon and probably die.
In 2005, we visited Dr. Christensen. He diagnosed my wife’s condition; it wasn’t that he was smarter but he thought outside the box of modern medical stereotypes, because he cared enough to look deeper.
The condition was inoperable and incurable, but Dr. Christensen spent the next several months researching and contacting institutions around the country to see if anyone was willing to take on a patient with such an advanced case for research purposes.
In the following years he came to our home many times, often with an aide at his side. For example, he gladly removed her toenails when they became ingrown and infected. He showed me how to put in a catheter. He explained things and encouraged us. He spent many, many hours to help us.
And – this is the kicker – he did all this, starting with the initial exam, without charging us a dime. Why? He didn’t know us. But he knew we couldn’t afford it, and he cared.
Dr. Christensen provided minimal medications and once suggested the possibility of medical marijuana to ease her pain, which we declined, but there was never any pressure to use any drugs. He showed the utmost regard for our decisions. He was gentle but forthright, always sensitive to our needs and feelings, and eager to help in any way he could. He demonstrated compassion not just by a sympathetic look and a few soothing words but in real sacrifice, without pay or recognition – good Samaritan style. I have never seen such kind-hearted caring in a health care professional.
Judge Langton ruled that no testimony could be heard that was not directly related to the charges, as though the doctor’s character was not what was on trial. But the trial has been all about his character both in the courtroom and in the media. What the judge apparently meant was that testimony that would be damaging to Dr. Christensen would be allowed. I know there are many in this valley, and not drug addicts, who experienced this “caring, compassionate” man and are not content with the verdict.
If he prescribed medications when he should not have, I cannot believe that it was anything other than pity and compassion that led him to it. If he is guilty, perhaps he is guilty of having too big a heart, too ready to relieve pain. It’s no secret that many people find it difficult, if not impossible, to obtain the pain medication they need. Maybe he wasn’t as careful in a few cases as he should have been, but in many others he was more than careful. What doctor could we find who has thousands of patients and yet does not have a few who abuse their medications or are unhappy with their care?
Maybe he assumed everybody would use what he gave them responsibly. He should have known better; he should have known that we live in a culture where personal responsibility no longer exists. He should have said no. But I think that is his problem: he doesn’t know how to say no. I’m glad he didn’t say no to my wife and me. I don’t know how many others will step up in this climate of blame, but I am sure my wife would join me in saying thank you Dr. Christensen