Suffering in Silence: Hal Samples' Years of Pain Following Mesh Hernia Repair
Dallas photographer and artist, Hal Samples’ name is synonymous with the trendy, downtown Dallas art district. His gallery was named Best Art Gallery in Dallas in 2009 and his photographs, film work, and documentaries have taken him around the world and provided an income most artists hope to achieve. You can see his work at his website here.
It was his work advocating for a housing project and documenting the lives of 800 homeless, many veterans and families, that brought the group their first million dollars in seed money.
Grateful for his advocacy, the group repaid Samples by arranging an appointment at the Baylor Surgical School, where doctors-in-training provide low-cost simple surgeries, in his case, a long-overdue hernia repair using the Johnson & Johnson Prolene 3D Patch Mesh implanted during the December 2005 surgery.
“It was there when I woke up from the surgery I learned I had the mesh. I didn’t even know, it was something new to me. It was in my paperwork. I had some pain. This was my first encounter and I thought everyone had pain. I had pain the first month, the second month, the fourth month. They were telling me I might be dealing with chronic pain as a result. I was referred to pain medications and as a recovering addict (10 years December 4th) I wasn’t real keen on some of the things they wanted to give me. So I just stopped going and went the holistic route. Found some relief in yoga and meditation for a few years.”
MDND: What kind of pain were you experiencing?
“I would have unexpected sharp pains similar to being stabbed with knives and swords. I would also have tenderness and at a couple of points I could actually see a protrusion from where I could see the detail of the mesh. It had migrated and folded over.
“I began to have problems in my fourth and fifth year. I began to shut down my business. I had a working studio and a half dozen interns, a 7,200 square foot building with a gallery downstairs. Two months later I closed it because I couldn’t deal with the duties of keeping the space and feeling the pain. So I bowed out. And moved into a small house and began advocacy for myself. I involved a couple of people, my girlfriend who went to doctor visits with me and heard me express my concerns and symptoms. The doctors would do lab tests and come back with inconclusive stuff. Here I am feeling things that can’t be seen. I’m not bleeding or bruised and I’m trying to seek help and at the same time people I’m seeing in the medical field are telling those I love that nothing is wrong with, so they went with them. I lost a girlfriend and an aunt that way and got recommended to the city for mental instability.”
Could you work?
“Some. I didn’t like the work I did. I’m good at what I do and it means I need to have more physical range than just leaning a little bit. At the time I didn’t have a range. I didn’t take much work because I was more concerned about the quality of work I would be delivering for my clients. I didn’t want to have poor work. I had been shooting commercials for the local ABC affiliates and providing commercial work for brands like Marriott. I was turning down those jobs now because I didn’t feel up to it.”
“You have to do something. I went to a dark place. I had the electricity turned off. I went from a really great gig at my studio and gallery in downtown Dallas into recycling to keep things together. I wasn’t the same guy, the guy with a radiant glow people had agreed to be my friend for.
There were two years before gallery had gotten award for best gallery, I received a Soul Glow Award, meaning I had a glow to me and to those people who worked with me. I didn’t nominate myself. That helped catapult me to grow the business then got one for the gallery, things were motoring along pretty good. I couldn’t contend with unexpected incidences with the pain.”
How bad did it get?
“It created a large separation between me and myself. I had to figure out who I was and how I was going to adapt to this pain. I did it by protecting people from me. So I isolated myself. I stopped answering the phone as I continued to do research online.”
What did you think going on?
“I thought my body was resisting this foreign material I also felt large amounts of fluid around the material like liquid was dropping down my pant leg. I would check my leg. I thought what the heck is this? There was nothing there. It would be on the underside of my skin. I had zero medical history. My mind had determined this was bacteria fighting each other.
“I would be told it was my nerve if I rolled over it felt like a snow globe meaning there was a definite density to my fluid like a gel fanny pack and it was burning in an icy hot way. Either it was really cold or hot. The pain was beyond my control. I’d be doubled over like a lawn chair. It’s really arresting when it happens, almost like a voodoo pin.
“I knew it was the mesh. The mesh was what I thought the body was fighting. You could see a tiny little gut. Not to be vain but I had a washboard stomach from yoga prior to having the extra fluid on my stomach. It wasn’t from large meals, it was just a fluid.”
Samples went back to a family doctor thinking he was dying. Three trips to the emergency room, endoscopy, a colon scope, sonograms. He continued his web research and found the advocacy group for men with mesh hernia repairs, Meshoma. Founder, Bruce Rosenberg told Samples about Dr. Kevin Peterson at No Insurance Surgery (here), surgeon in Las Vegas who is one of the few around the country who specialize in removing surgical mesh gone wrong. Someone within the Dallas homeless community had found money through the Dallas Easel program which provides emergency funds to artists. While in Las Vegas he got the phone call – half of the procedure would be paid for through the grant. That was good news since his insurance had been cancelled because of a preexisting condition – the pain from the surgical mesh.
Three months ago, Samples had the mesh removed. Dr. Petersen says the Johnson & Johnson prolene mesh had folded back and was cutting off the blood supply in his groin and was attached and entangled with his sciatic nerve.
Today the icy-hot pain is gone. So is the fluid buildup, but some stabbing pain continues where nerves and muscle have been removed and damaged.
In his 39-years, Samples life has taken him from a six-figure car salesman at age 22 to drug and alcohol addicted and homeless, from an acclaimed artist to a recluse in pain. But passion for art and living appears to be winning out over pain. Though taking time to figure how to get his life together despite fighting post traumatic stress, two films are in the works. He has plans to return to Brazil to finish a documentary on street children.
Samples says he’s not a victim.
“I went from people being this Soul Glow, event space, art house guy to not having those attributes, then I got to experience the ‘What have you done for me lately’ world. Some of my friends weren’t giving me the compassion I thought should be available. Sometimes we don’t want to believe Clark Kent had a wheelchair.”
On Thursday, November 17, WFAA did a story about his mesh complications (here) which Samples hopes at least partially explains his absence from the art scene and from life. He also hopes at least one local doctor who called him “crazy” saw it. #