They found him dead of carbon monoxide poisoning, in his running car, in the garage of vacationing friends. “I am not a quitter.” his note concluded. The massive police hunt for Dr. Bill ended, his estate was sued and lost, and many wondered what the hell had just happened.
What follows is the true tale of a doctor in the Dallas Metroplex that cared for me and many others.
I came to meet Dr. Bill when I’d been diagnosed with a rare disorder known as Roussy Lévy Syndrome due to ataxia and minor tremor in my hands. The Mayo Clinic had concurred with this diagnosis based on tests, but there was no treatment and, well, I felt rather hopeless. A friend, Bob, referred me to Dr. Bill in those rather dark times, and I went to see him in far North Plano Texas (now mid-Plano). He was young and full of energy, a bit short, a bit thin on the top, very fit, and very competent. His successful work in emergency rooms using last resort experimental treatments saved many lives and boded well for a stellar career.
At the time, I went to the doctor for every little sniffle, and Dr. Bill saw to it that I left with a baggie of samples to cure the ailment du jour. Unbeknownst to me, a plot was being hatched – Bill’s plot. After a year or two, I was taking so many medications that I felt terrible and Bill sprung the plot on me. “If you want to feel better, Steve, stop taking everything except the blood pressure and cholesterol medications and you’ll see a big change,” said Bill, shocking me to the core. And he was right, and I learned. Medications all have side effects, some are essential for good health, but taking them for minor things is unwise.
During that time, my Roussy Lévy symptoms subsided dramatically. I went to tell the Neurologist that the diagnosis of progressive symptoms must be wrong. He was dead. He’d died of an inoperable brain tumor, his brother and partner the neurosurgeon told me. How helpless he must have felt with his brother’s tumor. There is no doubt that every avenue was investigated, every possibility considered. Yet, death will have its way. I left the office experiencing great joy, schadenfreude as it is called. God got him for making me suffer through that wrong diagnosis, for making me lose hope for those years. Of course, that’s horribly wrong thinking, but that’s the nature of having joy at someone’s misfortune, of schadenfreude.
Time passed, and I depended on the wisdom and advice of my medical friend. I even called his private number from time to time when fear of some malady overtook me – I’ve had some very unusual conditions and one never knows what is transient and what may be fatal. Still, things improved in no small measure due to Dr. Bill’s skill and ability to convey hope and strength to his many patients.
His tireless pursuits and energy knew no bounds. He opened a sports medicine clinic specializing in children, soccer players mainly. He started a band and put out a CD. They were pretty good, but certainly not material for the Grammys. In all of this, he found time for his family – his wife and children – and his friends and papers and such. I wonder if he wasn’t taking advantage of chemical enhancements to achieve such energy levels, but that’s a reflection after the fact of his death.
Bill’s patients loved him very much. Many followed his music career with interest, quite often going to performances of his band. I myself had his CD and played it in the car over and over. Perhaps just being around such positive energy is in and of itself healing.
Among those patients watching the show were soccer players and their parents who had known Bill through the sports medicine clinic. This is where the trouble began, and what exposed his fatal flaws that led to his suicide.
At this point, I have only facts from the news, from his note, and from staff. I know that he was planning to move his family to Nashville to pursue his music. I know that friction with his medical partner had existed for some time and that it had become very bad due at least in part to Bill’s freelance style of using lots of medications off label when it was not a last resort. It was also due, in part, to Bill’s work with patients like me. I suppose that had I not come ‘round to his way of thinking, great harm could have been done by all of those meds, but, for me, he was a savior. He and his medical partner split and went their separate ways.
Bill’s musical endeavors progressed to the point that his band had “groupies”. Among the females involved were several of his soccer patients who each fawned over the band like many a young lass swooning at the musicians and their antics. And he did the unthinkable. He had an affair with a groupie who was also a patient. And her patient records clearly showed that she was twelve and it is an impossibility that Bill did no know this regardless of how this patient may have appeared, what maturity she may have shown, how she dressed. There were no such excuses, none whatsoever. Her mother discovered this abuse, this statutory rape, and rightly brought the case to the police. The girl told the truth to her credit. Those rides home when mom needed to leave and so forth had been quite a ride, quite a sick perversion of the trust that had been given Bill.
Bill got wind the warrant out for his arrest and fled to the house of vacationing friends. After writing a long note to his family, his friends, and his patients, he went to the garage, started his car, and died from the exhaust fumes. The man who saved hundreds of lives by encouraging patients never to quit himself quit and left as an ironic epitaph “I am not a quitter.”
Of the many excuses that he gave for quitting, for failing to face the world and his deeds as they were, none seemed relevant. He claimed to be saving his family shame and pain for his misdeeds which he freely admitted in the note. To his credit, he laid no blame except on himself. I can safely say that those who loved him would rather he still be among the living, in prison, than dead. I would rather, much rather, know that Dr. Bill was still in the world even after having committed such a horrible crime.
This was about thirty years ago and, thank God, the internet wasn’t around to record and memorialize all the sordid details and to invade the privacy of the victim, her family, and Dr. Bill’s family and friends. I often wonder to what purpose these details, these 911 calls, and so forth are provided because they inflict unimaginable and enduring pain across the board. Happily, that’s not the case here. I’d venture to say that no one involved experienced schadenfreude when Bill died by his own hand.
What a short and terrible drive it is from grandeur to oblivion.