"The man was a quadriplegic from the time he was found by the paramedics," says Michael O'Flaherty, counsel for the hospital. "This is a really bogus claim."
If that is so, Papiano says, "Why didn't somebody say it for eight hours in their treatment reports? For eight hours they were so incompetent they didn't recognize he was a quadriplegic?"
Papiano refers to the written reports of two attending doctors—Leslie Wise, the emergency-room physician, and the consulting cardiologist, Demetrio Hechanova—to support his claim that Shoemaker had movement. Shortly after 9 p.m., according to Wise's report, he and Hechanova tried several times unsuccessfully to insert an IV needle into the subclavian vein, below the right clavicle. Noted Wise, "I was in the vein one time, but the patient rolled his shoulders and pulled the needle out and I was unable to reinsert it." About 45 minutes later, after anesthesiologist Waters intubated Shoemaker (i.e., put a tube in his trachea so he could breathe), Hechanova noted, "He was moving his neck and head and talked coherently until he was orally intubated."
Papiano says that the intubation enhanced the injury. "He was moving and talking coherently until, repeat, until he was intubated," says Papiano. "After that he wasn't talking coherently, and he wasn't moving. Guess why? Know how you put a tube down the throat? You twist the neck to open the pipeline. If somebody has any kind of neck injury, you don't twist the neck."
"That's all nonsense," says Jones, Waters's lawyer. First of all, he says, Shoemaker could not talk once he was intubated because it's impossible to talk with a tube down your throat. Shoemaker was intubated, Jones says, because he was having difficulty breathing, was turning blue and needed his airway opened. "It was absolutely life-threatening," Jones says. As for Papiano's allegation that Waters twisted Shoemaker's neck, Jones says, "Absolutely false. All you have to do is open the mouth by pulling down the jaw. You do not have to move the head and neck to intubate, and Dr. Waters did not." Furthermore, says O'Flaherty, "there is absolutely nothing to document any movement by Mr. Shoemaker that he doesn't demonstrate today."
The discovery process in Shoemaker's suit against the medical defendants has just begun—only two doctors have so far been deposed—and a trial is months, perhaps years, away. But Papiano is hammering at the obvious failure to produce an X-ray of the critical fracture in the first eight hours. "Damn right, the X-rays were inadequate," he says. Which, says Papiano, led to a tardy diagnosis. Even so, the lawyers for the health providers say, there is no indication in the records that Shoemaker ever had movement in any of his extremities. And in order to win the case, Papiano must show that the doctors actually did something to enhance the trauma. Echoing most of the medical defendants' lawyers, Jones says, "I feel sorry for Bill Shoemaker. I really do. But it was 100 percent his own doing. The doctors saved this man's life."
In the midst of all the turmoil around him, the lawsuits and the letters to the editor, the painful memories and awkward silences and public acrimony, this kind and simple horseman has been cherishing a very old dream, this thing he has held on to for years. Long before he quit riding, somewhere between his third and fourth Kentucky Derby winners, he was musing about one day coming to Churchill Downs with a good 3-year-old. "I've ridden enough Derby winners," he said then. "Someday I'd like to go back there to train one." On Feb. 27, as he watched from his perch at Santa Anita, his 3-year-old chestnut colt, Diazo, came charging from just off the pace to win his first start this year by almost four lengths. And there went Shoemaker, with Lwin pushing him, rolling through the crowds toward the winner's circle.
"Congratulations," said the colt's owner, Allen Paulson. "And thank you, Bill."
Diazo had raced the seven furlongs in 1:22 flat, sharp time, and it was only a harbinger. On March 21 he won his second start even more emphatically, taking a 1[1/16]-mile allowance race by 3½ lengths in 1:42[1/5], a time that put him among the best 3-year-olds this year. And all at once, out of this long, blue winter, Shoemaker was on his way to the Downs for the Derby. You can almost see him sipping and puffing his way into the winner's circle, to an ovation that would make the old spires tremble and lift off. "Wouldn't that be great?" the Shoe said. "Wouldn't that be somethin'?"