(Task & Purpose photo illustration by Paul Szoldra)
Jordan Way was living a waking nightmare.
The 23-year-old sailor laid in bed trembling. At times, his body would shake violently as he sobbed. He had recently undergone a routine shoulder surgery on Dec. 12, 2017, and was hoping to recover.
Instead, Jordan couldn't do much of anything other than think about the pain. Simple tasks like showering, dressing himself, or going to the bathroom alone were out of the question, and the excruciating sensation in his shoulder made lying down to sleep feel like torture.
"Imagine being asleep," he called to tell his mother Suzi at one point, "but you can still feel the pain."
To help, military doctors gave Jordan oxycodone, a powerful semi-synthetic opiate they prescribed to dull the sensation in his shoulder. Navy medical records show that he went on to take more than 80 doses of the drug in the days following the surgery, dutifully following doctor's orders to the letter.
Instinctively, Jordan, a Navy corpsman who by day worked at the Twentynine Palms naval hospital where he was now a patient, knew something was wrong. The drugs seemed to have little effect. His parents advised him to seek outside medical advice, but base doctors insisted the drugs just needed more time to work.
"They've got my back," Jordan had told his parents before the surgery, which happened on a Tuesday. By Saturday, he was dead.
The 38-year-old Green Beret's cancer was missed by Army care providers in 2017, and is now terminal. For the last year he's been fighting to change a decades-old legal rule known as the Feres Doctrine, which bars Stayskal and his family from suing the government for the alleged medical malpractice.
That's why, on Sept. 9 and 10, instead of being home in Pinehurst, North Carolina, with his wife and two daughters, Stayskal was in Washington, D.C. trying to drum up support for his namesake legislation, the SFC Richard Stayskal Military Medical Accountability Act, which would allow service members to sue the government for certain medical malpractice incidents.
Over two days, Stayskal and his attorney, Natalie Khawam, visited the offices of eight senators — Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).