A Tribute to a Friend, and A Plea
September 20, 2007 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Even Astronauts Commit Suicide. Former Navy doctor, astronaut and Space Shuttle mission specialist, ham radio operator, and one time flight surgeon of The Blue Angels, Dr. Chuck Brady, was denied a hip replacement by the Navy shortly before he took his own life in July, 2006, and, according to his friend Dr. Ed Drum, this was a pivotal point in the depression that led Dr. Brady to apparently take his own life.

Yet he was furious with friends who tried to intercede on his behalf, with appeals to Sen. John Edwards, and took personal vacation time and traveled to Guam to try to get flight time necessary to maintain his flight surgeon rating, when the Navy wanted to ground him for physical disability. We'll never know, for sure, what thoughts passed through his mind on Orcas Island on July 23, 2006, but to those who knew him, or who merely CQ'd his ham signals from time to time. Dr. Chuck Brady's life will remain both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.
posted by paulsc (35 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What a damn shame he couldn't get the medical help he needed. An outrage really. He had a nice face. And what a painful way to go, with a knife. ouch.

Wishing him cosmic peace.
posted by nickyskye at 8:43 PM on September 20, 2007

This is a sad story, but a good post. Thanks paulsc.
posted by Snyder at 8:51 PM on September 20, 2007

*grabs Dan Acrkroyd by the lapel*

"Next time a former astronaut asks for a hip replacement, you say yes!"
posted by ZachsMind at 8:55 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by waxboy at 9:00 PM on September 20, 2007

this was a pivotal point in the depression
Is this a joke?
posted by kuatto at 9:31 PM on September 20, 2007

I guess when you've seen what man can accomplish, the things that they fail at just becomes that much more unbearable.

I wanted to be a spaceman
That's what I wanted to be
But now that I am a spaceman
Nobody cares about me

posted by Astro Zombie at 9:38 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

this was a pivotal point in the depression
Is this a joke?
posted by kuatto at 12:31 AM on September 21

""Chuck was basically eaten alive by Navy medicine," he said. "It is a sick organization. At the hospital, we found out they were doing bad medicine. We showed the Inspector General, and they flunked the inspection."

Whether or not that led to any reprisal, Drum doesn't know. He only knew his friend, always in pain, was growing more and more depressed.

"I told him 'I can't afford to lose you -- you need big muscle behind you,' and tried to get him to call John Edwards," he said. "When he found out I'd sent Sen. Edwards an e-mail, Chuck was furious."
posted by paulsc at 9:40 PM on September 20, 2007

The man is truly an American hero, and we are all better for his service both as a physician and in the military.

Suicide is weird.

One of my friends -- also a flight surgeon, like Dr Brady -- took his own life last August. Up until he did it, few of us that worked with him had any idea that his internal pain was so bad. He had been injured at the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia in the 90s, and was awarded the Airman's Medal and the Purple Heart because after barely tending to his own wounds, he jumped into action and began saving lives of those around him.

The events of that day haunted him -- much more than he revealed in his public persona.

What was interesting to me was the response from my co-workers: many were sad and puzzled -- but an equal number were angry. They were mad at Steve for taking his own life.

I'm not angry at him -- but I sure as hell wish he hadn't done it.
posted by davidmsc at 9:41 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

The problem with being self-effacing and giving is that only people notice that, bureacracies don't.

From what I can see, it appears he lived his life giving freely of himself to anyone who needed it, and expected the same in return, that the bureaucracy would correctly value his service to the world. But bureaucracies don't do that, only people do, and he wasn't willing to ask people with power over the bureaucracy for help. He was, in fact, willing to die first.

I suspect this may have been because he refused to ask for special help; he knew how he SHOULD be treated, just like every other vet should be, and wouldn't ask for more than anyone else could get from the system. After giving so much, so freely, he would rather die than abuse his status to step in front of the line.

It's both admirable and sad on multiple levels, but the big finger of blame obviously points at the government and its abysmal failure at caring for the men and women who risked their lives on our behalf.

How many times has this happened to veterans who aren't famous?
posted by Malor at 10:38 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

You know who else committed suicide?
posted by sour cream at 11:12 PM on September 20, 2007 [2 favorites]



Why wouldn't they give him a hip replacement? Was the excuse that the injury wasn't service related? Or was it more complicated? Could he not afford the hip replacement out of pocket?

And sour cream that's in incredibly poor taste.
posted by orthogonality at 12:37 AM on September 21, 2007

Yeah, it is in very poor taste, but it still struck me as pretty damn funny. :)
posted by Malor at 1:02 AM on September 21, 2007

Refusing expensive treatment is terribly typical of the military, whether Navy, Army, whatever. But I'm still blown away to think they did this to a Navy Captain of such great stature.

Now, think of what's happening the average soldier, coming home from Iraq, all messed up. Same shit they pulled during Viet Nam. We haven't learned a damned thing.

But still, a captain, an astronaut, and such a fine physician? With the notion it was a "bottom line" decision? Somehow, I don't think the cost of a hip replacement is more than the cost of bringing another physician to such a level of experience. But that's bureaucracy for you.
posted by Goofyy at 3:41 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

posted by jb at 4:13 AM on September 21, 2007

Actually, now that I think about it, it seems suicide would be the standard way out for ex-astronauts. After you've been in space, what can compare?

"Hi Steve. So this guy came up to me and gave me a Lamborghini and a two year all-expenses paid stay at some place called 'Joey Rocque's Garden of Sexual Fluids and Fentanyl-laced Slip'n'Slides' but I don't think I want to go. I mean, fuck, I was strapped to the back of a 450 million dollar bomb in a metal box and shot into FUCKING SPACE at SEVENTEEN THOUSAND FUCKING MPH where I spent two weeks FLOATING LIKE A COMIC BOOK SUPERHERO and gazing down at a planet that looked like nothing less than A SEED ABOUT TO SPLIT OPEN AND SPREAD TENDRILS OF LIFE ACROSS A DIAMOND STREWN COSMOS. So, why don't you go in my stead? Here's the keys and the tickets. I think I'm just going to play Nintendo and maybe shoot myself in the thigh in a desperate attempt to feel anything at all."
posted by bunnytricks at 4:38 AM on September 21, 2007 [8 favorites]

posted by Rancid Badger at 5:10 AM on September 21, 2007

Please don't lay too much of the blame on the military healthcare system -- we don't know the whole story about that -- only what one or two reporters have written. I'm sure that there were many, many factors involved.
posted by davidmsc at 5:49 AM on September 21, 2007

posted by GrammarMoses at 5:52 AM on September 21, 2007

Please don't lay too much of the blame on the military healthcare system -- we don't know the whole story about that -- only what one or two reporters have written. I'm sure that there were many, many factors involved.

Right, because as we all know, the military healthcare system works efficiently to help and is always willing to give an old serviceman a break when they desperately need it. /sarcasm.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:34 AM on September 21, 2007

They build you up, they build you up... then some piss ant middle manager takes you down. Well, not exactly.

The ego suffers unimaginable insult when we are brought to great heights then left to flounder on the beach in the sun like a fish tossed by the waves of fate.

My guess is that he was so used to being on top, having great respect of those around him and being in control, that the idea of loosing those things that he coveted, that fed his innermost cherished ideas of himself and just being, well, nothing special was more than he can bear. I would not blame the system. He was apparently missing something that each of us eventually must face; the resolution of our own mediocrity.

It pisses me off that instead of fulfilling the obligations of his associations this fool chose to end his suffering and in doing so hurt others. This ungrateful bastard could have taught and inspired the next generation instead he wallowed in his own self pity and took a sick and perverted path that dishonors the distinguished men and women with whom he owes both honor and allegiance. Being a doctor he knew or should have known better, therefore we may assume he chose not to seek help for his apparently conscious and insane behavior. Christ on a cracker by his chicken shit standards maybe we should all go out in the woods and bleed out.

I am just saying he had options, he knew better, he knew well the implications of his own actions, he was a clever man, he did not choose an honorable path by any means and that is sad. Or is this an insidious disease that can so completely engulf the mind that men of great fortitude are powerless to resist their own self destruction?
posted by MapGuy at 7:57 AM on September 21, 2007

I actually don't mind if the military hospital system runs things "by the numbers".

But any imbecile would know having a flight surgeon healthy and mobile, considering we ARE at war (remember?), would be many times more valuable than the true cost of a hip replacement.

See, while hip replacements are expensive, there is no profit motive in the military healthcare system. So, while it would be expensive, it would still be perhaps 50% less than in the civilian healthcare system, as there are not private doctors, hospital, lab, radiology, etc all to take their cut of profit.

If he saved one soldier's life, then even in strictly monetary terms, he has more than paid for his hip replacement.

But also, yeah, astronauts should get the "gold card" insurance from the military, methinks.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:06 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

We can all look forward to this type of efficient government-operated healthcare if Hillary gets elected.

posted by tadellin at 8:19 AM on September 21, 2007

MapGuy, you obviously don't understand depression. I hope no one you care about ever needs to depend on you for support.
posted by null terminated at 8:36 AM on September 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

MapGuy, you obviously don't understand depression.

posted by ericb at 8:50 AM on September 21, 2007

What davidmsc said -- we don't know the whole story about the hip replacement.

FWIW, I've had a lot of experience with family members in the military healthcare system. My mom had a hip replacement at an AF hospital, and they actually did it twice when she had complications due to an drug-resistant infection. I've never had any sense that cost considerations caused them to stint on her care or my father's, when he was alive. Having said that, the system is sort of like a huge HMO. It is bureaucratic, and there can be delays. And as we've seen with the scandals at Walter Reed and elsewhere, there can be neglect, mistakes, and worse.

Whatever conclusions you may draw from Brady's sad story, the hip issue seems like just the last in a series of frustrations. In that context, any additional event which seemed like another "closed door" in his life might have driven him over the edge of despair. Perhaps this says more about the state of the military's and NASA's psychiatric care -- especially in the wake of the Nowak, um, affair.

posted by Robert Angelo at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2007

this was a pivotal point in the depression
Is this a joke?
posted by kuatto at 12:31 AM on September 21


I'm pretty sure he was wondering if the word "pivotal" was purposefully used when talking about hip replacement.

A bad pun, indeed.
posted by mikeweeney at 10:19 AM on September 21, 2007

Given that the Navy gave my sister shiny white-veneered new teeth back without batting an eyelash when she was a lowly E2, I feel like there has to be a story behind refusing to give a bigshot like Brady a new hip. There just has to be.
posted by padraigin at 10:19 AM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

My retired dad needed and got a hip transplant about 9 years ago. Before the operation, the pain and the lack of mobility were quite severe. After... he's been like a 40 year old. He walks the family retriever twice a day, sometimes going a couple of miles. He now volunteers weekly at the hospital. He may actually be close to wearing the artificial hip out.

So, don't let people tell you that hip replacements aren't necessary or cost-effective medicine. And a severely arthritic hip does hurt like hell.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:44 AM on September 21, 2007

lupus_yonderboy: "Right, because as we all know, the military healthcare system works efficiently to help and is always willing to give an old serviceman a break when they desperately need it. /sarcasm."

Just shut yer pie-hole. The military healthcare system works great MOST of the time. I am so sick of people denigrating it and belittling it. Given the enormous size and complexity of the military healthcare system, it does a damn fine job.

What happened to Dr Brady was tragic and sad -- but the fault for it does not lie with the military healthcare system.
posted by davidmsc at 11:22 AM on September 21, 2007

It is confusing and disheartening that Chuck Brady committed suicide, but MapGuy is way, way wrong. That is all.
posted by tepidmonkey at 11:37 AM on September 21, 2007

I shudder to think what MapGuy's reaction was when CNO Adm. Jeremy Boorda shot himself.
posted by pax digita at 11:58 AM on September 21, 2007

but the fault for it does not lie with the military healthcare system.
posted by davidmsc at 1:22 PM on September 21

I'm curious as to where you think the fault does lie then? Or do you think this case had the optimal outcome?
posted by Ynoxas at 12:03 PM on September 21, 2007

The system did not kill him, he took his own life.

As a doctor and highly disciplined individual he should have been better able to recognize a desperate condition and sought help. He apparently refused help and chose his actions in an apparently premeditated way.

It is when we allow ourselves to not to accept personal responsibility or seek the help of others that we may find ourselves in this very sad condition. Again it is a choice.

I will agree that what I have said is not very comforting but if you could be so kind as to point out where I am so far off the mark. Maybe I can become the human being you expect me to be.

Finally, I did leave my comment with an “or” at the end. Not out of sarcasm but to consider the poignancy of this sad occasion and to the possible implications within our own lives.

And null terminated if you ever feel depressed like this please don’t hesitate to seek the attention of highly trained professionals. You would be surprised how often my phone rings when someone is seeking clarity or needs help. I haven’t lost one yet. Actually that is not true, I did loose one, she didn’t call and I wasn’t there. It was my best friend’s mother who was like a mother to me.

It really is a good story, so glad you asked.

I was going to college, working as a pharmacy tech and was a volunteer fireman, at the time. I was in reserves as a combat Medic and spent my drill weekends scrubbing burn victims at the VA hospital. Yeah, I know more about human suffering that you can ever motherfucking imagine. Any who, I had recently finished my EMT course and was scheduled to ride as a third on the local ambulance. I was exhausted because I had doubled up my load at school I had 26 credit hours that semester (bad idea by the way). I called and said that I needed to crash I was just exhausted. “Not a problem” the dispatcher said, “it’s a quiet Tuesday”. They were covered and I rescheduled. I was going to stop by my friend’s house to pick up two books that his mom had picked out for me to read but elected to go home and get some sleep instead.

45 minutes after I fell asleep I was called by a friend who had heard something on the radio and thought I might know what was going on as it was my friend’s address. When I got to the hospital the EMT’s were packing out and one said to me,
“Man you missed a good one, this lady pumped like seven rounds in this guys groin and saved one for her head.”
“Oh?” I said calm and quiet like I get when things go terribly wrong.
He followed up with, “Yeah, you could have taken care of her, she was still breathing.” “We had to put the MAST trousers on him, he was bleeding out… we got him stabilized, he’s in surgery now, see you next Tuesday.”

The surgeon who worked on my friend’s dad was as it turns out another friend’s dad. I was there when he came out of surgery. I asked him what the deal was. He advised me that she had landed four shots, nicked an artery and a nut but that he would make it. I asked about her and he said she had blown out her frontal lobe and they had in effect let her expire. He explained that if she had lived she would have been at best a wheel chair bound vegetable. I met my friend at the door of the hospital when he arrived an hour latter.

I would have been there as the third man on the ambulance or just about five minuets before her husband got home and the shooting started. As it turns out I wasn’t. She was a very wonderful lady with a master’s degree in gifted education. She just couldn’t deal with the idea that her husband, also a doctor, had been cheating with the office secretary and was planning on leaving. I remember sobbing uncontrollably at that funeral.

That was almost 20 years ago. As it turns out I didn’t become a doctor, as at the time I had been considering. I studied linguistics, and eventually became an engineer. Well, apologies if I have bored or offended. I am going to go make a drink now.
posted by MapGuy at 2:38 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

What a sad story all around.

When you get depressed, you often lose all sense of proportion. You feel like even the most minor problem is a crushing defeat and is insoluble. You feel beyond help or hope. So you don't want to bother anyone by asking for it.

It sounds like this man had depression (possibly with psychotic features) that distorted his thinking. Whether the military fucked up by denying the hip replacement or what the story is there, we don't know. From the outside it does seem like suicide is terribly selfish (and even I have a hard time with forgiving people who do it when they have young children) but from their perspective, they think they are doing everyone a favor. It's really awful and you really never want to have the experience of anhedonia (pleasurelessness) that you think will never end.
posted by Maias at 2:51 PM on September 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Very rarely have I know a surgeon that woud not cut on a patient who needed it. MDs are notorious in their refusal to admit to any kind of mental health problem. I suspect that he had worked on a large number of patients, and it gets to you seeing all those young men altered permanently by combat injuries.

His refusal to follow orders to remain off flight status, suggest some that did not take no very well at all. More likely the Ortho Doc who would do the hip, could see he had mental health issues and told him that he could not have surgery until this was addressed. This fits in with his being upset about his case being brought to attention by higher ups. He was concerned because the mental health issues would be exposed.

Depression can be so bad that getting out of bed is like climbing Mt Everest. Depression for a week feels like years. He left behind a 5 yo son, that was selfish. This was a man who was not use to having his way, failure was not a know entity. A big ego make it difficult to become just one of many. The knife hurts a bit but if you lose blood, you start a rush of endorphines kinda like a runners high. Just speculations on my part.
posted by Rancid Badger at 11:37 PM on September 22, 2007

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