Once my family and I decided to pursue the medical malpractice lawsuit, life as we knew it, considerably changed. We needed to ensure we were all prepared for what a lawsuit would do to our lives as well as the toll it would take on finances, stress, schedules, relationships, etc.
Interviewing lawyers was an interesting process — one I never thought I would be doing firsthand. In fact, I was experiencing many new challenges since waking up from surgery. After long discussions and soul-searching, we decided on a local attorney with a proven track record of winning medical malpractice cases. Along with his experience, he also employed a dedicated staff who became committed to our case. The entire practice made us feel comfortable and held our hands along the extremely complex progress that spanned more than a year and a half.
We participated in weekly meetings with the attorney to organize schedules and create a plan of action. Before we knew it, the doctor and the hospital were aware we were proceeding with a case. They hired an independent attorney who reached out to our attorney. The process was officially underway and all parties were aware of our intentions.
Also working on the lawsuit was our family lawyer friend who we involved following the comments made by the Johns Hopkins doctors. Since she was committed to what we were doing, she volunteered her time and efforts. It was nice to have her join our team since she had a knack of making us feel more relaxed and never laughed at any of our questions. She sat in on every meeting, interview, deposition, etc. Even today, I have no way of expressing my gratitude for her guidance and friendship.
Empty days were filled with meetings with attorneys and doctors who would serve as expert witnesses. In the early stages of the suit, we learned words such as discovery, expert witnesses, declaration, and a multitude of deadlines that seemed endless. I also continued working part-time, attended ongoing doctor’s appointments as well as physical therapy. I regained some use of my arm and hand; however, my arm felt ‘dead’ and as if it wasn’t attached. I learned how to concentrate hard enough to move and to use it, but it was permanently damaged. It seemed when I would touch or lift something I would not feel it. Even today, I have to be extremely careful since I may burn or cut my arm or hand and not know — nerve damage I later learned. It took me five years to learn how to communicate with my arm since there was no feeling or sensations, except for pain. While working and for personal use, I dictated to the computer while it did the typing. I uncovered there were many tools available for those with disabilities and this was and is a favorite.
I began seeing a ‘mental’ therapist weekly since I knew I was sinking deeper into depression. During sessions we discussed my medical issues and the best way to accept being permanently disabled. I felt as if life had beaten me up and there was nothing that could be done to prevent or slow it down. It was as if my voice was silenced — my life put on hold — and I was never asked permission. During our sessions, we talked at length regarding my negative feelings toward the neurosurgeon. Why did he continue doing his job while my job was taken away? He was the one who made the mistake, but I was who paid the price — the one who faced the painful and ongoing consequences.
We also discussed my employer and how they treated me when I needed them the most. I had a terrific working relationship with my boss and the last time I saw him at a retirement party while on Short Term Disability he told me how much he missed and loved me. It wasn’t an unusual comment. Both his wife and my husband were there when he said it. We were boss-employee, but we were friends and had shared a lot of laughs. Sadly, once I began working part-time, he wouldn’t speak to me and I was asked not to email or contact him directly. Was I not worthy of his friendship since I was now damaged? I learned during this ordeal the friends, co-workers and family members who were really there for you when the chips were down. It is surprisingly a very small group of people. It was a tough lesson and one that I still struggle with on a daily basis.
Getting all of these feelings out in the open was difficult at first. What could a therapist say to make me stop feeling the things I felt? Was rehashing the ordeal supposed to make me feel better? Although I was skeptical at first, it did feel good to say exactly what I was thinking and sharing how I was being treated. A bit freeing — like when you have a secret you can’t keep to yourself.
Around this same time, the neurologist thought I could try driving again. While I thought this was something to celebrate, I quickly learned it too was not an easy task. My depth perception was off and I hit a car in a parking lot while stopping to pick up prescriptions, and a week later, I backed into a pole. We take for granted all that is involved in driving and it took me two years to become comfortable driving; therefore, I limited my driving locally and only to doctor’s appointments, mental and physical therapy, attorneys’ offices and only drove when there wasn’t much traffic. The accidents and limiting my driving, only added to my frustration and to the list of items I was now unable to do.
During my monthly appointment with one of my pain management doctors, I began receiving Botox injections to help relax my neck and shoulder muscles. The doctor also prescribed a brace to wear two hours a day to help with posture and hopefully eliminate neck pain. The Cervical Dystonia was getting worse and the doctor felt the injections might help with the level of pain.
While on Christmas vacation with my family, we received a call from our attorney and were told that the defense attorney had requested an independent medical exam by a doctor in Philadelphia. My husband had taken so much time off from work to drive me to appointments, I wasn’t going to ask him to take more time off. I asked for a car to drive since I wasn’t driving long distances. The defense attorney later wrote a letter to our attorney stating they would send a driver to drive my car. I declined and asked for a car service. It was the first of many games that the defense attorney and his team would play.
My husband and I were picked up at 6:30 a.m. by the car service. My attorney advised my husband to attend the appointment after all to observe how I was treated. We arrived at the expert witness’s office ahead of schedule and entered a waiting room with several patients, but no office staff. It didn’t feel as a professional medical building or office should; however, a few minutes later, a group of students left the office and the doctor walked out and announced my name.
He immediately began asking questions about my condition prior to the surgery. At one point, he stated, “I don’t want this to turn into a he said, she said.” We were a bit taken back since I was in the process of trying to explain my condition. He asked questions, but didn’t bother to wait for a response. He kept interrupting me and answered many of the questions for me — not allowing me to respond properly. He didn’t know I had two doctors at Johns Hopkins (as stated in the package of medical information he received); however, he claimed he was familiar with the case.
My husband indicated to the doctor that I oftentimes have difficulty expressing myself of choosing my words. He also added that since I was a writer that this was critical. The ‘expert witness’ then asked me a series of obvious questions –who is the President of the United States, how do you spell ‘world,’ spell it backwards and then asked me to remember three things and within a few minutes later asked me to recall those three items. He then asked about the surgery and what I was told and what happened when I woke up in recovery. He wouldn’t let me explain anything, nor did he want to hear about my ongoing complaints and concerns.
Next, he asked me to walk down the hall with my cane about 10 feet and then turn around and walk back. He then led us into a room and asked me to remove my clothing. Fortunately, my husband was with me, and was able to assist as a chaperone. I often wonder who would have done this since there was no office staff. The doctor later came into the room and did reflex and some strength testing. He looked at my spine, but never touched my neck. He didn’t do pinprick testing for numbness. It was the least evaluating neurological exam I had experienced, but at the same time the most invasive since I was wearing a paper gown.
He told me to get dressed and left the room. Once I was dressed, my husband and I went back into his office and he dismissed us. From the moment we were dropped off at the front door until the time we got back into the car took only 40 minutes and included the examination. It also included the doctor’s idle chit-chat about his family. As we left, he wished us luck. I had never been asked to remove my clothing for any neurological exam except when having an EMG. We left the doctor’s office via the car service. I slept the entire way home after being humiliated, frustrated, and not allowed to explain my medical condition. This was the first of many unusual examinations by ‘expert witnesses.’
I continued to go to multiple doctor’s appointments, mental and physical therapy. The physical therapy facility I had attended since my injury occurred was closing and I found myself searching for a new location. The thought of starting over, having to explain my medical situation yet once again made me nauseous. I felt as if I was doing a lot of starting over lately and I wasn’t dealing with it as strongly as people thought. During this difficult period, many people told me if anyone could handle this ordeal it was me. Was that a compliment? I thought so; however, I wasn’t handling it…I was barely hanging on.
©My Unplanned Life and http://www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.