During this particular day in court my General Practitioner testified, along with my therapist. Later in the day would be three character witnesses, including my Dad, husband and best friend. And, if there was time, I would begin testifying. Was I nervous? More than I ever knew possible.
I remember thinking how much respect I had for people whose professions required them to be in court on a regular basis. It took more oomph than I could ever muster. Especially this particular day.
Once the judge and jury arrived and were seated, my General Practitioner was asked to take the witness stand. I had been his patient for 18 years and he knew me mentally and physically better than any of the other doctors. Our attorney questioned him first asking detailed questions about my background as a patient and a few about me personally. He explained how I had neck pain for many years and had been through all possible treatments. He also explained how I discussed with him that I needed surgery and asked his opinion about doctors. He thought the cervical discectomy and fusion would have helped and that I would be pain-free and was disappointed when he learned I was injured during surgery.
He also went into great detail about my appointment with him when I fell at my daughter’s school and began having bladder incontinence. When he walked into the exam room to see me — he said that he couldn’t believe how much my looks had changed since the last time he saw me. He explained the hospital and neurosurgeon needed his approval for me to have surgery so he saw me weeks prior to the surgery. He indicated he almost didn’t recognize me when he walked into the room. He testified that I was clearly in pain, my eyes sunken in, had lost weight within a short period of time, my body was shaking as if it were cold (but that particular day it was unseasonably warm) and I was visibility upset about the fall and bladder problems. He began mentioning how some symptoms appeared months following an injury — something called delayed onset. In fact, he mentioned, he wasn’t surprised I was continuing to have problems since delayed onset was common among spinal cord injuries.
As soon as he made this statement, the defense attorney asked for a sidebar with the judge. The defense attorney, my two attorneys and the judge talked for about 10 minutes regarding how delayed onset couldn’t be proven and it shouldn’t be discussed in my lawsuit. It was then the judge told the jury to disregard the last statement made by the General Practitioner and that we weren’t allowed to discuss it during the court case. It was this moment when I knew we took a big hit. It was all I could do to keep myself seated. I wanted to stand up and scream how unfair the judge’s ruling was. But, I sat there and kept my opinion to myself.
Following a few hours of testimony, the judge indicated we would break for lunch. The defense made sure we didn’t talk to my General Practitioner during the break. This was another one of their ridiculous requests…that we didn’t talk to the witnesses during breaks. What did they think we were going to do? After all, he was OUR witness. What was a bit of conversation going to do to his testimony? All we could talk about was the unfair ruling by the judge about delayed onset. Each of us knew this ruling was going to hurt our case.
We appeared in court an hour later and my doctor was back on the witness stand. He once again discussed his qualifications with the defense. I felt badly for him since he had explained his educational background and experience earlier in the day. The defense was immediately in attack mode and asked him about EVERY medical problem I had while he was my doctor. I had a hard time understanding how allergy shots and sinus infections had anything to do with my a spinal cord injury. I guess they felt the need to explain that I had been to a doctor a few times during my life. The doctor answered the questions and went into detail about a note he wrote in my chart about fibromyalgia. The doctor had written it as a note to himself as a possible discussion point during a future appointment. However the defense took that one word and told the jury that in 1995 I was told I had fibromyalgia, which was untrue. When our attorney crossed examined the doctor he asked him if he had ever mentioned that diagnosis to me. He told the truth — no, it was only a thought. And, following the spinal cord injury, he knew that he had done the right thing about not discussing it with me since fibromyalgia was not my diagnosis — not then and certainly not now.
Following the doctor’s testimony, my therapist testified about when I began seeing her and why. She discussed that I was having problems accepting my injury and the changes it had on my life. She told the court I had gone into a deep depression and felt betrayed by Dr. Liar. She explained how I was a trusting person and never thought I would be lied to by someone I trusted and respected. She also talked about how disappointed I was in my employer. Taking a job beneath my skill level was a slap in the face and I knew they would prefer if I left the company and went on disability. She explained how I took pride in all I did and wanted to continue doing what I loved not for the money, but simply because I liked to work. She also discussed how I was struggling with accepting I was permanently injured and seeing myself as disabled.
My Dad, husband and best friend were each called to the witness stand. Listening to three people who I care about discuss how I had changed during the past few years was more difficult than I thought. Each was very emotional and said they missed the person I used to be. My Dad talked about how active I was and liked to be outside or on the beach with one of my dogs. He said it was hard to see his daughter walk with a cane and not be able to do things that I enjoyed. He told stories about how I began working at a young age and was committed to doing jobs to the best of my ability. While Dad sat there talking about me, it made me realize he was proud of me and my accomplishments. What was hard to handle was during his testimony he began to cry. It was the first time I could remember seeing this side of him. He also was mad at Dr. Liar for the injury and for lying and said that to him in court. The defense objected, of course.
My husband had a difficult time talking about the spinal cord injury. I believe, even now, this was one of the most difficult things for him to do — to openly discuss his feelings toward Dr. Liar, the last few years and watching his wife drift away physically and mentally. And, to say all of this with me sitting in the same room was especially challenging since he had never wanted me to know his frustration and disappointment. However, he explained details regarding appointments with Dr. Liar, what Dr. Liar said to him after the surgery was completed and the conversations that took place with the experts hired by the defense and the poor treatment of the hospital. He also went into detail about how he had taken on an additional job to support the family and all the extra household items he had to do since the surgery.
The last person of the day to testify was my best friend. We first met when I moved from Virginia to Pennsylvania. She had transferred to the same department where I began working on the same day. She was such a giving and kind person that she took me under her wing. Since I was new to the area and the job location, she showed me around, took me to lunch, and as we became closer, kept my daughter when I needed to work late or had an appointment. She also traveled to Virginia with me on several occasions just to keep me company and to get away for a quick trip. She knew my family and our friendship continued to grow. Her family was in New Jersey and invited my daughter and me over for Thanksgiving, Easter and other holidays. They were our Northeast family and we felt honored to be surrounded by such wonderful people.
During her testimony she described the person I was before surgery and how I distanced myself from everyone following surgery. She, too, was shocked when she first saw me a few days after the surgery. She came over with dinner and gifts and was a bit taken back when she saw me. She worked hard to maintain contact with me, but found I wouldn’t answer or return telephone calls — something that was uncharacteristic for me. She was like the sister I never had, but I was so disappointed in what had occurred I didn’t want to talk to anyone…including my best friend. She explained how I didn’t attend her son’s wedding and how upset that made her. With tears in her eyes, she explained she had lost her best friend.
That day, sitting in the freezing cold courtroom, I felt numb. Not from the cold, but from listening how the spinal cord injury had impacted me as well as those closest to me. I don’t think up to that point I realized that it had taken a toll on the people who cared about me. Most people don’t tell you how they are feeling since they don’t want to disappoint you or make you feel worse. Most build you up and want to encourage instead of making you feel badly. However, that day, it hit me hard…I wasn’t the only one injured by Dr. Liar. And that was a huge hurt in my heart — one I had never thought about. I hated him even more.
©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com. 2011.