It was TESTIMONY day…my turn on the witness stand and time to explain what occurred during my Cervical Discectomy and Fusion surgery by Dr. Liar and the horrible treatment by the hospital. I wasn’t nervous until I walked into the courtroom; however, once I was on the witness stand, I was surprisingly calm and my thoughts were clear and concise despite the medication I was taking. When they called my name to come up to the witness stand, I paused and asked God to be with me and to give me strength. As I walked with my cane to the front of the courtroom, I saw snippets of the last few years flash in front of me like previews for an upcoming movie. They included the ongoing pain I was in, my husband’s life consumed with two jobs and taking care of me, my daughter and our household, Dr. Liar’s manipulation and ongoing lies while smiling as if nothing was wrong, and me falling again and again, making it difficult to maneuver even the simplest of spaces.
Once I sat down and was sworn in, I felt the presence of someone next to me, as if I wasn’t alone. Had God heard my prayer? Was he sitting next to me, holding my hand? I felt honored that God would be with me during this difficult situation. What had I done to deserve such extraordinary care? Feeling his presence was not an unusual feeling, but one that gave me the reassurance and strength that I needed to get through this difficult time. I had always relied on my faith, but at this moment, I “felt” my faith, which was something that had never happened. I remember looking at the judge thinking she too must have seen or felt the presence, but her demeanor remained unchanged.
I took a deep breath and got comfortable. My friend-attorney asked me questions regarding my life prior to the injury, my career, marriage, family, etc. She went into extensive detail about my active lifestyle, commitment to my job and being an active wife and mother. She showed photos of me at work, skiing and tubing and participating in many other activities. She also displayed my work accomplishments, including the newspaper I wrote for many years and discussed the details of my career. We also went into detail about how my employer would not allow me to return to my job. She discussed my college career and the series of jobs I worked once I graduated. She also asked questions about college expenses and the part-time job I maintained for four years while pursuing my degree. It felt good to talk about the old me.
The courtroom layout made it very uncomfortable and difficult to look at the jury when answering questions. The jury was to the far right, almost next to the witness stand; the judge was to the far left and in front was the table for the defense, including Dr. Liar, who stared at me during my entire testimony. For once, he seemed interested. Or, was he trying to intimidate me? Our attorney was in front of me, but off to the left. Since I was (and still am) unable to turn my head more than 45 degrees either way it was difficult and painful to look at my own attorney as she asked questions. We were told to respond directly to the jury; however, it was difficult to turn my head that way.
The next series of questions focused on my relationship with Dr. Liar and the surgery. The defense had claimed during deposition and discovery that Dr. Liar was in the recovery room as well as the ICU the day following the surgery. They also shared my hospital medication list and stated that I didn’t tell the nurses I was in pain. They also told me that I had walked throughout the hospital unassisted, which was impossible since I had the IV pole with me during my entire stay. So many lies and too much cover up.
I testified for four hours before taking a break for lunch. The defense argued that I shouldn’t be allowed to talk with our attorneys. The judge acknowledged that it was a ridiculous request and denied it — making the defense unhappy and once again we watched the defense attorney whine like a toddler who didn’t get his way.
Following lunch, the defense began cross-examining me. The first question out of his mouth was “What do I call you? Do I address you by your maiden name, your first married name or your second married name?” That was his ‘special’ way of letting the jury know that I kept my first husband’s last name. What he didn’t say is that I made that decision for my daughter’s benefit. After he asked this question, I chuckled and said that he could call me whatever he wanted, or, to feel free to call me by my first name. And, so the games began.
The defense attorney wanted the jury to believe that he was a nice man who treated me with respect. And, at first, he did. However, all of his questions had a ‘tone’ that made him seem all-powerful and I was the pitiful disabled woman. He was using his charm to try to win me over, but more importantly, he wanted to win over the jurors. When he referred to Dr. Liar — it was always doctor. It made it appear that the mere mention of his title was something only great men had achieved. He was educated, but when you don’t have basic morals, you might as well throw that degree in the garbage.
The defense attorney slowly began diving into details of my life, including marriages, daughter, careers, relationship with friends and my medical profile. He asked many of the same things my attorney had already asked and, in fact, asked many questions at different times and various ways. When he was unable to lead the direction of the cross-examination he would get frustrated, chuckle and shake his head. Several times he even threw his hands up in the air out of anger. However, I was telling the truth and no matter what questions he asked, I would responded the same — each and every time. I honestly believe that when the truth is on your side — you don’t have to be cautious about what to say. Those who lie or mislead others are the ones who have to be careful when they respond because it must be hard to remember all the lies you have told.
After several hours of questioning, the defense attorney began discussing my hysterectomy that took place in 2003. He didn’t bother to disclose the reason I needed a hysterectomy and the impact on my life. He focused on my appointment with my Urologist. The defense wanted jurors to believe that I had previous bladder problems; however, the truth was that my bladder was next to my uterus and during the surgery to remove my uterus I had developed a very common bladder infection that was healed with a course of antibiotics. Finally, after he asked the same question, five different ways, I told him that we would have to agree to disagree and that he couldn’t understand the impact of a bladder infection since he wasn’t a female. He looked at the jury and laughed. I had said it politely, but honestly, I was ready to move on and was tired of discussing my bladder infection. It had nothing to do with the bladder incontinence I was experiencing following the spinal cord injury. When you make the decision to pursue a lawsuit, the attorneys look at every detail of your medical history. While I didn’t have any thing to hide or to be embarrassed about, it still felt awkward discussing personal items such as intimacy with my husband before and after the injury and other items that are not usually spoken about outside of your doctor’s examination room.
Following seven hours of testimony, I began coughing uncontrollably. My attorney asked if she could approach me with a bottle of water and a cough drop. Fortunately cross-examination was almost over; however, I was embarrassed and no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop coughing. The judge was kind enough to take a recess so I could try to compose myself. About 10 minutes later I was back testifying, but had coughed up blood while I was in the restroom. I didn’t dare tell anyone since I didn’t want a reason to delay the trial or have to alter the strict court schedule. The judge was adamant about keeping to a tight schedule at all costs.
The defense attorney continued his questions about Dr. Liar. He asked if I had other doctors who I emailed as a form of communication? Yes, was my response. He seemed surprised. He asked why I gave Dr. Liar and his wife baby gifts? I told him that my husband and I gave the gifts because that is the type of people we are and we knew they were thrilled to be having twin girls. And, I added that we gave the gift before knowing about the injury and the lies. He asked me about my experiences at the hospital, which I had to explain once again. I went into every detail — how Dr. Liar went on vacation, the call from his cell phone while attending his son’s soccer game, the conditions of the ICU and the extended hours I spent in the recovery room and the pain that no one would address. I relived the entire ordeal once again even though I was tired, cold, running a fever, coughing up blood and trying to keep my tremor under control. My body and my voice were shaking uncontrollably and all I wanted was to go home. However, the questions continued and again, if looks could kill, I would have died right then and there.
I remember thinking about the stares from Dr. Liar and the hospital’s Risk Management Attorney wondering what they meant…a scare tactic, disbelief that we would pursue a lawsuit, intimidation or simply just a stare? It didn’t bother me, in fact, I thought it was interesting. Dr. Liar knew what he had done and how he tried to cover up my injury. He had been in the courtroom and listened as my doctors, family and friends talk about how I had changed and how difficult my life had been since the surgery. How hard it must have been to listen to those I love and who love me explain how my life was altered by his hands. And, he wasn’t man enough to admit that he had made a mistake. I can’t imagine having to live with this guilt. I knew that he would never have peace until he told the truth. One day he would have to answer for his mistake and lies. The way he had treated my family and me would come back to haunt him. I had something that he would never feel. I had the truth since the beginning of this nightmare. And, I had inner peace — something that I believe all people want and need. And something that Dr. Liar will never experience. My therapist had told me during one of our many sessions that when a person lies and lives with that lie it’s like walking through life with a pebble in your shoe. I still take comfort in those words and visualize Dr. Liar wearing his blue suit and a pebble in both shoes!
Before leaving for the day, I was questioned once again by our attorney. She asked follow-up questions to clarify what the defense attorney had stated. She asked me about my pain level and how often I complained about it. On the overhead projector she showed my hospital record listing all the pain medicine I had been given, including the IV pain medications and steroids. She had me explain how I held on to the IV pole when I walked the hall of the hospital so there was no way I could have walked independently. She showed the jury several physical therapy prescriptions written and signed by Dr. Liar with the diagnosis ‘spinal cord injury.’ She asked me to tell the jurors what Dr. Liar had said to me during many of my appointments. As I said those words…I looked right into his eyes and said that Dr. Liar had told me that I was his favorite patient and that he was praying for me. He looked away as I finished the sentence. And, lastly, I explained once again, the conversation that took place about Dr. Liar’s qualifications and how he told my husband and me that he was board certified. I explained how I had researched his background and went into surgery believing he was more than qualified, but it was all lies. We also took time to discuss my trips to Johns Hopkins and how the doctor knew I had a permanent injury and how he shared that news with my husband and me.
After being on the witness stand for the entire day, the judge said that we were done for the day. I could hardly believe that the day was over. Before I stood up, I bowed my head and thanked God for being with me and for giving me the strength to do what I had to do. Both of my attorneys said that my husband and I should be professional witnesses since we were outstanding on the stand. However, it’s easy when you are telling the truth. Those who were in court to support us also said that we couldn’t have done any better. All I remember is that I was glad it was over and I had told the truth…the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Tomorrow was another day and we had one more witness before turning it over to the defense.
We left the courthouse and, as usual, I feel asleep in the car. While sleeping I had a dream where I was running through a field flying a kite feeling no pain, not using a cane and able to look at the sky. Was I finally free from the hold of Dr. Liar and all that he had done to me? When I testified what happened, did I gain independence? I wasn’t sure, but sadly, I have never felt that feeling or had that dream again.
©My Unplanned Life and www.shakinguplife.wordpress.com, 2011.