Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What I learned in court today

I gave my first deposition ever today. Afterwards, the lawyer for the defendant told me, "You're the best witness I've ever deposed when it comes to understanding questions with negatives in them." The plaintiff's lawyer agreed. (And I'm thinking: Erm . . . that was just a compliment, right?) Can't divulge the details because, after all, that would be violating doctor-patient confidentiality. Let's just say it's a case of the little guy going up against The Man. Or, maybe it's a case of the little guy trying to make a buck off The Man. I don't know, and I don't need to know; that's the beauty of being a witness (rather than a defendant!) All I had to do was tell the truth. I love telling the truth. I could tell the truth all day. As long as I'm in super-honest mode, this deposition wasn't held in a courtroom, as the above title would suggest. But "What I learned in some poorly ventilated downtown office" makes for a crappy title. So there.
Let's say you've been wronged by The Man. Here are some dos and don'ts I learned today, simply by being a careful observer of the lawyers' questions. 1. Don't waste any time getting to a doctor. If you wait even a day before seeking attention, it looks suspicious. 2. Don't trust the doctor to write down the things you tell him. Look over his shoulder. Come right out and ask him, "Hey, did you write down that bit about the salted bamboo shoots under my fingernails? And the Cajun spice-and-Pepsi Cola nose wash -- Jeez, what's the matter with you? YOU MISSPELLED EMERIL!" (Note to any legal-type person connected to the case who reads this. That last quote was make believe. It's what we writers call a stab at humor.) 3. Do make sure you tell your doctor about every last symptom. Don't hold back. 4. Do tell the same story to each and every doctor you see. Inconsistencies will bite you in the ass. 5. Do hire the smartest lawyer you can afford.
True story: In my first week of my first clinical rotation of medical school, I examined a young child with an injury. The boy came from a broken family, and was the rawhide chew toy in a bitter custody dispute between two pit bulls. The injury occurred while he was in his father's care. Dad claimed one mechanism of injury, Mom claimed another. The child's mother brought him in for the visit. After the clinic closed, the father found me (somehow) and begged me to write something favorable on the chart for him. Stupid, ignorant medical student that I was, I did as he asked. I changed the chart. Some time later, I was subpoenaed to appear in court to testify (at a custody hearing) as to my chart entry. No one bothered to depose me prior to the court date. Maybe custody hearings don't warrant that much work. Anyway, five minutes beforehand, a couple of lawyers cornered me in the hall. Lawyer A: How many years have you been a doctor? Me: I'm not a doctor. I'm a medical student. That means I don't have an MD yet. Lawyer B: Okay . . . how many years have you been seeing patients? Me: I'm in my first clinical year. When I saw that patient, I was in the first week of my first clinical rotation. Lawyer A: I don't think we can qualify him as an expert witness. (That story always makes me chuckle.) In the courtroom, I answered all of their questions honestly, and when the time came, I fessed up to fanoodling with the chart. Afterwards, the judge just about patted me on the head, and both sets of lawyers seemed delighted with me. Funny thing, I'd thought my testimony was damaging to both sides. Mom and Dad sat on opposite sides of the aisle, and they both beamed smiles at me, too. To this day, I'll never figure out what I said that made them all so damned happy. D.


Blogger Jeff Huber said...


It's just possible that witnessing someone being completely honest made them feel, if for only a moment, they'd felt a touch of genuine humanity.

Good for you.


6/23/2005 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger Musmanno said...

Or they were thinking that even if they lost they might be able to sue Doug or his institution for tweaking the charts ;)

6/23/2005 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Jeff: it scares me to think you might be right -- that these guys endure so much BS on a day-to-day basis that effortful honesty feels foreign to them.

Scott: is that the guy from Kill Bill? Do you really want people to make that association? Wouldn't you rather be Keye Luke?

Master Po

Unless you'd rather be the character Luke played on Star Trek (you know, the guy with the punishing chair):

Penal Colony Guy

Yeah, Scott, I definitely see you with the punishing chair ;o)

6/23/2005 05:51:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

I'm sure they were just glad to talk to someone who wasn't not unevasive.

6/23/2005 06:02:00 PM  
Blogger Musmanno said...

How do you know I'm not the guy who played Pei Mei in the movie? Don't I look wise?

I like the pic of Master Po. Penal Colony guy not so much.

I do have a digital camera - I suppose I could post an authentic pic. But then I wouldn't get to say cool things like:

"Crane style is for Japanese fatheads!"

6/23/2005 07:43:00 PM  
Blogger Bare Rump said...

Me, I'll stick to hamster style.

(Bonus points for anyone who can tell me the movie that showcased "hamster style".)

By the way. While we're harping on obscure references, did anyone recognize the Barbie Doll in yesterday's Bare Rump's Diary?

6/23/2005 07:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Euuu, thanks for treating me to that full-faced wink! NOT!
Stamper in Vegas

6/25/2005 05:42:00 PM  
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