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Today in Court

Posted 5/29/2015

Posted in

  Cancer can have such long and painful tentacles. I am going to share an experience I have had over the course of the past ten days, starting with a call from an attorney.

  I received a call last week from an attorney who told me that I was going to be subpoenaed in a case involving a family fighting over the distribution of life insurance money. The patient was a man whom I had seen only a few times many years ago, and,I frankly, had absolutely no memory of the situation beyond what was written in my (fortunately thorough) notes. 

  The anticipation of having to testify in court and not knowing when I would be scheduled has meant a stressful week. Each afternoon, I had a call from the attorney who would tell me "not tomorrow". Court happened this morning; now that it is over, I can consider it to have been an interesting life experience that I surely hope never to repeat. I have been grateful that BIDMC connected me with an attorney who has been very supportive and helpful in prepping me for the occasion.

  So what happened? I had to ready several of my chart notes aloud (the lawyer had told me that was likely as it was the only way for the jury to hear the information) and then was examined and cross examined by the two opposing attorneys. There were a lot of questions that went something like this: "It must be very difficult for anyone to be diagnosed with such a serious cancer. Is it typical or atypical for a cancer patient to say X or do Y?" Over and over, boring myself and probably everyone else, I answered something like: "Every person is different, and nothing is typical or atypical." There were also plenty of opportunities to make my other standard response: "As reflected in my notes,.....".

  And I mainly sat there and thought about this unfortunate man who must have been scared and sad and surely knew that his family had big issues. He likely worried that those issues would be even more difficult after his death, and he would have been right about that. Here it is almost a decade after his death, and they re still fighting so hard that the only "winners" will be the lawyers.

  So what is the take home lesson for us? First, we can surely hope that we are lucky enough to have families with fewer tensions. And, no matter what the family context, we need to be very sure that our legal business is carefully done--and hopefully done long before we need it.

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