Posts Tagged ‘wizard’

Last Wednesday morning, at 5:30, I woke up with my heart racing like a NASCAR competitor. I rolled over and tried deep breathing, but my heart ignored the vast quantities of oxygen I poured in and out of my lungs. (I have a trumpet player acquaintance who swears his trumpet-breath training saved his life during a heart attack. So I thought it was worth a try. I guess it doesn’t work for woodwinds.)


So I sat up on the side of my bed in the dark and panicked. Which sent my out-of-control ticker into the tilt zone. But really, I told myself, wasn’t this the product of a month of my doctor trying to find a blood pressure medication that would keep mine normal and not give me the backache the current one gave me. Surely I wasn’t going to die of a pounding heart brought on by the recent three-day trial of a DIFFERENT DRUG? Then I decided NOT to answer that question.

I went down to the kitchen and swallowed the effective, but offending drug we were trying to replace, reasoning that the back pain you know is preferable to the death you don’t know. I went back to bed, and somehow my pulse went back to normal. I fell asleep congratulating myself on saving the cost of the ER visit and remaining alive, all with one tiny pill that was just going to give me a severely aching back while it kept me on this side of Eternity.


I was awake once more. And my heart was now racing along again in the danger zone. It was no longer impressed that I was willing to endure back pain to get it to behave. And it had developed this funky new symptom, pressure on my chest. I sat up again and considered my options. There was no one home but me and the retrievers, who don’t drive. One child was in Seattle. Not an option. One was in a classroom teaching with a brand new job on the other side of town. Not an option. The third was in his second week of law school, in class, also on the other side of town. Strike Three.

I reminded myself people in my family live a long, long time. All I had to do was drive myself to the hospital. I was tough. I could do it. After all, I’d given birth to three children after the age of thirty-six, wimping out to anesthesia only on child number three.

So for twenty minutes, I listened to Frank Sinatra sing Mack the Knife and tried to pretend my heart wasn’t going faster than my MiniCooper. I picked Mack, not because I like the lyrics, but there’s this feel-good jazz interlude that’s all big band and no vocals. And if I was heading to the Other Side, I wanted  Count Basie to give me a Big Send Off with trumpets blazing. I drove, and breathed as I counted the red lights to the ER.

The staff grabbed me at once and stuck electrodes everywhere. And by their reaction, which went from OMG to Oh, hum, I wasn’t having a heart attack. After a lady with a clipboard asked if I had an “Advanced Directive” and I told her “No, that means death is not an option today,” (she didn’t get the joke) a serious young ER doc told me the vampires would be after my blood, and then he would figure out what was making my heart run like a racehorse.

I had no one to talk to. I lay on my back and stared at the layers of gray metal light fixture on the ceiling and tried more deep breathing. My heart slowed its pace slightly, but nothing like what I needed to be comfortable.

I decided to think about SOMETHING ELSE. But what? I considered the possibility, Advanced Directive or no, the Universe had decided my number was up. Would the petals of the industrial light fixture above my head slowly dissolve into the long white-tunnel everyone talked about? Would heading into the light be easier than lying here alone, trying not to worry the EKG might have been wrong because my heart was not with the slow-down program? Would I get to come back and write a bestseller about Heaven which I already remembered from Before I Was Born? Had it changed much? Heaven Before and After didn’t sound dramatic enough for the bestseller list. And then it might seem boring that I’d already been there and remembered the place.

The ER doc returned to look at the heart monitor. Surely a bad sign, I thought.

“Wow, your heart rate’s high!”

Tell me something I don’t know. Was this doctor-speak for the white tunnel is on it’s way?

“Don’t name a number,” I said. I figured the freak-out from that information would send me into Eternal Oz to hang with the Wizard for sure.

He nodded and made way for the vampire cart.

Now I began to wonder if I should call my children. After all, they had no idea where I was or that my heart was doing a tap dance that might not have an encore. But the nurse had promised me an answer within the hour after the lab had given the results to the serious ER doc. So I decided to delay announcement of my possible demise. In the meantime, my heart had taken a new view of woodwind breathing and was beginning to turn down the metronome.

In the end, the vampires had the answer. The new medication coupled with the weird diet the doctor’s nutritionist had come up with (another story) had washed out all my potassium. And hearts can’t hold a tempo without their potassium. They rush like a junior high band on steriods playing a Sousa march. So after an hour of fluid dripped into my vein and twenty minutes of drinking the nastiest tasting potassium liquid on the planet, I was wiped up, dusted off and sent HOME.

It could have been worse. I’m glad it’s over. I eat an avocado, now, every day. Better source of potassium and a whole lot cheaper than the ER.


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After my first terrifying experience as a “trial lawyer,” in October 1981, I devoutly prayed each night I wouldn’t be sent back to court any time soon to sit behind a counsel table. Of course, if you stop and think about it, sending a one-day old lawyer with no trial experience into the lion’s den of superior court to oppose an injunction was an especially rotten and unreasonable thing to do. I had, after all, taken a job with A BIG FIRM to learn from highly talented and experienced attorneys. Imagine what I would have learned that October afternoon by watching the Firm’s Tallest Partner in action, instead of being fed to the wolves myself.

But even in 1986, hiding out in San Diego, holding my crying infant night and day, a world away from the east coast and that first job, and with the vague feeling I was running away from something I could not name, I was still looking back on those baby lawyer days and blaming myself. Shouldn’t have.

After the year rolled over into 1982, (did I mention they made me and me alone, work on Thanksgiving Day?) my old nemesis Legal Aid reared its head. THE FIRM expected baby lawyers to take on Legal Aid clients pro bono, and I was happy to sign up for mine. I actually thought lawyers could change the world by helping poor people back then. Wrong again.

My client was a twenty-year-old highly attractive African American woman who wanted a divorce. She’d been married a year, no kids, no money. In theory a slam-dunk legal proceeding. Her major drawback was she liked to sit in my office for hours spinning obvious yarns about abuse at the hands of her soon-to-be ex. I wondered if the lawyer-client privilege allowed me to tell her I didn’t believe a word she said.

Legal Aid helpfully sent along THE FORMS that I was supposed to file to ask for her divorce. Now, by this time, I had begun to suspect that law was not about language so much as about filling in blanks. I spent a lot of my time drafting “Interrogatories” which are questions one side in litigation poses to the other to figure out what their evidence is going to be at trial. The art of drafting Interrogatories basically consisted of copying the forms from the book, inserting the correct gendered pronouns, and sending these linguistic wonders to the typing pool. (And yes, we had an overnight typing pool that took over when the secretaries went home.)

But as I worked on the Legal Aid forms, asking for my client’s divorce, I saw better ways to say what needed to be said. I had, after all, a Masters in English and had worked on my Ph.D. I had been a technical editor. I had taught writing. Wouldn’t I be the one to know if there was a better way to say it? Apparently not.

I crafted the divorce documents and had them filed with the court where they would percolate for six months until the State of Virginia decided to free my client of her improvident marriage decision. I never expected to get anything back other than a piece of paper saying my client was a free woman. So imagine my dismay and horror, when after three months, I was personally summoned to the judge’s chambers one afternoon.

His Honor, sans robes, sat at his desk, the court file for my client’s case in front of him. I sat on the other side, in my man-tailored lawyer suit, starched blouse, floppy bow, and one-inch heeled pumps. I could see red marks that looked like blood trails all over the top paper in the file on His Honor’s desk. It was the pleading I had filed.

After ten seconds, I surmised a couple of things. One, His Honor hated me. No clue why. But he did. Two, he hadn’t called me in to thank me for volunteering for Legal Aid.

For the next hour, His Honor spat out a monologue about how THE FORMS were sacrosanct and NOT A WORD COULD BE CHANGED. According to His Honor, the words I had substituted in place of the SACRED TEXT made my pleadings totally inadequate, and my client could not get a divorce. He made it clear he had nothing but contempt for BIG FIRM ASSOCIATES who were trying to be Legal Aid volunteers. In his view, we should stick to representing only BIG BUCK CLIENTS because that was all we were good for. I didn’t have to read His Honor’s bio to figure out he’d never darkened the door of a BIG FIRM before going on the bench.

My punishment was to have my pleadings declared null and void, and I was sentenced to the ignominy of slinking back to my office and drafting new ones, this time inserting only my client’s name, her gender pronoun, and the correct dates into the text. After having these prepared in overnight secretarial, a winged-foot firm messenger deposited these linguistic gems in the courthouse. And my client would now have to wait another six months for singlehood because of my incompetence.  The first three percolating months with the WRONG WORDS didn’t count.

So what had I learned so far about being a lawyer? A couple of things. First, being sent to court to oppose injunctions was like being Daniel cast into the Fiery Furnace. Except no angel came down to get between me and the judge who said my client was lying. Major slip up in heaven that day.

Two, lawyers, whom I had thought practiced law, were actually practioners of black magic, wearing black man-tailored suits instead of wizard robes, but pretty much doing the same thing that wizards do: casting spells for dissolution of marriage using spells set out WORD FOR WORD AND NOT TO BE CHANGED in THE SACRED BOOK OF FORMS. Yep, being a lawyer was not what I’d expected. And creative? Well, law school said lawyers were creative, but so far I wasn’t seeing it.

Next time: My Head on a Pike or THE MEMO WE CAN’T BILL THE CLIENT FOR!!!! 

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