This is going to be a long post, so bear with me.
June 5, 2000
It was a hot late spring day. The temperature was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had just finished all of my work at the law office and decided to head home early just after 4pm. Almost as soon as I left the office, I got a page on my pager. I stopped in at a local gas station to return the page. All of the public phones were being used so I parked my truck and waited for one to come open. One around the corner of the parking lot became available, so I started walking toward it. After walking a few steps, a guy in a large car had just hung up a pay phone that was closer to me, so I started walking toward it. However, that is when a horrific event happened to me that will stick in my mind much like September 11th, 2001 will stick in the minds of many Americans.
The driver behind the wheel of the car turned the car toward me. He then peeled out and headed right at me. Worse yet, he was looking directly at me in my eyes and he had a look of rage about him.
I had a split-second "deer in headlights" moment as I couldn't believe that some guy that I didn't even know would try to run me over with a car and with the intent to kill me. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. When I came to my senses and realized what was happening, I turned around and started running toward my truck. I figured that the only way I was going to survive would be to jump in the bed of my pickup truck before he got to me. I almost made it. Almost. I had just leapt off my left foot and my right foot was just getting on the bumper when his front bumper caught my left leg and crushed it in between his car and my truck.
According to the damage of my back bumper, the body shop repairman estimated that the angry driver was going about 30 miles per hour when he struck me. After he hit me, I tried to move my leg, but I couldn't. I was jammed in between his car and my truck, so I couldn't move.
Then he revved the engine back up again and peeled out again. His front bumper caught my right foot and threw me backwards onto the hood of his car. He came to a stop on the side of my truck. Then he revved up his engine all the way and peeled out again. However, this time the tires were screeching very loudly. When he peeled out the first time, the tires were not screeching loudly at all. As his car started moving forward, my body was bouncing up and down on the hood. I had landed facing forward on my back with my feet dangling over the front of the car. My first thought was that he was going to drive off and I would be thrown from the car at 60 mph and be killed from the impact on the cement.
Then he started turning. He was heading straight for the gas pump. My next thought was that I would be thrown into the gas pump and be killed either by the impact or an explosion. He kept turning. At this point, I started sliding off the hood of the car and I landed smack flat on my back on the pavement. I turned and looked and saw that the white lights had come on his car, indicating that he had put the car in reverse. I tried to get up and run away, but it was at that moment that as I tried to get up on my left leg, my leg just turned sideways. It was broken. Later, when I got to the hospital, I found out that the impact had caused a compound fracture of my left tibia and fibula.
Realizing that I couldn't get up, I screamed "SOMEBODY HELP ME!" What I didn't know was that a police officer had rushed out from inside the gas station, opened his door and turned off the angry driver's engine. They then moved me to the side of the parking lot. I started to go into shock. The pain was unbearable. On a scale of 1 to 10 -- with 10 representing the most pain -- it was a 10. About 30 minutes later, the ambulance arrived. They asked me if I had a preference of which hospital to go to. I told them to take me to the closest one.
If you have never been in an ambulance when you have a broken bone and you are laying on your back, let me just tell you: it's not fun. They don't have the best shock absorbers in the world. The pain I was feeling was exacerbated by the rough ride in the ambulance.
My parents arrived at the hospital just as soon as I did. They took me to an emergency room and starting giving me painkillers. They weren't helping much. Especially when they had to move me to take the x-rays. It really was excruciating.
The police officer on the scene came by my room and told me that they had simply let the guy leave. They didn't even arrest him. I was shocked. I tried to explain to the police officer that he had done what he did "deliberately." I remember using that same word at least twice at the scene. I remember someone asking me "you mean he did it on purpose?" "Yes," I replied. My pleas went unheard. The guy was never even arrested.
According to the police report that I had read later, it said that he claimed that the accelerator had gotten stuck and that he couldn't control the car. Right. The police officer stated that he drove the car forwards and backwards three times, but the accelerator didn't stick for him.
Back in the emergency room, I was immediately prepped for surgery. The surgeon operated and cleaned the wound with distilled water. They then admitted me as an inpatient for approximately a week. I was discharged and sent home with my parents, but this was just the beginning of my ordeal.
A couple of weeks later when I returned for a follow-up exam, they cut a hole in the cast to take a look at my leg. It was dark black and deep red in color. Something was wrong. My leg had gotten infected. The doctor took a sample and sent it to the lab for testing. It turned out to be a bacteria that could not be treated with either penicillin or Keflex, your two main antibiotics. Because the infection was in the bone itself, the doctors had to fit me with a catheter to inject me with the antibiotics. The antibiotic they had to use was brand new drug in the Quinalone family. The antibiotics cost $8000 per week. I had to have a twelve week treatment intravenously and had to be sent to an internist. Once I completed the intravenous treatment, I required another 10 weeks of oral antibiotics. That cost a "mere" $100 per week.
I remember the internist telling me that I was relatively healthy and that my chances of survival were roughly 80%. When you are in that situation, you (well I) tend to think "that means I have a one-in-five chance I won't make it."
When I took the antibiotics, I had to get up first thing in the morning at 7am and load the machine that injected the medication over 30 minutes. I had to do it again at 3pm and 11pm. I remember always being afraid that I would fall asleep while waiting for the medication to finish injecting. Somehow, I made it through.
Six months and six operations later, with no health insurance and with the other driver only having the minimum $10,000 auto insurance policy, there remained approximately $100,000 in medical bills left to be paid. To make matters even worse, I had not been working for over six months due to my injuries. I believe to this day that I did not receive the best care possible. My leg is crooked because the bone did not heal straight. I believe it might be due to the fact that I was not given a walking cast to keep my leg straight. I don't know that for sure, but I still have my suspicions. The care I received did save my life and I did beat the odds in that I am able to walk (even run) again (I was in a wheelchair during the six months I was in a cast), but I became a victim twice: once by the angry driver and once by a health care system based on profit rather than one based on giving the best treatment with payment guaranteed from a common source. I don't blame the doctors or even the hospital administrators. Medical centers are a business.
Inevitably, with mounting medical bills and not having been able to work for over six months, I ended up in bankruptcy. To make the situation even more unjust, the guy who ran me down with his car had two rent houses. They were not taken to help pay my medical bills. Imagine that: I lost everything in bankruptcy and the guy who was responsible for my condition neither suffered criminally or civilly. He got to keep his rent houses and all. The defense was able to drag out the lawsuit long enough (and convince my attorney that his assets weren't worth pursuing) that he didn't lose anything.
During the time that I was in bankruptcy, my mother died of a heart attack. According to bankruptcy rules, if you are entitled to receive an inheritance while you are in bankruptcy (chapter 13) or up to soon after you are discharged (chapter 7) you must forfeit your inheritance to the bankruptcy court trustee for the benefit of your unsecured creditors. Therefore, I lost the inheritance I would otherwise have received after my mother's death.
There is a famous English maxim: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." I tried to apply this lesson by becoming a bankruptcy attorney. I wanted to help people who had been through what I had been through and help them in a way that many other attorneys could not. I knew what it was like.
Then disaster struck again: the Republicans came to power in both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They dealt out their wrath on many attorneys who represented lower class people: bankruptcy attorneys, plaintiff personal injury attorneys, plaintiff medical malpractice attorneys, worker's compensation plaintiff attorneys, etc. All of them saw restrictions on their practice by making it harder for people to access the courts. In most cases, the attorneys were representing people who had relatively little financial power in relation to the opposing parties.
At the time, I didn't hardly have the time to worry about the upcoming changes in the bankruptcy law. In between taking care of clients, I was taking care of my dying father. After he died, I buried myself in my work and the increased caseload that came from people wanting to file bankruptcy before the change in the law.
Once the law changed and the work started to dry up, I immediately started looking for work with a regular employer. I applied with the federal government, state government and private companies and law firms.
I tried the hardest with the federal government. Several times I applied with the Bankruptcy Trustee's office that is part of the Department of Justice when the jobs were announced at USAjobs.com. But now I wonder if I was denied a job because Monica Goodling researched my voter registration and found out I am a Democrat. I had been willing (and am still willing) to relocate to find better opportunities. So if you know someone who's hiring, let me know. Serious inquiries only, please.
There is more to this story, but suffice it to say that I have learned how people who hit rock bottom get exploited as they try to recover from bankruptcy. I have seen and experienced (and still experience) the lack of palatable choices when trying to recover from insolvency. I have discovered that people in this situation don't have enough bargaining power. In theory, two parties to a contract have equal bargaining power. In many cases, however, that is not the case. It is therefore incumbent, I believe, on our elected representatives to write laws to prevent abuse of power by the more powerful party of a contract.
The fact that I possibly was denied a position in the federal civil service only aggravates my situation. I can only wonder if my recovery after the change in the bankruptcy laws was hampered by a wrongful denial of employment with the federal government because I was a member of the "wrong" political party.
If such is the case, who will give me Justice? Who will right the wrong done not just to me, but for others in my situation? Are federal judges now so compromised by their political ideology and dependence on their political connections that they will refuse to protect workers from such an abuse of power? Even if wronged persons can be found to bring a suit, it's not what you know, it's what you can prove. Look how difficult it is for the Democratically-controlled Congress to get information from the White House. Can you imagine how much trouble it would be for a private party? And then you would have to be able to prove that the specific plaintiff was passed over only for their political affiliation.
I have done everything that wealthy and successful people say you are supposed to do to increase your chances of financial success. I have never done any illegal drugs. I have never been drunk on alcohol. I delayed gratification and got my education. I applied the work ethic and when I couldn't get a job working for someone else, I started my own law business. But what can you do when those who have power literally and figuratively break your legs and pull the rug from underneath you? Isn't it interesting that they tell you to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" but then they take steps to knock you off your feet when you try to do just that.
It has now been seven years since that fateful day for me: Seven Years Of Bad Luck. But I have come to the conclusion that my luck won't necessarily change on its own. Someone needs to give me a helping hand so I can make it on my own once again. I think after all of my Series of Unfortunate Events I deserve some good luck.
It is for these reasons that I have come to a philosophy of life and political conviction that we need a national health care system, a strong social safety net, guaranteed protections for the worker's financial security to prevent companies from raiding worker's pensions (Barack Obama recently made this very point in a recent speech on how many companies are filing bankruptcy to avoid paying pension obligations) and a truly independent judiciary that will protect the weakest members of society. Too many people who have had bad luck have too many roadblocks preventing them from rebuilding their lives. Too many people who lack bargaining power are getting exploited in employment contracts by those who have too much bargaining power due to their money and political influence (which is partly due to their money power).
I have also come to the conclusion that while poverty does not create most problems, it does exacerbate problems that already exist. It limits the choices people have who are caught in its grip. It is like being stuck in a deep pit without a secure rope to help you climb out. And even then, many in that situation don't have the strength to make it out on their own. They need a helping hand. We need to start helping people recover from financial loss (and, for that matter, help people get up on their feet to begin with) here in America.
I am reminded of the lines in Mark Heard's song Everything Is Alright:
Just when I can touch clouds
There is rain on my fingertips
A personal apocalypse
In a land where such is not allowed
Do all the riders in these ruts
Break down and give the good things up?
Here in America, we don't tolerate failure very well -- not even when the failure is the result of circumstances beyond someone's control. We expect everyone to make it in spite of all of the stumbling blocks that might get in their way. This is a problem in our culture and this attitude needs to change.
Everyone who has become a success has achieved it because someone else helped them achieve it. No man is an island. Furthermore, those who have achieved should help uplift those who have stumbled or fallen. Sometimes they can't make it out of the pit by themselves.