Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Seven Years Of Bad Luck

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.


Scribe said...

Excellent post! Very moving and compelling story! I hope and pray that a rewarding new opportunity presents itself soon.

OkieLawyer said...

Thank you for the vote of confidence.

I have run across your blog a few times and I have added it to the link of Oklahoma blogs I read.

Again, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

P M Prescott said...

That must have been a very hard post to write. Frightening that our justice system and the work ethic is being destroyed by religious demogogues and their political cronies, corporations that will soon have no customers left to buy their products and an apathetic electorate.
I think the time is right for political progressivism to reassurt itself as it did during the Great Depression. Sooner or later voters will face the reality of our corporations and neocons killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

Charles Hugh Smith said...

Amen to p.m. prescott's comments, and Fred, you do deserve a run of good luck. We're so inculcated with the cliche that "we make our own luck" blah blah blah but there is good and bad luck, and I've experienced mostly bad in my life too.

Nobody likes to talk about it, but when justice becomes impossible then the only choice is viglante
"justice" which is not where we want to go as a nation.

Grace said...

I found your post through Independent Christian Voice.

Very good post. I've long recognized how unfair and unhelpful our entire country's structure is to those stuck in a place like your own. The whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" concept is pretty hard when you don't own "boots" isn't it?

I'm praying for you.

Anonymous said...

I hear you. I've had two rounds of "Seven Years of Bad Luck" ... both coinciding with Republican presidential terms. Nothing as serious as personal injury, such as yours. I'm glad you have recovered and still have the fighting spirit. You give me hope. Thank you.

Moneymonk said...

WOW what a long post. I see it was all needed to make your point. I notice only in America this is practice. I know so many people that claim bankruptcy just to not commit to their obligations. There are men and women that do the same thing to get out of child support ( change jobs)But in the end, the slow tortoise always win the race!

Lost Cause said...

I think that failure is very underrated. It is the most important teacher, and it is impossible to acheive perfection without it. Welcome to the School of Hard Knocks. You have really learned the most important lesson that life has to offer: how to start at the bottom, and work your way up. It may be unusual for an attorney, but not for many, many others.

Adventures In Money Making said...

thats just sickening.

how could they not find the driver responsible?

even if his action weren't deliberate, how could he not be liable for your injuries.

did you try suing in civil court?

OkieLawyer said...

Yes, a lawsuit was filed. However, I ended up in bankruptcy before a trial could take place. The liens filed by the hospitals ate up more than the $10,000 auto insurance from the tortfeasor.

There were other problems from a cost/benefit analysis (from a lawyer's perspective) in taking a case to trial for a relatively low payout.

Jacqueline said...

I can empathize with you completely OkieLawyer. I would hardly characterize that driver's actions as "accidental".

Like you,I also was injured and left disabled from an auto accident injury I suffered at age 24. I am now 40. I was not a law school grad or even a college grad - I was a union skilled trades construction worker with a high school diploma.

While that is an atypical occupation for a woman, being severely dyslexic - hence one of the "lowly uneducated" ones, I didn't have many options to earn a decent living to begin with before the accident because of how severely my dyslexia limited me. But after the accident, I had zero means to make my own way in the world. My back was broken in 4 places. It's a miracle I can walk today.

The worst part about it was that I had to turn to the government agencies that are, in theory, supposed to help you if you have nothing and have no family to count on for any help. I didn't have the support of family (I was orphaned at age 13). I was denied SSDI because I "didn't have enough credits paid into social security". I couldn't get SSI either - not "disabled enough"; their reasoning was that I could "just go to college and learn something else to get a job" to support myself. The fact that I was functionally illiterate and in special education classes since 7th grade evaded their logic. They (the fine folks at the local SSA Office)referred me to PA O.V.R. (the state agency that is supposed to help retrain the disabled and place them in new careers). After several years struggling to overcome the illiteracy, I entered college and graduated at age 35 w/ my Bachelors Degree in math/computer science from Kutztown University.

I didn't want to go to school for math and computers - I wanted to go to law school. I dreamt of becoming a lawyer since I was a child and heard about Clarence Darrow. But the "Vocational Rehab Counselor/Specialist" at OVR told me that if I wanted their help with the job placement, I could only go for a 4-year degree - a 4-uear degree in the program of their choice, not mine. I was desperately poor without any income, health or dental care and no safety net (I couldn't get welfare either - I didn't have kids), so these "experts" at OVR basically got away with forcing me me to give up my dream of pre-law and then law school.

In essence, they stole my dream because they had me over a barrel - and they knew it. And because of my disadvantaged position, I didn't have options. I didn't have the means to stand up to them and assert myself by insisting: If I was going to have to struggle with a learning disability, poverty and being out of school for many years to go to college as a non-traditional aged student, I should get to go for the degree I wanted (especially when it was me - not OVR - incurring the student loan debt!)

After going through all that I graduated in May of 2001 w/ a gpa of 2.99 (not bad considering where I started from) - only to find that as a middle-aged woman who had been out of the workforce for over ten years, NO ONE would hire me or give me a chance for a job - not even an $8/hr job as a telemarketer!

The only "jobs" that anyone seemed to be willing to hire me for were commissions-only sales jobs (AFLAC, Mary Kay Cosmetics, etc). I now am self-employed as a PA & OH property & casualty insurance agent.

Like you, I went the self-employment route when getting gainful employment with a regular salary and health benefits was not forthcoming. I can honestly say I feel your pain.

Were law school not beyond my reach financially, I would go now for my juris doctorate and work with the Capital Defenders Association, helping indigent prisoners on death row who were wrongly covicted.(Yes Virginia, innocent people DO get wrongfully convicted - especially if they are poor!)

But as it stands, I owe $54,000 for my undergrad degree. Another $100,000 debt for law school tuition plus needing to work operating my small insurance agency so I can live puts law school way out of my reach.

All the hype that "you can achieve anything you want to if you try" and "America is the best country, the land of opportunity" is a myth. Horatio Alger died a long, long time ago.

In America, things are not supposed to be this way. I think it's a crime of catastrophic proportion that our society has overdosed on the Kool-Aid of "anyone can succeed if they try/work hard enough" in justification for slashing the social programs that once existed to help level the playing field so that those who are poor could go to law school and become the next Clarence Darrow or med school to become the doctor who discovers the cure for cancer.

Unfortunately, due to deeply entrenched classism, vilification of the "undeserving poor", we will probably see our society disintegrate before things change. Just as the 5th century Roman citizens who were starving filled the Colosseum with cries of "pretium carne humanae!" ("Set the price for human flesh!"), I predict our own civilzation will go the way of Rome in 476 AD if things do not change radically and swiftly.

As to possible job opportunity for you as a lawyer, consider contacting the Capital Defenders Association in Philadelphia PA. Ask for a Robert Dunham. He is a really nice down-to-earth guy. But due to cuts in legal aid for the poor and habeas corpus being in shreds, the pay is not real great. But it is rewarding work.

If I hear of anything in your preferred legal discipline, I will be more than happy to forward such tips to you if you leave me your email addy. Please feel free to contact me at: jacqulineHom@aol.com