I am one of those lawyers who believes in sharing my own story with my client, in part because I want each one to understand that we have something in common, and in part because it makes it easier for them to share with me. The following is one of the many true stories that I tell.
I suffer from what is known as juvenile diabetes, but I didn’t “come down with it” when I was a child. It was December of 1989, just before Christmas. My husband had sold our home, without telling me. (Well, he AGREED to sell it; as it turned out, I ultimately had to sign off on the sale.) And a lawyer whom I respected had just filed a pleading in federal court accusing me of professional misfeasance, because I had interviewed a “management employee” without giving the lawyer representing the corporation notice and an opportunity to be present.
The so-called “management employee” in question had been the deli manager at the local grocery store, not the corporate executive to whom the rule actually referred, who makes management decisions and represents the company, but, rather, the kid who punches a times clock and works behind the counter. The closest thing to “management” that kid did was when he wrangled the lunch meats into sandwiches. But the misfeasance allegation was a strategic ploy intended to throw me off balance, and it did.
I’d been practicing law for nine years and married for two when I came down with what I thought was a bladder infection. I raced to my family doctor to get the medicine I expected him to prescribe as soon as I described the symptoms. Little did I know.
I had been in to see him just two weeks earlier, and everything had been status quo. So this time he decided to run a simple blood test. After the nurse who administered it reported back to him, he sat me down in his office.
“Your blood sugar is over 400.”
“So?” I hesitated. “What does that mean?”
“I’m not sure yet, but it could mean that you’ve developed diabetes. I’m not sure because you don’t fit the description. You’re 32 years old, you’re healthy, and you’re a slender 118 pounds.” He grimaced. “It’s a mystery.”
“Diabetes? What’s that?”
It’s never good when your doctor says “it’s a mystery.” At the very least, it will cost you a lot of money.
My blood sugar did not come down. We waited several days, and then he instructed me to go to Boston, to the Jocelyn Diabetes Center, the only one in the country at that time. “Do not pass ‘Go’; do not collect $200; just get yourself to Jocelyn ASAP.”
I told him all the reasons I could not go. I was too busy. I was working several major lawsuits in which I was “first chair,” the primary lawyer. My schedule was very demanding. I arrived at the office by 7:00 every morning and I never left before 9:00 p.m. I had quit smoking cigarettes two years earlier, so I never needed a smoke break, and rarely ate lunch away from my desk. I had no life outside of work, but I loved what I was doing. And I felt fine, except for the bladder infection.
He argued with me. He was certain that I had developed juvenile diabetes, despite the fact that no one in my family had it, and that I was not at risk. I didn’t understand. Rather than explain or cajole or plead, he simply instructed me that I had to go to Boston.
In retrospect, he probably did explain, but I couldn’t hear him properly; my ears were congested by stress. What stress? Well, I had recently suffered a bout of the flu, it was now two weeks before Christmas, and I had just announced to my husband of two years that I thought a period of separation would be appropriate. (What I really meant was that I wanted a divorce, but I didn’t know how to tell him that. Thankfully, he had sold our home out from under me, so it was apropos that I suggest a “separation.” One step at a time, right?)
And then there was the “professional misfeasance” allegation. While my opposing counsel ultimately abandoned his claim, I was just 32 years old and had not before suffered the slings and arrows of personal attack that has now become so commonplace among trial attorneys.
The doctor asked about the history of diabetes and my family, I told him there was none. He asked me about stress. I laughed.
It turns out that stress can cause juvenile diabetes. Who knew?