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March 24, 2011

Ask the Attorney – April 2011

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:16 pm

I don’t think it’s possible to understand what it’s like to be disabled until you actually are disabled.  I’m not saying that you can’t be sympathetic.  I’m sure all of us are that in one way or another, even if it is simply based on the premise of being thankful that you are not the one who is afflicted.  But unless you lose the ability to use one or more of your senses or until you become physically incapable of moving the way most people in the world can, you can’t know how difficult it is to live with a handicap.

I am getting this experience first hand.  Since I became ill in January of this year, I have been unable to hear and I have been diagnosed as having a “profound hearing loss”.  That seems to be the politically correct way of saying I am deaf although I am uncertain as to why the term deaf is inappropriate and offensive.  Perhaps it is not and it is simply too narrow a term to be applied to the number of different types of hearing losses that can occur.  For instance, my particular loss resulted from an infection and, because of the way the loss came about, there are certain hearing loss remedies that cannot be applied to me.  Hearing aids will not work for me because the infection actually damaged a part of my ears that sends the sound signal to my auditory nerve and onto my brain.  Since the signal can no longer be sent, simple amplification of sound will not correct my hearing problem.  The only potential solution for me, so I am told, is to have implants surgically placed in my ears that will bypass the affected area and send a signal directly to my auditory nerve potentially allowing me to regain all or some of my hearing.  If my audiotory nerve had been damaged, the implant solution would not work for me either.  I have a very good friend who was born without one of her ears and with a profound hearing loss in the one she has as a result of fetal alcohol syndrome.  She manages to get by very well with a hearing aid supplemented by an amazing ability to read peoples lips as they speak.  Like I said, or sort of said, there are many different types of hearing losses and all of them are very different.

I have no such ability to read lips or sign language which is why I am all too aware of how isolated you can be when you are disabled.  My friends and colleagues, who have all been very supportive and completely understanding, are often, innocently, and unintentionally the worst offenders.  Everything starts out okay – everything is written down (yes…I’ve been killing lots of trees these days) or typed into a laptop and we manage to communicate quite nicely with each other.  And then they get tired of writing or typing and they start talking amongst themselves and, before you know it, twenty minutes has gone by and the only communication I’ve had are with the private thoughts rattling around in my own head and I get lost in my own world.  While my visitors are conversing about who knows what, I’m usually listening to music or figuring out what the next topic will be for this column.  It’s music mostly.  That great jukebox in my mind is always cycling through some music catalogue or another. I’ve found this to be the only way to get through long, tedious, claustrophobic bone scans and MRIs.  I pick a song and begin playing from beginning to end and, if I slip up on the lyrics or play some notes in the wrong order, I start from the beginning again.  It’s a great way to kill time during medical procedures but it proves to be rather antisocial when I’m sitting with a group of friends, family or colleagues.  Unfortunately, I am left no other choice when, instead of communicating with me, they talk amongst themselves and I am left completely in the dark.  And what if this hearing loss had been something I was born with instead of something that came upon me after I had already had a chance to develop a mental catalogue of memories, images, sounds and ideas?  I can not even begin to imagine the loneliness or the feeling of isolation that someone afflicted in that way has to live with.  Perhaps it’s not lonely at all but, instead, simply different.  If you’ve never heard sound then you don’t rely on it.

And then there’s the frustration.  I’m not talking about mine – I think I’ve already explained mine.  I’m talking about the frustration that I see in those around me.  I believe it comes from the fact that we, as non-disabled people, never really have to think about communicating with each other when all of our senses are intact.  However, when one of those senses is broken or missing, we have no idea as to how to adapt ourselves so that we can communicate with a disabled person appropriately.  For instance, I cannot tell you how many times someone finds out that I can not hear and, for some reason, I can see them opening their mouths wider, speaking louder, in an attempt to speak to make me hear them.  It’s a nervous reaction, really, that stems from not knowing what to do or how to communicate appropriately.  And hand gestures – I never know what they are supposed to mean because they have no context for me and I find myself simply guessing as to which of the many meanings the communicator is relying on.  Of course, after my third or fourth incorrect guess, I can see the frustration on the communicators face as they begrudgingly find a pen and some paper to write down what they want me to know.  Which is probably what they should have done in the first place.

My ears may not work but my other senses still do.  And believe me, I’m very grateful for that.

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March 1, 2011

Ask the Attorney – March 2011

Filed under: Columns from Our Towne Magazine, General — Paul Czech & Associates @ 4:15 pm

If you looked for my column in last month’s Our Towne you saw that I was sick. So, you will not find it unusual for me to be wishing you a very happy New Year.   Mine has not started out very well at all.  Just after New Years, during the first week of January, I was taken to the hospital, put on life support, and treated for a case of spinal meningitis.   I remained in the hospital for about a month and I’m expecting to be recuperating at home for at least that much longer.  I will also have to have surgery to have implants put in place so I can perhaps regain the hearing (or at least some of it) that I have permanently lost as a result of my bought with this ailment.  Someone reminded me that this was the same ailment that Helen Keller suffered from.

But I’m not writing this to tell you about my personal woes.  Rather, I’m writing this to sing the praises of the medical profession.  That’s right – a lawyer talking up doctors and nurses.  After all, I would not be here writing this today if not for the care given to me by these dedicated professionals.  And no, they didn’t seem to be giving me any kind of special treatment because of my profession.  In fact, it didn’t seem to matter to them at all.  I suspect most of them didn’t even know nor did they care.  They showed nothing but concern for me and an extreme desire to get me better and back on my feet.  And they did things to keep up my spirits and morale.  One night, two student nurses, completely of their own accord, came to my room with a wheelchair and took me on a whirlwind tour of the hospital that ended up with them treating me to a soda to try to help me forget the tedium of my recovery.  When was the last time your lawyer or their law clerk did anything for you remotely like that?  And, if they did, how quickly did you get the bill for the services rendered?

It needs to stop, quite honestly, this constant legal attack on the medical profession.  The results of this war are seen everywhere in the medical world from that simple office check-up visit to in-patient hospitalizations like I just went through.  The lawyers have everyone scared and that’s wrong.  Medical practitioners hands are tied because everything they do has to be checked and double checked simply to cover their backsides and to pay their due to the insurance companies who are truly the culprits here.  Procedures need to be performed simply to eliminate the most remote possibility of them actually being the cause of the problem even when doctors and nurses alike can tell from experience and training that the testing is not necessary.  That’s the reason your health care costs so, so much.

Now don’t get me wrong – there has to be some kind of watchdog group to make sure that the medical profession, or for that matter, any professional group, do not abuse their position within our society.  We professionals play a significant role in your lives and are usually involved in matters that are life changing for you.  That’s a lot of responsibility and things should not be left to simple whims of the person you are dealing with.  We all know that standards must be maintained because that’s how we ensure that everyone gets treated fairly.  Standards are also what allow us as clients, patients, consumers – whatever it is we are at the time – to be confident that each professional we go to has the same basic level of knowledge so we can feel comfortable that our concerns will be handled in a competent manner similarly by anyone we choose to go to.

We’re really talking about the differing capabilities of the professionals out there.  For instance, I first became aware of medical malpractice as a young lawyer in Philadelphia almost 20 years ago.  The lawyers I worked with were brilliant and they were sought after by clients from all over the country.  They were concerned about their own reputations in the community and only took cases that were challenging and worthy of their attention.  I was the initial person a potential client would see so I know how many cases they would turn down as compared to the amount they would actually take  and I remember the ratio being approximately 1 case taken for every 25 to 30 that was looked at.  So it’s not the great lawyers you have to worry about, it’s the followers.  It’s those mediocre lawyers who are in it for the money who see great lawyers making big money on truly horrible cases and want to jump on the bandwagon.   That’s doing none of us any good, mostly because if you’re just dabbling to make some change, chances are you’re only going to get access to the marginal cases that the big guys have turned down.  And if a case has been turned down there’s a reason.  Do you really need to make a living trying to eat off of someone else’s scraps?  Find an area where you can apply all that fine knowledge you gained by going to law school and develop a practice for yourself in an area that you like.  There’s a reason why the true medical cases go to firms that have trial lawyers who are also trained as doctors or they have doctors on their staffs so they can have cases reviewed and get consults the instant they need them.  These are the reasons why raising medical claims and bringing them to trial is so expensive: you can’t dabble at it and you have to be ready for a long, tough and costly battle that only the big dogs can afford to take on.

There are plenty of potential clients out there that need our attention.  Why not do a service for the community instead of preying on it?  If we take this approach, perhaps the image of lawyers will brighten and we will not be looked at as the villains that, in a lot of ways, the members of the legal  profession have become.

And let’s give the medical profession the room they need to do what they do best which is keep us alive.

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