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So many lawyers, so little time...

"The prospect of hanging focuses the mind wonderfully"--Samuel Johnson

My Photo
Location: Louisville, KY, United States

Gastroenterologist, cyclist, cellist, Christian, husband, father, grandfather.

Saturday, December 31, 2005


For the hardcore introvert there are three words that strike terror into the heart: "You are invited". I hate parties. They are like Death itself, except Death seems to be finite and some parties drag on for Eternity. I'd rather have a root canal.

My mission at any party is to make as clean a get-away as possible without destroying what little social standing I have. Properly done, I can condense a wedding reception into one long graceful movement: walk in the door, extend my congratulations to the bride and groom, grab a bite to eat, and thank the parents, all done without ever touching a chair or talking to anyone I don't know or would like to avoid.

I'm not anti-social, it's just that I got better things to do with my God-given time.

Maybe I have a poor attitude. Maybe I should change.

Yesterday my younger daughter was married. When it comes to wedding planning I try to be a non-combatant, either mediating between warring parties, or just ducking out of the whole thing until the fallout settles. When the big event comes, visitors graciously give me credit for all the planning and I explain that I only sign the checks, even though I didn't even do that much (my wife did).

This was my second and last daughter to be married. Our first daughter's wedding had an ad hoc quality about it. It was our first wedding and lots of things went wrong. Everyone laughed it off, relaxed, and had a great time. There was dancing into the night. Levity was the order of the evening.

This time around our (my wife and younger daughter's) planning was seamless. Everything was perfect. Instead of a DJ we had a live swing band. Instead of a buffet we had a formal sit-down dinner. Even the bride's dances were choreographed. We came prepared to dance the night away.

Contrary to my nature, I wandered about greeting folks that I knew and saying hello to folks I didn't. It occurred to me that we were not likely to ever have this crowd under the same roof again until my fourteen year-old son gets married, or until I die and they gather for my funeral.

As I was getting ready to walk my daughter down the aisle, she said "Daddy, walk slowly. I want to enjoy this moment for as long as I can". We walked very slowly, my daughter appearing as beautiful as she ever has, with me trying to look invisible as to not detract from her moment.

I wanted the reception to go on all night. This was my baby getting married. We had planned for this over the last year. Everything was perfect. This day is one to be enjoyed, savored, lingered over.

But this is America, a nation of very busy people with Lots of Things To Do.

Just as I was settling in for the evening, guests started to pay their respects on the way out the door. I'm glad you could join us, I tell them. The reception is lovely but the moms did all the work. Thank you for coming.

But that's not what I'm thinking. What's the rush? Look at my daughter, how happy and beautiful she is! Listen to the band. They're just getting warmed up. Don't go quite yet.

"Dad, it's almost time for us to go", my daughter says. That is my cue to line folks up outside and give them the matches and sparklers. The reception hall does not allow for flower petals or rice to be thrown, but doesn't mind if guests wave sparklers for the bride and groom as they make their getaway. It's an idea I've been opposed to. I have visions of some guest's hair or jacket catching fire and having our friends and Defenders of the Public Trust, the lawyers, sue my butt off. We have 750 sparklers and, to my dismay, it's not raining, so we have to use them.

To my relief no one catches fire. The only injury I know of was my older daughter who had a slight burn on one of her fingers. She told me later that she thought about calling a personal injury lawyer but didn't want to sue herself out of her inheritance.

My new son-in-law, romantic to a fault, has a horse-drawn carriage awaiting the newlyweds as they work their way through the gauntlet of fire. They give us a quick wave and then they are gone.

"How lovely!" say our guests. They thank us once again, and then they are gone, too.

And it is over so quickly.

Monday, December 19, 2005


In this quiet year of my life I've passed several milestones. This year marks my twentieth anniversary as a gastroenterologist. I'm thankful that the field still provides me with challenges and is a source of fascination, no less now than in the first year of training.

This month I picked up my younger daughter for the last time at college. She went through on an accelerated program, cramming four full years of school into three and a half. I'll miss her school's beautiful campus. I won't miss her school's tuition payments.

Part of my daughter's final studies involved taking a personal finance course, or "Getting ready for Harsh Reality 101". Part of her assignment was to review our car insurance, including deductibles, limits of coverage, etc. I either wish I'd done the review three years earlier, or not at all. I had no idea I have a $100 deductible on an old junker I own. I had forgotten about a fender-bender my wife had been in 5 years ago. And they said it was all her fault. Bummer.

Just then I realized I had passed yet another milestone: it has been five years since anyone has sued me for anything.

The lawsuits are ever with me, so it came as a shock that it has been that long since I received that frightening letter:

We are reviewing these circumstances to see if there is any merit to the suit that the plaintiff is now pursuing. We are definitely suing some other doctors involved in this case. Could you be next?

I suspected that the function of this letter was to see if it could prompt me to call the attorney and offer to turn "state's evidence" and give inside information/dirt on the other doctors in order to save my own hide. My own attorney agreed.

"These guys do that all the time, and some doctors fall for it. I'm glad you didn't. It would have voided your own coverage, you know".

I knew.

It's been five years since then. I wish I could say that I'm such a better risk because I'm better as a physician, but I'm not. I'm certainly more cautious. I avoid high risk patients like the plague; I dismiss any patient I catch lying about anything. I'm just better at avoiding lawsuits, I suppose.

If I've learned anything, it's that no one is going to give me a good citizenship award for working 16 hours a day as a matter of habit. The wisest thing I've done is to see myself as a retired physician, one who is no longer able to work because of unavailability of liability coverage. So what do I do with myself now? Who knows, but life will surely go on.

Until then I will enjoy my practice but will keep taking Wednesdays off to go mountain biking. I won't come in on Saturdays for out-patient procedures so that the patients don't have to burn a sick day. I'm going biking with my son then.

And I will, as always, keep up with the literature. The field is just too interesting to go along as a bystander.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Happy festive occasion!

This isn't original - I'm not even sure where it came from - but it is very funny.

FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director

TO: All Employees
DATE: 1 October 2005
RE: Christmas Party

I'm happy to inform you that the company Christmas Party will take place on December 23, starting at noon, in the private function room at the Grill House.

There will be a cash bar and plenty of drinks! We'll have a small band playing traditional carols. Feel free to sing along!

And don't be surprised if our CEO shows up dressed as Santa Claus!

A Christmas tree will be lit at 1.00pm.

Exchange of gifts among employees can be done at that time; however, no gift should be over $10 to make the giving of gifts easy for everyone's pockets.

This gathering is only for employees! Our CEO will make a special announcement at that time! Merry Christmas to you and your family!


FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 2 October 2005

RE: Holiday Party

In no way was yesterday's memo intended to exclude our Jewish employees.

We recognize that Chanukah is an important holiday, which often coincides with Christmas,, though unfortunately not this year. However, from now on we are calling it our "Holiday Party". The same policy applies to any other employees who are not Christians or those still celebrating Reconciliation Day.

There will be no Christmas gift exchange, it is now called just a gift exchange. No Christmas carols will be sung. We will have other types of music for your enjoyment.

Happy now?

Happy Holidays to you and your family.


FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All Employees
DATE: 3 October 2005

RE:Holiday Party

Regarding the note I received from a member of Alcoholics Anonymous requesting a non-drinking table....................... you didn't sign your name.

I'm happy to accommodate this request but if I put a sign on a table that reads, "AA Only", you wouldn't be anonymous anymore. How am I supposed to handle this?

Forget about the gifts exchange, no gifts exchange are allowed since the union members feel that $10 is too much money and executives believe $10 is a little chintzy.



FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All employees
DATE: 4 October 2005

RE: Holiday Party

What a diverse group we are! I had no idea that December 20 begins the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which forbids eating and drinking during daylight hours. There goes the party!

Seriously, we can appreciate how a luncheon at this time of the year does not accommodate our Muslim employees' beliefs. Perhaps the Grill House can hold off on serving your meal until the end of the party - or else package everything for you to take it home in little foil doggy bags.
Will that work?

Meanwhile, I've arranged for member of Weight Watchers to sit farthest from the dessert buffet and pregnant women will get the table closest to the restrooms.

Gays are allowed to sit with each other. Lesbians do not have to sit with gay men, each will have their own table. Yes, there will be a flower arrangement for the gay men's table.

To the person asking permission to cross dress, no cross-dressing is allowed.

We will have booster seats for short people. Low-fat food will be available for those on a diet. We cannot control the salt use in the food, we suggest those people with high blood pressure to taste the stuff first.

There will be fresh fruits for diabetics, but the restaurant cannot supply "no sugar" desserts. Sorry!

Did I miss anything?!?!?


FROM: Patty Lewis, Human Resources Director
TO: All effing employees
DATE:5 October 2005

RE: The effing Holiday Party

Vegetarian effers, I've had it with you people!!! We're going to keep this at the Grill House whether you like it or not, so you can sit quietly at the table furthest from the "grill of death", as you so quaintly put it, and you'll get your effing salad bar, including organic tomatoes. But you know, tomatoes have feelings too. They scream when you slice them.
I've heard them scream. I'm hearing them scream RIGHT NOW!

I hope you all have a rotten holiday! Drive drunk and die.


FROM: Joan Bishop, Acting Human Resource Director
TO: All employees
DATE: 6 October 2005

RE: Patty Lewis and Holiday Party

I'm sure I speak for all of us in wishing Patty Lewis a speedy recovery and I'll continue to forward your cards to her.

In the meantime, Management has decided to cancel our Holiday Party and give everyone the afternoon of the 23rd off with full pay.

Happy Holidays

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Nothing but the finest

I must receive twenty head hunter mailings a week, each promising obscenely large sums of money if you relocate to an out-of-the-way town and work 80 hours a week until you retire from burnout or repetitive stress injury on your hands from pushing scopes all day long.

Every now and then I receive a mailing that looks interesting, and this past week I got one that was so appealing that I promptly send the recruiter my CV:

Take care of military personnel and their families! No weekends, no night call! (No malpractice because you can't sue government workers!) Nice city! Teaching available!

What more could I want? Right after I sent the recruiters my CV, I composed a letter to my patients:

Dear patient,

I have lived in this area for almost twenty years and regard many of you as friends, even members of my family, so I am sorry to announce that I am closing my practice in six months in order to take a cushy government job where none of you can sue me for my house, kids' college educations, or pension. When a physician was elected governor of this state we all hoped that meaningful malpractice reform was right around the corner. Instead, the opposition party, which relies on the State Bar Association for sizable campaign contributions, not only has blocked his every move but is forcing him to waste his time defending himself from persecution from the State Attorney's Office (who is a member of the opposition party) from charges that would have made the Salem puritan magistrates blush.

Well screw it, people. When you wake up and find that no one with more than three years experience is available to take care of you, you'll have all the rich ambulance chasers to thank.

A tad harsh, to be sure, but I figured by the time the letter actually went out, calmer heads would prevail and the letter would lose some of the edge. I can always dream.

The sad thing is that when the recruiters call me back, I always feel like I'm applying for the position of cashier at the local convenience store because I'd be a little overqualified. "I must say that your CV looks great! Any chance you can start work next week?"

"Um, next week? I'd love to, but I'm a solo doc in a very busy practice and it would take me about six months to close the practice down (a very optimistic estimate, by the way)."

"Oh, darn. This is a contract position that would last one year. It might be renewed at the end of the year, maybe not."

"Let me be sure I understand. You're looking for a competent gastroenterologist who is prepared to pull up stakes in a moment's notice and relocate to a new city with no more than one year's guarantee that he'll be employed?"

"Well, no one said that our job was easy."

Good luck. I'm just an average Joe who can whip a scope around, but I cannot imagine them finding a decent doc who is in such a position. Maybe they exist. I hope so. I'd hate to think that the government was only looking for warm bodies to take care of Our Finest.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

How to tell if you've joined the vast right-wing conspiracy

1) You hear someone talking about "morality" and you no longer instantly assume he must be a sexually repressed religious nut.

2) You're actually relieved that your daughter plays with dolls and your son plays with guns.

3) You sit all the way through Dead Man Walking and at the end still want the guy to be executed.

4) Christmas season rolls around and it hits you there may be a religious connection.

5) At your kids' back-to-school night, you are shocked to discover the only dead white male on your tenth-grader's reading list is Oscar Wilde.

6) And by the end of the night you realize the only teacher who shares your values teaches phys ed.

7) Much as you'd like to, you can't get yourself to believe that screwing around on one's wife is an addiction.

Taken from "How I accidentally joined the vast right-wing conspiracy and found inner peace" by Harry Stein

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Freak snowstorm closes Paris subway system

One of the most obnoxious bumper stickers I've seen lately said something to this effect: "If you want to be patriotic, you'll have to do more than slap a yellow sticker on your car. You'll have to get informed." I was tempted to leave a note on the windshield that said, "Thank you for encouraging open and honest political discussion in this country by announcing that anyone who disagrees with you is an ignorant fool. BTW, you're a stinking traitor."

That might have been a little harsh. I really came away wondering, "OK, I've had it with the unwashed red state masses. Just where do I go to get educated properly? CNN? CBS? The New York Times? The Daily Kos?"

I'm afraid I'd have to overcome some major distrust issues, like being asked back to a marriage with a habitual philanderer. Which brings me back to what I thought was a weird headline from my local paper in 1982 or so: Freak snowstorm closes Paris subway system

In 1980 our country suffered a horrible epidemic the likes of which had never been seen in any civilized culture. This epidemic vanished in the 1990's, only to make a resurgence over the last five years. This was the epidemic of the homeless: millions of perfectly normal people who, because of the viciousness of the Ronald Reagan Tax Cuts Only For The Rich, were tossed out of their comfortable middle-class homes and were forced to sleep over grates and live by looking for half-empty dog food containers in the trash of those few people (mostly Republicans) who were able to hang on to their own homes.

I was a registered Democrat and a loyal ABC Nightly News viewer back then. It bothered me a little that the few homeless people I ever personally saw were schizophrenic drunkards, but ABC and all the other Major News Outlets surely knew what they were talking about. And they made sure that I understood that mass homelessness had never occurred in any other culture or country. It was strictly a modern American phenomenon directly related to Ronald Reagan's Tax Cuts Only For The Rich.

So the headline I saw one day, on A8 of the local paper was very perplexing. A subway is underground, so how on earth would a snowstorm close it down? I read on. When the snowstorm hit Paris, everyone was caught by surprise. All the homeless of Paris, some 50,000 strong, fled the streets to the relative comfort of the Parisian subway system.

It was not the snowstorm that closed the subway system after all, but all the French homeless that jammed up the underground so that paying customers could not get access to the trains.

50,000 homeless in the most urbane capitol of the most enlightened nation on earth, one not only untouched by Ronald Reagan's Tax Cuts Only For The Rich but in a system that prides itself on its compassionate socialism? I felt as if I had wandered into my bedroom to find my spouse in the arms of a significant other.

Many women, when victimized by a philandering husband, obtain a divorce and remarry yet another philanderer. In 1982 (or thereabouts) I swore that I would never watch ABC Nightly News again. Instead I relied on PBS/NPR to provide me all the information about the world I would ever want to know. This changed in 1991, when NPR campaigned actively on behalf of Bill Clinton. I still like NPR, but when I listen my mind's eye shows someone continually giving me the "wink wink, nudge nudge". I don't trust them, or ABC, or CBS, or the New York Times. They have to earn back my trust if they want me to take them as anything other than a mouthpiece for the Democratic Party.

They haven't been trying to win my trust back very hard. Consider these two fairly recent headlines, seen in the A4 or A6 pages of the local newspaper:

Polar icecaps on Mars receding.

The "Great Red Spot" on Jupiter slowly vanishing

Both of these changes are occurring because of global warming issues on these planets, yet they have no SUV's, defoliated Amazon rainforests, ignored Kyoto treaties, or drilling in the Alaskan wilderness.