As an attorney, I am accustomed to cautionary tales after the fact, in the wake of tragedies that might have been avoided. If only someone had known, I think. If only someone had behaved differently, I say. What follows is a short story that can, and does, happen to anyone, any day. It’s a cautionary tale before the fact, with a happy ending that nonetheless serves as a lesson about attention and responsibility on the road.
Last month I awoke with severe pain radiating down my back, legs and thighs, so excruciating that I couldn’t walk. In handling my share of medical-related lawsuits, I have gained just enough knowledge to scare the heck out of myself – but not enough for any kind of accurate diagnosis. So I turned to the Internet. Morning sciatica, I read. Nice to know, but not much comfort as the next few sunrises brought debilitating pain that abated only slightly as the days wore on.
I am always the first to advise other people to see a doctor when they have medical issues. But I am the last to follow my own advice. Only when the pain became unbearable did I make an appointment with an acupuncturist. You know the drill: I fill out endless forms, I am directed to a tiny room, I disrobe, and then my legs and backside look like the rear view of a porcupine, full of needles with wires attached to what looked to me like transformers. My tormentor adjusts the voltage, and I start to feel better. After five such treatments, the pain has improved, but it has moved up to my buttocks and the continued lack of sleep leaves me drowsy all day.
One day I find myself fighting sleep in a client meeting, and decide I must see the doctor immediately. I make the appointment and he says imaging studies will help with diagnosis, so I leave his office with directions to the scanning place. Sleep-deprived as I am, I start the car and head out into traffic on automatic pilot. Focusing hazily on the map in my lap, I somehow realize that I have missed my turn, and if I don’t turn around right away, I will be late for my appointment. Suddenly jolted to full consciousness, I find myself in the middle of PGA Boulevard, where everything is moving in slow motion. I glance at the light I just passed through, and – I gasp – it is solidly red. The black Mercedes to my left swerves to avoid me, and another car zips crazily around me. I pull to the right and slow to a near-stop, my heart pounding, hoping that I have not caused the kind of catastrophic accident we see so often in our law offices.
Traffic appears to have cleared without incident, so I move on and stop at the next light. I think that I deserve to be stopped by the police, but there are none in sight. Instead, in front of me, a car door opens and the driver runs back to tap me on the shoulder. “I suppose you know you ran that red light!” he shouts angrily. “I know, I was trying . . .” I mumble in agony. But he sprints back to his car and drives off, not interested in my feeble excuse. All he knows is, I put his life in jeopardy.
Ironically, I arrived at the scanning office with half an hour to spare. And when I awoke the next day, almost all my back pain was gone. I like to think the pain went away as I put things in perspective, because there is a moral to this story.
Driving is serious business, and there is no excuse – not even pain – for carelessness and inattention. My personal discomfort was insignificant compared to the injuries or death I could have caused to innocent drivers and passengers around me. They were lucky, yes, because the catastrophe didn’t happen this time. But the lucky one is really me, because I learned a lesson I will never forget.