Songs for the Struggling Artist

What I Was Supposed to Get Out of Jury Service and What I Got Instead

People like to tell you that being a part of a jury for a trial gave them a new sense of appreciation for the court system. The videos preparing you for jury service like to report that people say this as well. I might have thought this would happen to me, too, but in fact, it was something like the opposite. The whole experience made me incredibly sad. Now that it’s over, I can tell you why. Warning: there’s a lot about bowels in this case.

I was selected to serve in a civil suit brought by a patient who’d had to have bowel surgery on the heels of his colonoscopy. His lawyer claimed that the doctor had poked a hole in the man’s colon while performing the test. The man had had to use a colostomy bag for six months and had a miserable time. This man had been living with HIV since 1989 and at times lived in shelters. He is an incredibly vulnerable man, who also, it became clear through his testimony, just didn’t really understand what had happened to him. For him, events sort of blurred together so he felt that he went to sleep for a test and woke up the next day with a colostomy bag attached to him. He’s a man who has struggled enormously and the way our system works, rather than find a reasonable way to get this guy the care that he needs, he’s been seemingly pushed into bringing a malpractice suit against his doctor. He would not seem to have any real means of support and an absence of community to catch him when he falls. It sounds like, after his surgery, he just stayed in his apartment, unable to go anywhere for six months. And our government, rather than find a way to help this guy, somehow thinks it’s better to have him sue the doctor who gave him a test?

It was clear to me from the start that the doctor was actually exemplary in his care. The doctor’s office made sure the man was okay when he left their office and when the man went to the hospital the next day in pain, the doctor came to the hospital to see him again. Honestly, if I had a doctor who just gave me a test turn up to the hospital for me the next day, I’d be shocked but then, I’m used to pretty haphazard care. The doctor ordered a CAT scan to check for a bowel perforation and the radiologist reported “There is no evidence of a perforation.” Twelve hours later they did another CAT scan and he’d developed a perforation. Why? The gastroenterologists we heard from explained it was something called ileus, which is when your digestive system just quits moving. It’s pretty dangerous. I mean, I think of what Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Movement is Life,” and then he goes on to discuss that it is movement that is the way we know something is alive. So when things like the colon stop moving, there’s big trouble.

Anyway – I don’t need to tell you all the (incredibly tedious) details of this trial but what may already be obvious is that this poor guy, with all his troubles and cognitive issues to boot, was continually on display over the course of this trial. We saw CAT scans of his entire torso from lungs to rectum. We heard about his gas, his bowel movements, his fecal matter and more. For a man who could barely bring himself to say any bathroom words on the stand, it must have been brutal to be so exposed. I tried to make myself feel better by thinking, “Well, he brought the suit. I guess he asked for this.” But did he? A man this vulnerable?

The trial seemed to go on and on for no good reason. We’d hear an hour of testimony in the morning, after waiting an hour, and then be done for the day. It took a week and a half until we were finally put in a room to deliberate. The deliberation took us less than 45 minutes – mostly because the question we had to answer was so simple. It was something like, “Did the doctor deviate from standard medical practice and use too much force to push through the wall of the colon during the colonoscopy”? No. Obviously no. We were unanimous and we were not required to be.

Honestly, I resent that we had to be asked, that we had to sit in a courthouse for a week and a half to say so. A man had an unfortunate health event and rather than find a way to support him through it, to help him understand what happened and give him good resources to deal with it – our system thought it would be better to give him some false hope about getting a bunch of money from his doctor through the court system. The system is fine with putting out all these resources for this specious case instead of caring for a vulnerable man. Trials are expensive! If all the money spent on the trial had just been handed to this unfortunate guy that would have been money well spent. I would be happy with my tax dollars helping out a vulnerable person. They’re gonna pay me $240 for my week and a half of jury service. It’s not a lot but I bet this guy could use that even more than I could. How about DON’T call me in to listen to a lot of poop talk and just give the money to the man who needs it?

It’s just such an appalling mis-use of resources. And this how we do it. The doctor was compelled to hire a fancy malpractice defense lawyer. The jurors were compelled to disrupt their lives to come in and listen to this business. The plaintiff was compelled to listen to lawyers talk about his colon for a week and a half. What was the point of all of that? Is this justice? We rendered a just verdict, I think, but who benefitted from it? No one. It was just a colossal waste of time and resources. So, no, I have no new respect for our jury system. It was an impersonal, needlessly invasive sad state of affairs, that exposed not just the inner workings of the plaintiff’s guts but the ways our government fails the most vulnerable. Sorry, no. Especially with the Supreme Court becoming the travesty it is, I am not gaining new respect for our system. I have lost a lot of faith in a system I might have once had hope for.

We looked at an image like this for a week and a half.
I can tell you a few things about the Sigmoid Colon now and can’t believe they left out the Cecum on this diagram.

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