As we drove to my first orthopedic specialist appointment, we approached the corner of Boulevard and Memorial. My wife had taken off work to drive me and I found myself again a passenger at the intersection.
We slowed at the light. It was the first time I had seen where the two roads converged in about a week. Without thinking, I braced.
Gripping the handrail sent a lightning bolt down my back.
Pain was a new, unwelcomed friend. Debilitating at times, I settled into a new normal of asking for help for the simplest things: Help with getting water, help getting up to go to the bathroom, help understanding when and how to take my medication. I felt like a total burden. My body was hurt, but my pride was dead.
Honestly, I thought I would be able to go back to the office pretty quickly. In reality, my body nor mind was ready.
Even with the medication, I tirelessly hunted – to no avail- the most comfortable position to work, sleep, or really do anything. But I was determined. Thinking back, I must have looked hilarious. At one point, I had taken a back pillow and placed it underneath my head. With my legs stretched across the couch, I propped my computer up onto a bed pillow on my torso and tried to type on my laptop with t-rex arms.
Day by day, even with my harrowing attempts to keep up, I watched my emails pile up like bricks building a foundation of anxiety. The cocktail of medications made me dizzy, upset my stomach and didn’t actually make me pain free. But I couldn’t stop taking them. I squinted as I stared at my laptop screen hoping that my smaller eyes would will the documents into making sense.
I was stuck in a labyrinth of ailments and completely sleep deprived. Every time I thought I was making progress, pain crept into a new place. Those first days dragged on. I held tight to my resolve.
There were a couple of bright spots though.
My youngest brother flew home immediately when he heard about the accident and walked through the door bright and early. He’s a tall, confident guy but worry painted a less familiar expression on his face.
“You alright man?”. I said I was fine, and I was thankful that he accepted my lie.
He pulled out a bag of turmeric shots from Kale Me Crazy and began explaining how I could use them for inflammation. Normally, I’d blow him off, but I was desperate and appreciative. He had used turmeric to reduce his inflammation and pain when he had gone through injury and training for professional basketball. The drugs, my pain and my lack of sleep combined into a fog that made simple comprehension and functioning hard. So, I was glad that his brotherly lecture was short and taking the shots was simple.
The shots weren’t a cure, but within a day I was feeling less bloated and found a few moments where I recognized myself. In conjunction with my pain medication, the slight respite left me hopeful.
I wished I had 10 of those shots right now as we bumped along 85 north.
I had decided to go to an Orthopedic doctor recommended by the hospital that was located all the way in North Cobb County. Sitting in the car, I tried to do a mental barometer of where my pain fell on the 1 to 10 scale. But how do you know when you’re feeling the worst pain you ever felt?
As we got closer to the office, I began to replay my experience with the doctor in the ER. I don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for the leadership of my wife, the specific inquiry of the process from my Mom, and the comedy, yes even in the ER, from my middle brother.
But some discomfort still nagged at me about my ER experience, “Did I answer those questions correctly?” “Did I name all of the areas of my pain?” “Did I leave anything out?” In that moment, the lawyer in me wanted to make sure I had given the doctors an accurate account of the incident and my symptoms. But that night, the victim in me was trying to answer the questions so the doctors could just make me feel better.
“Mr. Brogdon, how would you rate your pain on scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst pain imaginable?”, the ER doctor had asked.
Every nurse before the ER doctor had asked me the same question. I have no idea if I gave them the same responses. Each time, I felt more confused and more stressed.
He inspected the fresh cuts on my legs. Then, he turned my head to see where the now dry blood on my nose had originated. “It looks like you got pretty banged up. Where were you coming from?”
I was glad to see him so it didn’t immediately occur to me that this question was not necessary for my treatment. I was told he was the only person who could administer the pain medication that I had waited nearly two hours to receive. I mumbled that I had come from drinks with friends and waited for him to give me some relief.
Inspecting the burns on my elbows he looked up, “Drinks where?,” he pushed. My wife took a audible breath that I knew meant her agitation was growing.
He waited for my answer.
The next part of the conversation, I’m still making sense of.
I halfheartedly mumbled “Rathbuns.”
With a smirk he replied, “Oh I would’ve guessed you came from Peaches.”
For those who don’t know, Peaches is a shady strip club in the West End. Now, trust me, I have nothing against Peaches, but the quality of my care totally changed when he heard I was dining at a nice steak restaurant with Law school friends.
Suddenly, a flurry of activity began as he discussed treatment options with my wife and mom. I was almost immediately moved to another unit for a CT scan. Even the nurses seemed more concerned with my comfort. It was hard to acknowledge an unfortunate truth: my supposed social status had changed the entire trajectory of my treatment.
To be clear, I have always understood that the care you experience is directly tied to how people perceive you. But, people should be treated based on their injuries and not their income. I think my doctor meant well, but the experience that night further revealed how someone’s perceptions can alter your reality.
We pulled into the parking lot of the doctor’s office. I took a breath and focused on using my legs to stand.
We walked into the lobby and I exchanged knowing looks with the other battle survivors in the waiting room. Some people had casts and braces on their arms and legs, some looked fine. None of us knew the trauma each person had experienced. We each smiled at each other with understanding. I assume our caregivers shared a similar exchange.
Once in the patient room, my doctor was attentive and thorough. He wasn’t concerned with my khaki shorts and polo shirt I had selected to wear to the appointment, just in case he was making the same assessments as the ER doctor. He took X-rays of my neck and back to rule out any fractures that may have been missed in the ER. He also did a physical exam to check for other injuries. Squeezing my fingers, checking the reflexes of my knees, he painstakingly recorded his observations.
He was very thoughtful in how he spoke to me and at this point he did not know I was a lawyer. After about a 20-minute or so exam, he recommended I go to physical therapy, prescribed more medication to help me get some much needed rest and scheduled a follow up appointment 6 weeks later.
As he exited the room, I took the deepest breath I had taken in a week and felt my spirit lighten.
After all those excruciating days and even though my family had been wonderful, I was finally feeling like I had some control. I was thankful to have the chance to go to physical therapy and get my life back on track.
The route we took home avoided that faithful intersection allowing me to hold on to that small feeling of peace.
These are the things you can’t see in the police reports or accident narratives or witness statements. No one asks you how would you rate your peace after trauma on a scale from 1 to 10.
Even if you can perfectly make sense of the events of the accident or your pain level, there is so much that goes unspoken. My clients aren’t generally lawyers who have knowledge about how records are used in litigation. They don’t have medical training. If I was overwhelmed as an attorney with my family in the room with me, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be when my clients, who have no knowledge of this process, have to answer waves of questions while fighting through pain and making sense of their trauma.
Medical records do not account for the fear, anxiety, pain and confusion that are involved in seeking treatment after an accident.
What if i had a physically demanding job, or other responsibilities that made it difficult to just slow down? Even with my discomfort, I was lucky that I could take the time off. And, I felt guilty that I knew most people didn’t have that luxury or the support system to take the time they needed.
We slowly turned safely into the driveway of our home.
Up to this point, my phone and even mailbox had been flooded with insurance companies hoping to get a statement.
I finally felt like I could give them a call back.