Super Swain Drugs became my lunchtime home for two or three days a week—the other days reserved for lunch at the hospital or at one of the other town cafés. But I reserved one day a week for the Rotary Club meeting at Sneed’s Restaurant on Main Street.
I don’t remember who first invited me to attend the weekly lunchtime Rotary Club meeting. It could have been Rick or perhaps Ray. Since we worked in the same office, I may have just decided to join them one day and invited myself. Nevertheless, one day I decided to go, and before long I had become a Bryson City Rotarian.
The weekly meetings involved lunch, lots of talk and gossip, a few announcements from the president of that particular year, and an “important” guest speaker. Now, “important” has different meanings in different communities. In big cities, the Rotary speaker may be a congressman or famous journalist, a sports or theater celebrity, or a famous musician or novelist. In midsize towns, the speaker may be a governor or state senator, a college football or basketball coach, or perhaps a local who made it big in the business world.
In Bryson City, it could be the mayor or the county agricultural agent or a park ranger. Or it could be the president of the garden club or a new developer in the area who was trying to attract foreigners—our name for rich folks from Florida who knew neither how to drive on mountain roads nor the true value of mountain property (as they always paid way over market value). They clogged our roads in the summer and ran up our property prices in the spring and fall. Then they abandoned us for the winter.
In fact, one day my dad called. “Walt, your great-aunt Leota, when she passed away, left me and your mom her beach house in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. If there’s any chance you and Barb might live in Florida one day, we’d be glad for you all to have the home and manage it.”
“Dad,” I told my father, “I wouldn’t move to Florida if it was the last place left on the planet where I could practice.” If only I had known how my words would one day mock me.
At this Rotary meeting I sat at a table for lunch with Pastor Ken, Doc John, and Fred Moody, a local attorney and a member of the hospital board of directors. Pastor Ken was the only non- member; he was with us as a guest that day.
The fact that I was sitting with these particular men on this specific day, especially in light of the discussion Ken, John, and I had had the day before—added to the distressing phone call I’d received from an attorney the night before—was to me an answer to an unvoiced prayer. The thought of that call had kept me incensed off and on all morning long. I was interested in hearing my tablemates’ response to the account—although it wasn’t easy to get a word in edgewise with these three guys at the table!
Fred gave me the opening I needed. “What’s happening in the wide world of medicine, Walt? You save any lives yet today?”
“Ah, it’s still early, Fred.”
The men chuckled.
“But I did receive a strange phone call last night. I’d be interested in y’all’s advice about it.”
It grew silent at the table as six eyes peered at me.
“Well, after supper the phone rang. I picked it up, and the voice on the other end said, ‘Is Mr. Larimore there?’”
“Mister?” asked Doc John.
“Yeah, made me think it was someone who didn’t know I was a physician.”
“Probably a solicitation,” predicted Fred.
“In a way you’re right, Fred. The man told me he was an attorney from Raleigh. He said he’d recently been told that my daughter was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy, and he wanted to know if that was true.”
Fred put down his fork. “Are you kidding me, Walt?”
“I wish I was, Fred.”
“Well, feelings of distrust immediately sprang up in my mind. So I said, ‘Why do you ask?’ He commented that my question was fair, and then he told me that his law firm represented the parents of many children with CP. He told me that in virtually every case cerebral palsy is caused by some sort of medical misadventure.”
“Misadventure!” exclaimed Fred. “Nonsense! That’s just a euphemism for malpractice. This guy was a malpractice attorney, wasn’t he?”
“I’m sure you’re right.”
“So what’d he say next?”
“He carried on with his speech by saying something like, ‘Actually, it’s usually caused by a mistake. Now, of course, these mistakes are usually unintended, unplanned—an accident, if you will. And certainly the excellent doctors and nurses at Duke usually provide exceptional care, and they certainly mean well, but there is the occasional mishap—misfortune, if you will.’”
Fred’s face was flushed. “Walt, what this guy’s doing is unethical!”
“I know, Fred. I was outraged too. I tried to sound calmer than I was feeling. So I told him I was sure there were no, as he had said, ‘mishaps’!”
“So what’d he say to that?” asked Fred.
“Well, he stayed calm—at least he sounded calm. He told me it usually seemed that way. ‘But,’ he said, ‘almost always a mistake has been made and then hidden from the child’s family.’ He went on to tell me that even if he couldn’t find a mistake or prove that one was made, juries could be easily convinced of the need to compensate parents for the expensive care that their child was going to need for life. He told me it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars toward Kate’s medical and long-term care expenses.”
“I can’t believe my ears!” Ken exclaimed. “Isn’t that illegal, Fred?”
“It oughta be, that’s for sure!” Fred growled.
“Well,” I continued, “I couldn’t believe my ears either. I mean, this weasel—excuse me, Fred—but this weasel wanted to sue our doctor to compensate for Kate’s care expenses. All I could mutter to him was that there was no way we’d ever sue Dr. Vest. In fact, after she heard of Kate’s diagnosis, she thoroughly reviewed the medical records. When she could find nothing wrong, she had a hospital committee review the case. She was devastated by Kate’s disability—just devastated. I’d never consider suing such a competent and compassionate physician. No way!”
“How’d he respond?” asked John.
“Well, I almost didn’t find out. I started to hang up on him because I was so mad. But before I could, he continued. He said something like, “Mr. Larimore, I understand completely. Who in their right mind would want to sue such a wonderful person? I would never suggest such a thing. As you say, No way!’”
“Oh, this guy is sly!” commented Fred.
“Hey, Fred, doesn’t it take one to know one?” quipped Doc John.
“Well, you know,” Fred responded, “there’s evil sly and then there’s shrewd sly. I just so happen to be the latter.”
“I’m lost,” Ken confessed. “Where was he going with this?”
“Well, I asked him that. He told me he’d never suggest suing the doctor—only the malpractice insurance company. No harm would be done to the doctor that way, he told me. He’d only be asking an impersonal and uncaring company—one that makes outlandish, even obscene, profits—to compensate what he called ‘our poor little daughter’ for her handicap. And then he threw in the kicker. He said, ‘Perhaps you and your wife can get some well- deserved compensation for some of your pain and suffering.’”
“See what I mean, John?” Fred muttered. “This guy is evil. This type of firm is what gives my profession a bad name.”
“So, Walt, how did you respond?” asked Ken.
“Ken, my anger was reaching a boil. This clown had no idea what malpractice suits do to doctors and their families—especially when the doctor has done nothing wrong. This person was a bottom- feeder, in my opinion. All I could mutter was, ‘What’s in it for you?’”
Fred smiled. “Ah, the rubber meets the road.”
I continued. “He told me his firm would only take a reasonable percentage of the settlement—and only after the settlement was paid. He said we’d have no out-of-pocket expenses. He said they’d take all the risk and do all the work; then he said—and I quote—‘Then your poor daughter will reap the benefit from our effort and expertise.’”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Fred muttered. “I bet they’d take 30 to 40 percent of the award. What they call reasonable and what I call reasonable aren’t in the same ballpark, I’ll tell ya that!”
John laughed. “You mean you’d charge more?”
Fred smiled. “Cute, Doc John. Cute.”
“So what happened?” asked Ken.
“Well, my anger had intensified to a brisk boil. ‘Mister,’ I asked him, ‘how’d you get this information?’”
“Great question, Walt!” Fred commented.
“Well, maybe so, but he didn’t bother to answer. My anger erupted. I told him my wife and I had never signed a consent for the release of our daughter’s confidential medical records to him or any other law firm. Then I told him that to my knowledge none of this information was available legally in any public forum. I told him that as far as I was concerned, he must have obtained it illegally.”
Fred laughed. “Way to go, Walt! I couldn’t have done better myself. What’d he say?”
“Nothing. ‘Umm’ was all I could hear on the other end of the line. So then I said to him, ‘And further, sir, as a physician myself, I would never sue another physician—especially one I was convinced had done her very best for us.’”
Laughter erupted around the table. I could see other Rotarians shooting glances at us.
“Bravo, Walt!” Fred exclaimed. “What’d he do then?”
“There was silence at the other end of the line, but I could hear the snake still breathing. I asked him, ‘Would you give me your name and phone number?’ Suddenly the phone line went dead, and I slammed the receiver down in its cradle.”
“Wow, what a story!” Doc John exclaimed.
“I bet I could find out the name of the firm if you want me to, Walt,” added Fred.
I smiled. “No, probably just best to let it drop. I don’t think it’s a dog I want to chase.”
Ken smiled at me and reached over to pat my arm. “I think you’re wise. Sometimes it’s best, as the good Lord said, to just ‘shake the dust off your feet.’”
That evening, Barb and I sat on the bench behind our home. I was thinking about the last two days. I was ever so slowly coming to the realization that God knew exactly what he was doing when he allowed Kate to have the gift of cerebral palsy. What others, even a misguided but sincere pastor in Durham and an unethical lawyer in Raleigh, had seen as a mistake or a terrible disease, was actually for Barb and me—and all who were to meet and get to know Kate—an incredible miracle and blessing.
Once I had prayed for her healing. But from this time forward, I was able to sincerely and gratefully give daily prayers of thanks for one incredible little girl and the healing that God gave us with and through her—and through a wonderful community of friends and neighbors.
TO BE CONTINUED
PAST STORIES FROM BRYSON CITY TALES
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Something Fishy (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Good Day at the Office
- An Evening to Remember
- Another New Doc Comes to Town
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1); (Part 2)
- A Surprising Gift
- The New Year (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Home Birth (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Showdown (Part1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.