In total ignorance of the 4 patients, I went off to the Civic Center Courthouse in downtown Santa Ana and made my way to the jury assembly room, where about 300 or so other jurors were... assembled, of course. As I stood in line to check in, I saw a sign that said get into line 2 if you have a doctor's excuse. I had already written a letter of explanation requesting that I be excused from jury duty because of my medical responsibilities, and that had been turned down, apparently, reflexly. Funny thing, I had written a letter on behalf of a patient with a relatively minor back problem, because he, the patient, felt that the back pain, which didn't stop him from surfing on a regular basis, did stop him from being able to sit still for a trial.... and he ought to know, because, he's a lawyer.... so I accepted his subjective assessment, noted that he hadn't required a neurological or orthopedic referral, and wrote the letter anyway.... because I'm a soft touch, no doubt. How the hell do you assess the quality of someone else's pain, and he wasn't asking me for a narcotic that I thought he didn't need... just an excuse to get out of being on a jury. As I think about it now, and knowing that he is a Republican, he could have gotten out of his jury service by not voting and getting himself off the jury list (or committing a felony!) But, I digress, as always.
The first letter didn't work, but there was this invitation.... "a note from the doctor...." Reaching into my back pocket, I pulled out the ever present prescription tablet and wrote a note saying that I had 30 dialysis patients to round on today, and may I please be excused.
A sympathetic clerk said that she lacked the power to excuse me but suggested that I not volunteer for the "pre-screened cases" that run for 15-21 days. I thought it had been a good try, very logical, certainly deserved, and not really for my own selfish benefit. In fact, I would love to sit on a jury. At one time, I even wanted to be a lawyer, and probably a judge, but I chose another course after an adolescent experience in a lawyer uncle's office. Dull!!! I chose excitement... but, if you know me and Spitfires, or me and Porsches, it all kind of fits. Knowing that I was out of my element, with my fate hanging in the hands of the judicial system, I sat down, shut up, and pulled out a copy of "Flyboys," a story of World War II aviators and the battle for Okinawa and Chichi Jima that I had gotten from my son-in-law, Peter, in Hawaii, and had started on the plane, and really couldn't put down. Not knowing about the 4 patients, and knowing that a backup would respond to an emergency, and having done every damn thing I could, I just kept reading until 10:30 when I was sent with 17 other people to Courtroom 9. I became potential juror #14 and when asked about myself, occupation, and a few simple questions, politely, I made it clear to the judge, the 2 attorneys in the civil case, a contract dispute between unpaid contractor suing unhappy home owner for a disputed job in Laguna Beach. It actually sounded interesting, but I had only 2 days to get in my requisite remaining 4 visits per month on my Medicare patients, or receive less money. It was about money, because if they had emergencies the other nephrologist would have stepped in. But, also, I hadn't seen the patients for 2 weeks and they were used to seeing me weekly, and maybe they needed new prescriptions or adjustments in their Epogen dosage, or yet another lecture about potassium, phosphorus or weight gain. Yeah, nothing really essential. If any of my dialysis friends are out there, they probably wish their nephrologist would be on permanent jury duty instead of saying the same old thing over and over again.
The judge said how important it was to have a diverse jury with different life experiences. The plaintiff's attorney asked if I would be able to give the case my full attention and arrive at a fair verdict. I took the opportunity to say that I would do my very best, but frankly, even now, I was thinking about the patients I should be seeing. Then it was lunch time, and the defendant's lawyer had not had the opportunity to question the panel, so recess until 1:30. At 2 PM, the lawyers were finished, and they had a sidebar with the judge, following which juror #13, a biochemistry college student hoping to get into USC pharmacy school, juror #15, a Hispanic lady who spoke limited and heavily accented English and said she could not understand many of the words that were spoken, and me, #14, were excused, with the Court's thanks for our service, and at 2:07 PM, I was rushing back to my car, stopping for a kosher hot dog, without the bun, from a Hispanic vendor in front of the courthouse, who spoke limited and heavily accented English, and could not comprehend that I did not want the bun (South Beach Diet!.)
Now, justice was done, if delayed. I was excused. But why, oh why, didn't they read my letter which said the same thing? Oh, I'm forgetting an amusing part. In introducing myself, I said that I drove 150 miles on a Monday to 4 different shifts of dialysis patients at 12 different units (taking 3.5 hours by auto computer elapsed time) and I couldn't find another doctor crazy enough to cover for me. This is true, as my former partner couldn't cover his half of the work, and gave it over to me as an impossible task.... 1/2 the work.... alright, my Porsche has 571 hp, and its a business expense! The judge, bright and humorous and young, said... "Then you're an unreasonable doctor." And I retorted, "I sure am, Your Honor!" That was before lunch break and 2 hours before the judge excused me. What covering doctor is going to go to a free clinic to cover my commitment to 8 patients there? None, I could find. And the discussion over the contract in selecting the jury involved the the lawyer asking a prospective juror if it was reasonable to be paid for the work you perform. I was being held prisoner by the legal system to help to decide whether someone should be paid for work he had done and I was being prevented from doing work that I felt I should do whether I got paid or not. And there, in a nut shell, is the difference between the legal profession, and what's left of the medical profession.
The physician rests, Your Honor!