Friday, January 22, 2010
the dogs of law
i hate lawyers. i know that it comes from a few personal experiences that i've had that have forever tainted my view of them and what they do, but that is the fact of it. i hate them more than i even can say. the first time i saw their dark side may be the incident that left the deepest mark on the hate-lawyers part of my psyche.
it was late at night in kalafong. i was halfway through an omentopexy when someone phoned from casualties. the message was confusing.
"the casualty officer says he has a gunshot wound abdomen of a 16 year old girl in casualties. i told him you're busy operating. he says the patient is dying and asks you if he has your permission to open the abdomen there in casualties?" what the hell!!! i quickly put the scenario together in my mind. even a guy with considerable experience is not going to save someone with an impromptu laparotomy in a casualty situation. he obviously had already decided she was as good as dead and thought some sort of heroic-looking attempt at something might at least create the impression he was doing something. i knew what to say.
"no way at all! the guy who thinks he can do something can come and do it here in theater in a controlled environment and not try to look like some f#@king hero in casualties. i'll finish here as soon as possible and join him. get a second theater ready immediately!"
after that the situation became somewhat surreal with the floor nurse running back and forth with messages between me and the casualty officer as i started rushing my operation more and more in order to hopefully join in the fray before it was all too late.
"the casualty officer says he doesn't think he can do a laparotomy. maybe he should just leave her to die?"
"no way!! he was willing to cut her open from stem to stern just moments ago in casualties. tell him he saddled this horse and now he must ride it. tell him to pull his finger out his ass and do the f#@king laparotomy!" the nurse turned to go. "nurse!" she turned back. "try to soften what i say a bit at least." i was afraid i was going to piss the guy off.
"the casualty officer says he will start but he is calling your consultant in to take over." i knew the consultant was an hour away. he would be too late.
"fine! no problem! just get started!" by this time i was rushing my operation so much i realised i was almost doing half a job. i tried to focus so i didn't end up with two bodies and not just one.
"ok, the patient is on the table in the theater next door. the anaesthetist says she is crashing and he wants to know if she is for active resuscitation?" he would only ask if things were desperate.
"of course she is for f#@king resus. she's sixteen! she is just a kid! we don't just turn around and walk away while kids are busy croaking! we must at least try!! to try and to fail is one thing but to not try at all is inexcusable" at this stage i knew i could leave the rest of the omentopexy to my assistant to sort of close things up with hopefully only minimal complications. anyway i could no longer handle being on the sideline with the gunshot case. i ripped off my gloves and gown and went charging through.
the scene in the other theater was one of the tail end of chaos. everyone was standing around doing nothing. on the table lay a young girl completely naked with one anaesthetist still hovering over her with hands in the cpr resus position. there was no resus effort anymore. the other anaesthetist was standing to one side removing his gloves. his brow was dotted with tiny pearls of sweat. the sisters were standing around as if frozen in different acts of resuscitation. one was holding a vaculiter (a bag of intravenous fluid) as if to change the fluid bag which had just run dry. one was standing with a syringe, probably full of adrenaline, sort of swinging it idly between her fingers. the student nurse was standing in a corner as white as a sheet, probably scarred for life. it was over.
i looked at the girl. she was of slight build but her abdomen was swollen to bursting point. her face was ghostly pale. on the dome of her distended belly was a small symmetrical hole smack in the middle. there was an almost innocent gentle stream of blood and feces quietly making its way down her skin from this hole onto the theater table below. the resus efforts had stripped her not only of her clothes, but also her humanity and her dignity. and yet even though she was lying there in the mess of blood and saliva and feces she somehow seemed peaceful. i walked up to her and softly closed her eyes. she deserved at least that. that last picture of her really stuck with me and touched a deep chord of my humanity.
some time after that i happened to be visiting an old school friend who had gone on to study law after school. somehow we ended up speaking about his cases. he spontaneously mentioned a case where a 16 year old girl shot herself in the abdomen just next to kalafong. it was strange in that there was a cop in the house at the time and therefore she was transported to the hospital literally moments after the incident. despite this, my friend informed me, she died. the post mortem revealed a gunshot wound to the aorta. i asked him when this incident had happened and thereby confirmed i knew who he was speaking about.
as it turns out the cop had been called to the house because of domestic violence. the husband, my friend's client, had allegedly threatened his wife with a gun. someone, maybe their 16 year old daughter, had called the cops. that's when the incident happened. the cop was in the house downstairs with the parents trying to mediate peace when a shot went off upstairs. the gun had been found by the girl and she obviously decided that it was all too much. her shot was well placed.
my friend then casually told me that in the initial statement to the cops, the father had said he had placed the gun on the table upstairs before coming downstairs to let the cop into the house. apparently from a legal point of view this fact was the crucial one. it had to do with negligence with a weapon resulting in the death of someone. the father would be in some degree of trouble. my friend had advised his client that this fact made the case indefensible. immediately, the client changed his story to state that in fact the mother, his wife whom he had allegedly threatened with the gun, was in fact the one who had left the gun in easy reach of the daughter and not him. on these grounds they were going to defend him although they knew the man was lying. he relayed this story without flinching.
i thought back to that beautiful girl, ophelia-like, peaceful in death. i thought of the contrast of her youth and beauty with the small hole in her abdomen and the rank stench of spilled bodily fluids in that small theater. i thought of the sad resignation on the face of the anaesthetist whose resus effort had been in vain. i thought of how late at night it was and how the emotional strain had drained us all of any energy and left us tired and spent. and then i looked at my friend's face. the lawyer was smiling at me. he was happy to defend a man who was prepared to lie to save his own skin in the wake of the death of his own daughter. he hadn't seen the real human drama and frankly i don't think he cared.