The Winning Non-Lawyer


Question: How do you stop an activist?
Answer: Increase her oxycodone . . .

I wake to Spiderman, Peter and Joey hanging at the foot of my bed. They are big yellow smiley (except for Spiderman) balloons that are tied to a [thingy] (henceforth, words like [thingy] and [stuff] will be used to stand in for words that fail to come to mind when needed; you should feel free to fill in the blanks with whatever word you choose). Anyway, the balloons are tied to a [thingy] and the [thingy] isn’t tied to anything because I prefer to let my balloons fly free. Freedom of choice matters, even for a balloon. Yesterday they wafted themselves out into the hallway so now, at night while I sleep, their [thingy] is lodged behind the guest chair in the corner to keep them home.

The balloons were a parting gift from Rick, who went home from the hospital yesterday. Rick and his wife Tina have been friends of mine for ten or fifteen years. They both have cerebral palsy, with Rick’s being worse. It is my perception that Rick’s calling on this Earth (as opposed to any other Earth) is to be a balance wheel and take care of Tina, while Tina takes care of dogs, cats, ferrets, parrots, rabbits and—mostly—people with developmental disabilities on Medicaid. Tina is a social worker and case manager.

Anyway, aging doesn’t go well with cerebral palsy, so Rick had some urgent surgery, then spent a week down the hall. He is one seriously funny dude and made me laugh for the first time since Gerry came to visit me. I was at the Iroquois and suffering terribly. I cried all over Gerry and then, as he was leaving, he turned back and tickled me. It had been a long time since I’d been tickled. Activists don’t get tickled a lot.

So there are the balloons and here am I, sleeping thirteen hours a day. We discovered that the more I slept, the happier I am, so we increased the nighttime oxycodone to 10 or 15 mg. and now I wake up and find the world a pleasant place. SHEESH, SHE WAKES UP HAPPY!!! Will wonders never cease. In the first go-round, I sleep about ten hours and then take a couple naps during the day. I don’t think the oxycodone makes me happy directly, rather that it enables the sleep and the sleep makes me happy. Dr. Ghaly always said that my days are only as good as my nights, and I am particularly vulnerable to poor sleep.

So, I have finally found a use for physicians: they prescribe oxycodone. I’ve been taking it for several months, but not at a sufficient dose to stop the pain. By the way, interjection here: the Iroquois’ nursing supervisor—the undistinguished Susan Greer—actually testified that I have an indwelling catheter without a doctor’s order. What, she thinks I just stopped by Wal-Mart and picked one up out of stock? And inserted it myself? Ew-w-w-w! One wonders what strategy the lawyers were using when they prepared Greer to testify: okay, first, call her a psychotic, then say she got a catheter without a doctor’s order, and we’ll follow that with the charge that she faked a doctor’s letter on his letterhead.

Honest to God, I wonder where they got these lawyers. Well, I know where they got them: Hancock Estabrook law firm. Back in the day when I worked there (learning the old plug-and-[thingy] telephone switchboard), Hancock was the second most prestigious law firm in Syracuse. Now, either it is not so hot or I am. The lawyers representing the Iroquois at the hearing were Cora, a partner, and Janet, the managing partner who had been chief of litigation. And I won and they lost. Go figure. The Iroquois spent somewhere between $6000 and $10,000 to lose. They lost the last hearing without spending a cent on lawyers. Moral of these stories: if you’re going up against Annie then you are going to lose. Don’t waste your money fighting it.

I usually don’t brag, but I’m on the downhill side of my life so why not now? Yesterday I started reminiscing about some of the top moments in my life when I had a lot to brag about. Among other things, I’ve done four hearings and only lost the first one—that was the preparation hearing. I also went one-on-two with Zach Karmen and his backup, and won. Karmen was the chief welfare attorney for the County Dept. of Social Services. He, sitting there with his law books and their underlined passages, assumed without a doubt that he could beat me. He was Zach Karmen, chief attorney, going up against some stupid Medicaid recipient!

Let me tell you my secret for winning hearings: I’m right. Plain and simple, I’ve got the righteous God on my side. It’s not about whether you’re the managing partner of the law firm, or which law school you went to, or how much you charge for billable hours, or whether you’re a “Super Lawyer,” which Cora and Janet are. [A “Super Lawyer,” as far as I can tell, is any lawyer so designated by “Super Lawyer Magazine,” which appears to be written and marketed to people who want to hire a lawyer, not to other lawyers.]

Anyway, winning is not about how many tricks you can pull; it’s about whether you’re right. At least it appears to me to be that way and I find that comforting. And you know something? When Onondaga County sends its top lawyer against a single Medicaid recipient, and the Iroquois Nursing Home hires the top partners in a top law firm to defend against a nursing home resident (f’crying out loud), I don’t think it’s because I’m such a tough lady.

I think it’s because they are hiding something much bigger and I am getting too close to their lousy truth.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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