Friday, August 14, 2015

stillness is the move

MANY OF THE PATIENTS I treat were injured on the job, or through the negligence of others, so I end up participating in three or four depositions a year. The first few times, even though I understood intellectually that the deposition wasn’t about me, that it wasn’t me who was on trial, that I’m merely providing information, it still felt like I was on trial. The clipping of the mic on your shirt edge, the so-help-you-god oath, the videographer, the transcriptionist, the stacks of folders on the table — it’s hard not to be at least a little afraid, particularly when you realize that every word you speak is going to be precisely recorded. But now that I have quite a few depositions under my belt, I’m not so awed by them anymore. I used to dread them. Now I kind of look forward.
  Really, a deposition is a kind of boxing match, with words instead of punches. All lines of questioning begin very gentlemanlike. How do you do, sir? Can you state your name please? Let me know if you need a bathroom break, Doc. But the gloves can come off pretty quickly. Time is money and they don’t play around. Still, it’s easy to tell when a punch is about to land. There’s a build up. The pace of the questioning quickens and there’s a new sharpness to the questioner’s tone. You can feel the knuckle sandwich approaching.
  It’s a verbal fight not a fistfight, so different rules apply. In a deposition the way to win is by not moving, by not so much as flinching. Lawyers love to huff and puff, building drama with their whole bodies as they move in for what they hope will be the knockout, and if you just sit there and fail to react, and simply answer the question, their punches never quite land.
  For example, last week one of the attorneys was attempting to create a sense of momentum in his line of questioning by rocking his body back and forth. His series of easy-to-agree-with, highly reasonable questions elicited a string of yeses from me. But when he started adding a nod to his rocking I knew something was up. “And wouldn’t you agree, Dr. Theriot . . .” I could see his left hook coming. He was nodding up a storm, rocking, rocking, rocking. I sat in perfect stillness and looked him dead in the eyes as if to say, “Your cartoonish nodding doesnt sway me. He wanted me to agree with him, but thats the opposite of what he got.
  I love unraveling attorneys with my stillness, especially when they’re being dicks. (It happens often.) Last year, during a deposition, a defense attorney became hostile toward me when I suggested, indeed correctly, that a former patient of mine was quite impacted by his brain injury despite normal findings on both a CT scan and an MRI of his brain.
  He said, “Can you tell me what you see on this CT scan, Dr. Theriot?”
I said, “It looks like a normal CT.”
He said, “You don’t see anything wrong with it, anything at all?”
I said, “No, sir, I do not.”
He said, “Can you tell me what you see on this MRI scan, Dr. Theriot?”
I said, “It looks like a normal MRI.”
He said, “You don’t see anything wrong with it, anything at all?”
I said, “No, sir, I do not.”
He said, “Tell me, Dr. Theriot, if I have an injury to my leg — let’s say it’s broken — and I go into an emergency room, and they take an x-ray of my leg, what will the x-ray show?” His voice was getting louder and he was marching toward me with conviction.
I said, “It will show your broken leg of course.”
He said, “So why on earth, if I have a brain injury, would it not show up in a picture of my brain?”
I said, “Because a brain, sir, is not a leg.” Only my lips were moving.
     “Oh,” he said, “Um, I have no further questions.”