'Virus' scare hits home for past president of the Michigan State Bar

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

It was March 11, which in this lockdown world was practically an eternity ago, when attorney Tom Ryan last appeared in court.

A past president of the State Bar of Michigan, Ryan was there to handle several routine matters that are part of the daily responsibilities for a solo practitioner.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” he said.

Later that day he began to feel ill – fever, cough, and a general achiness. In normal times, those type of symptoms are telltale signs of the seasonal flu or a bad cold.

But ever since America came to know the geo-political significance of destination “Wuhan,” the combination of a fever and a persistent cough conjure up scary thoughts of a very different type of illness – COVID-19.

So a day after falling ill, Ryan made an appointment to see his primary care doctor, eventually walking somewhat unsteadily into the physician’s office that day to get checked out.“With a face mask on, I might add,” Ryan noted.

Within minutes he was administered the customary flu test. The results came back negative, which could mean an even more problematic diagnosis.

The discussion then turned to whether Ryan should be tested for the coronavirus.

“The doctor said that there was a certain protocol that he had to find out about before he could give me the test,” Ryan related, noting his physician had one of the hard-to-obtain test kits on hand.

Within an hour, the doctor was given the go-ahead to test for the virus, swabbing the back of Ryan’s nasal passage.

“He told me that he doubted that I had the virus, but that the results would be back within 5 to 7 days to know for sure,” Ryan said.

And then, as Ryan prepared to depart, he received a somewhat unsettling request.

“My doctor asked me if wouldn’t mind leaving by the back door,” Ryan said.

“My first reaction was to say something smart-ass like, ‘I’ve been thrown out of better places than this,’ and then I came to understand his reasoning. He didn’t want me walking by a bunch of people in his waiting room if I had the virus.”

Then, ever so politely, Ryan was shown the door – the back door, where he could escape to his car for the drive home to sweat out the next few days in what he hoped would be a speedy recovery.

Ryan felt duty bound to inform his two legal assistants that he was sick and that it could be much more than a seasonal bug. “For their well-being, I had to tell them that I had been tested and the possibility existed that I could have the virus,” Ryan indicated. “They, of course, were given the option to work from home until the test results were in.”

In a matter of days, life in the legal world would come to a virtual halt, as courts across Michigan closed, trials and hearings were adjourned, and law firms instructed attorneys and staff members to work remotely from home.

“I really have been impressed with the way that Governor Whitmer has acted so decisively to help curb the spread of the virus,” said Ryan. “She has had to make some very tough decisions, decisions that are affecting the livelihoods of people across the state. We can only hope that her actions will spare people from the virus.”

Ryan was quarantined while he awaited the COVID-19 test results, which came back negative on March 23. It forced him to celebrate his son’s 40th birthday by video conference and cast an unexpected shadow over the birth of a grandchild, Grace, who was born on April 7 in Chicago.

“I guess I picked the wrong time to have a bad cold,” he said with a smile.

Ryan – like so many others in the legal profession – is wondering what “the future is going to look like” for everyone, particularly those who own or operate a small business.

“I feel so bad for all the small businesses that have been impacted by this – and I’m one myself,” Ryan said. “We're all in a state of limbo until we begin to see some light at the end of this. Staying home is driving us all nuts.”

It also has offered him time for a historical reflection. “Interestingly enough, our parents had to go off to war, while we have to ‘stay home’ to fight this battle.”


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