Lisa Henderson-Newlin, The Levison Group
I’ve been sick for a week. Yes, a full week. I’m not talking about the kind of sick my husband gets, where a few sniffles render him incapacitated and in constant need of pampering. I’m talking about full-on fever and serious-sinus sick.
Feel free to pity me and sympathize. I’m accepting sympathy cards and gifts.
Although I enjoy practicing law (most of the time), I don’t enjoy it when I’m sick. Actually, I despise the practice of law when I’m sick.
Maybe it’s not the practice itself that I hate when I’m sick, although arguing motions can be nauseating much of the time. What I hate about practicing law and being sick is that the law (and the lawyers and the judges) don’t care if you’re sick. Most of the time, they don’t even notice.
This week, I worked every day despite how I felt. I drudged to work as my white blood cell count grew, and my energy shrunk. I pushed ahead because I knew I had to. I knew no one else would do my job for me, and no one would accept the “I’m sick” excuse.
If only when I was younger I would have known I couldn’t rely on that excuse as an adult. I would have taken a lot more sick days to make up for the ones I can’t take now.
I have a sinus infection, which means I cough every minute or so, and sound like I’ve been a 3-pack a day smoker for 30 years. I can practically smell the stale cigarette smoke coming from my clothes, and I don’t smoke. That’s how convincing my cough is.
I also don’t have much of a voice, and what’s left of it is raspy and irritable. (The irritability may be due to my inflection, and not so much the voice box itself.)
My face looks swollen and one look at me tells you I’m in misery at my motion hearing; at least far more than normal.
Yet no one asked. No one inquired as to why I was carrying around a box of Kleenex. No one inquired as to why I was swigging cough syrup under the table. I was especially surprised no one inquired as to why I was lugging around an IV stand.
Okay, so I didn’t have an IV, but I should have. Probably. Maybe.
Is the legal profession so busy that we can’t stop and take a Vicks-filled breath of air every now and again? Are we so important that we can’t stop to smell the roses, only to not be able to catch the scent because of a clogged nose?
Based upon my experience this past week, it seems like that’s the case. Perhaps it was my Sudafed-stupor, but I began to wonder why we don’t give more deference to our colleagues when they’re sick. It also made me wonder why we have to sign away our first-born to get a good antihistamine.
Perhaps we wouldn’t be susceptible to illness if we were a little kinder to our brethren. Perhaps we’d all be better off if we stopped to ask questions if someone looked ill. Perhaps we’d be better colleagues if we asked the woman copping a squat in the law library if she was doing so because her fever broke or because she was knocked over by a brilliant legal argument. (She wasn’t.)
Yes, our jobs are important, but so are our lives. Sometimes a deposition can wait. Sometimes a conference call can be rescheduled. Sometimes a two hour lunch is warranted. Okay, so maybe that last one wasn’t related to being sick, but it’s true.
So the next time you see opposing counsel hacking up a lung, ask if there’s a better time to discuss settlement. The next time you observe a judge popping cough drops continuously, ask if he (or she) is feeling okay. It might go a long way, and might just make the profession a little easier to handle during the cold and flu season.
And wash your hands. Please oh please, wash your hands.
Lisa Henderson-Newlin is a member of the law firm McAnany Van Cleave and Phillips. Contact Under Analysis by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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