While suffering through law school, I was constantly reminded that attorneys aren’t just courtroom pit bulls—thus the reason for the moniker “Attorneys and Counselors at Law.”
Here’s the problem: Although I strive to be a well-mannered Southern Belle at all times and in all situations, most anyone who knows me will tell you that I suffer from a nearly terminal lack of tact. I pride myself in giving it straight to my clients—they aren’t going to stand with me at the defense table and act all surprised about the turnout—but while my reasoning is valid, my “No Nonsense Rule” also really suits my personality. I’m not one for talking people off of the ledges of tall buildings.
Ah yes, honesty. Ain’t it refreshing? Yep, I sleep with a clear conscience every night. The only thing is that, on occasion—when the necessary stars and planets are a touch askew—there is one wee tiny little hiccup: Every now and again, a client gets a little...psychotic. That’s when the “talking people off of ledges” ability would come in handy.
Let’s talk about the dear lady who escaped a locked down mental health facility to come for a chat in my office. The precious dear’s medications worked wonders...when she took them. All it took was a couple of missed doses and she started thinking that she was Jean Claude Van Damme. I had at least five open assault cases for her and the hope was that she would go away for a bit, stabilize and come back to deal with the swath she’d cut through the downtown bar scene.
So, there I was: Seven months pregnant in the middle of the summer. I was testy to begin with. My paralegal (who lovingly guards the door to my office like a pit bull) ran to lunch and I waddled back into the kitchen to get to get some water. When I waddled back up, Miss Thing was sitting in my office in slippers and a fetching terrycloth ensemble holding a purse and a shower cap.
I was a bit taken aback to say the least in light of the fact that—by my quick mental calculations—she’d stayed exactly two days of an intended one month “Journey of Restful Reflection” as it was billed in the brochures. I eased behind my desk making very sure that I didn’t employ any sudden movements.
She was talking to herself rather rapidly, so I was left with the dilemma of whether or not to be so bold as to interrupt her. I decided to sit still and quiet for a second to see if she felt like including me in the conversation. As it happened, keeping my lips zipped (a true challenge for me) was the prudent thing to do.
She looked up, registered my presence and immediately started talking about conspiracies, people watching her because she was telling the truth and the chip that “they” put in her head causing headaches and diarrhea—the standard insane ramblings, really. The alarming part was that she got more and more agitated as she talked. I smiled and nodded and made sympathetic noises while feverishly scrolling through the tattered files in my head, trying like hell to come up with something that I could engage her on.
Oooh! Diabetes! (It’s a really bad day when you get excited about Diabetes.) I remembered noting in her file that she blamed her blood sugar levels for the fact that she went ape shit all over anyone who rubbed her the wrong way. I cocked my head in a concerned fashion and said in calm and even tones, “You seem a little shaky. How’s your blood sugar?”
Of course, I have no idea if low blood sugar is associated with the shakes, but—when it comes to psychotic hypochondriacs—there’s nothing like planting a little seed of suggestion. It only took about a minute or two before she started worrying. I thoughtfully suggested calling an ambulance because it couldn’t hurt if we had the EMT’s stop by just to “check her out.” Better safe than sorry, you know!
Well, being the thoughtful gal that I am, I called 911 for her:
911: 911. What is the nature of your emergency?
Me: Hi! My name is Ashley Culbreth Council. I have a lady sitting here in my office who is diabetic and she might be having problems.
Me: Yes, problems. Ummm...problematic problems.
911: Okaaaay. Is she in insulin shock?
Me: I’m not sure, but for safety’s sake, I think it would be a very, very good idea for you to send someone. I don’t want there to be any more...problems.
911: Ma’am, are you in danger?
Me: I’m not going to rule it out.
911: Yes, ma’am. Fire, EMS and WPD are on the way.
Me: Thank you so much and I hope you have a wonderful day!
It wasn’t even a minute before the siren wail of the cavalry could be heard up the street. I got up and waddled in the back to “get her some juice” while silently waving at everyone to get their asses back to the kitchen and/or shut their office doors. I was mid-waddle from the kitchen back to my office when some seriously hot firemen came through the door. (Hey, pregnancy hormones, what can you do?)
I quietly conveyed the situation to the ones that stayed out in the hall and they took the situation from there quite professionally. Yep, everything was wrapped up and taken care of. The EMT’s loaded the lady onto the ambulance while she jovially waved me goodbye after securing her shower cap to her head. There wasn’t a thing to do when the police showed up FORTY-FIVE MINUTES LATER. (I was sorely tempted to “lose” my donation to the Police Fraternity that year, but two wrongs don’t make a right and I am better bred.)
So, what did I learn from all of that? Well, in addition to adopting the policy of chaining my paralegal to her desk so that she can’t go to lunch and leave my office door unguarded, I learned that there really is some merit to being a counselor at law. Little did I know that I would have to employ my newfound skill set a few months later while dealing with a ragingly homicidal client who had sharpened his teeth into points, but that’s a story for another post.