Tag Archives: law school

Don’t Worry Be Happy

Triumphantly, I made my return to the office last week.  Yes, three-and-a-half weeks removed from brain surgery, I went in.  photo 1I was eager and motivated to do something – better yet, anything other than sit at home and channel surf.  I was well rested and feeling great and had recently received medical clearance from my doctors to return on a part-time basis for a couple of weeks.  But what would I feel like after a 20-hour work week when I had done literally nothing for the past four weeks?  Over time, the answer to this question became clear.

Initially, I was overcome by emotion but also very excited to see my coworkers and peers.  Making the rounds and saying hello to everyone, I felt like an exhibit – “where are your stitches?” and “what are you doing here?” were the common questions.  Perhaps this is my “new normal” but unlike others, I expected to be back that quickly.  My surgeon had predicted I would be out for 3-4 weeks at most and I know how my body recovers and heals.  So when I woke up after surgery with no unexpected side effects, I fully expected to be back to work in no time at all.  Of course though, in a matter of three-and-a-half weeks, over 600 emails had piled up and I needed to sort through them.

Per my doctor’s orders, I was to work no more than 4 hours per day, even though I think I could have done more if I wanted to.  Nonetheless though, I went in and picked up my job tasks right where they had left off before my leave of absence.  Two months before I left, I assumed a new position – Associate Administrator – Marketing and External Affairs.  I decided it was time to step away from my pursuit of the practice of law and instead refocus my efforts in a position to which I felt I could make a career.

I’ll be the first to admit – nobody in the office is more upset than I that I am not an attorney after working so hard for it and putting in the time – but, I came to the realization a while ago that right now, being an attorney is not in the cards for me and just simply not meant to be.  Sure, I was disappointed and frustrated.  I took out student loans equivalent to a second mortgage on law school and was in desperate need of a way in which to repay them.  Furthermore, I had devoted time and money into passing the bar exam three times.  Each time, it was the same result and same old adage – close, but no cigar.  I needed a new goal – something tangible which I knew I could achieve and excel in.  Alas, this opportunity presented itself and I jumped.  I understand the inherent risks in that I am now on a different path than my peers who graduated at or near the same time that I did.  I will watch them as they grow through the ranks of a law firm and make more money than I ever may.  However, at the end of the day, one word assured me of this decision – happiness.

When I think about how I got to this point in my life, I think back on a number of things, namely those who doubted my ability to pass the bar exam due to my cognitive impairments: the neuropsychological evaluator; my law school professors who admired my courage for carrying on; my surgeon’s own admission; my law school dean; my bar exam tutor.  Admittedly, they were all correct.  Yet, my family never once doubted any of my decisions as I moved forward in my life.  Rather, they continually support my daily decisions.  For this, I am forever grateful.

I can’t worry about my future and what successes I’ll find.  While I may not have reached my goal of becoming an attorney, I know success will come because I’ve survived the toughest obstacle of all.  The bar exam may have beaten me down, but my tumor showed me I have what it takes; tenacity, perseverance and the strength to carry on.  I must keep plugging away, fighting adversity and rising to the occasion.  It’s true when they tell you that life isn’t easy.  Take it from me – it’s not.  As the song lyrics go: “In every life we have some trouble.  When you worry you make it double.  Don’t worry, be happy. “

We’re Gonna Play The Sue You, Sue Me Blues

Decorative Scales of Justice in the Courtroom“May it please the Court, and you, ladies and gentleman of the jury.”

I have been robbed of the opportunity to speak those words in court so I have taken the liberty to do so here.  If you practice law, you are well versed with what these words mean, but for those who are not lawyers or did not go to law school, this statement is uttered during the opening of trial.  I visited several attorneys to explore options of filing a medical malpractice case, all to no avail.   The statute of limitations has run but nothing says I can no longer think about it.  The lawyer in me often runs through the elements of negligence when I think about my case and the standard of care that a doctor should be held to.

To be found negligent, a plaintiff must show that: 1) the defendant owed a duty of care; 2) the defendant must breach that duty; 3) the defendant’s actions caused the injury; and 4) the plaintiff must prove actual damages.

Here’s how these requirements apply to my case:

1 and 2. You know the basics of my story: In the summer of 2007, I began experiencing double vision. Nothing precipitated the double vision – there were no warning signs.  No vomiting, no blackouts, no memory loss, no loss of balance – just the mysterious double vision.  At a visit to my optometrist, a routine eye exam was performed and my optometrist told me that “he saw something” when he looked into my eyes.  Puzzled and fearful, I asked what he meant by this and prodded for some insight. Yet, much to my chagrin and against my wishes, he did not delve into the possible causes that would explain this problem.  He simply brought me into his office, sat me down and said that as far as he can see, my optic nerves were inflamed (known as papilledema in the medical world) but there was nothing for me to worry about.   In his opinion, my eyes and optic nerves looked healthy.

Within two weeks of wearing the glasses, the double vision subsided.  Fast forward to the summer of 2008: the double vision returned.  This time around however, those same prism glasses did not correct the problem.  When I returned to the optometrist, he evaluated me and agreed that a new prescription for prism glasses was needed but determined that the reason for this was that “my eyes were eating the prism.”  He conceded that this was odd but not unusual for someone wearing prism glasses and wanted to write a new prescription.  Yet, inflamed optic nerves and papilledema do not just occur overnight.  Each and every year that I went for my annual eye exam, the same battery of tests were performed: I read the letters on the chart, my peripheral vision was checked, a glaucoma test (or the puff-of-air test) was given and my eyes were dilated. Each and every time, my doctor “saw something”, but didn’t investigate further.

It’s reasonable to conclude that my doctor owed me a duty to provide quality care and advise me of potential problems when he informed me that he first noted papilledema and first saw something pressing against my optic nerve in 2007 and he breached this duty when he failed and refused to send me for further evaluations and prescribed prism glasses.

3.  Causation is proven by a showing that the doctor’s actions caused the injury.  After removal of the tumor, my surgeon informed my family and I that, based upon the size of the tumor, it was likely growing inside my head for anywhere from three-to-six years.

In other words, “but for” the doctor’s negligence, the tumor could have been detected earlier.  The procedure to remove the tumor would have been less invasive and the recovery would have been different.

My lawyers agreed that my case satisfied requirements 1 and 2, and potentially even 3.  This brings us to element 4: damages or harm.  This is where my case failed.  Fortunately, I made a “recovery” in the legal sense.  In the opinion of the attorneys, I could not show that I had suffered actual damages.  I was, in all practical ways, cured and healthy.  My prognosis was good, the tumor was benign and removed and I had no permanent debilitating consequences from the delay in diagnosing me.

In my opinion however, this is where the law fails.  And my story is a compelling example of how that is.  My law school career came to a screeching halt and I never recovered in the classroom; as a result of the size of the tumor at the time it was removed, I now have cognitive disabilities which hinder my ability to quickly process information; I developed seizures and will likely remain on seizure medications for the rest of my life.  These are just a few.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t want any compensation or monetary damages for pain and suffering.  What’s in the past is in the past.  But what I do want is to ensure that this problem does not occur to anyone else.

Find me one person, one attorney that is even a plaintiff’s attorney, who could tell me that this was the right decision.  How do we, as a society, fail to hold a licensed optometrist responsible for failing to diagnose my problem over the many years that I visited his office?

Despite my high tolerance for pain and lack of manifestation of any symptoms, how did the presence of the tumor go undetected for so many years?

So as I already said, my case failed for a lack of recognizable damages.  But how can the law allow such grave deprivations of patient care and allow a doctor to continue his practice?

I struggle with this question every day and wish and pray that this problem does not scare another innocent person to death.

While I can no longer pursue a lawsuit, perhaps my story will someday help to influence a change in how we hold professionals accountable.

I Fought The Law But The Law Won

So today is July 2, 2014.  “Why is that significant?”, you ask?  Well, today marks six years since my first craniotomy to remove the tumor.  Not a day goes by where I don’t think about that day, or the endless possibilities that leave me asking “what if?”  The night before that operation, I prayed that that night would not be my final night on this earth.  But here I am – tougher than ever.  At first, the one-year, two-year marks were somber reminders of what I had gone through – the travesty and fright that my family and I were faced with.  But now, they are cause for a celebration, or a “Brainaversary” as I like to call it.  Last year, for my fifth-year Brainaversary, Ashley baked me a brain cake.  imageHopefully, I’ll have another one waiting for me at home today!  Regardless, I wish to thank my family, friends, medical team and support group from therapy and school for their tireless support in my battle.  Without you, I would never be here today.  To think how far I’ve come in six short years (but what has also felt like an eternity at moments) is astounding.

Without more, I can’t leave you hanging so I’m going to get back to the story.  After all, my intent in writing this blog is not to gain sympathy votes but rather to inspire and connect with other warriors out there.

Back on March 11th, I wrote about waiting.  Reverting back to 2011, I was in a waiting period for the bar exam results to be revealed.  I’m not sure what was worse – taking the bar or waiting for results.

The exam lived up to all of the hype.  “Grueling” is the word I would use to exemplify the entire process.

Nothing could have prepared me for the moment I walked into the room and was handed the exam booklet.  Prior to that though, I was taken into the room where I would spend the next 4.5 hours.  After booting up my laptop and waiting at the prompt screen to type in the word “Start” to bring me to the first blank sheet of paper for my response, I waited some more while further instructions were read. At least some states, including Connecticut, now allow examinees to complete the essay portion using exam software that you must download and pay a license for.  Ahh yes, more money.

The overwhelming feeling of sitting with the Bar Examiner who gave the instructions to applicants with disabilities made it all become real.  All examinees must sign an oath and are then escorted into their hotel room where you are instructed to start your laptop and log in to the software.  Finally, I was handed the first six essays.  I took a deep breath, collected myself and then focused my attention on the task at hand.  While applicants can begin with any number they want, I started with number one and away I went.  The first six questions were pretty much what I expected and though I could have written for days, I did not have the stamina or time to do so.  Before I knew it, time was up and I had completed the morning session of day one – 1/4 of the bar exam was complete.  Given that the break was only an hour, and at the advice of past applicants, I brought my lunch.  I was able to find a private, quiet seat outside where I ate – all while being completely exhausted and wondering how the hell I was going to go back in there and write for 4.5 more hours.  But I had to, and I did.  The six questions administered after lunch were even harder, but maybe that’s because I was drained from the energy expended on the first six and the work-up that I put into this day.  Nonetheless, the questions all called for responses that I knew, except for one but it’s okay, I made some stuff up and explained my reasons for what I was saying.  Before I knew it, time was called and day one was over.

Day two of the bar exam is known as the Multistate Bar Exam (the “MBE”).  You know…those really long multiple choice questions that I described in part one of this post.  After the morning session and 100 questions, I was mentally and physically exhausted.  I had no energy left.  On my lunch break, I wanted to just put my head down and take a nap. I was so close now though – I would fight hard until the end, just as I had done in getting to this point and putting myself in a position to be sitting at the desk taking the exam.  Yet, questions 101-200 were more of the same: oddly worded questions, many filled with old, ancient law that required you to have a brain like a sponge.  Thanks BarBri for the charts telling me that these types of questions were only tested a very small percentage of the time.

However, the clock continued to wind down and the 6:00 hour approached.  Finally, with a few seconds to spare, I had bubbled in my final marking on the scantron sheet.  Jubilation!  I had just completed the bar exam.  Where were all of the people who said that I would never return to law school, let alone graduate or sit for the bar?  What about the medical report that stated I should forget about going back to law school and was likely to remain at the capacity of a second-grader?  When I got home, I had a celebratory dinner with my family who was there for me every step of the way.  I had nothing else to do but to sit and wait for results.

In the months that followed, I replayed questions over in my head again and again.  Fortunately, I returned to work at law firm in Connecticut where I was keeping busy in the asbestos defense practice.

October 7, 2011 was a bright and sunny morning.  This was the day the Connecticut bar exam results were to be released.  In Connecticut, the committee simply posts on its website the names of those examinees who passed the exam and are recommended for admission to the bar.  So everyone and anyone can get onto a computer and look – not the fairest or best way for nervous examinees.  Nonetheless, I was confident this morning.  More than two months removed from taking it, I truly felt that I had passed and was about to burst into tears of joy.

After refreshing the page time and time again, the list of names appeared.  The names were presented in alphabetical order by the applicant’s last name.  Slowly, I scrolled though until I came to the C’s – there were lots of them.  I looked away from the screen, collected myself and then refocused my eyes on the screen.  I went one by one and low and behold, my name was not on the list.  I tried again and again, thinking perhaps I overlooked it in anticipation of the excitement.  But reality set in and my name was not on the list.

As a result of working for a law firm and all the attorneys having gone through the process, they knew that the results were also posted.  Before I even had the time to process what had happened, I received email after email offering condolences.  I needed to talk to my family; to Ashley – I could not handle the moment.  Within minutes, I received an email from the office administrator offering me the rest of the day off if I wished to leave and be with my support group at home.

The feeling of defeat stung for a little while.  But I had overcome so much that I knew I would be back to try again.  When I received my actual results from the Bar Examining Committee, I saw the score that I earned and the score needed to pass.  Without revealing the number, I knew I had to go for it again; I’d be a fool not to.

In the ensuing months, I geared up for the February 2012 exam and worked with a tutor to master the methods to take the exam.  One of the things that I learned from my score is that it was not a lack of knowing the information, but rather, there exists a defect in my ability to communicate my mastery of the subjects in my brain into the multiple choice answers that were provided after each question.  I’ll tell you this much – my essay scores were well above-average.  Given ample time and opportunity to explain my reasoning and analysis in reaching a conclusion, I have no trouble.  But when I am presented with a long and complex problem with four possible answers, all of which could arguably be correct, I have trouble.  I worked tirelessly to master the technique of reading and analyzing within the strict time constraints presented on the bar exam.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the process, only your scores on the multistate bar examination can be used on subsequent examinations but your essay scores cannot.  So my strong essay scores would go to waste.  I had no choice but to study and prepare for the entire exam again.  I took a leave of absence from work and locked myself in a room and library for the winter months.  The tutor provided me with some suggestions on how to approach the questions and additional tips to narrow the possible answer choices down to two.  From there though, it was a matter of processing the right answers from the wrong answers.  The bar exam does not test how smart you are.  Rather, it is a test of endurance to see if you can arrive at the “best” legal conclusion to a problem in a short period of time.  After two days and six hours, you will have handled two-hundred-and-twelve legal matters and counseled that many clients.

When time was called for the final time, I felt once again that I had done it.  Fast-forwarding to May 11th – results day.  Like a nervous wreck, I checked and checked the website until the list had been published.  I looked for my name, but again, my name did not appear. Upon seeing my results, I was astounded to find that my multiple-choice score had improved but my essay scores had dipped.  Go figure.  As a result, I was right where I was the first time.  There was no fluctuation in my score.

Well, the old saying is that the third time is the charm so I decided to try again.  I took some time off in between administrations of the exam to give myself a mental break and gear up for the studying and preparation.  I also had to find a way to pay for my life so I waited until July 2013 to retake the exam.  In addition to the financial situation, I figured that some time would be the best thing for me.  I still had all of my books to prepare and after much research and reviews, I opted to purchase flash cards to help me ingrain the material in my brain to allow me to quickly recall and spit out the material when I was presented with a problem on the exam.  After another leave of absence from work and countless hours of my life devoted to studying, the two days arrived.  I was again escorted into my private room where I would spend the next two days killing the rest of my good brain cells to pass the test.  But in what felt like a snap of the fingers, it was over and I was on my way home.

At the time that I registered to take the exam, I did not think to look when the bar exam results were going to be posted.  Yes, they actually tell you the dates the results will be released for the next three years that the bar exam is administered.  So I tell you this because on October 4, 2013, bar exam results were released – and I was on my honeymoon in Italy.  I dreaded the moment, but had to look – after all, I told Ashley that if I passed, I’d buy her a Louis Vuitton.  Plus, I just had a feeling that my luck was about to turn.  I had been through hell the past five years but had just married the girl that I loved and was with her eating everything in sight and drinking the best wine on earth.  So despite the data plan that I was paying for, I did it all through my phone.  And when I checked, I felt the same semblance of defeat I had grown accustomed to.  My name was not on the list.

For some who have been down this road, all hope might be lost.  But for me, I have so much to live for and strive for.  At the current time, I have decided to hold off on retaking the exam as my scores have not improved and at the recent advice of my surgeon who looked me in the eyes and said: “Chris – you will never be measured by your performance on an exam, but rather your testament in overcoming the odds to live and the only advice I can give you is to follow your heart.  You will succeed in whatever it is you want to do.”

That was all that I needed to hear.  I knew in my heart that right now, passing the exam was not meant to be, for reasons outside of my control.

The law may have won this time.  But at the end of the day, I’m alive and well.  I have my whole life to live and an exam cannot and will not define me.

I Won’t Back Down

For my readers who have a brain tumor or had a brain tumor, you will agree – life is that much more difficult for us.  And when you pile on preparing for the bar exam and the expectations to pass it, life becomes arduous.

To sit for the Connecticut bar exam, all applicants must pay a filing fee of $750.00.  The application consists of approximately 30 pages of questions and requirements such as listing every residence you held for more than thirty days, both temporary or permanent, since your eighteenth birthday or for the past ten years, whichever is shorter.  Oh, and in chronological order.  The application also requires an applicant’s employment history, again both temporary and permanent and in chronological order.  You will also need affidavits, letters of reference, a certified driving history, a copy of your law school application, verification of your law degree and a Certificate from the law school Dean which states that you entered law school on such and such a date and earned your degree on such and such a date.  And a contract to give up your firstborn child…not really, but might as well.

The exam is administered over two days, each day being 6 hours long.  Testing accommodations (special test-taking exceptions for applicants with qualified disabilities) are available, but any applicant who wishes to avail themselves of these must complete a further application and have his/her doctor complete paperwork and submit all supporting materials to prove the accommodations are necessary.

When I applied to take the ethics exam (a separate test you must pass before you can even apply for the bar exam), I applied for testing accommodations but received a letter which stated, in relevant part: “Your request for testing accommodations is denied because the documentation provided for review does not contain all of the essential elements…Your documentation does not contain any scores from relevant cognitive or achievement batteries to indicate a current substantial limitation to a major life activity.”

Seriously?!  My surgical reports which stated that I had a large tumor resected from my brain, along with having a device inserted allowing me to function on a day-to-day basis doesn’t constitute a “current substantial limitation to a major life activity”?

Not to fret though, my doctors and I would just send in additional records, along with past and current images of my MRIs.  In addition, we provided the results of the neuropsychogical tests accompanied with a letter providing an update on my diagnosis, changes since that test, current treatment (which would be the shunt and anti-seizure medicine) and rationale for providing me with extra time and a private testing room.  We submitted everything imaginable and I was notified that my request had been granted.  The bar exam application required the same documentation which meant that I had to resubmit all the same documents.

If you’re an applicant with a disability applying for admission to the bar, the first step for you is to apply for accommodations.  Applicants with a disability are entitled to apply for whatever accommodation that you “the applicant” deem necessary to provide you an equal opportunity to pass as the applicant next to you.

The bar exam, at least in Connecticut, begins both days at 9:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 with an hour for lunch.  Ask most applicants and they will tell you they felt pressed for time.  After my tumor was removed, I was not the same person and 6 hours was not going be nearly enough time to complete the exam.  Completing certain tasks now took me a lot longer as the information did not process as quickly as it had previously; or, like my final exam, I’d read a problem and understand it in my head but then end up writing ten pages or garble.  So, what was I to apply for?

To start, I knew for sure that I would need extra time, that was a given.  And in talking with the bar examiner, if my request for extra time was granted, I would start earlier than the other examinees and end later in the day, but with one one-hour break for lunch only.  So I would need something to eat in the exam room.  And to drink.  So I requested both of these as well.  Additionally, I requested a private testing room to avoid being distracted by the hundreds of other examiners in the room.  After the tumor resection, my ability to maintain my focus had diminished and my thoughts turn to mush.  In order to receive any accommodation, my doctors had to complete paperwork that explained how “what” I was applying for would assist me in passing the exam.  You said it, it was a headache.

Not more than a month after everything had been submitted, I received a piece of mail from the bar examining committee notifying me that my request had been reviewed and granted.  My schedule was 8:30-1:00 and then 2:00-6:30.   I was permitted a private testing room, the extra time and a “quiet snack” (whatever that is).  A drink was permitted, but it MUST be put into a clear bottle so that the examiners can inspect it.

So, how does one prepare for the bar exam, you ask?  Well, before explaining the methods and strategies that some utilize, let me first tell you about the exam.  In Connecticut, the first day now consists of six essays and two multi-state performance test questions.  The times that I have taken it, it was 12 essays on various topics.  The bar examiners provide a listing of possible subjects from which they can draw questions.  I think there were 18 total subjects.  How nice.

Day two consists of two-hundred multiple choice questions, all drawn from 6 subject matters – you have three hours to complete 100 questions in the morning and then three hours to complete 100 questions in the afternoon.  These are not your run-of-the-mill multiple choice questions.  photo 2Rather, each question is a complex problem which requires you to sort through the facts, analyze everything and select the “best” answer.  Note that I wrote “best.”  On the bar exam, there is no “right” answer; rather, they want you to choose the “best” answer and when there are four options to choose from, you can pretty much make a sound argument that any one of the four is the best answer.

Now, for just $3,250.00, you can register for BarBri, a two-month bar review class designed to assist applicants in passing the exam.  Upon registering, a nice present will be delivered to your address – two boxes filled with books.  photo 1In the BarBri course, you attend classes in a lecture hall and fill in outlines in a book designed by course instructors.  But there’s a twist – the lectures have all been pre-recorded and are shown on a video.  If you have a question about any of the material, I’m sorry but you’ll have to email your question in and wait days for a response.  While there is no requirement to taking the course, you put yourself a pretty high disadvantage if you don’t because almost everyone else takes it.  And the books are chock-full of released questions.

The video begins roughly around 9:30 every day and ends around 1:00-1:30.  You then have about an hour to get home and eat lunch before you begin reviewing and analyzing the lecture outlines from that day.  The advice given is to outline your outlines to absorb the material.  Once that is complete, there are problem sets from the books pictured above to work through and complete.  The problem sets can take hours.  It’s a lot of work to get through 18 multiple choice questions as they are long and tedious and the only way to learn the legal concept is to answer the question and review the answers, specifically why the wrong answer is in fact wrong.

The best way to sum up taking the bar exam is exhausting.  A month into studying, you find yourself asking what have I learned the past month and how can I possibly remember all of this?  Don’t worry – you’re told on day one of bar review class that you won’t remember everything so don’t bother trying.  Wait, what??

Hazing.  Survival of the fittest.  I apologize in advance to the readers who are currently preparing for the exam next month – I have faith in you.

As for me?  I wasn’t nearly the fittest of the fit.  Two years removed from having surgery, my brain was still not what it used to be.  And I knew that it may never be.  I had studied all that I possibly could; done as many practice questions and practice exams as humanly possible.  I was mentally and physically exhausted.  As the exam approached, I feared for my life.  I feared that I would cause myself to have another seizure from the unnecessary stress of taking the exam, or yet, that the shunt would malfunction due to the stress I was putting on myself in trying to cram mounds of information into my brain.

No stopping me now though –  the moment had arrived – July 26-27, 2011.

 

Good Riddance

With a few more grades that raised my eyebrows, I shrugged it all off and went full steam ahead to the finish line – graduation day (sort of). While I would walk with my friends at graduation, I had to make up the one semester that I missed to recover (It’s still pretty remarkable to me that it was “only” one semester).   The old adage is that 1L they scare you to death (hmm, maybe this all makes sense now?), 2L they work you to death and 3L they bore you to death.  As the end of the third-year neared, all of my friends were in full-blown frenzy with the wretched bar exam quickly approaching.  For me, it was one of the happier times of my life.

It was a  bittersweet day.  Law school represented, and still represents, the most tumultuous period of my life.  Those three years brought out the best and worst of me, but graduation day meant it was time to say goodbye to so many good friends and the state that I had called home for three years.  I was on the verge of the sweetest victory I could have scripted – earning my juris doctor degree.  If you were to ask pretty much anyone on July 2, 2008 if I would ever finish my degree, you would find that the majority would say “no”.  But not me.

All that stood in the way of me and that moment was one semester at Quinnipiac University School of Law.  Why didn’t I continue at Roger Williams, you ask?  Simply put, I realized that all of my peers that I had entered this chapter of my life with would be leaving after we walk across the stage and would be returning to their respective homes to begin their careers.  Back to Massachusetts…back to Arizona…back to New York….back to Connecticut.  Everyone was scattering and what was I to do there without my support group?  I needed someone to be there for me, who knew my struggles in the classroom as well as my medical history to guide me through the last semester and so  I opted to complete my final semester as a visiting student at Quinnipiac University.

Quinnipiac is set out over acres of beautiful land with Sleeping Giant State Park in the backdrop.  On the flip side though, how was I to cope with not watching the morning fog roll through the Mt. Hope Bridge or hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks?  I’d manage – at least I had my mom’s home cooked meals again to get me through.  In retrospect, my final semester at Quinnipiac was everything that I could have hoped for.  The professors were wonderful and understanding to my personal situation and the time went quickly – very quickly.  Before I could even blink, it was November 1st and talk about final exams began or presenting our final paper, which in essence, we short novels full of legal jargon.  To top it all off, the bar exam began to play on my mind and I asked myself “how” I was going to get through the remainder of the semester and through all of the adversity that awaited me.  But on that same day, I received this email…

Email

Now talk about support.  This email is just a sample of the support that I provided by my family and friends throughout law school and during my illness.  This was all the motivation that I would need to carry me through to the end.  Once again, my parents were right there to pick me up and provide me the encouragement that I needed to dig deep within and find the will to get through the semester.  I know I sound like a broken record, but without the support of my family, especially my parents, none of this would be possible and I would be unable to write this blog.

As I typed the final “ . ” of my last final exam, I was overcome with joy.

Sweet victory, I had accomplished the unimaginable.  GraduationAfter all of the trauma my brain had overcome and the adversity I faced, I was finished.  There were no words to express the sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt at that moment.

What came next was trying to figure how to pass the bar exam – but how?  There was no holding me back now though.  I had worked so hard and had come so far.  But being human, I think and wonder what I would have done with my life had I been diagnosed prior to enrolling in law school.  But what’s in the past is in the past.  I dismissed the fact that exams were now even more difficult for me than they had been previously.  After forking over nearly a thousand dollars just take the bar exam, in addition to thousands to take a prep course, I was on my way once again.  Or wasn’t I?  I’ll save the topic of the bar exam for another day.

For now, I celebrated my accomplishments.  Graduating law school…I was on cloud nine.  I was having the “time of my life.”

Back to School. Back to School…

…to show my dad I’m not a fool.  Ohhhhhh, back to school.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap.  Tick tick tick tick tick.  The sounds of an auditorium style room full of anxiety-filled, Type A law students taking a final exam, typing away at their laptops and checking their watches.  Before my surgery, there was nothing quite like that atmosphere to send me into my own personal hell… but obviously a lot changed after my 1st year.  No longer did a measly exam send me into panic – my brush with death had a way of knocking out those testing butterflies.  Sitting in this room now gave me a sense of pride. I was actually completing a law school final exam only months after being told I may never achieve a mental capacity greater than a second grader.  Submitting the exam when the time was up was akin to what I’m sure a marathon runner feels like after crossing the finish line.

This was one exam that I would forever remember.  A few weeks later, I eagerly checked my grades, and next to that particular class, I saw a “NS”.  What the hell did that mean, I wondered?  I asked Ashley but she had no idea either.

Let’s back up…

As you can probably surmise, I decided it was time to try heading back to law school.  There was only so much research I could conduct, hearings that I could sit in on and reports that I could write to prove to myself that I was ready.  My effort, dedication and work product continued to impress my employers – they too, knew I should head back.  I knew it was going to be tough and unlike anything I had ever experienced during any of my schooling.  But with my one semester leave-of-absence nearing its end, there was one critical obstacle in my way.  At yet another follow-up MRI and appointment with my neurosurgeon, I was informed that there was no further growth and that the shunt was working very well.  My progress had continued to amaze the Yale medical community and without more, I was granted clearance to return to school.

And just like that, I was back into the routine.  I received my registration date and time to pick my classes and off I went.  Being ambitious as always and not wanting to fall behind any more than I already had, I registered for 15 credits.  Call me crazy, insane or even stupid for doing that – but guess what? I did it. Well – sort of.

Those five classes required me more to work harder than ever before and resulted in greater angst in a five-month period than I had ever experienced.  The assigned reading was overkill at times.  As I was still in a rehabilitation state of sorts, I was unable to easily read material the first time and comprehend it.  And to further complicate matters, these were judicial opinions, many of which were chock full of legalese and acronyms galore – thank God for the law school spark notes!  I got called on multiple times and just stared blankly or made up some incomprehensible response.  It was awkward at times.  Again, I was around classmates who I held in high regard.  I wonder what they thought when I was called on?  Then again, after what I just beat, I didn’t really care what they thought.

Despite everything, my friends still stood by me.  Early on in the semester, Ashley and my friends threw me a surprise welcome back party.  photo(5)photo 2It was awesome to see all my friends in one place and to know that they cared. Like law school, this too was a test for me as I was forced to be in a social setting, and like school, I managed.  I was completely surprised and happy to know that everyone came out and showed their support.

The rest of the semester was such a blur.  About halfway through, I was mentally done.  But I dug deep and found the extra energy needed to get through the rest of the semester.  Finally, the last day of classes had arrived and then reading week to prepare for exams. For me, that was crisis mode.  How was I to retain all of this information under the rigorous time constraints?  Even despite what I had just been through, my exams were still administered in a rigorous three-hour window. It was an experiment for me, but it was the only way for me to assess myself.

There were certain classes that I did really well in, far exceeding my expectations.  And there were others, well, let’s get back to that “NS”.

Shortly after seeing my bewildering grade, the emails rolled in and the phone rang. It was the law school calling to tell me that my exam was so poor, incomprehensible and confused that I had earned an F. Earned.  That’s nice.  But seriously, was it that poor?

My professor and the school were willing to work with me.  But there were those who I could hear whispering “I told you so…” Nonetheless, as ashamed and embarrassed as I was, I arrived at the school to meet with the members in Administration and my professor to review the exam.  A quick explanation of law school exams – you are given an extremely long story, with multiple “characters” and events (Think Murphy’s Law style – everything possible can and does go wrong in these scenarios).  You then need to write a coherent essay explaining all the legal issues involved in the story.  Where I went wrong was as clear as day to my professor and perhaps and interesting anecdote for any neurologists out there – all of the legal principles I identified were correct, but I had simply mixed up which “character” did what.

The school and my professor recognized that my exam was not a true indicator of my work throughout the semester and I was given the opportunity to retake the exam over the summer.  Otherwise, all of my hard work, the time that I spent with the professor during office hours, outlining and re-outlining my notes, taking practice exams and reviewing them my professor…not to mention losing thousands of dollars on this course would be gone.  Fortunately for me however, my professor recognized all of this and fought hard.  I recall him telling the school and I that he had previous students with traumatic brain injuries who had manifested the exact same problems on exams.  My professor suggested that I be allowed to retake the exam that was being given during the summer course. After much back and forth, I was notified that I was permitted to retake the exam that was to be administered during the summer session.

The legal concepts and theories were still fresh in my head but I still put in many hours of preparation as before because I refused to squander this opportunity.  I was so determined and prepared to nail it.  After it was all said and done, I received word from the law school that I had earned a B.  What followed was a congratulatory message from my professor commending me on my hard work and persistence.

So like you Billy Madison, I proved to my dad and my family that I’m not a fool.  I knew it all along but there were plenty of doubters.  Again though, through adversity and persistence, we can all achieve whatever we set out minds out to do.  The human brain is an amazing, resilient organ.  To think that a tumor the size of a grapefruit was in there which in turn lead me to having to differentiate between a red fish and a green turtle to taking and passing law school exams is, well, mind boggling.  After getting through that first semester back, I was more than happy to bring on more tap tap tapping and clock-watching.

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

As part of my ongoing quest for positivity, I never stopped believing my life would resume where it had left off prior to my diagnosis.  Even though it was now late August and my peers were in week two of classes, I was determined to get back there with them.  But not only was I determined, I whole-heartedly believed that I would be back at some point to resume my law school career.  For those who know me, this belief, or what some may call “stubbornness”, should come as no surprise as I have always been persistent and one to argue a point even when I know I am wrong.

At my request, a meeting was set up with my parents, the Assistant Dean of the law school and I.  The purpose of the meeting was to inform the dean of my progress and basically let her know how I was doing.  All along, I fully and firmly believed that law school was still a possibility for me and that after I can make some progress, I would be back.  Not so fast.  I walked into a conference room and was unable to say a word when she was talking to me.  “Maybe it is just nerves and I need to relax?” I thought to myself.  Nope.  The entire meeting was full of confused and muttered responses…as well as no responses at all.  On top of my cognitive deficits, the nerves and anxiety of my surroundings left me completely unable to make a positive impact and prove that I had what it took to make a recovery and return to school in pursuit of my dream.

Suffice it to say that it did not take long for the dean to ask to speak to my parents in private for a moment.  I did not have the mental capacity to even process what they could have been speaking about, but I knew that it had the potential to be bad… and it was.  When they came back into the room, the dean broke the news to me that I never expected to hear: based on my deficits and lack of progress, my pursuit of earning my juris doctorate degree was officially over and that I should return home to live a comfortable life.

I wanted to jump up on the table and rattle off the elements of negligence and go into a long-winded spiel reciting my oral argument I gave three months earlier.  I couldn’t though and I watched as my parents’ faces had turned from pessimistically optimistic to completely hopeless and sad.  All that I had worked so hard for over the years was gone – the tumor had robbed me of everything.  The two-hour ride from Rhode Island back to Connecticut was full of tears and sorrow by all of us.

It was déjà vu all over again…

After graduating cum laude from The University of Connecticut in 2006, I sat for the LSAT and applied to five schools.  After rejections to four schools and being waitlisted by UConn for the entire summer before learning on the day classes were to begin that I had been rejected, I felt completely helpless.  One of the schools I applied to was Roger Williams University.  Prior to receiving an acceptance or rejection from the school, I was being inundated with mail from the school regarding financial aid, the pro bono work done there and letters from the Office of Career Development.  Given my low LSAT score, acceptance was a long shot but all of the mail left with an ounce of hope.  The Assistant Dean of Admissions invited me to come up and see the campus, go in for a tour and meet with the career development office and you better believe that I accepted it.  With my mother, the two of us made the drive up to Rhode Island.  On a good day, the drive is about two hours but on that particular day, due to the pouring rain and wind, the drive turned into three.  Figures.   Pachaug Trail - "Welcome to Rhode Island sign" at Beach Pond, Hope Valley, RI

During my meeting with admissions, the dean wanted to discuss my low LSAT score along with my high grades at UConn.  “How do I describe the disparity” he wanted to know.   I couldn’t.  Well, the answer was buried in my brain but nobody knew at that point nor were there any reasons to inquire.  On the drive home, my mother and I both recapped the meeting and tried to find any positives to take home with us, but there were none….except that the rain had stopped and over the highway, a full rainbow had developed.  My mother took this as a sign that though things had not been working out for me, that rainbow was certainly an omen of good things to come.

Unfortunately, a short while later that summer, I received a small envelope from the school and inside was a letter from the Assistant Dean of Admissions notifying me that I had not been accepted for that year but encouraging me not to give up hope.  Well fortunately for me, I did not give up hope and remained determined to master the LSATs.  I spent the year working for a law firm in a variety of roles and then went full-steam ahead with an LSAT preparation course.  My hard work had paid off and I improved my score immensely.  I reapplied to all five of the schools, but the moment I received my acceptance from Roger Williams University, I notified them of my acceptance and could not have been happier.

Back to the present day, here I was, back in the car heading home after a horrible meeting at Roger Williams.  But life is funny like that.  I believe that everything happens for a reason, both good and bad, and while that reason may not be apparent at the current moment, it will become evident at some point in time.  For me, the reason I did not get accepted after meeting with the school on that rainy day and the long drive with my mom was that my acceptance a year later allowed me to enroll with Ashley and find my counterpart…the one who lived this battle with me moment I left her that voicemail notifying her of my diagnosis.

So what’s my point, It’s that you cannot give up.  Keep going, keep searching and keep fighting.  Through it all, you will find your rainbow.