If you’ve ever served on a jury, you know that it involves a lot of waiting, an occasional rush of activity, and intense listening and observation. I received a summons to report for jury duty recently, and, after several hours, I was among 12 individuals seated for a trial. The waiting and selection process had dragged on so long that it was one o’clock before the judge recessed the court for lunch. We had only one hour before we must report back to court so the trial could begin.
If you’ve ever suffered through a gallbladder attack, you know that it’s a most uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. Eating usually triggers it—especially eating in a rushed manner. On the day I was selected to serve on a jury, I endured what would be my third gallbladder attack in four months. It was, by far, the worst, and that’s saying a lot, since the other two meant trips to the emergency room.
The sickness began to hit me as I walked back to the courts building following a rushed lunch. By the time I reached the jury room, I felt truly ill, but willed myself to persevere. With my 11 compatriots, I sat through the Commonwealth of Virginia’s presentation of evidence and witnesses’ testimony. The discomfort, which came in waves, seemed bearable, especially since what I was hearing and seeing was so riveting.
When the prosecution rested its case, the judge called a brief recess, after which the defense would present its side.
Back in the crowded jury room, with nothing other than waiting to keep my mind occupied, the illness took hold in a most dramatic way. The other jurors were visibly concerned; a kindly gentleman watched me return to my seat at the table and asked what was wrong.
“You look gray,” he said.
“I’m having a gallbladder attack,” I replied, wetting a paper napkin in my cup of water and applying it to my neck. “I’m supposed to have surgery in less than three weeks.”
What happened next is not to be believed; if you saw this in a movie you’d criticize the screenwriter for crafting such a contrivance.
“I’m a gallbladder surgeon,” he said. “My name is Dr H.”
“You’re kidding?! Are you really? My surgeon is Dr. R; do you know her?”
“She’s in my practice.”
By this time the jurors were as transfixed by the jury room drama as they had been by anything they’d heard in the courtroom. But of course I had to make light of things:
“Well, we’ve got a pretty large table here and lots of light; why don’t you help me out? Cut this thing out of me and we’ll get back to the trial.”
Then followed another wave of pain.
The court deputy had entered the room. I looked at him wanly and told him I was ill. He asked me to write my name on a legal pad, ripped out the sheet of paper, and left immediately to speak with the judge.
I’m deeply embarrassed by what happened next. The judge called me into the court room to question me about my health. He was aware that Dr. H was on the jury, and asked if I minded whether or not he spoke to him about my situation. Dr. H joined me in the otherwise empty jury gallery. The rest of the trial’s participants looked on.
“She’s a very sick woman,” Dr. H remarked. “This is an acute case.”
I pleaded to stay on; I was sure I’d be fine. Perhaps someone could call my husband and he could bring me my pain medication? I did not want to be the reason for a delay in the justice system, although looking back, I can’t help but wonder why the parties did not seat an alternate juror.
The judge sent Dr. H and me back to the jury room so he could discuss the situation with the attorneys. After a few moments, he called the entire jury back in.
“How do you feel?” the judge asked me. “Do you think you can proceed?”
“I want to try.”
“Well, I appreciate your dedication, but I’ve already decided to end the trial. The jury is dismissed.”
Dismayed, I started to cry. Even though the defense attorney assured me that these things happen and I shouldn’t feel bad, justice was delayed, and I was the reason why.
Dr H and the court deputy walked me to my car; Dr H offered to drive me home, but I thought I could manage it. (I did.) Once home, I took a pain pill and an anti-nausea pill. I fell fast asleep.
But my story does not end here. Oh no. Here’s where it gets interesting.
The next morning, a Friday, I met with my gastroenterologist, with whom I’d had a long-standing appointment. I relayed what happened the previous day. Here’s what he said:
“You’re not going to make it to the 21st. I want you to have this operation as soon as we can find a surgeon to do it.”
My surgeon, Dr R, was not back yet from vacation. Dr. V asked his assistant to begin calling through the roster. Of the surgeons she called, one was not taking new patients, and the others would not agree to operate on me without an initial consult, which would delay things; Dr. V wanted this to happen as soon as possible. Only one doctor said he’d be willing to perform the surgery, but it had to be that afternoon, since he was leaving for vacation on Sunday.
I drove myself to the surgery center and got myself admitted. John had left work and was on his way.
I was in pre-op, hooked to an IV and wearing one of those lovely print hospital gowns, when my surgeon walked into the room.
“Dr H,” I said. “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”