Fun in the Universal House of Death

I went to the doctor yesterday who sent me for a chest Xray. The Xray came back showing “a spot behind the heart, and I’ve ordered a cat scan for you.” I said, “Doctor, you have to talk to me about this. It is not enough to casually report, ‘You have a spot behind the heart.’ That could include anything from being shot with a .44 Magnum to a button I swallowed at age five, or something.”

I had frightening flashbacks to my father who at about my age was diagnosed with lung cancer. He survived that and several other cancers, but I thought, maybe it’s all in the family. “It’s not cancer,” the doctor said. “But it could be a ruptured aorta.” (You can bleed to death with a ruptured aorta and in a hurry) The doctor went on to say, “I think it’s merely an anomaly in the film – nothing to be worried about.” A small gift from the medical profession called “reassurance” not taught often enough in med school and for which good doctors get no bonuses. I appreciated it.

“It is such a non-problem that I should immediately get a cat scan, right?” I asked.

“Right,” he said.

“I saw myself, along with all of you, in the Universal House of Death waiting for my name to be called.”

I began to fantasize the end. I saw myself, along with all of you, in the Universal House of Death waiting for my name to be called. “Yes,” I said to one of my friends, “the minute we are born we take our place in the Universal House of Death and then wait” – those dark, frightening thoughts that grip at the stomach while you smile at passers-by and answer your phone with a cheerful “hello” knowing that your name may be soon coming up. After all, with me, at 80, the time according the standard mortality tables has been long past. But not to worry.

I never used to read the obituary column in The New York Times. But now it pops up in front of me when I log on, and I see that most of those whose names have been called were younger than I. I have defective hearing and wear hearing aids. I thought about taking them off to keep from hearing the call. Maybe that’s why they have such a time trying to get us old farts to wear them. Moreover, we do not know who will call our name or when. But our name will eventually be called. Something like Turd Falls that I have written about before.

Then the paranoia often suffered by trial lawyers began to set in. Maybe the bastards over in Radiology didn’t take good Xrays to begin with and then ordered cat scan follow-ups to enhance their yearly take. Maybe it was clear to them that ninety-nine percent of the time this was merely an anomaly in the film as my doctor suggested, but that to be absolutely sure that everything was benign they ordered a cat scan. Yes. It was pay back time for me, a trial lawyer, who had put the fear of the law into the frontal lobes of all doctors. I’ll bet, I thought, that some poor homeless devil who staggers into the emergency room without insurance would never be asked to take a friggin cat scan.

I went through all the sign-ins, including proof that I had insurance and medicare, and I smiled all the time and made light jokes so that everyone would like me and think I was a nifty old man. I was then shown a booth with a freshly laundered gown folded up in the corner and told I should put it on. I am not good at things like that. I came stumbling out without my arms through the arm holes and the nurse smiled back at me, rolled her eyes at the other nurse and they both smiled at the piteous sight before them and both, one on each side, helped me get my arms in where they belonged.

Then they laid me down to take blood for the insatiable Dracula who lurks in the lab — the pretense being that they needed to determine if my blood would endure the toxic substance they were about to shoot into my veins as a dye. The nurse couldn’t find the vein after half a dozen jabs. Sadism in its fullest bloom. I hate to be called upon for bravery, so I asked if it was all right if I cried. Instead I suggested they try the other arm where the vein was obvious and only a person with vision worse than 20/800 could miss it, which she did the first time.

They lie you down on a hard, flat table, and tell you to raise your arms back behind your head like those idiots do at the concerts where barbaric noises of all kinds are made and people scream into a microphone, call it singing, and others in shabby, often dirty cloths play guitars as if the same were an extension of the male sex organ. Be that as it may, once in this position with your arms straight up and behind you they roll you into this big pipe, like the culverts we used to crawl through as kids and where I got my first peek at the forbiddens of the opposite sex at age twelve. That memory did not reappear. Instead, I was commanded though a loud speaker to hold my breath. Something bad was about to happen.

It was called a heat flash. I am told it had something to do with the iodine. That was the stuff we put on ringworm when I was a kid. It burned like hell. They shot the stuff into my veins and suddenly I get that heat flash they warned me about. I could feel it clear down to the anal orifice.

On command through the loud speaker I held my breath. They took the picture. Now you struggle to your feet again and get dressed. You try to be calm. You try to think of something funny and nothing comes. The belly is churning with fear. “Sorry, Mr. Spence,” I could hear the doctor saying, this man whom I had never met and who never met me and to whom I was but another piteous slob whose time had come and whose name had been called in the Universal House of Death. I had asked my doctor to tell the radiologist that he could give me the results directly so I didn’t have to lay awake whimpering all night waiting while the doctors got their act together and understood that I was their only patient and should get the results stat, which is medical jargon meaning, really fucking quick.

I followed the nurse into the lab, a dark place lit only by the screens in front of two men neither of whom displayed any human characteristics. I suspect that is why they went into this branch of medicine – a discipline that protected them from meeting face to face any living creature. They dealt with “a ruptured spleen,” not George White, or “a fractured distal phalanx of the great toe,” not Billy Henderson’s broken big toe, and not Gerry Spence, but his “spot behind the heart.” Their monotones in the dark of the laboratory sounded like mumblings from the dead.

“Nothing to be worried about,” the dead voice said. I had heard those words before. One does not worry about death, not if one is already dead. “Hiatal hernia,” the voice said. I had known that for years. If I ate ice cream just before bedtime it came lopping back up full of acid and, taken down the wrong pipe, could choke you. Not a good way to go. But when ice cream and hot fudge are put in front of me at night, something in my brain turns off and I eat it anyway. Ice cream and hot fudge are the meaning of life. He showed me the hernia on the screen. “Nothing to worry about,” he said again.

So what have I learned from all of this? Yes, at the moment of birth we take our place in the Universal House of Death. All of our names will eventually be called. But in the meantime, the key to living, among other things, includes the art of being playful. Childlike. I have worked hard at that now for 80 years. I suppose that has something to do with the fact that Imaging, my darling, most often refers to me as her 14-month-old triplets. They will have to kill all three of us – one at a time.


37 responses to “Fun in the Universal House of Death

  1. Dear Gerry:

    So good to hear from you. I learned from my dad what you have imparted: sense of humor is the only way to get through the medical world of today without anxiety. Even at relatively younger ages, I got such phone messages through my receptionist: “I (spoken with echoes like George Carlin) have made an appointment for you with an oncologist (drums beating ominously.” It is important to stay away from such insensitive doctor types. My feeling is that if they miss that others have human feelings, they might miss something about curing you.
    My father used to show up at the doc, and when they asked him how he was, he would say, “I came to you to find out.” The best doctor he had was the one, who after he turned 94 and his lungs were going, said to him, “What are your favorite foods?” He said, “fried chicken, carrot cake and my daughter’s cheese cake.” So she wrote on a prescription pad that he should have as much of those as he wanted. Enjoy life every day and laugh much. And if you eat that ice cream and chocolate fudge topping before bed, sleep a little more propped up on a wedge pillow or more pillows. Besides, 80 is the new 60 or 50 or whatever you want it to be. Love, Anna

  2. Gerry:

    Based on your dad’s age, and in light of the advancement of medicine, I can safely and conservatively guarantee you an additional 17 years of life. Just promise me you will live these remaining 17 years as fully and colorfully as the first 80!


  3. I’m glad to hear it was nothing to worry about, ole buddy. I’ve got one of those spots behind my heart, too. It’s called a soft spot for a hot-fudge sunday. Mmmmm!


  4. Glad it was really nothing. Go get a Barium swallow for more medical testing fun! My internist makes me get one of those or sticks a camera down my craw every year. I think he does it because I’m a trial lawyer and enjoys making me swallow cement or get doped up on Demerol….

  5. Mr. Spence,

    As someone who spent a long, long time in the hospital at a very early age, I can appreciate how overwhelming the whole process can be. Though, I am sure that at the time I didn’t understand the full weight of the situation. Nonetheless, I think it still made me into a person who knows that now is the best and only time for whatever it is that needs to be done.

    I am glad you are well. Don’t turn down too much ice cream 😉


  6. Jerry,

    My parents are getting their monies worth. The same age as yourself, give or take a year on either end, they are lately caught in a revolving door which once entered, spits one out in the doctor’s office, the hospital, the outpatient CT scanner or an ambulance (amongst others just for fun)….rather a magic door actually. Fortuitously however, their son (me!) became a nurse anesthetist years ago (after a stint as a paramedic…handy stuff), and has spent much of his time shaking his head and warning the unsuspecting to get the hell out of the hospital before they get sick.
    After racing 300 miles to stop a surgery on my father’s perfectly healthy gall bladder due to a ‘spot’ on a CT (seems that things like hepatic veins are supposed to make a ‘spot’ when you radiate them), with practice I can now make the trip and intercept the physicians during their once a day looksee (rounds at 7 am) and throw myself across the body of either parent, fire off a few obvious medical conclusions, and even fire a few physicians (no fooling….). Without a doubt my mother would have heard the ‘heard the call’ on more than one occasion….. I think my loud ranting drowned it out.

    For fun, I went to law school a few years ago. It is one of my best decisions even though I continue to practice anesthesia rather than practicing law. My proud parents like nothing better than to tell the doctor’s, “Our son is a nurse anesthetist an an attorney”. This too seems to help drown out ‘the call’….at least until I can arrive to prevent shenanigans. A hospital is no place to be when you are sick.

  7. Speaking as a loyal reader, I’m glad your doctor said it was “nothing to worry about.” But I also have a rather large distrust of doctors, and a larger fear of their big machines. Of course, I go to them to preserve my health, but not without some concern about what they might “find” for me to worry about. And you’re correct about the importance of enjoying life, including ice cream and hot fudge. With a warm brownie tossed in occasionally. 🙂

  8. You’ve been an awesome man for decades and you’ve fought for people who needed a voice and that alone is enough to get you into the pearly gates.
    I am sorry for your worries and hope for the best

    What has your eating and fitness habits been the past 5-10 yrs?

    It is my belief that we are struck with these worries of what to eat and what to do and who to deal with, and what ifs, etc that blows our minds when we hear of tainted this and that and that this medication did this to us when it was to do that…

    The spot or whatever in your body or on your body could be a multitude of reasons
    Who really knows for sure?

    I knew this nutritionist Don Lemmon that dealt with bodybuilders and models that was brilliant and wrote a book and you know how he died?
    Falling asleep over the wheel coming home at night

    Of all things he ignored the most important – – sleep

    But we aren’t given a time and date of our death

    We are just to live our lives to the best of our abilities and go above and beyond the call of duty for others.

    Like you told me before you wished there was more of you.
    Fine, but don’t stress yourself out about that

    We all wished we could do more here and there but we have to take what we were given to do whatever to whomever

    And if that’s not good enough – – well as Gerry Spence said “that’s just too damn bad”

    So try not to stress too much as that will only invigorate the problem and just look back at the positives in life while destroying the negatives.

    Peace be with you sir and try some Goji juice

  9. I’m so glad it was nothing. I mean really, who dies any more?! So, 20th century.

  10. Hugh Aynesworth

    Gerry: I just stumbled across your blog, while trying to find your address so I could write you a letter.

    I am a guy almost your age (77), who has just retired after 60 years as a news/investigative reporter, author and teacher. I just came across your book “The Making of a “Country Lawyer” and was so entertained that I just had to contact you and thank you for many hours of joy in reading it.

    Though we have never met, I long have admired your legal abilities and your verve of life. Though I covered (for Newsweek, Time, 20/20 and several newspapers) many of the most important stories of the 20th century, I did not cross paths with your cases….but I watched and followed them nonetheless.

    I grew up in a rural area much as you did, a small town in West Virginia…but I lacked one thing that helped make you such a well-rounded individual, a father.

    I never knew my father, nor even knew who he really was. So I missed the strengths that came with having constant input from a strong man I could admire and emulate.

    Recounting your upbringing and early life in that book must have been excruciating in some ways — the extreme feeling of guilt about your mother’s sad choice to take her life and what it took to exorcise those demons.

    But out of all that obvious pain came a book that is so superb it almost brought tears to my eyes at some places.

    I don’t suppose you ever get to Dallas, where I live, but if you do, would you consider having lunch or a cup of coffee with me?

    I write books also — have done two on Ted Bundy, one about press coverage of the JFK assassination — and am working on two more.

    I am glad you seem to be medically okay. I have had a bit of heart trouble…bypasses and such…but am good, I think, for a few more years.

    Please forgive my rambling here….I just wanted you to know how much I appreciated your book…and your career.

    Sincerely…Hugh Aynesworth

    • Thanks Hugh. Yes, in Dallas we will meet one day.

      My father is my hero. Every boy should have one. But your father’s gift to you was his absence. You grew wonderfully from the pain of it.


  11. I’m so glad it was nothing. I mean really, who dies any more?! So, 20th century.

  12. This is why death surprises us, even the terminally ill, there are so many false starts usually beginning with the day of our birth. Good for you, Gerry.

  13. Everyone knows angels are holy

  14. Gerry,
    I am so glad that your results were good! I too underwent an MRI of late and hated every minute, sounded very familiar; missing the viens the pain/torture of the dye…I as well had good results, which I am thankful for!
    You do/did great things for others (including my sister Sharon Windon Carr). We will keep you in our prayers. We will pray for your health, peace and your full understanding of a better place to come after we leave this world… Heaven!
    Jesus awaits you at his pearly gates! Do not be afraid and call on him when under stress. Thanks and Take Care, Jeanne

  15. Saints are spot less

  16. Now you’ve done it. You brought up this most unappealing topic, but one that has dominated my thoughts as of late: death.

    You see I am turning 60 this year and not taking it very well. I’m also starting to hear things like, “ 60 is the new 40.” Of course that is bullshit, like when one goes to a wake and comments upon how good the corpse looks. Also lawyers often look older than their chronological age, and I am no exception.

    He bottom line is that even if I were to live as long as the life tables suggest, less than 25% of my life remains. And if that were not bad enough, someone has pushed the fast-forward button. For example, it does not seem like a full decade has passed since we were headed into Y2K.

    So how to beat the Grim Reaper? Go to church I am told. Accept simple answers to life’s most complex questions, all solved long ago by men (but no women) who believed that the world was flat as they transcribed God’s purported message. Sorry. Not for me.

    It also seems that the current culture is not designed for those who have moved past a certain point in their lives. Thus when commercials appear on television, I do not fall into anybody’s targeted demographic. Even the actors in the Viagra commercials look younger than me.

    And yet as a lawyer, I feel that I am at the peak of my skills. With over thirty years of experience both in the courtroom and with life, I hold a distinct advantage over the younger competition. I have not only been around the block; I have been around the block many thousands of times.

    Still, new clients will look at me and ask what will happen to their case if I die. A glance in the mirror reminds me I would be asking the very same question.

    Then there is retirement, one of those things that sound good on paper. Unfortunately I have seen retirement in action, or more accurately, inaction. Retirement apparently consists of visiting doctors during the day and playing cards at night. As the deck is passed to the next player we glance momentarily at the door, concerned that the reaper will suddenly appear and call out our name – after which the game will simply go on without us. No, retirement is not for me either.

    I have thus concluded that the only way to live forever is to create some form of art. You have done that Gerry. You are not only a lawyer; you are a legend. But it doesn’t stop with the law. You have your paintings, your photographs, your books, your novels and your school. They will exist long after you are gone.

    Alas, I have no art. But in the shrinking years ahead, I’ll be working on that.

    Wish me well.

    • We all wish you well. Wish you peace. Wish you happiness. Wish you success.

      For me, I wish I didn’t wish.

      I remember when I had my 60th. It was traumatic. I moped around saying, “What have I done with my life?” Moaning. Somebody even gave me a cane to walk with. My best work has happened since. Sixty is just a foundation. Now build the castle.


  17. I am not as old as you Gerry but my wife is older but neither of us has been to a doctor for decades.

    Why do you go if he makes you feel so bad?

  18. If possible, please retract the reply I sent to you last night. In that reply I made a comment about religion that might be offensive to some. While I have not found personal comfort in religion, there are many people who do. I do not wish to offend them unnecessarily.

  19. Gerry –

    I don’t have words to describe the power of your description of being nibbled on by the medical monster – and of glimpsing the Ferryman.

    As always, love & respect to you.


  20. I remember your article “Plucked before one’s time”. I made me think a little to much about death. This one will no doubt add to that burden. I know it happens I just can not quite get my head around it happening to me. So should I have my death in a psychodrama ? (Hmm, Aug. Grad I, note to self) I also wonder if you have explored that in pyschodrama.
    You made me smile when you talked of being childlike. I love fun and being free and childlike. I wonder if knowing there is an end enriches our lives. My dog Tahoe who is the happiest creature I know lacks the ability to understand his death and if he did understand it would he be happier? I doubt it. Also what is it that we are made that makes us happier than others? I know the more we risk and explore the more enriched we are. Something they don’t teach in school. I also know if when I first awake and take a moment to smile and stretch (just like Tahoe) my day is much better than if I awake a rush off in a hurry to my daily worried tasks.
    So I have learned a lot from both you, Mr Spence and Tahoe, two of my most favorite creatures on this planet. Spots and dog breath and all.

    • Del, I have always believed I have learned more from my kids and my dogs than from any guru. What our kids teach is the love of the moment, the love of exploring, the love of creating, and the love of being. Our dogs teach us love and acceptance without judgment. And more.

      Love you.


  21. “Hiatal hernia” is something I was DX’d with several years ago at age 35 or so.

    Krissy Kay tries to keep me from eating past 7 pm……….but I’d rather die than not get to eat some hot fudge, ice cream and some nuts…..but that throw up in the mouth at 3 am can be a bummer……now that you mention it I got some homemade chocolate cupcakes waiting for me at home….gotta go: )

    With regard to death, I like they way the folks from New Hampshire deal with it:

    Live Free or Die…………baby, Live Free or Die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Well my friend– I know what that is like. I have been through that.

    Just think how much life has been extended since your dad died. We have a long way to go before we finish this race. Old death man is going to have catch up with us first.

  23. Gerry,
    This is my first vistit here…..this one from you popped out at me “For me, I wish I didn’t wish.

    I remember when I had my 60th. It was traumatic. I moped around saying, “What have I done with my life?” Moaning. Somebody even gave me a cane to walk with. My best work has happened since. Sixty is just a foundation. Now build the castle.

    You and I have chatted about some similarities in our walk—-Having just turned 50, I struggle with the pain of professional failure. I have had some of the best mentoring on the planet, namely Albert Krieger, Bill Trine, you and TLC. I have nothing, and nothing to show for it. It hurts. With two small kids, we struggle just to pay our household bills. It is a dreadful and frightful place, and I sometimes wonder why I don’t just throw in the towel. Being able to look back and realize that some of your best work took place after age 60, is encouraging.


  24. Hi, Gerry —

    I’ve had reflux since I was 16 — I turned 60 this year. Tried everything for it, including biofeedback, which actually did help with the spasms the reflux created in my esophagus. But, Prilosec — it’s magical. Not quite as magical as chocolate — but close. Let’s face it — a day without chocolate just isn’t really worth living, is it — so use the pills, sleep propped up on pillows, and don’t miss a delicious drop!

    As for death — I have believed for a long time that death is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People die because they believe they are going to die. Norman Cousins wrote a lot about the power of the mind to heal, and about what damage a poorly turned phrase by a Doc can do. It’s amazing how much flack I get for this belief — some people have a real need to disabuse me of it — but — what if I’m right? (And, who do I hurt if I’m wrong?)

    I have already WAY outlived expectations. I’ve been sick with Lupus since I was 12. The docs don’t even have longitudinal studies that go out as far as I’ve been alive with it. I get things, but they’re always fix-able. The Lupus is controlled with drugs. We fixed the clogged arteries I got from the drugs with triple by-pass. We fixed the cataracts I got from the drugs with new lenses. I’m OK with that. Medicine becomes capable of fixing more and more things every day. As long as I stay behind the curve of discovery — I’m good.

    Don’t worry, Gerry — you will live as long as you want to. Believing makes it so. Read some of Cousins’ books — he taught me a lot about being a team with my docs, and taking control in medical situations.

  25. Gerry, your story evoked memories of a similar experince in my life seven years ago. I was having upper abdominal pain. After a series of preliminary test, I was given the differential diagnosis. there was a list of possibilities, but when the doctor said PANCREATIC CANCER, that was all I heard.

    I was sent for an ultrasound, and for five days I waited while the radiologist took the weekend off, then had the nerve to get the flu. I wrestled with how I would handle the news, if it were as dire as it could be. In the midst of my angst it hit me. No matter what the doctors tells me, I’m terminal.

    This thought must have passed through my mind at times before, but only had intellectual attention. Now this fact resonated in every fiver of my being. The effect has been singularly positive. I now deply appreciate things I had only casually acknowledged previously. I truly cherish the many wonderful relationships that have blessed my life, and for the first time understand the meaning of “living in the present.”

    I hope your experience returns such wonderous dividends.

  26. Hi Jerry:

    As I am only 12 years behind you upon the same trek up that inexorable climb, I just stopped working for a minute to muse upon the “Universal House of Death.” May I suggest to you that the terminology has a terrible foreboding of finality…lights out, a black state of nothingness. Notwithstanding, in order to asuage my quickening heartbeat, I have decided to rename it as “God’s Waiting Room.” As such, it still faces the ultimate truth (of which I still quake) but also the possibility of being placed at the best “table” in the house. And that my dear Gerry, depends upon me and what I do with the rest of my time in God’s Waiting Room. It felt very good and heartwarming to be able to share that epiphany with you. May it change your prospective.

    With great admiration to one of God’s greatest blessings to me and those I serve, I remain…

    Rick Reno

  27. Mr. Spence;

    What a beautiful piece this was. I’d love to post it at the Mental Health Clinic where I work, and where, unfortunately, the “numbers” are often more important than the beautiful humans.

    You have inspired me for most of my life, and continue to do so.

    That’s all the meaning we really need. Just to inspire one person to be more human.

    Thank you


  28. Gerry: Your post brings back a flood of memories. Whenever I have to deal with the medical profession, the paranoia settles like a rock in the pit of my stomach. All the doctors in our little town know that I make a living suing doctors, and unfortunately I spend most of my days looking at the many ways they fail. I couldn’t help wondering how that fact weighed in when a local surgeon recommended chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and radiation for a stage 1 breast cancer. Was she just being ultra cautious to avoid any potential negligence, or did she want to cut off my boobs to get even with me for the misery I cause to her brethren? After getting a second opinion (far out of town…) for a simple lumpectomy and radiation, I decided it was the latter. Love, Connie

  29. Gerry: Just remember-Losing is worst than death.



  30. Joan Fabbi Keating

    “Old Age is a Frame of Mind”!
    You will never be old, you are too busy and helpful.
    I tell people I don’t mind getting older and looking like a bag lady, I just don’t like not being able to pick up the bags.
    Thank you for your insight and inspiration!
    Stay healthy!
    Happy Valentines Day!

  31. For those of us who do not have “Proof of Insurance,” we pay dearly, and, it seems forever for a diagnosis. And when diagnosis is obtained, we have a lack of funds to “fix” the health problem and then wonder why we ever wanted to know what was wrong with our bodies in the first place. Because paying forever on diagnostic testing creates more stress and ailments than one had in the first place. (laughing)

    Yes, from the moment of birth, Life is Terminal. I, personally, have learned to appreciate and see the beauty of each and every day given.

    Many Blessings of Health, Laughter, Ice Cream and Hope be to You,

  32. How about the death of law firms across the country?
    This country hasn’t seen the wrath of what Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac put together.

    Black Thursday:
    The Litigation Daily Wrap-Up
    Unless you have your head embedded so deeply in sand that you’re now growing ostrich feathers, you’ve heard about the Big Law layoffs/massacre that took place last Thursday.
    Firms axed at least 700 lawyers and legal staffers, and rumors are swirling that many more may lose their jobs in the days and weeks to come.
    Here’s a distressing National Law Journal wrap-up on the bloodletting and here’s Legal Times’s equally gloomy take.

    We wondered how badly our people–the litigators–had suffered. Conventional wisdom has it that litigation is a countercyclical practice area, but these are not conventional economic times.
    So on Friday we called several of the firms that had announced layoffs, including Holland & Knight and Bryan Cave, to ask how many litigation lawyers and staff had been let go. We’re sorry to report that we don’t have much to report.
    The firms seem to be in turtle shell mode.
    Those that returned our calls refused to discuss which practice areas were affected.
    The one exception was Goodwin Proctor, which told us that of 38 associates who lost their jobs, about 25 percent came from the litigation department.

    It seems to us, however, that the wave of litigation predicted to follow the economy’s crash has been, at best, a ripple.
    A National Law Journal report on firms’ hiring plans suggests that there’s still a market for patent prosecution and trademark attorneys with three or more years of experience, and firms tell us that labor and employment litigators are as busy as we all thought they’d be.
    But we’ve been hearing a lot of grim stories about cutthroat beauty contests and clients demanding such steep rate cuts that firms can’t afford to take their cases.

    We think it is time to take stock of the litigation landscape.
    And for this, loyal readers, we need your help.
    How is your litigation department faring?
    We are particularly interested in hearing from lawyers at firms that have had layoffs, and, of course, from litigators who have recently lost their jobs.
    Get in touch with us by e-mail at

    At least we still have

  33. Two weeks before she died, my 94-year old grandmother held herself up by gripping the edge of the kitchen counter. There was so little left to hold up. The flesh seemed to be melting off her frame in direct proportion to the expansion of the growth on the crown of her head. She was supervising my dishwashing. I had never before been permitted to wash dishes in her house. She knew that she was failing, but she didn’t understand why. It was the not knowing that bothered her the most, next to giving up control.

    My mother was putting something away in the fridge, when Tayta (Arabic for mother’s mother) stated flatly: “I stink.” My poor mother, who was staying with Tayta 24-7 so that she could be in her own home, replied, “oh no, Mom, you don’t.”

    Tayta looked at me in the conspiratorial way she always did, making us a universe of two. “Do I stink, or what?” She knew I would not lie.
    “Yep, you sure do.”
    “Thank god the price of gas is so high.”

    Now, when I miss her, I try to invoke not only the hearty laughter I remember from my childhood, but the humor of her last days.

    Gerry, it is good to know that you will have the same kind of loving care as my Tayta did whenever your adventure comes to a close.

    In the meantime, I’m always grateful for your humor.

    Stay off the thin ice. Love, Kim

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