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JULY 2015 - Levity
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"A Little Levity Please!" Series

By Heather Stern

I recently gave birth to two adorable (and healthy) little identical twin girls and wanted to share a part of that experience that I think other lawyers would appreciate.

The setting is predictable: a hospital room, shortly after my C section. My husband is snoring on an extra bed in the corner. The twins are sound asleep in one of these brief intervals between feedings and changings in the twin care boot camp the nursing staff is putting us through. And I have insomnia. In truth, what I have is a splitting headache from the pollen of too many congratulatory flowers -- but I wouldn't figure that out yet for another sleepless night.

I am a bit of a mess. I am in a hospital gown. I am groggy with pain medicine. And I have yet to wander more than three steps from my bedside as I recover from this surgery.

Unable to sleep, I figure I will get up out of bed and sit in a nearby chair. After all, the nurses have said it's important to start moving around, if slowly. No time like the present!

So there I am, finally, sitting in the chair, head pounding, in the dark silence that has even taken over this busy hospital ward, looking for something to do, and my eyes stray upon the still-uncompleted birth certificate forms.

"Aaaaaah," I think to myself, "I can fill out a form!"

Maybe I am alone in this, but I love to fill out forms. Case Management Statements, Civil Case Cover Sheets, Jury Instruction forms, you name it. There is something so soothing, that puts everything so right in the world, about checking off boxes and trying to carefully fit just enough text into tiny little one size fits all boxes.

And this is an interesting form. For example, they want to know my profession. Hmmm, should I say lawyer or attorney?  It is also a very important form. It will become part of the vital records. It is the first legal document that I am aware of that acknowledges my daughters' existence. If they ever decide to run for President, apparently there are people out there who will want to scrutinize this document to establish their eligibility under the Constitution.

But when I rummage around my hospital table for writing implements, all I can find is a pencil.  A pencil simply will not do, I think. I am not going to use a pencil to fill out such an important form and risk that the lead will smudge or be too faint to read.  I picture myself in court on a name change application because the clerk couldn't read the form. No, that simply will not do.

Then there is what happened to my grandmother.  Her mother completed the form and gave it to her sister to take to the clerk's office. On the way there, her sister changed the form, switching the first name to the middle name and the middle to the first. My grandmother lived to almost 100 years old with the wrong legal name!

No, a pencil will not do.

So, I figure I will take my first walk beyond three steps, to the nurses’ station, to obtain a pen.  I muster my energy, shuffle to the door, and manage to make it, step by hesitant step, to the nurses’ station roughly 50 feet away.

I must have looked a fright there in the wee hours of the morning, my hospital gown loosely hanging from my frame, my hair astray, my posture cramped. At least the nurse there – who was not my assigned nurse – certainly gave me a funny look.  But I was determined.  I opened my mouth and croaked, with my hand held out, gesturing . . .  "A pen... I need a pen..."

A look of irritation crossed the nurse’s face.  "What room are you from?," she barked at me, and then, getting her answer, pointedly told me to return to my room while she called my nurse to assist.

Hmmm.  This was not the response I was expecting.  All I wanted was a pen.  Really, she couldn’t just give me a pen?  All the way back to my room I imagined that a pen was simply sitting there, in a drawer, mere inches from her fingers.  Why couldn’t she just reach in her drawer and help me?  Were the nurses really so territorial that this particular nurse, who was not my assigned nurse, would not reach inches away to a drawer to help me with a pen, when she could instead page my assigned nurse and make her walk there, get the very same pen, and then walk to my room to hand it to me?

There in my room, a few minutes later, all was made clear when my assigned nurse rushed in, a mixture of empathy and anger warring in her face -- but without any pen in her hand -- as she admonished me in a loud whisper:  “You’re not due for pain medication for another four hours!”

We had a good (but quiet) laugh together once I explained that I need a “pen,” not pain medicine.

P.S.  My nurse did eventually hunt down a pen for me.  However, as I later learned, a pencil would have been fine.  The parents’ handwritten form is not what is submitted to the clerk’s office, it turns out.  Rather, the handwritten form is first transcribed into a typewritten form by an internal hospital employee, and yes I was given the opportunity to correct that form for typographical errors prior to its finalization and submittal.  Phew, mission accomplished!

From left to right: Elowen Alisandre Stern and Willow Edaline Stern

Heather Stern, WLALA's Secretary for 2014-2015, is a partner with Kralik & Jacobs LLP, where she practices commercial litigation with an emphasis on real estate related matters and lender liability defense.