1st Aug, 2002
Beth Rothstein Ambler
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis
IN MY FIGHT TO CONTROL MY MS, I learned to delegate. It became second nature. My aunt once gave me a few hints. She said, "Lean instead of stand. Sit instead of stand. And absolutely ask for help when you need it." I guess I had forgotten that part.
So now, after two Social Security denials, I was forced to get a lawyer. This is all standard procedure, but I was mortified. I felt like I was about to go before a judge and beg for charity.
Yet I faced up to the situation. This isn't going away, and I'm truly sick. I need and deserve the money. I opened up a phone book and just picked a name. I should have looked under "W" instead of "L", for "worst lawyer on this planet."
I met him in his office, or at least someone's office. When I arrived, I noticed that his name wasn't on the door. He told me that his office was being remodeled, so an associate was allowing him to use his office. I began to explain that I was diagnosed with MS at the age of 33.
In retrospect, I now realize all he was really hearing was "ka-ching, ka-ching." He had no reason to listen to me any further; he had heard all he needed to hear and was already launched into his boilerplate MS monologue for the judge. No need to know me. I was not Beth, I was MS.
"You have a good case and I think we can win," the lawyer said. This really confused me, because I really hadn't told him enough about my case for him to be able to make that statement. Still it was reassuring that I wasn't being told, "Your arms work, and your legs work, so you should work." I thanked him and left in a daze.
Months went by, and I had no contact with the lawyer. I received a letter in the mail stating that he was leaving the practice of disability law. However, he planned to continue my case and asked me to call him if I had any questions. So I called and asked why he was leaving disability law. He replied, "I just can't make any money in disability law, but don't worry because you have a very good case."
I didn't like hearing how he was going to go before a judge and tell him I was a human paperweight. In my mind, I was reciting a line from a movie my husband and I enjoy. "I am not an animal. I am a man." The lawyer proceeded to ease my mind (the one and only time) by telling me not to worry; the judge is not a layman. He understands that MS is a disease of invisible symptoms. I felt better.
We met again 2 weeks prior to the court date and the lawyer told me that I'm too abrupt when I speak. He told me not to wear makeup, how I should dress (dowdy), and that I shouldn't blow-dry my hair. He told me not to volunteer any information. He also brought me a questionnaire to have my doctor fill out that "would either make or break my case." I noticed that the lawyer's list of my symptoms included poor memory and cognitive issues.
The morning of the court date, my husband Chuck, left me a note, telling me to remember that, win or lose, it was only money. I called my friend Sandy and asked her to be at the courtroom-I thought I might need a little moral support.
I felt nauseous that morning. Perhaps it was nerves or fear. It wasn't a familiar feeling. I've always been at my best when I'm under pressure and in front of an audience. I reminded myself that, like my husband said, it's only money. It wasn't until the day ended that I realized what my husband was subtly telling me.
My Day in Court
So, into the courtroom we went. I realized, like it or not, I was in a battle with a rubber sword. Therefore, I did what I do best: I took control.
I spoke in a loud, strong, unemotional voice. "Your honor, I'm a business woman, and I'll always bQ one." I explained all of my symptoms and told the judge how I manage the disease. I explained how I have fallen down the stairs three times. I treat this as a business problem that I have to address, rather than something for which I pity myself. Therefore, I applied a logical solution. I moved my bedroom downstairs. Facts. No sadness. I explained that, as a businessperson, I had a job: being me. I assess the problems and apply practical solutions. I delegate whatever I can.
I then explained that, due to the fact that there is no cure for MS, I'm in this for the long haul. I plan to go back to work when there is a cure. This is the problem and that is the best way to handle this problem. I treat my enemy with the respect it demands. There were several more examples I gave him, all in a very straightforward manner. The lawyer interrupted me, looked at me and then looked to the judge and said, "But, Beth, can you lift a 10-- pound sack of potatoes?"
The judge and I continued our conversation around these inane interruptions. He asked me if I could do domestic chores. I smiled and said, "No, your honor, I cannot. But I consider this as a perk. This was one of the reasons I chose a career. I never had a domestic gene in my body."
Before I was finished with my statements, the judge looked at me with admiration and said, "Beth, you should have been a lawyer."
In summation, I won that day. Two months later, I received the judge's ruling: I would be granted Social Security payments.
The day following the court hearing, I called my lawyer and acted like the pathetic soul he expected me to be. I said, "Oh my, did I just blow my own case?" He replied, "No, I almost did. You were perfect, and the judge hung on your every word." I could imagine his eyes gazing down at his shoes as he spoke.
It was at that moment I understood what my husband's note meant. He
was saying that it was only money, but anyone who has ever crossed my path
knows I'm not a human paperweight. Come what may, I'm still a winner.
© 2002 Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis