Tuesday, May 01, 2007


While the case I'm serving on is definitely interesting, it's most definitely not dramatic. No one was killed, no one was robbed at gunpoint and most of what happened occurred many years ago. It's a civil case, so it just can't be as exciting as a criminal case. The issues are abstract, not visceral.

Except, today, we had an exceptionally visceral experience. We saw a man fall to the ground in a faint.

Closing arguments started today. First, the plaintiff's side had their turn. Three attorneys spoke. Then it was time for the defense's closing.

The first defense attorney started his closing arguments. He's smooth, articulate, "folksy," (he said "y'all" repeatedly) and probably in his early 60's. He'd been talking for about half an hour when he lost his place. He swayed a little and then fell down. Those nearby caught him as he fell, so he wasn't harmed by the impact.

When the man fell, the woman who sits to my left hid her face. I think she was afraid to see him die (he didn't). She was pale and shaking when we left the courtroom. The woman to my right (the confused juror) was almost crying when we got to the jury room. Another woman (the one who gave me the pants) exclaimed, "Oh my Lord!" over and over. Several people wanted to jump out of the jury box and go to his aid.

After a minute or two, the judge dismissed us for the day, since it was already 4:30. We heard a few minutes later that the man was ok. I'd actually seen him open his eyes before we left. I don't know if he merely fainted or if it was something more serious like a stroke or heart attack, but at least he wasn't dead.

As soon as he fell, I remembered the other time I'd seen something like this happen. It was many years ago at the annual conference for my professional association.

I was attending a session where my then boyfriend, Tom (aka my important grad school boyfriend), was presenting a paper. He planned to read his paper even though I'd encouraged him to give a more conversational presentation. The session wasn't in my subject area and Tom said I didn't have to go. I told him, "Of course I'm coming! I want to hear you present." He'd presented at conferences before, but not since transferring to our field. It seemed like a big deal at the time and I wanted to be there.

It was a crowded session with five presenters and two discussants (more typical is four presenters and one discussant). Tom was slated to go second. The first presenter, a young woman, who was also a grad student, came to the podium. She began to read. Now, if you've been to many conferences, you know reading is death. Very few readers can do it well enough to keep the audience engaged. And the source material is often dreadful as well. So, I was just trying to stay awake and look engaged while I waited for Tom's turn.

After she'd been reading for about five minutes, I noticed something was wrong. She skipped a word. She read a sentence, then read it again, then read it a third time--but in a heavy, slurred voice. Her eyes lost focus. She swayed and then, BAM, she fell--almost into the arms of the woman seated to her left.

When she fell, everyone jumped up. I was in the second row but I stayed back since the woman was quickly surrounded. A woman who was clearly a close friend knelt next to her and talked to her. She awoke almost immediately but was persuaded to stay on the ground. Tom, in the meantime, had rushed out the back and found someone from the hotel and told them to get help. In a minute or two, a paramedic was there and they tried to get the woman to go to the hospital. She refused, probably reasonably, and, instead she left the room to go rest.

The hubbub lasted about fifteen minutes. After the woman left, the session presider said, "Well, I guess we should continue. Tom, are you ready?" He was taken off-guard--he didn't expect the session to continue, at least not so quickly. Instead of reading his paper, he stepped out in front of the table where the other presenters were sitting and gave a great, extemporaneous talk. His was by far the best presentation of the session. Perhaps the adrenaline helped.

When I told Tom later that he'd handled it well and the talk was great, I'm not sure he completely believed me. He was slightly aggrieved that he didn't get any thanks for rounding up help for the damsel in distress. That was a shame, but I do give full credit to Tom for taking charge of the situation and not running around in a panic. It also gave us a great story to tell for the rest of the conference.

A year or so later, I was at a party and someone told a story about a woman who fainted while giving a presentation at a conference. I interjected, "I was there! My boyfriend was in the same session!" The story had become legend.

When the attorney collapsed today, my first thought was of that woman from the conference. It was just nerves then--and standing with locked knees for an extended period of time. Today, when the lawyer fell, I assumed it was just nerves. Let's hope I was right.

Grateful for: good health

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