The End of The End

I stood on the deck of the single-wide trailer, watching the repossessors hauling off my car (the one I leased for my now-defunct business) and my three-horse trailer with the full living quarters, self-contained.  That one hurt.  So many memories of the west desert of Utah, the High Uinta Mountains where I got stalked by a Basque shepherd, almost getting hit by a tornado while camping in a Navaho fairgrounds….it hurt.

My big diesel truck I had sold to my dad the day after I picked up the red letter.  I see it as a red letter, no matter what color it really was.  It was red to me.  Dad almost got in trouble for collusion, but I cooked up a story that Dad’s truck had “tore up,” as they say down here, and he needed a replacement, and I still had the little car at that time.  Thankfully nobody got in trouble for that, and the instant the whole mess was over he gave me back the truck.  I don’t remember what I drove in the meantime, after they hauled the car away.  Doesn’t matter.

The red letter started it all.  I got a notice in my mailbox that there was a registered letter at the post office for me.  I wasn’t feeling too great, being in the process of shutting down my pediatrics practice and all, so I just tossed it aside and forgot about it.

A few days later, there it was again in my mailbox.  Shoot, I thought.  Maybe Publisher’s Clearing House has finally caught up with me.  I’m a millionaire!  Or maybe Old Uncle Mordechai, whom I never met but heard many stories about his eccentricities, has finally come into my life bearing a will that he left as he passed out of his.

So I took the piece of paper and drove the truck, full of dogs, to the post office.  I handed the slip to the postmaster and he handed me an envelope that I had to sign for.  On the face of the envelope was a red spanch that said: REGISTERED MAIL.  My self-control lasted until I got to the car.  I tore it open.  It contained another envelope.  The return address was printed in that self-aggrandizing font that legal firms use.  “Winken, Blinken, Nod, & Assoc., Attorneys At Law.”  I tore that one open too.

Inside was a court order saying that I had been accused of stealing just short of $500,000, half a million, from St. Elsewhere’s Hospital in Armpit, Ohio.  I had indeed worked in a clinic affiliated with that hospital, but since I had never actually worked there, and certainly had never stolen a red cent from them or anybody else, I was mystified as well as stumped.

I rushed home and picked up the phone and dialed the number for the law firm.  Was there some mistake?  How could I be implicated in something of which I had no possibility of participating in?  They confirmed that yes, the summons was for me, and that I was accused of stealing half a million dollars from that hospital.

I had set foot in that hospital exactly once.  The Chief Financial Officer, whom I shall call Chuck, called me up one day at the clinic at which I was an employee.  Laura, he said, I need you to come and see me.  Now.

It was lunch break, so I was able to run over to the hospital, a block away, to see what Chuck needed to talk to me about so urgently.

When I found his office, he was looking mighty grim.  Laura, he says, I want you to look at this stack of papers.  It was a tall stack.  Laura, says Chuck, these papers are all invoices that came from your office.  You may or may not know, and it’s better for you not to know, that this hospital pays for all supplies ordered by your office.  This stack of invoices is just from this month, and it’s all billed to your account number.  I know, I know.  You didn’t know you had an account number.  But you do.  And billed to your account number are things like copier toner, staples, chart paper, coffee….mostly office supplies that have no connection with your practice, since you are a salaried staff member.  All of these invoices should be billed under the practice’s account number, not yours.  The total billings from your account number for this year are $97,000 and change.

When I could get my mouth to work again I said, Chuck, what do I do about this?  Isn’t this, like, illegal?

Chuck says yeah, it’s illegal as hell.  But you know what?  Your boss just sold a high-rise building in downtown Bombay, and even if we filed criminal charges against him, this town is so crooked you know what would happen.

Yeah, I knew what would happen.  I’d seen it happen before in that town.  The county prosecutor’s office was crooked as hell.  The right amount of palm-grease would get anybody off of anything.

So what do I do?  I ask Chuck.

I’d advise you to turn around, walk out of here, and find yourself another job.

Well, what do I do about the money it appears that I owe?

Don’t worry about that, says Chuck.  I’ll take care of that.

I didn’t get it in writing.

After getting the Red Letter, I did a lot of research.  It turned out that Dr. Crooked had continued to use my billing number for several years after I left his practice.

A few years after that, the hospital went T.U. (that’s Tits Up, a medical term) and was acquired by a huge “healthcare corporation,” whose team of lawyers set busily to work combing through the accounts looking for irregularities in the accounts receivables.  And they found the pile of invoices accredited to me, which by now had mounted to nearly half a million dollars.

Now what I have not told you yet is that at the time I got the Red Letter, I was suffering from a suicidal depression.  I had already been hospitalized once, and was barely able to get up out of my recliner to let the dogs out, and again to let them back in.  I just kept on losing weight, because I had no appetite and no one to feed me, so I just didn’t eat.  The combination of the depression, the malnutrition, and the wrong medication had me paralyzed.

So I had to rally myself around somehow to deal with the Red Letter.  I called the American Medical Association’s legal advice department.  They were used to advising people about malpractice, but this wasn’t malpractice.  They gave me the numbers of three lawyers who dealt with hospital law.  I called them all, and read each one the Red Letter.  Each one said the same thing: 1) you have no liability whatsoever in this case, i.e., it is bullshit;  2) you will without a doubt be acquitted, and then be able to sue them for falsely accusing you; 3) we require $20,000 as a retainer, plus travel fees, plus hourly fees of $275 per hour.

I was numb.  I had cashed out my retirement to build my pediatrics practice, which had been taken from me by Big Medicine and depression.  The remainder of my savings had gone to pay for my son’s residential treatment at a therapeutic boarding school.  I was living on disability.  I had nothing, and I was so depressed my brain could not even gather itself up to rise to the occasion.  I put the phone down and dissociated.

Finally it occurred to me that the only way to get out of this bind was to go and see a bankruptcy lawyer.  I did, and he said the case against me was dischargeable through bankruptcy.  I was too depressed to think of any other solution, so to bankruptcy court I went, and the case was discharged, and I lost everything I had that was not tied down.

After the tow trucks got done hauling off the vehicles, I stood there till it got dark.  Then I began to scream.  I screamed at God.  Why, God?  Why did you give me these talents and then take them away from me?  Why did you give me this brain and then make it sick?  Why, when all of my life I have never stolen as much as a piece of gum,  did you make someone accuse me of stealing some huge amount of money, and then take away the few things I had left that I worked so hard to earn?  Why, God?

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  1. Laura, if I was reading all of your writings in a novel I would doubt that all of this could happen to one person in a lifetime. I thought my own life was full of way too many difficulties, and have been told that by family members that know about maybe half of my difficulties! But you, my dear, have been so terribly challenged and I really feel for you. It amazes me that you can write about it in such a riveting way. I am sure that I could never write with any detail about losing our home and being homeless while hubby being sued re: our construction co…all resulting from his addiction relapse that lasted almost 2yrs. I don’t share at all with anyone who knows me about the truth of those times. You are so brave, so amazing and write so beautifully…I very much appreciate that you share your experiences with such grace, and sometimes humor. Peace to your heart,Sara

    • Thank you so much! I am writing a memoir, but I keep thinking no one will believe it and I should market it as a novel, but my writing mentor says no. So I guess I’ll have to depend on others who have had wacky lives to believe mine. Yours sounds worse, though…:-(

      • Oh, no my life’s difficulties are not worse! Really I am very blessed. While I’ve had some really bad times in my life I have usually grown tremendously from them. For example, from my husband’s relapse I got introduced to Al-Anon which provided wonderful friendships when I really needed them and provided a springboard for so much personal growth. And hubby has been clean and sober for 11 years now. We mostly have difficulties with chronic health and finances now, and while they can be really bad, we are very blessed in many ways…mostly the love we have with each other and our amazing kids. That is the key to our making it through the hard times.
        I am happy to hear that you are writing a memoir! I will certainly read it when you publish! You do write very well, like I said, and in a way that draws us in and makes us want to continue reading. I wish you the best with it! Peace, Sara

  2. OMG–again with the ‘sister’ thing! i think you have the same luck as me, if it wasn’t for bad luck, you wouldn’t have any luck at all–i too have screamed to the skies, slumped down on my knees, pounded the earth and wondered why do I have a pretty smart brain when it never helps, only hurts; why do i work so hard everytime when i know it will just be taken back, when i know no matter how much i work to move forward, i’ll always just get knocked back to start, flat on my back again.

    i don’t have any answers or helpful solutions or ways to cope or help get by. i haven’t found any that work, and boy have i been looking. but i am here with you and i know what you are experiencing and i hope just knowing someone else is in the next boat over will help a bit. i know, perversely, it helps me.

    • Oy, Kat, I’m sorry. I mean, I’m really glad to know you’re there, and you really are a big support to me 🙂 but I wish you didn’t have to feel this kind of pain. I wish WE didn’t have to feel such pain. I’d love to have a drink tonight (thankfully, even though I tried really hard to become an alcoholic, I never managed to succeed), so I do have a drink now and then when I am feeling slammed over the head by life. But I’ve had a tummy ache all day so no drinky-poo for me. Just P-drugs and eventual oblivion.

      • I tried diligently as well to become an alcoholic, but it just never took. the only reason i don’t drink nowadays is that my p-meds have made it so that i never actually reach the point of drunkeness anymore. so its pointless to drink at all, even tho i still sometimes wish to be drunk.

  3. Hector

     /  July 18, 2013

    And yet when you think that you hit bottom, another one shows up. this is great writing considering it is your life you are talking about. I got one of those letters by the way and no long after my bank accounts got frozen. Bankruptcy was my only solution and not only it’s costing me money for another two years it cost me a marriage as well. Other than anxiety and panic attacks I came out okay. Somehow, we always seem to survive.

  4. Laura, you are an amazing writer as well as an amazing person. I saw above that you are writing a memoir. Go for it! I live with bipolar and unfortunately, most recently, it is being used against me in a sort of “witch hunt” type way. I’ve been asking God a lot of questions too. I’m spiritual but haven’t been all that religious……………but God is helping me stand up I think……………I don’t know. Stay strong. This illness is a sort of curse, but I have met some amazing people along the way – in a hospital. Caring, giving people who have gone to hell and back and still can care about others.

    • Thank you! I really appreciate your words of encouragement. Sounds like you’re going through some really rough times. Hang in there…..

  5. Hi Laura,

    It is Jay, I commented not to long ago. First let me say, you writing is always so real. I like encouragement, but your writing so far has been the only one that inspires me not to give up. I can feel the pain of your words from the monitor. I wish they were not so, but I am happy that I am understood. There is so much more to say, but I would go on forever. I just wish that I could have something different. Bipolar and ADHD can feel like a curse, it is like why do I have to watch myself fail…Everything I tough turns to shit…and it paralyzes me! That is a horrible thing to have…I spoke to a VA Representative yesterday, and he said do I have to worry about you! I said if there was a practical way to kill myself I would not be here…I have been hospitalized before I understood what I am now afflicted with and the fact that they will never allow me bullets and a gun; I am scared that my kids would be the one to find me anyway, or heaven forbid I come back to earth with the same thing…All I am saying Laura is that I want something different…something that people can see…Do not want sympathy just tired of them looking at me like I am not even trying!

    • Jay, I am so sorry that you are living with such pain. It does feel like that, doesn’t it? That everything I touch turns to shit. I have thought that so many times. For some reason, when reading your response here, I got a flash: I wonder if you’ve ever done volunteer work? I know it helps me immensely. Sometimes I go and work in a food kitchen. For a while I would go every Thanksgiving and Christmas and instead of dealing with the inevitable awkwardness that lead to a crashing depression, I would work in the kitchen serving meals to people who really, really appreciated the help. They would thank me personally and I felt like I was making a difference, because I was. Keep in touch, will you? I’m worried about you.

  6. I am a new subscriber living with anxiety and depression for the past 6 years. Your words are very poignant. They sting but are true. I am glad to read something written by someone who understands how it feels to have a mental illness. Thanks for sharing.

    • Welcome, Peng. I’m so sorry that you live with these terrible illnesses. We have a wonderful supportive network of people living with mental illness here on WordPress. I hope you’ll find more like-minded people. You’re always welcome here!

  7. I am riveted by your story and for the life of my I cant figure out how you survived it. To be thrown out of your practice that had all your money then get litigated after selling what you had left then get bankrupted is….almost phenomenally unjust. I just want to know how get the essentials like food and shelter and what you did next for an occupation. I know, stay tuned…

    • I know, right? Truth is stranger than fiction, at least in my case. The way I physically survived was that I had bought a private own-occupation disability policy back when I was manic and making a lot of money. It took many months before my disability lawyer, who worked on commission, could convince them that they ought to actually pay. During that time I ate the usual poor people’s diet, when I ate at all: mac-n-cheese out of a box, potato soup, eggs any style, spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti….for a couple of months I couldn’t make my house or car payments, and for the first time in my life I had to ask my father for help, which he graciously provided without a lecture. As soon as my settlement came in I paid him back that same day. I’m very touchy about owing people money, for reasons that may come out in the memoir…….I got to keep the trailer because they can’t take away your home in bankruptcy, and like I said my dad paid the payment for a couple of months so at least I wasn’t sleeping in other people’s barns………

      • Amazing foresight. I had the opportunity to get critical care and cancer insurance the year before cancer. Guess what? I didn’t buy it. Dumb ass me.

        • I have to admit that it was my partners (ER dics, I mean docs) who twisted my arm into buying it. Otherwise I wouldn’t, and would now be dead.

          • I can imagine. Well flip them off and have drink on them at the same time. I have usually found that somewhere in adversity there is a tiny little silver lining, if one looks hard enough. So yours was survival. But would you rather still be practicing with all the PTSD from abuse? Or in hindsight is it better to have moved to your new occupation?

  8. Terri

     /  July 19, 2013

    The only thing I can ever think of is that God has ‘us’ on the fast track to enlightment. That’s the only thing I keep coming back to. He breaks us, and we awaken……..even if we have to hide in our rooms sometimes and fight the urge to really take the fast track of suicide.

  9. Howisbradley

     /  July 19, 2013

    I felt everything thing you wrote. In each sentence I could feel every feeling you had. You are an excellent writer. The fact tat you faced all that and are still standing is amazing.

  10. keep writing. I am reading… SSDI messed up and all of a sudden I was “overpaid” $128,000. the largest overpayment in the history of disability. No lawyer would take the case because there was no money to be made. blah blah blah. I went before the judge. He realized much of it was wrong except still decided I owed back $28,000 – which I didn’t but better than $100,000 more! I pay back SSDI $20 a month for the next 100 years. I know who these weird weird things can happen. I know only too well.

    (the short story for those on disability…I was told i had a trial work period in 2004 and went to work. It didn’t last. I ended up out of work again. In 2010, it was decided that the FL department of SSA was wrong and I never should have had a trial work period so I owed them back EVERYTHING they had paid me since then. thus $128,000! I had no recourse and was about to lose my checks for the next 4 years. Homelessness loomed large. In the end, helped me greatly. I am forever indebted to them. Shit happens. things fall down on us from out of nowhere! with SSA, you can’t fight back. even when they are wrong. even when they are wrong – because well, they are NEVER wrong.

    1. we are never wrong.
    2. If we are ever wrong, refer to number 1.

    keep writing. I’m reading. be.

    • I don’t understand the SSA bit, but I do understand the part where they are very powerful and can make your life miserable. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

  11. Terri

     /  July 20, 2013

    Same for me. You try your hardest to do your best…the illness takes over and you owe. BTW. Have read about alcohol with meds. I do it still too……never works, end up more depressed. Work in progress. Did it again today cause of stressful day…reward? Only end up with a bad day…..or perhaps not. I sorta like sleeping all day………..relief from pain I guess.

  12. Oh no! How awful for you! Depression is such a killer and robs us of our happiness. But, we have to keep fighting and not let it win. You are a strong beautiful intelligent woman and would never have got this far if you weren’t! I hope the universe hears you call out and brings you great fortune and health. You deserve it! Have a great weekend. Hugs Paula xxx

  13. Well Laura,
    I’d have to say I would have lost my ever loving mind if that happened to me! This is as worse as identity theft….I worked in banks for years, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard of something like this, and I had seen it all! I know it is hard to understand, but remember…..there are ALWAYS blessings that come out of thing like this. Just keep you FAITH, yes….the lord does some strange things, but it is always for something better you just can not see yet. Our trials & tribulations make US STRONGER. I’m just stumped that having to file bankrupt was an only option??? What about pressing charges against DR. EVIL??? I would also look into a Civil Lawsuit too…..He WILL come back to the states eventually……… God Bless, Catherine

    • Well Catherine, the reason I didn’t fight it was that I was desperately ill with depression at the time, in and out of the hospital for years and no money to pay for the lawyers’ advances. Is why.

  14. Marc DeFourny

     /  July 22, 2013

    Wow you ben through a lot.


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