Monday, December 1, 2008

Hypochondriacs should not be pharmaceutical defense lawyers.

I never thought of myself as a hypochondriac. It's only weirdos like Howard Hughes (as depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio -- I really disliked that movie) and Woody Allen who get it in their heads that they're always sick, right?

Then I started this job.

One of the main reasons why big law firms have New Jersey offices is because many major pharmaceutical manufacturers are headquartered in this great state. So when I started working at my firm last year, they staffed me on one of the ongoing pharmaceutical mass torts, and I've been working in this group ever since.

The first mass tort I worked on involved a drug that allegedly caused plaintiffs to have heart attacks and strokes. As the most junior associate on the case, I was mostly tasked with reviewing plaintiffs' medical records and flagging things like pre-existing risk factors. Let me tell you, I learned a lot about heart attacks and strokes -- more than I ever wanted to know.

About a week into this assignment, I started to notice minor chest pains. Then I realized that the pains in my legs? The ones I had had off and on for years? Those must be blood clots! And oh no, was I feeling numbness in the left side of my face? Everybody stand back, I'm about to have a STROKE and DIE!!

Luckily, the client settled that litigation just a few weeks later. And mysteriously, my pre-stroke symptoms dissipated.

The next mass tort I was staffed on dealt with diabetes claims. Did you know that over 25% of Americans 20 years and older have impaired fasting glucose? And that you're at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes if you have a family history of it? And that there were 5.7 million Americans with undiagnosed diabetes in 2007?

I spent weeks reading lab results and poring through medical records. One afternoon, I stood up a little too quickly from my desk, and felt a little lightheaded. Uh-0h, lightheadedness? This must be a sign of low blood sugar! My glucose is erratic! And wait a minute, my mother has type 2 diabetes! I must be one of the millions with undiagnosed diabetes! And I haven't had any insulin treatment, so surely I must be developing diabetic complications! I'm going to go into diabetic SHOCK and DIE!

And then I had my yearly physical. And, um, my glucose level was a mere 90. Well in the normal range. So I'm trying to keep that particular "sickness" in check.

Most recently, I've been working on a case where plaintiffs have suffered corneal infections. Many of these plaintiffs were contact lens wearers; many also suffered various forms of trauma to their eyes. So the records this time around are full not only of doctor's notes and lab results, but also beautiful full-color pictures of infected eyes pre- and post-corneal transplant. Not a particularly happy set of records to have to review.

Guess who no longer feels truly comfortable wearing her contact lenses?

It's safer this way!