A L esson in E mpathy How a Back Injury Made Me a Better Lawyer E arly on in my law career, I wound up in a car accident that changed my outlook on life, both inside and outside the courtroom. At the time, I thought the accident was muscle tone coming back. After six, I noticed a reduction in pain. Finally, I got to the point where, even though I never forgot my injury was there, my symptoms had eased enough to allow me to get back to a normal routine. I consider it a blessing from God that I unlocked
minor. I was 28 years old, and I had swerved off the road and hit the cement foundation of a flagpole at around 20 miles per hour. Because I was trying to hit the brakes during the impact, my right leg was jammed into my pelvis, but it wasn’t a major injury. I thought my back was fine, but it turned out I’d injured two of my spinal discs — a problem that haunted me for decades. The initial trauma of the accident caused instability in my SI joint, which led me to develop a funny walk. Over time, walking oddly took a toll on the injured discs in my back. It created massive discomfort, and I started seeking treatment from professionals. I saw a chiropractor, an orthopedic surgeon, and a physical medicine specialist, and I had steroid injections to ease the pain. Because I was considered too young for a risky back surgery, that pain was chronic. Continuing my work while also dealing with my injury was incredibly challenging. I had been athletic up until that point but was so frustrated by the pain that I stopped working out, which was the worst thing I could have done. My muscles started to atrophy, and it made the whole situation worse. Eventually, out of desperation, I took books on CrossFit and Pilates to a PT teacher I knew through my casework. I asked him, “Can I do any of this without injuring myself further?” He recommended Pilates and told me which exercises were safe to try.
this life-changing treatment by chance. Two decades after my accident, I’m still a devotee of
Pilates. I work out two or three times per week and often recommend it to my clients (though with the stipulation I’m certainly not a doctor).
The one upside of all this has been that I bring an entirely new level of empathy, understanding, and dedication to my work. I know every back, knee, and shoulder is different, and some injuries can never truly be healed, but I feel a stronger connection to my clients now than I did before. I have a clear understanding of not only the physical problems that come with an injury, but also the psychological problems. Like many of my clients, I’ve experienced the anxiety, fear, and depression that sometimes comes with being unable to do things that used to be easy. I think sometimes God gives you something tough to deal with so you can better empathize with those around you. In my case, I had to learn to cope with my back injury, and that process helped me understand my clients and their struggles. Today, at 47, I’m still dealing with my injury daily, and I’ve taken on the role of counselor as well as lawyer in my personal injury cases. I remind my clients that the dark place they’re in when their case begins isn’t the same place they’ll be at the end. I get to be their cheerleader, helping them through the process and providing comfort and understanding. Ultimately, while I wish I’d never injured my back, opening that line of communication has been a blessing, and I know I’m a better lawyer because of it. –Gary Christmas 1 843-535-8000
That conversation set me back on the path toward a normal life. After three weeks, I started seeing
FIGHTING FOR THE INJURED
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