By Jeff Bradford

I’m presently in my fifth year on the board of directors for BarCARES, a wonderful non-profit that provides a wide array of confidential counseling services to lawyers and their families.

My BarCARES story began on July 15, 2009. I was driving home from a nurse expert deposition in Greensboro when I met Gerline. I met her at about 5 p.m. in the left-hand lane of Highpoint Road, between a Toys R Us and a Bojangles’. I was traveling about 45 mph when she turned out of the opposite left-hand lane, through the turn lane, and directly in front of me. I had no time to react. I just hit the brakes, decelerated maybe 5 or 10 mph, and then slammed into her. My airbag deployed as I caromed across several lanes of traffic to my right, pushing her along with me. It was extremely frightening. We ended up directly in front of Bojangles’.

I took stock of myself; I seemed to be alright. Then my attention turned to the other driver. I exited my vehicle to check on her as she was exiting hers. She staggered towards me. She was soaked but, as I quickly determined, otherwise fine. I immediately noticed that she was doused in beer – from the road beer she apparently had been drinking when we collided. She was quite drunk. First, she asked me not to tell the police that she had been drinking. I nodded my head. Her condition would be obvious to the police. Next, she told me she had a Bojangles’ coupon and she wanted some chicken. That is, she had the munchies. I suppose this was her effort at an excuse. Third, to her credit, she told me she was sorry. She then walked over to the sidewalk, sat down and waited for what she knew was inevitable.

Long story short, I ended up eating dinner at Bojangles’. Gerline got arrested. My car got towed. My wife came over from the Triangle to pick me up. I went home and went to bed.

Both BarCARES and N.C. LAP offer a wide variety of assistance to North Carolina attorneys. Consult this NCLAP-BarCARES explainer from the May edition of North Carolina Lawyer to find out which organization suits your situation.

The next day I called my friend Drew Brown, who happens to be a plaintiffs’ lawyer in Greensboro. I told him I had awakened with a localized headache on the left side of my head and asked him if I should go to the doctor. He said heck yes. Urgent Care sent me for a CT. They saw something strange on the CT that wasn’t a concussion. I was strapped down to a board, taken to WakeMed and admitted to the ER. I called my wife, and she came racing over to be with me. At about 9 p.m. on July 16, 2009, after a grueling round of tests, an ER physician with a mediocre-at-best bedside manner informed my wife and me that I had a brain tumor in my front left lobe. He gave me the dimensions (between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball) and instructed me to consult a neurologist and a neurosurgeon. What followed was probably the scariest night of my life, spent trying to grasp the potential of a world where my three young daughters would grow up and go to high school and college and get married, etc., and I wouldn’t be there to see it.

The next day my wife and I hit the pavement. As Duke alumni who were the offspring of Duke alumni, we had somehow managed to garner some Duke connections. I quickly saw Dr. Alan Friedman, whom I’ve dubbed Duke’s neurosurgeon to the stars, and he offered to perform a full resection soon. He had the aura of a healer. I gladly accepted. The resection occurred on July 29, 2009, and was a success. Notwithstanding some mental bumps in the road, I’ve had more than 30 clean MRIs since. And I often wonder what part of this success I owe to Gerline.

Which is where this story ends – I found Gerline’s contact information (I’m a lawyer – we can do that sort of thing) and called her up around Thanksgiving of 2009 (a fitting time, as it would turn out). I had planned to sue her if she was still drinking, simply to force her to get the help she needed. I told her my story. She then told me that when she went to the hospital for detox after the wreck (presumably at the direction of the court) she told the folks there that she had been hearing voices and she was masking them with alcohol. That is, she had undiagnosed schizophrenia that quickly became diagnosed. She was placed on proper medication. She told me that she had not had a drink since the accident. Miraculous.

So what does this have to do with N.C. BarCARES?  Before I met Gerline I had heard about the awful marks lawyers consistently score for substance abuse, depression, anxiety, etc. Like you, I’ve sat through many CLEs on such topics. But it took Gerline, a non-lawyer, to really open my eyes to the seriousness and randomness of these problems, and to the great importance of an organization like BarCARES that provides lawyers and their families the help they need, initially for free. Gerline and I experienced a miracle together that day on High Point Road. That miracle led me to the truly amazing organization that is BarCARES.

Literally, it was my sharing of this story at a CLE that grabbed the attention of Judge Bob Hunter and landed me a seat on the BarCARES Board of Directors. I have endeavored since to further the mission of BarCARES with all my being. If a lawyer has a mental health disorder, she should not have to get in a car crash and have a brain tumor removed, or get arrested for DWI and go through detox at the hospital, to receive the help she needs. Lord knows I’ve had my ups and downs since the surgeons removed a sizable chunk of the emotional center of my brain, and BarCARES was there for me. If you or someone you know has a need, it can be there for you too.