When my wife was pregnant with our first son, 15 years ago, I considered myself a Chicago guy. I lived in Chicago and worked in Chicago at a big Chicago newspaper.
Not only did I live in the city, but I prowled its recesses: I was a card-carrying member of the Division Street Russian Baths, had been inside the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, clung to a radio mast atop the Hancock, visited Studs Terkel’s bungalow and Saul Bellow’s condo.
So when it came time to choose where the boy was to be born, I wanted it to be in a Chicago hospital. Thus he would forever be “Born in Chicago,” a permanent benediction he would wear with pride.
There was one complication. My wife, who was also involved in the process, insisted the baby be born in Evanston. When the time came, we would scoot across the border to Evanston Hospital because a) her obstetrician was based there and b) Evanston has this special Women’s Hospital, supposedly one of the better places to give birth.
I wanted to argue. This was actually important to me. But the sheer practicality behind her viewpoint sapped my resolve. Even if, through some miracle, I got her to change her mind and have the baby in the city, should anything go wrong — every prospective parent’s darkest fear — it would be All My Fault.
I wasn’t willing to risk that.
So Evanston it was. After the birth, there was a jarring incident. A nurse thrust the bundled baby into my hands, while the medical team turned and attended to my wife.
I hadn’t expected that. Nothing in Lamaze prepared me for that moment. I was shocked, to find myself holding a baby. I paused to admire his perfect china features, then, at a complete loss over what to do next, began to coo the Air Force Fight Song.
“Off we go, into the wild blue yonder, flying high, into the sun . . .”
I suppose there was a lawsuit in there somewhere — the hospital is supposed to be caring for this newborn, and what do they do? Fob him off to the most inexperienced and nervous person in the room. What if I had fainted?
That’s a crazy thought, of course, one that never crossed my mind until I read about the case of Jennifer and Scott Spiegel, who are suing Evanston Hospital because, the day after their son was born, the wrong baby was brought to their hospital room and briefly nursed until an alert nurse noticed the mix-up.
You might have read about it on our front page Sunday.
That was one of those stories where you keep waiting for the bad part. The headline, “MOM CLAIMS BABY SWITCH” made you expect some heart-wrenching mix-up — swapped children brought up by the wrong families, perhaps.
Nope. The confusion lasted a few minutes, just long enough that the new mom, the lawsuit claims, “suffered mental and emotional anguish and pain.”
I had to phone Scott Spiegel, her husband and — all together now — lawyer. I had to ask: Did this experience really damage his wife?
“Yeah, it did,” he said. “From an emotional standpoint.”
Well, having children is an emotional experience, and though I hesitate to actually say this, most new mothers are half-crazed without their babies being swapped. Many female readers no doubt cringed at the thought of a baby going astray.
But continuing to be an emotional wreck over a minor confusion is a reason to seek therapy, not file a lawsuit. If the mailman delivers a letter to my neighbor that was actually addressed to me, I don’t sue the postman because my equanimity was destroyed by the mishap.
I asked Spiegel if he was trying to get Evanston to fire the patient-care technician who misread the bracelet or to change their procedures in any way. Nope, he said, just gimme the money, or words to that effect.
Maybe this is a gender issue. I’m sure there are women recoiling at the thought of nursing some strange baby. But honestly, put yourself in the Spiegels’ place. You’d shake it off, would you not? Would you really sue? And you wonder why health care is so expensive.
Didn’t dad worry that this lawsuit would form a cloud over Logan’s entry into this vale of tears?
“No, we don’t see it as a cloud over the newborn’s life,” he said. “This is why we have courts.”
Actually, we have courts so that people who are truly wronged by actual incompetence — as opposed to quickly corrected, harmless errors — can find redress for the real damage done to them.
As far as the Spiegels, I wish they had weighed “the emotional anguish and pain” of touching another woman’s newborn, unaware, vs. a lifetime of sideways glances and whispered comments.
Honestly, would you want them over to dinner? Would you serve them fish? What if there was an unfilleted bone? “While Mrs. Spiegel did not actually ingest the bone, she may have, and the prospect caused her emotional anguish and pain . . .”
Would you hire Scott Spiegel to represent your case, given how he has splashed into the public eye representing such a marginal wrong? “If it please the court, I will show how Mr. Postman’s delivery of the letter to the wrong house undermined my client’s faith in the United States government and in life itself . . .”
I handed the story to my wife. She read it, her lips pursed, and summarized the situation with a precision and economy that I could only dream of.
“Jerks,” she said. “Makes me ashamed to be a lawyer.”
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