Murmured conversation abruptly silenced as Judge Michaels entered the room. Laura swallowed and released her clenched fists as the bailiff called for all to rise. She glanced toward the hospital lawyer who stood in front of her. Just state the facts, and stay calm, Mr. Engle had told her ten times this morning alone. She wished she could will away the tension.
As they sat, the back door opened and a quietly weeping woman walked to the front, escorted by her own lawyer. She looked nothing like the Mrs. Colton Laura remembered in the bed that night. Thin, sallow, and obviously distraught, her appearance reflected that of a victim of severe injustice. Surely the jury would think as much.
The lawyers each gave their opening arguments, while Laura let her mind wander, hoping it would calm her nerves. She closed her eyes, remembering the busy hours leading up to the fateful decision.
Several faces flashed in her memory, yet no one else sat here today. They had given their written statements.
So had Laura.
"Miss Barnes?" The lawyer called her name. "Would you please step forward?"
She opened her eyes and swallowed again. Clasping her hands to stop their shaking, she stood and walked to the front. As they swore her in, she dared not look at Mrs. Colton, focusing only on the face in front of her.
Mr. Engle asked his questions first. Laura had rehearsed her answers, and he smiled to encourage her as she responded. He presented her charting as evidence. Clear and concise, only the facts, her notes, and her written statement should have been enough.
They clearly needed her for something else.
Laura kept her gaze focused on the jury. When it came time for the prosecuting attorney to question her, a single glance at the woman next to him revealed the hatred she had felt emanating from that side of the room.
"Miss Barnes, your statements regarding your actions and those of Dr. Harris are clear. What is not clear to the prosecution, however, is the understanding of my client regarding the situation she faced. Did you and Dr. Harris fully inform my client of her options, the risks and benefits?"
Laura slowly clenched her fists. "Yes, we did."
"And in your professional opinion, do you believe my client understood the situation, and the consequences of her decision?"
It's a simple question, she told herself. Did Mrs. Colton know what she had done?
Did she, really?
In her memory, she could see Mrs. Colton in the bed as Dr. Harris explained the situation. "So this is a for sure thing we have to do?" the woman asked over and over.
"We explained the risks several times," Laura stated. Just the facts.
"You said that already," the lawyer pressed.
"What are you asking, then?"
"Did my client truly understand what she was doing?" He frowned, folding his arms.
Laura swallowed. Her professional opinion held critical importance to the case. If Mrs. Colton had understood the situation, then the consequences would be her own fault. The case would be closed. No matter the heartbreaking result, the woman could not claim herself a victim of the medical system.
This is why I'm here. I'm the only one who can testify if she knew.
Laura lifted her eyes toward Mrs. Colton. Obvious pain reflected in her face, the consequence of a tragic decision which cost her baby's life. She stared at Laura, no longer with hatred, but as if she begged for pity.
Laura looked toward the jury. They needed to know the truth.
"She asked if we absolutely had to do a C-section. Dr. Harris told her the fetal monitor pattern was non-reassuring and he recommended it, but the pattern alone wasn't a definite indication. It still had to be her decision."
Laura turned her eyes back toward the woman. "I believe she understood, and chose not to do the C-section. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision, but she made an informed choice."
Laura felt her tension release as she returned to her seat. All the stress she had felt for months melted as the trial concluded, the jury absolving the hospital of blame.
"Sorry you had to go through this," Mr. Engle said as they exited the courtroom. "It was a tricky question."
Laura looked back toward the woman, compassion filling her heart. "No, it wasn't tricky. I simply had to tell the truth; the whole truth. It is what it is."
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