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From The Other Side Of The Bench;

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

Word has it that the two escapees from the Clinton correctional facility in upstate New York had some of the tools needed for the breakout smuggled into the prison. Hacksaw blades, chisels, and screwdriver bits were mixed into the ground beef and then extracted after finding their way to the dinner table. It sort of gives new definition to the term “takeout food.” I admit to having found strange things in my entrées during my years in yeshiva, but nothing that would have assisted me in escaping. No one on this side of the prison wall likes surprises in their food.

Many years ago, I represented a young woman whose hamburger came with such a surprise. Somehow, a hypodermic needle was served up with the pickles and lettuce and special sauce that accompanied her four ounces of beef. The needle pierced her cheek, drawing blood, and my client was also quite fearful of the potential for infection and disease. We settled with the insurance company right after my opening statement to the jury. The cash settlement was accompanied by an offer for free eats–which my client quickly declined. Needles belong in packaged shirts and sometimes in people, but not in food.

Years ago, I wrote a comical piece about my experience with an acupuncturist. It was anything but pleasant. But times change and desperate times call for desperate measures. Approximately a year ago, I awoke one morning and could not lift my right arm. I ignored the problem for three months. At about the three-month mark, my left arm decided to join my right arm in pain and minimal mobility. I could not write. I could not lift anything. I could not even tuck in my shirt or put on a jacket. The slightest contact with either arm or shoulder sent a shockwave of spasms from my shoulder to my elbow.

I was seen by various healthcare providers and underwent diagnostic testing. I was diagnosed with adhesive capsulitis. It’s not common, and what is even more uncommon is to have symptoms in both shoulders simultaneously. I was informed that of all the population afflicted with it, only 2 percent have symptoms in both shoulders at the same time.

When my wife suggested acupuncture, I laughed. I reminded her of my last experience with an acupuncturist years ago. I had no desire to become a pincushion again. Now, I’m not here to serve as advertising for anyone; that’s not my function as a columnist. But when I have a great experience, I feel it’s important to pass it along. If I benefit from the fine needles (which do not hurt at all) of Deborah Rothman, then I feel it’s a favor to you to pass her name on to you.

About a month ago, she put down the needles for a few minutes every week and picked up a pen. She began writing a column for this newspaper titled “Serenity Now.” It’s a perfect title. Read it. Determine if acupuncture can help you. I was skeptical, especially after my first go-round years ago with a different acupuncturist. All I can tell you is that it has worked for me, as I almost have full range of motion restored in my shoulders.

While I am there to treat my adhesive capsulitis, the treatments have had a side benefit. They have a calming, serene effect–as two of my colleagues and a judge discovered last week.

I showed up at 3:56 p.m. for my four o’clock appointment last week. At approximately 4:25, with needles protruding from my flesh, I remembered that I was scheduled to participate in a phone conference at 4:30 with two other lawyers and a judge. The case is a very difficult and contentious one where the husband and wife are locked in a bitter custody dispute. While we attorneys always try to remain calm, and while most of the time I am successful in remaining calm, there is something about that case that makes all of the attorneys involved display a short fuse. We all know it, and sometimes laugh about it later. But in the thick of the battle, it’s easy to lose it to a degree.

So I am lying on the table, unable to move, yet I need to make this phone call. I asked the acupuncturist if she could dial the numbers, create the conference call, and put my cell phone on speaker. With ancient Chinese music providing backdrop, I proceeded to participate in this conversation involving me, two other lawyers, and the judge’s law clerk.

“Dave, you sound so relaxed. Where are you?” asked one of the lawyers. “And what’s that music in the background?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” I responded. Now came the hard part. The law clerk asked me to check my notes about a prior conference that we had. Now even if I had my notes with me, I couldn’t move to get them. I relied on memory.

“Dave, where are you, what’s with the music in the background, and how come it sounds like you are falling asleep?” my adversary asked again.

I could no longer hide my whereabouts or my activity and revealed to all that I was lying on an acupuncturist’s table with needles in my head, ears, arms, shoulders, and wrists.

We all had a good laugh, but realized something very profound. Not one of us raised our voices, interrupted another, lost our cool, or became agitated. I was the only one in the midst of a relaxation exercise, but the effects spilled over to everyone else in the conversation. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Good cheer and bad cheer are contagious, and when we act in a certain manner we affect the behavior of those around us. Moods are contagious. A powerful lesson whether you believe in acupuncture or not.

I am experiencing a particular mood these days as my youngest daughter graduated from the Shulamith elementary school. For the last 15 or so years, since the day Shulamith opened its doors here on Long Island, all four of our daughters have walked its halls, absorbing a wonderful education from wonderful educators. The graduation of our youngest daughter, Rena, marks the end of an epoch in our lives.

But Rena’s graduation also marks the end of something else that was very special. Since last September, every morning that school was in session, except for maybe four or five mornings when I was out of town, Rena and I visited our favorite bagel shop and had breakfast together. The workers would see us walk in and, before we even arrived at the front counter, our sesame stick was in the toaster and my coffee was being poured. Those 15 minutes were the best part of my day. The $3.37? The best money I spent all day. No hacksaw blades. No chisels. No screwdriver bits. No surprises. But it was still an escape–a beautiful escape from the pressures of the day I was about to experience and a reminder that when my day would finally conclude, I would come home to Rena and my other daughters, marvel at their accomplishments, and try to become infused with the spirit of their youthful moods. Because moods are contagious.