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After 20 Years Teaching Bar Prep, I Still Have A Few Things to Learn

This past Friday did not go as planned. Excited to do my weekly chat with Professor Melissa Hale and Professor Brittany Raposa, things went a little differently.

After teaching for the bar exam for almost twenty years, you would think that I have seen, heard, and dealt with about everything. And I had. Until now.

The bar has never been postponed while I have been teaching for it. But, let’s face it, we also have not had a pandemic of this seriousness since 1918. Which fittingly brings me to the next part.

It makes sense people would get anxiety during the Coronavirus outbreak. And, if you are one of the bar students hanging in limbo trying to figure out which one of the three dates you are supposed to take the bar exam, let’s just take anxiety and multiply by a factor of COVID19. However, as someone who owns a bar review company, I am supposed to take it all in stride. I mean we are coming up with solutions, free offerings, and methods to extend study schedules in ways that don’t end up in burn out. So, from where I am standing, I have the bar exam covered, right? Or so I thought.

Bar Exam Jurisdictions and Their Multiple Exam Dates: I Am Not Feeling So Well

Since jurisdictions have been announcing their extension dates (or, more notably, not announcing their extension dates), I coincidentally started not feeling so well. A burning in the chest, stomach and throat; horrific headache and jaw pain. Jaw pain? Yeah, that last one seemed like it wasn’t supposed to be there. I also had shortness of breath and, just for the heck of it, took my heart rate. Oooooooh that was a HIGH heart rate. Like whoa. Of course, I didn’t do much about it. No fever, no chills, no exposure.

I Am Not Going to the ER (I went to the ER)

After a few days of feeling really crappy, I happened to look up right jaw pain which, strangely, was mixed in with all the aforementioned symptoms. So, I called my doctor, left a message, and the cardiology department called back. I thought they were going to be like “um, hello, we are saving lives, stop chewing so much candy, eating foods that give you heart burn and lay off the booze for that hangover.”

Instead I got a kind sweet “we need you to go to the ER.” “Uh, for Corona?” I asked. “No” the Cardiologist answered, “this may be a heart attack”. It turns out, heart attacks present very differently in women. It presents as a mere annoyance, not as an “ohmygod I am having a heart attack!” “But the doctors at the ER are treating important corona patients” I protested. “Having a heart attack is also important” said the Cardiologist, not unreasonably.

So, I calmly gathered my things, asked my dad to drop me off at the ER, and told them my symptoms. Immediately I was taken back in a glass room (perhaps away from the other corona or corona-suspected patients) and given an EKG right away. “Beautiful” the doctor said. “BEAUTIFUL?!? I mean what does that mean? Beautiful heart attack? Beautiful EKG?” Me? Definitely not me-weeks in quarantine clearly does scary things to me.

Listen to the Doctor! (I had a hard time listening to the Doctor)

He explained my EKG was normal, but my heart rate was abnormally high. I agreed it had been high like this. He proceeds to sit down, and the following conversation then happened:
ER Doctor: “have you had panic attacks before?”
Me, laughing: “I am not having a panic attack.”
ER Doctor: “have you had one before?”
Me: “No, I haven’t had a panic attack before, but I have been annoyed before and this is what it sounds like.”
ER Doctor: “The only way I can think to bring your heart rate down is to give you some medication to do so.”
Me: “Nah. I’m good.”
ER Doctor: “I am just not letting you walk away from here with that heart rate.”

So there went the back and forth. Soon I was too sedated to care about anything. I do remember bringing up my sister’s chocolate chip banana muffins to the medical staff and noting how she only made 6 for me, which was not fair because they were so good. But that is about it.

In talking to several trusted friends after I was released (and slept for about 27 hours), I began to realize that panic attacks do not have to manifest externally. I guess I imagined that I had to be running around in a frenzy screaming “I am panicking! I am panicking!” for it to count. Clearly that is not the case.

Stuff My Stubborn Self Is Learning

So now I have a newfound appreciation of the physical toll anxiety can take on a person. Sure, I am a bit anxious about what is going to happen this bar season with the bar exam, but I underestimated the effect that the combination of our current global situation with the uncertainty of how to prepare my students and the empathy I have for my students would have on me. If I had a panic attack over the “July” 2020 Bar Exam, I could only imagine how you must feel.

So now I am ready! Equipped with meditation and deep-breathing exercises. Do you want to do them together?

Bring On The Bar Exam(s)!


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