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Steve Lopez / POINTS WEST

Parking cop had no empathy on his meter

January 31, 2007|Steve Lopez

Before I get to the parking ticket that pushed her over the edge in Century City, let me tell you about the long ordeal and grim prognosis that sent Shari Kahane to her attorney's office last Thursday.

Kahane and her husband, Mark Baskin, are medical doctors who live in northwest San Fernando Valley.

"I'm not certain, but I think I'm the only graduate of both the nursing and medical schools at UCLA," Kahane told me in the bedroom of her home, where she was breathing through tubes attached to an oxygen tank.

She chose nursing first because she wasn't sure she wanted to endure medical school. But she changed her mind after several years as a nurse, becoming a doctor in 1980. She worked as an emergency room physician in the San Francisco Bay Area and later at the Woodland Hills Kaiser, but a breast cancer diagnosis in 1993 turned everything upside down and started her on a fight for her life.

Since then, she's endured a bone marrow transplant, vaccine treatment, chemotherapy, surgery and experimental medication. She was once dropped by her health insurance company and won reinstatement only after appealing to state Assemblyman Keith Richman -- a physician and crusader for healthcare reform -- for assistance.

In 2002, she developed liver cancer, did her usual homework and located a San Francisco physician who had developed a revolutionary surgical approach. It was a success, but the return of breast cancer has kept her researching breakthroughs around the world, informing her oncologist of new options, and refusing to accept suggestions that it was time to give up the battle.

"She is a remarkable and extremely intelligent woman who inspires everyone she meets," said her husband, an ophthalmologist whose specialties include reconstructive surgery for burn victims.

Through it all, Kahane told me, she has been driven by a will to squeeze out every possible minute with her husband and two sons. Her older son doesn't like to travel, but she's toured the world with the youngest -- now 15 -- knowing each trip could be her last.

"I've been told so many times that I only have a few weeks to live," said Kahane, who is hairless and pale after the latest debilitating chemotherapy regimen. "The last time was a month ago."

Essentially, she said, she has run out of standard options and was granted permission by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to take a drug that has not yet been approved by the FDA for use on metastatic breast cancer. Although she's hopeful that it's working, she figured it was probably wise to get her affairs in order.

So on Thursday, her husband helped her out to the Honda Accord for a trip to their attorney's office in Century City. Kahane had an appointment to revise and sign her last will and testament.

The office is on Century Park East, but after pulling into the garage and circling for 15 minutes, Kahane and Baskin found that every space reserved for disabled drivers was occupied. Kahane was feeling weak, and they had a 30-pound oxygen tank to lug.

They finally left the garage, intending for Baskin to help his wife out at the red curb in front of the building and then go park the car.

"We weren't there three seconds when the officer came up behind us and started honking on his horn," Kahane said.

Baskin says he dashed around the car -- which has a disabled placard -- and was helping his wife with her oxygen tank when the officer, apparently not moved by their distress, insisted that Baskin move the car.

"I said, 'Officer, I know we're not supposed to be here, but I've got to get her out of the car,' " says Baskin, but he didn't get much sympathy, by his account. "I can tell this guy is not going to help me out, and I've got a wife who could drop dead at any point."

Kahane had started toward the building, but returned because she didn't like the way the officer was talking to her husband.

"My husband was trying to explain the circumstances, that I had terminal cancer, that there was no place to pull off the street, and the officer said, 'I don't care about that.' People were starting to gather around who were walking on the sidewalk, telling him to leave us alone.... I started crying because it was very upsetting, having to go and sign your will to begin with, and this guy was more than I could deal with."

She thought she'd seen the worst of it, but she hadn't. Cheating death is one thing, but getting the best of a traffic officer is an entirely different challenge.

"I'm five-two, and this big fella leans into my face and yells at me, 'Why are you crying? You shouldn't be crying. I'm not giving you the ticket. I'm giving the ticket to the car.' "

Baskin said the officer warned him again to move the car, but he figured that since he was getting cited anyway, he might as well help his wife up to the building. When he returned, the officer was putting a $70 ticket on the windshield.

"I said, 'You're evil, you're mean. What are you doing?' The man showed no mercy whatsoever."

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