That's what the patient said to the eye doctor. "I was told I only had a scratch on my cornea."
“You need surgery immediately. Go right to the hospital. I will call ahead and let them know you're coming.”
“But I just ate breakfast, how can I have surgery?”
“You need surgery immediately. If you wait, there's a chance you'll lose your entire eye. Don't worry about your eating, the doctors at the hospital will take care of it.”
The patient then rushed to the hospital and was immediately brought to the operating room. Since he had eaten earlier that morning, he was unable to be put to sleep under general anesthesia. Instead, the doctors had to sew up his eye while he was awake. They gave him numbing medicine in his eye, but he could see, hear the doctors and feel tugging and pulling while they were stitching up his eye.
Come back with me in time and find out what happened to this man that brought him to the emergency room.
This gentleman was a handyman who fixed houses for a living. One morning he stopped off to buy lumber and as he was pulling some lumber from the shelf, something hit him in his eye. He didn't know what it was. He went to wash his eye out but felt pain, irritation and began to tear. He went back to the area where the incident happened and could not find or identify exactly what it was that hit him in the eye. There was nothing sharp such as a nail, metal or splinter that might have caused this incident.
An ambulance was called and he was taken to a local emergency room. He specifically asked to see an eye doctor, and someone wearing a white coat proclaiming that she was a doctor did an eye exam on him. She came to the conclusion that he only had a scratch on his cornea and that he should follow up with an eye doctor, whose name she had given to him, in two days, if he is not better.
Believing this to be nothing more than a simple scratch that would eventually heal, this man went home despite the fact that he was experiencing significant tearing from his eye. What he did not know at that point was that the excessive tearing was not tears at all. Instead, it was fluid from within his eyeball that was leaking out. He had difficulty sleeping that night and this pillow was wet in the morning.
He got dressed in that morning, got in his car and went to work with a piece of gauze over his eye and scotch tape holding it so that it would catch all the tears coming out of his eye. After a few hours at work, the pain in his eye and face became so bad he had to go home and rest. Still believing this was only a scratch, he did not understand why he was having such significant pain.
His wife convinced him to contact the doctor whose name he had been given and make an immediate appointment. His first available appointment was the next morning.
The next morning, while waiting to be seen in the doctor's office, he went to get something to eat. Shortly after meeting the doctor and having tests performed, the doctor exclaimed “You have a hole in your eye and you need immediate surgery!”
“What do you mean I have a hole in my eye? The doctor at the hospital told me I only had a scratched cornea!”
As a result of the two-day delay in diagnosis and treatment, this unfortunate gentleman lost the opportunity to have improved vision in his eye. As a result of emergency surgery two days after his original injury, he was left with virtually no usable vision in his eye.
The main issue in this case involved “causation.” It was our argument that had this patient obtained timely diagnosis and immediate surgery on the initial day of his eye injury, he would have had usable vision and not suffered the significant vision loss that occurred by waiting two days.
The defense took the opposite position. They argued that he would have needed surgery anyway, and that the outcome was not affected by the two-day delay. Each side retained ophthalmology experts who were prepared to come in and testify. Our expert was prepared to testify that the two-day delay was significant and that it deprived him of the opportunity to obtain the best outcome with early diagnosis and treatment.
The defense claimed that his injury was already preordained as a result of his initial eye injury in the store. Their argument was simple. “We didn't cause his injury nor did we make it any worse. While it is unfortunate that the person who examined him in the emergency room did not timely recognize the hole in his eye, that was not what caused or contributed to his injury."
In medical malpractice cases in New York we must show not only that there was wrongdoing, but that the wrongdoing caused injury and that the injury is significant and/or permanent. All of those three elements must be confirmed by a doctor who has either treated the patient or reviewed all of his records.
In our case, not only did we have a medical expert who had confirmed each of those elements, but the same expert also happened to be a treating doctor for this patient.
Three weeks prior to trial we entered into settlement negotiations with the defense and I'm happy to report that we were able to successfully resolve this case.