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Walker v. Benjamin

June 18, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 97 C 3036--Byron G. Cudmore, Magistrate Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, Bauer and Rovner, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rovner, Circuit Judge


John Walker, a state prisoner, sued a number of prison doctors and nurses for violating his constitutional rights by acting with deliberate indiffer- ence to his serious medical needs. The district court found that all of the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity, and dismissed the case with prejudice. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.


Although the district court did not label its ruling as such, we are reviewing a grant of summary judgment. Thus, our review is de novo, and we construe the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Hostetler v. Quality Dining Inc., 218 F.3d 798, 802 (7th Cir. 2000). John Walker was an inmate at Western Illinois Correctional Center at the time of these events. On July 15, 1995, while Walker was in his bunk in his cell, a heavy steel drawer fell from the bunk above him and struck his right hand. A screw in the drawer punctured his finger. He suffered a deep cut on his small finger and an injury to the joint at the base of the finger. He asked a correctional officer for medical care but was not allowed to go to the health care unit at that time. He was seen at the health care unit two days later by Vickie Rowlands, a nurse. He asked to see a doctor at that time but Nurse Rowlands declined his request, opting instead to examine and treat the wound herself. He complained to the nurse that he was in great pain and that the wound was "down to the bone." After examining Walker, Nurse Rowlands applied topical antibiotics and directed him to soak his hand in salt water.

On July 19, Walker returned to the health care unit, complaining of pain and infection in his right hand and finger. At this point, the wound was draining pus, and Walker was walking with his hand bent upward at the elbow to help limit the throbbing pain he felt when his hand was lower. He told the nurse who examined him that he thought his finger was broken. She noted in his medical records that an infection was suspected, and she called Dr. Adrian Feinerman to report her suspicion. Over the phone, Dr. Feinerman ordered an x-ray of Walker's hand but did not personally examine him. Walker asserts that Dr. Feinerman did not order antibiotics, but his record citations do not support that assertion. At most, Walker's record cites demonstrate that he did not receive antibiotics, but he offers no evidence regarding whether Dr. Feinerman ordered them. The defendants present unrebutted prison records showing that Dr. Feinerman ordered penicillin for the infection and ibuprofen for pain. Dr. Feinerman did not refer Walker to a specialist at that time and did not review the x-ray. Dr. Sherrick, who is not a defendant here, reviewed the x-ray that same day and found it negative for fracture and negative for osteomyelitis (an infection involving the bone).

On July 23, Dr. Benjamin reviewed Dr. Sherrick's report and examined Walker. At that time, his entire arm was swollen, he could not move his hand and he was in great pain. Again, unrebutted medical records show that she ordered a topical antibiotic, an ACE bandage, and Motrin for pain. She did not order IV antibiotics at that time. According to Walker, Dr. Benjamin told him that his fingers were fine.

Although Walker visited the medical unit for treatment of a sinus condition on July 26, the medical progress notes do not indicate any complaints about his hand that day. Two days later, however, he returned to the medical unit complaining about pain and swelling in his hand. His wound was draining pus. An unidentified nurse scheduled Walker to see a doctor the next day. On July 29, Walker saw Dr. Benjamin again and Nurse Rowland. Dr. Benjamin noted an infection and prescribed Keflex, a different antibiotic. She continued a topical antibiotic as well and scheduled Walker for a follow-up visit in a week. She did not refer Walker to a specialist and did not order a second x-ray at that time.

Walker continued to experience pain and the drainage of pus from his wound, but did not return to the health care unit for more than a week. The record does not reveal who was responsible for his failure to receive care during that week; he implies the defendants were responsible but provides no record support for this proposition. Nor does he provide record evidence regarding who was responsible for his failure to receive the oral antibiotics that were prescribed for him during this time. The defendants cite unrebutted evidence that on August 8, three days after his scheduled follow-up appointment, Walker appeared at the health care unit complaining only of nasal stuffiness. On August 10, he returned to the heath care unit for treatment of the wound to his hand. He was seen by Nurse Dunbar.

Although he was in great pain, Nurse Dunbar did not give him any pain medication. He was seen that same day by Dr. Virgilio Pilapil, the doctor on call, who referred Walker to Dr. Ansar Ansari, a surgeon. Dr. Ansari told Walker he had an infection that was eating away the bone and that he would have to see a specialist. He ordered a complete blood chemistry, a culture, and an x-ray to rule out osteomyelitis. He did not prescribe pain medication. He noted that Walker would require a semi-emergent procedure to correct the problem. The x-ray and complete blood chemistry were completed within a day.

On August 11, Dr. Feinerman was informed that the x-ray showed displacement of the joint. Dr. Feinerman prescribed the oral antibiotic Cipro but directed that it not be given to Walker until the culture was completed. Walker was scheduled to see Dr. Benjamin on August 12. She examined Walker that day and reviewed the x-ray results.

She diagnosed infection going into the bone and displacement of the bone at the base of the finger. Although Walker complained of great pain, she did not prescribe pain medication. She ordered that Walker be given Cipro and dressings for his wound. She did not refer Walker to a specialist and did not order intravenous antibiotics.

A radiologist reviewed the second x-ray and dictated a report on August 15. The radiologist diagnosed osteomyelitis. Dr. Ansari was informed of this report on August 16, and requested a consultation for Walker with an orthopaedic specialist. On August 24, Walker was seen by Dr, Herrin, an orthopaedist. Dr. Herrin scheduled Walker for emergency surgery and performed the procedure that same afternoon at a hospital outside the prison. Walker remained in the hospital until August 29. During that time, he was given ...

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