Even jurors teared up listening to how the then-24-year-old begged nurses, corrections officers and a physicians assistant for help because he couldn't feel his legs after a week of back pain and a month after being diagnosed with a staph infection.
After Fields finally went to the hospital, a neurosurgeon operated and discovered a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus abscess on his spine, which caused permanent paralysis. Fields today has a wobbly gait and his legs below the knees are the width of a man's forearms.
Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments and begin deliberating this morning at the federal courthouse in Fort Myers.
Fields, 28, sued Prison Health Services, the company that contracts with the Lee County Sheriff to provide health care in the jail, and former physician's assistant Joseph Richards Jr. and former nurse Bettie Joyce Allen. He's seeking unspecified damages. He was booked into the Lee County Jail on July 7, 2007, on misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief, contempt of court and a probation violation.
"I'm angry because nobody that I talked to, not a single person, about every individual I talked to, brushed me off like I wasn't important - like asking for help didn't matter to them," Fields told jurors. "My whole life was taken from me."
Fields can walk, but a doctor testified he will eventually form severe arthritis and require hip, knee and ankle replacements. For eight months after his August 2007 surgery, he was in a wheelchair. He then upgraded to a walker and taught himself to ride a bicycle and can now walk independently. He testified he couldn't afford physical therapy shortly after his release from jail because he was denied Medicare and Medicaid.
Fields saw Richards on Aug. 8 and, after complaining of back pain and telling him he couldn't feel his legs, Richards prescribed Tylenol and a followup a week later after a muscle strain diagnosis. At 1:30 a.m. Aug. 9, inmates screaming "man down" caused nurse supervisor Allen to come to the cell.
After Fields said he couldn't feel his legs and his "insides" came out attempting to use the bathroom, Allen diagnosed him with hemorrhoids, pushed the hemorrhoids back in and ordered a doctor's visit for the morning. It was Lee County Jail's chief doctor, Noel Dominguez, who examined Fields and sent him to the hospital.
"I told him, 'Thank you - that he probably saved my life,'" Fields testified before breaking down in tears, "that he actually took the time to see me."
In a recorded deposition read aloud Wednesday, Allen testified during monthly meetings with nursing staff, Prison Health Services officials stressed not sending inmates to hospitals because of prior mistakes and the cost to the company. She said nurses needed to call doctors for clearance. Miami doctor Arthur Fournier, the defense's only witness, testified Thursday that Richards and Allen provided proper care under the circumstances.
"The nurse's job is to triage, not to diagnose," he said of Allen. "Her judgement was that it was not an emergency and that he could wait to be seen until the morning. It was appropriate."
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