A singular lack of catharsis

For the last four years, I’ve had this court case hanging over my head. Now, despite the fact that this incarnation of Balls and Walnuts is not open to search engine spiders, I probably ought to be careful what I say. No names, for example. But the circumstances were plain enough: I was named as one of the defendants because my name appeared on the chart, not because I actually did anything to the patient.

Well, that was part of the problem — they said I should have done something. But I was in the OR when I got called (yeah, that’s the connection — the ER doc wrote in the chart that I’d been called and was unavailable). My patient was under anesthesia, and we had a policy stating that we MDs were responsible for patients under anesthesia, since our hospital had no supervising MD anesthesiologist. So if we buy the plaintiff’s argument, I should have abandoned my patient to respond to the call.

We prevailed. No money from yours truly. The case dragged on until jury selection was completed, and then the plaintiff settled with the other parties, and the case against me was dismissed with prejudice.

I expected some sort of catharsis, and it never came. Not even a sigh of relief. Perhaps it was because this whole game of will-they-settle, won’t-they-settle had persisted for the entire week, and indeed, had gone on for months before that. Or perhaps it was because, like so many such things (see: Santa Rosa), I take this shit way too personally. By the time the decision came down, I was already sleep-deprived and more stressed out than I’d been in a good long time. My sleep pattern, never what you would call normal, had become aberrant in the extreme (unless you’re my son, in which case, my sleeping pattern had become quite natural, thank you very much). My lawyer will never know how lucky he was that I never took the stand. God only knows what I would have babbled.

So, I’m home now. I’ve been home for the past 10 days, and I keep thinking, “Get over it already. Write a damn blog or something.” And here we are.

By the way: after the first day, I called my wife to tell her how different this was from Law & Order-type courtroom dramas. “Nothing is dramatic,” I told her. “It’s all terribly predictable, and in fact, everything seems designed to be boring.” Then the very next day, something dramatic happened: some anonymous person turned in to the hospital some stuff he or she had printed out from the internet. The plaintiff had done the social media thing, blabbing about this very case, dropping names etc. The surprising thing is, this seemed to change very little about the case — she has her right to say whatever she wants to say, after all. But was this a bit of unexpected drama? You bet.

Weird. It would even have been interesting, this experience, had I not been one of the worms writhing on the hook.



  1. Chris says:

    What a horrible experience … I’m glad it ended in your favour,

  2. Walnut says:

    Thanks. Yeah, I do NOT handle these legal things well, possibly because I don’t understand them. Or perhaps it’s some deep-seated Jewish suspicion about authority and the potential unfairness of the justice system. Which is unfair of me, actually, since it’s worked in my favor every time thus far.

  3. KGK says:

    Did you have your own lawyer or were you represented by the hospital’s legal team? Does Kaiser have this end of things well nailed down? Do you doctor types get some good training on the legal aspects of practicing medicine? From what I’ve seen here in bureaucracy-land, a lot can be prevented if you give people some background or even just get them to check with someone before doing something they don’t know much about. The UN has an extensive internal justice system and most of the problems come because managers don’t understand how the HR rules work, they do something easily avoidable that gets the staff member upset and then it’s off to the races. A big part of my job is helping managers get the outcome they want while following all the rules.

    Glad that it all got sorted out. These things tend to take over one’s life.

  4. Walnut says:

    I had coverage under my former malpractice carrier, the Doctors Company, which is a really, really fine malpractice insurer. KP had nothing to do with this (other than allowing me to take my vacation time off to defend myself!) So, yes, I had my own lawyer, since of course my interests diverged from the hospital’s.

    Considering the importance of the subject, we received very little training in the issue of malpractice. Or doctor-patient communication (not quite as bad, but once again, considering the importance . . .) Or nutrition.

    At KP, members agree to binding arbitration. Not sure what that is like, and I won’t be too upset if I never find out. They provide me with tail coverage going forward (they’ll cover me once I retire or move on for stuff I did while I was with them) but no tail coverage for my time up north.

  5. Dean says:

    Gah. I’d have been climbing the walls, myself, I think.

    Or maybe not – I’ve been in courtrooms a number of times in the last couple of years… :)

  6. Walnut says:

    Going into it, I thought it would be excruciatingly boring. It was excruciating, but not boring.