This malpractice case was tried to a jury and dismissed at the close of plaintiffs' case. The sole question presented on appeal is whether plaintiffs produced substantial evidence of actionable negligence.
Obert Skodje, suffering from abdominal pains, went to Dr. Hardy on July 1, 1953, for diagnosis and treatment. He told Dr. Hardy that he believed he had appendicitis. The doctor spent twenty or twenty-five minutes examining the patient, including palpation of the abdomen. A urine specimen was taken, but Dr. Hardy did not take the patient's pulse, temperature, blood count, or blood pressure. There was no X-ray or rectal examination.
Dr. Hardy diagnosed the case as bacteria colitis, or bowel infection. He gave Skodje a prescription for pills, and advised rest. Skodje followed these directions, but his condition grew worse. The next morning, Mrs. Skodje telephoned Dr. Hardy and told of her husband's increased pain, and that he was "cold and clammy and yellow." Dr. Hardy then prescribed an enema of soap and water, and asked that a heat pad be applied to the abdomen. He told Mrs. Skodje to call him back at six o'clock p.m.
The doctor's directions were followed, but Skodje continued to grow worse. His pain increased, and his stomach became bloated. Mrs. Skodje reported this information to
Mrs. Skodje then telephoned Dr. Vernal C. Norine, and described her husband's symptoms. Dr. Norine ordered immediate hospitalization for purposes of examination. A complete urinalysis and a blood count were ordered, and X rays were taken. The patient's temperature, pulse, and blood pressure were also taken. Dr. Norine made a physical examination and diagnosed the case as acute appendicitis with possible abscesses.
An appendectomy was done on Skodje late that night, and a perforated appendix was removed. Skodje was discharged from the hospital ten days later, after what the doctor called a "stormy" convalescence. There was convalescence at home for a further period of six weeks. Skodje was directed not to do any heavy lifting for a period of six months.
Negligence was charged in four particulars, the first being that Dr. Hardy made a wrong diagnosis.
In pressing this point, appellants call attention to the fact that Dr. Hardy's principal practice consisted of the examination of applicants for policies of insurance. While he performed some surgery, he had no experience in abdominal surgery. Appellants contend that these facts presented a jury question as to whether Dr. Hardy lacked the requisite knowledge and skill to diagnose Skodje's condition.
Appellants further contend that the testimony to the effect that Dr. Hardy did not take Skodje's temperature, blood pressure, blood count, or pulse, and conducted no X-ray or rectal examination, presented a jury question as to whether the diagnosis was carelessly performed.
Dr. Norine testified that he takes these steps in making a diagnosis of this kind. Neither he nor any other medical expert, however, testified that the methods followed by Dr. Hardy were inadequate, or that they were not in accordance with the practice followed by the medical community.
There was no medical testimony as to the necessity or value of taking a blood count, blood pressure, pulse, or temperature. The undisputed testimony is that Skodje's temperature, pulse, and blood pressure were normal when he was examined by Dr. Norine. While Skodje's blood count was high when he was examined by Dr. Norine, the medical testimony was to the effect that this would be indicative of colitis as well as appendicitis.
A final contention as to negligence in performing the diagnosis is based on the fact that Dr. Norine correctly diagnosed the case on the following day. Dr. Norine testified, however, that this was a so-called "silent" appendix, with the abscess behind, which is one of the "bug-abears" of all doctors — being very difficult to diagnose. Dr. Norine further testified that the lapse of a day and the giving of the enema could have made his diagnosis easier. He also had the advantage of knowing that Dr. Hardy's diagnosis and prescribed treatment had not produced favorable results.
There was no medical testimony that Dr. Hardy's failure to correctly diagnose the case was due to the fact that he failed to use care, skill, and diligence ordinarily possessed and exercised by members of the medical community.
We conclude that there was insufficient evidence to submit to the jury on the question of whether Dr. Hardy's diagnosis was incompetently and carelessly performed.
The third specification of negligence is that Dr. Hardy was careless in prescribing treatment, and in failing to advise an operation.
The failure to advise an operation was consistent with Dr. Hardy's diagnosis of bowel infection rather than appendicitis. Dr. Norine testified that it is a common practice for doctors in Seattle to prescribe, over the telephone, the giving of an enema. There is no evidence that Mrs. Skodje failed to follow the directions of Dr. Hardy, or gave him an incorrect description of her husband's symptoms. Hence,
Neither Dr. Norine nor any other medical expert testified that the prescribed pills, enema, heat pad, or thirty-six-hour delay contributed to the rupture of the appendix, or in any other way proved detrimental.
The asserted abandonment of his patient by Dr. Hardy is not actionable, because it led to no delay or other detrimental result. Mrs. Skodje immediately telephoned another doctor, and her husband was hospitalized, examined, and operated upon later that night. Dr. Norine testified that Skodje was operated upon as soon as he should have been.
SCHWELLENBACH, DONWORTH, OTT, and FINLEY, JJ., concur.
November 1, 1955. Petition for rehearing denied.