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Prison Doc Nearly Blinded Him, Inmate Says

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — In a lawsuit against California's North Kern State Prison, an inmate claims a prison doctor gave him toenail medication as eyedrops, nearly blinding him, and guards said he would be "locked in a cage" if he kept complaining about the pain.

In his Aug. 25 lawsuit in Kern County Court, James Fernandez claims the prison doctor prescribed clotomozole for him on Aug. 8, 2015, for inflammation in his eyes. Four days later a prison nurse gave him the medicine and told him to put it in his eyes. He immediately felt "an intense burning sensation," and says the nurse "expressed no surprise at this result, despite knowing what clotomozole was for and observing plaintiff's distress."

A second nurse put more of it in his eyes later that day, resulting in even more pain, and when a third nurse handed him the bottle for another dose the next day, Fernandez says, he asked what was in it and the nurse told him, in the presence of a guard, that it was "anti-fungal toenail medication."

The prison refused his requests to see an eye specialist until Aug. 15, 2015, when he took a "man down position," which requires guards to take him to a prison infirmary. Twenty-five days later, on Sept. 9, he finally saw an outside doctor who told him eye surgery was necessary, Fernandez says in the complaint.

By the time he had the surgery, Dec. 7, 2015, he was nearly blind in one eye and had suffered months of intense pain, for which the prison gave him only aspirin, and ordered him "to stop requesting treatment or he'd suffer punishment, including being locked in a cage outside the building," according to the complaint.

It adds: "It was as if defendants were pretending the injury was minor or nonexistent in order to conceal their own culpability."

Fernandez says he still suffers burning pain and permanently blurred vision.

An internet search of clotomozole came up empty, save for references to clotrimazole, an anti-fungal medicine for infections that include athlete's foot.

The prison did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

Fernandez seeks punitive damages for civil rights violations, medical malpractice, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent training and supervision, and civil conspiracy.

He is represented by Rex Grady with Smith Dollar in of Santa Rosa, who did not return emailed requests for common.

Kern County has one of the largest prison populations in the nation. North Kern, an all-male medium-security prison in Delano, 31 miles north of Bakersfield, houses nearly 5,000 inmates despite an official capacity of 2,694. Kern Valley State Prison, one mile from North Kern, houses nearly 4,800 inmates.

Overseen by Acting Warden John Sutton, North Kern serves as a reception center for new inmates who stay for a few months while their paperwork is processed; then they are transferred to other prisons.

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