The human body is incredibly fragile and resilient, and these medical horror stories truly demonstrate how much a person can endure. From chilling mistakes on the operating table to severe diseases left untreated, these Redditors have lived through unimaginable trauma. Buckle up, these unnerving tales are just what the doctor ordered.
1. Stop, Look, And Listen
I’m an emergency doctor in the midwestern USA. The patient was transferred from some rural nowhere to our tertiary care facility. We’re a big hospital with every kind of specialist. The transferring physician described a 21-year-old male who had a rapid heart rate and breathing rate, low blood pressure, low oxygen, confusion, and a severe opacification on his chest X-ray on the right side. He was initially diagnosed with pneumonia.
They gave him a ton of fluids, started antibiotics, and put him on a ventilator, but he wasn’t getting better. So they wanted to send him to us. We said sure, send away. An hour later, the gentleman arrived—he looked young, fit, and not the type to just drop from pneumonia. We rolled him onto our stretcher and our jaws dropped to the floor—we found a huge open wound in his back.
The X-ray found his entire right chest full of blood. We put a tube in it, gave him back some blood, and he had to go for surgery to fix the bleeding. Lesson: Actually look at your patient.
2. Off Like A Rocket
I was doing a C-section for this poor mom who’d been in labor for hours. The baby wouldn’t come out of the hole we’d made, so we applied more pressure—and suddenly whoooooosh, baby zooms out like a torpedo, covered in lubrication. She zips over the surgical sheeting, which has the texture of a Slip n’ Slide, and almost rockets straight off the table.
The nurse caught the baby’s foot and whipped her up in the air upside down like in old cartoons, but almost dropped her again. Thankfully, the midwife was ready with the towel and caught the baby to wrap her up. Mom and dad seemed to think this was normal practice and didn’t notice, but me and my colleague just stared at each other with a look of absolute horror.
It still makes me shudder to think how close the baby was to hitting the floor headfirst. Never happened before or since.
3. Dignity Discourse
A young woman in her 20s comes in with an infected heart. Her infection and heart failure are pretty much past the point of recovery. Her only option was IV antibiotics, hope they work, and plan for hospice care. Her IV lowered the infection but the heart and valve damage were extensive. It was so extreme that the heart was producing micro-clots.
After the micro-clots, her fingertips went purple and clots migrated to her lungs. When she arrived in my ICU ward she was struggling to breathe. At this point, she decides to fill out a DNR or Do Not Resuscitate and move into hospice care. Unfortunately, our state has a loophole where if the patient becomes unresponsive their proxy can change the DNR. Sadly, the worst happened.
Her mom went to court and was granted healthcare proxy rights. This meant once the daughter was disoriented, her medical decisions belonged to her mother. The first thing her mom did was cancel the DNR, and our team was forced to put her on life support. This lasted for months and her arms and legs became purple, black, green, then necrotic.
Her organs were failing and the clots had traveled to her brain. She was unresponsive and we knew it shouldn’t be prolonged. We took the case to risk management, we held ethics meetings, and we went to court against the mother to revoke her healthcare proxy to fight for the patient’s right to die with dignity. The court refused and mom stayed in control.
4. It All Comes Down
My dad had triple bypass surgery in 2011, and right when they were about to close him up, the vent fell out of the freaking ceiling, contaminating EVERYTHING. My dad looked like a Smurf when he finally came out of surgery because they had disinfected him so much. The surgeon was an ex-army surgeon and he came out SEETHING.
He basically told us that if my dad suffered any sort of post-op infection, we would own the hospital. Luckily, my dad was just fine and is still with us, healthier than he has been in a while. From what we have heard, the maintenance crew was epically chewed out, and the story is still told at the hospital.
5. Don’t Go Empty-Handed
When I was a new nurse working in the ICU in a large teaching hospital, I came into work one morning to a patient who was admitted that night, sedated, intubated, and all. Long story short, by the end of the same shift his breathing tube was out and he was completely alert and oriented, so he was able to tell us what was going on.
He was an end-stage renal patient, meaning his kidneys didn’t work and he needed dialysis, and he was only in his late 30s. He said he never made urine anymore and didn’t need his catheter so he wanted it out because it was hurting. So I went to remove the catheter as I’d done about a thousand times on other patients. It was the start of a nightmare.
As soon as the catheter left, blood started pouring out of his you-know-what in a heavy stream. Turns out, the nurse who placed it on admission hadn’t advanced it far enough, since there was no urine production to indicate correct placement. This had caused a massive amount of trauma. It would not stop bleeding. I had to hold this man’s nether region “shut” to put pressure on it while my co-worker paged the resident.
The doctor came in, looked at me with pity, and told me to just keep holding this 30-something-year-old man’s junk in my hands to staunch the blood flow until urology could get there to assess. It just kept gushing blood every time I eased up to check. For over an hour total, I held it and tried to make polite conversation until the urologist arrived.
6. A Quirky Defect
When I was a medical student, a patient and his brother came in together. The patient was just there for a post-op visit after a hernia repair. Turns out, after inspection, he actually had another baseball-sized hernia. Somehow, that’s not the craziest part. His brother, on the other hand, LITERALLY had a football-sized hernia visibly coming out of the left leg of his shorts.
It looked like an inguinal hernia, and he was able to use it as an armrest. I asked him if that bothered him at all, and he just straight up said: “My brother’s hernias were painful but this isn’t, so I thought it was just a quirky defect.” I hope he was lying to save face, but we recommended he get it taken care of.
7. A Hairy Situation
This one was actually from back when I was a medical student, but it’s still the weirdest thing I’ve seen. It was my last rotation in medical school before graduating and starting residency. I had completed all my requirements and just wanted to take a few interesting electives of things I hadn’t seen yet. This was a dermatology rotation at the VA.
The rotation had been interesting and chill, and I was seeing my third-to-last patient as a medical student. The guy came in and the resident asked him why he was there. He said, “I have hair coming out of my hand.” I figured he meant a weird mole with some hair coming out, but this guy (who was probably in his late thirties or early forties) said, “No, the hair is coming out from under the skin.”
The resident asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a barber. Apparently, it’s not too uncommon for hair to poke through the skin, especially for barbers who cut men’s hair. It’s short, thin, and can be kinda pokey after all. It was sort of like getting a sliver, but with hair. But the guy said, “No, it’s a lot of hair, look!”
He held up his hand, making a fist, and there were several hairs poking out from between the knuckles of his pointer and middle finger. I stared in confusion, and the resident grabbed some tweezers to pull out maybe a half dozen short black hairs. The guy said, “Yeah, I already pulled out like 50.” That’s when the resident’s face dropped.
We numbed up the backside of his hand between the first and second knuckle and made a little incision. We were shocked at the mass of hair that we uncovered. We started pulling out GOBS of short black hair. A chunk of 20, a chunk of 30, etc. At some point, she got the magnifying glasses out with an attached light and said, “Oh my gosh, there are still more in there! Sir, do you know how all this hair got into your hand?” His answer was so disturbing, it’s unforgettable.
The guy said, “Oh it probably came in through there!” He flipped his hand over to reveal a HOLE in the palmar aspect of his hand’s skin. It turns out, the dude had cut himself like TWO YEARS before this, and it had never healed properly (he was diabetic), so he just kept cutting hair with this open wound on his hand. Probably every day, a few hairs got stuck in his hand. For two years.
Now those hairs had tunneled through the webbing between his first and second fingers from the front of his hand and out the backside. We spent like 30 minutes MILKING his hand and fingers while more and more hair came out. She said, “There’s no way I got it all out, so you have to come back every two weeks for a few months for us to keep removing more hair from your hand.”
8. The Root Of The Problem
My husband and I were messing around and he chased me through the kitchen. When I took a hard left turn, he lost his footing and fell on his side. He’s a big dude, so falling is a bit more traumatic for him. He couldn’t put pressure on his leg and he knew immediately he was hurt pretty bad. He was able to crawl to the couch, and once he settled in, he said he wasn’t in too much pain.
He decided to sleep on the couch that night so he wouldn’t have to go upstairs. We made an appointment in the morning for the ER so we wouldn’t have to sit there all day, but they didn’t have an opening until 2 pm, so we just hung out at the house. He was in a decent amount of ambient pain, but it didn’t seem too urgent. Once we got to the hospital, however, we found out the shocking truth.
He had broken his hip, breaking off his entire ball joint from the top of his femur. The nurses said they couldn’t believe that he was able to sit up and sleep on it, which implied that we should have come the night before—and probably by ambulance. It required surgery with some hefty bolts to put it back into place. But the crazy part is that, apparently, a healthy 30-year-old man breaking his femur from standing is highly unusual. That’s when we found out that there was an even more terrifying cause behind it.
After several tests and an MRI, it turned out he was in the early stages of osteoporosis. Even craziest? It was due to a pituitary tumor in his brain. So we discovered a benign brain tumor all because the dude was wearing slippery socks.
9. I Can See Clearly Now
I was doing a corneal transplant when I had the “oh no” moment. During surgery, I cut off the patient’s own cornea and replaced it with a new donor cornea. During that moment when the host cornea was off but before I could get the new one on, there’s literally nothing on the front of the eye except a tear film. Anyway, the patient takes that moment to start vomiting.
The reason we tell everyone to skip food and drink is so they don’t aspirate in case they throw up. This patient lied about eating breakfast and started throwing up everything. The eye is still “open sky” at this time. Everything inside of the eye can now become outside of the eye. And she’s bucking and vomiting. It’s awful. I had to grab the new cornea and start stitching as fast as I could on a patient actively throwing up. Don’t lie about eating breakfast before surgery, folks.
10. Up In Smoke
My patient was a teenage girl who was taking a nap at home. As she slept, a reckless driver crashed into her house, causing an electrical fire, igniting a ruptured gas line, and setting the entire house ablaze. Originally she got out with her sister, but went back in to try and rescue her dad and dogs. When firefighters pulled her out, her body was 95% burns.
When she arrived in ICU we registered smoke inhalation, lung damage, carbon monoxide, and cyanide poisoning plus toxic inhalation. She survives the initial presentation to the trauma unit and now she’s in our burn unit, and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. The only intact skin on her body was a small area around her inner thigh.
Her hair, face, eyelids, and lips are gone. We do what we can with moist sterile dressings and debridement plus broad-spectrum antibiotics. At the end of the day, she looked like a mummy fully wrapped by the end. There is no chance of her having a normal life ever again. The chances of her surviving are in the single digits. After a few days, the infection begins to set in.
All that damaged tissue was a breeding ground and the first thing we noticed was the smell. The only thing you can really do to encourage healing at that point is IV/Topical antibiotics and debridement. Basically, large wounds heal better when they are scraped or shaved to expose the wound bed. This removes dead cells which hamper growth and encourages new skin formation.
It takes weeks of treatments, and we had to do this all over her body. This was scheduled multiple times per week. One day, I said out loud in the OR, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Several years in medicine later that statement remains true. She survived the next few days, and we started with the skin grafts. Trying to re-build her face, and cover her body.
Her average surgery time was about 10 hours per procedure. We have to keep the room at 98 degrees because burn patients go hypothermic quickly. This meant 10 hours in full scrub gear at nearly 100-degree heat.
11. Little Red Dots
When I was about 16, I started having these little red irritated spots show up on my arm. My mom was immediately like, “You have psoriasis, just go tanning.” So I tanned for about a week and they just got worse. Now I had them all over my body. I even had spots on my eyelids. I went to the doctor finally, and he made a gruesome discovery.
It turned out I had ringworm. Even worse? By tanning, I was basically rubbing them all over with the lotions and incubating them while I tanned.
12. Never A Dull Moment
I was a fourth-year resident and I was on call that day. Around 5 pm, I went to do rounds and as I got to the first room, I came in to find the first-year resident on top of a patient who had very recently had neck surgery. As I came closer, my blood ran cold. The resident was kneeling next to the guy’s head with his hands and clothes completely covered in blood.
There was blood on the roof, on the sheets, on the bed, dripping onto the floor, you name it. I was instantly petrified. I knew his carotid artery was ruptured, and I’d never repaired one before. I am completely unqualified to help this guy! Someone, please HELP US! I was the senior resident, so I was the only one on call at the time.
Besides that, no one could get there in time to help this guy. He was bleeding out, so it was up to me alone to help him. So I took the guy to the OR as fast as we could and I opened him up, all of the time praying and telling myself “It’s OK, I can do this, I can do this!” I was pooping my pants while everyone was looking at me to fix him.
I open him up and I see the freaking artery loose, spraying blood all over. I clamped it, put a knot around it, and that was it. We closed him up, bandage, and transfuse the poor guy, and I went to collapse on a stool.
13. The Swamps Of Dagobah
I’m a nurse. I was on call one night and woke up at two in the morning for a “general surgery” call. Pretty vague, but at the time, I lived in a town that had large populations of young military guys and avid substance users, so late-night emergencies were common. Got to the hospital, where a few more details awaited me: “anal abscess.”
Needless to say, our entire crew was less than thrilled. I went down to the Emergency Room to transport the patient, and the only thing the ER nurse said as she handed me the chart was “Have fun with this one.” Amongst healthcare professionals, vague statements like that are a bad sign. My patient was a 314 lb. woman who barely fit on the stretcher I was transporting her on.
She was rolling frantically side-to-side and moaning in pain, pulling at her clothes and muttering Hail Marys. I could barely get her name out of her after a few minutes of questioning, so after I confirmed her identity and what we were working on, I figured it was best just to get her to the anaesthesiologist so we could knock her out and get this circus started.
She continued her theatrics the entire 10-minute ride to the O.R., nearly falling off the surgical table as we were trying to put her under. We see patients like this a lot, though, chronic users who don’t handle pain well and who have used so much that even increased levels of pain medication don’t touch simply because of high tolerance levels.
We got the lady off to sleep, put her into the stirrups, and I began washing off the rectal area. It was red and inflamed, a little bit of pus was seeping through, but it was all pretty standard. Her chart had noted that she’d been injecting IV substances through her bottom, so this was obviously an infection from dirty needles, but overall, it didn’t seem to me to warrant her repeated cries of “Oh Jesus.” I soon discovered how wrong I was.
The surgeon steps up with a scalpel, sinks just the tip in, and at the exact same moment, the patient had a muscle twitch in her diaphragm, and just like that, all heck broke loose. Unbeknownst to us, the infection had actually tunneled nearly a foot into her abdomen, creating a vast cavern full of pus, rotten tissue, and fecal matter that had seeped outside of her colon.
This godforsaken mixture came rocketing out of that little incision. We all wear waterproof gowns, face masks, gloves, hats, the works—all of which were as helpful was rain boots against a fire hose. The bed was in the middle of the room, an easy seven feet from the nearest wall, but by the time we were done, I was still finding bits of rotten flesh pasted against the back wall.
As the surgeon continued to advance his blade, the deluge just continued. The patient kept seizing against the ventilator, and with every muscle contraction, she shot more of this brackish gray-brown fluid out onto the floor until, within minutes, it was seeping into the other nurse’s shoes. I was nearly twelve feet away, jaw dropped open within my surgical mask, watching the second nurse dry-heaving and the surgeon standing on tip-toes to keep this stuff from soaking his socks any further.
The smell hit them first. “Oh god, I just threw up in my mask!” The other nurse was out, she tore off her mask and sprinted out of the room, shoulders still heaving. Then it hit me, mouth still wide open, not able to believe the volume of fluid this woman’s body contained. It was like getting a great big bite of the despair and apathy that permeated this woman’s life.
I couldn’t breathe, my lungs simply refused to pull any more of that stuff in. The anesthesiologist went down next, his six-foot-two frame shaking as he threw open the door to the OR suite in an attempt to get more air in, letting me glimpse the second nurse still throwing up in the sinks outside the door. Another geyser of pus splashed across the front of the surgeon.
The YouTube clip of “David at the dentist” keeps playing in my head—”Is this real life?” In all operating rooms, everywhere in the world, regardless of socialized or privatized, secular or religious, big or small, there is one thing the same: Somewhere, there is a bottle of peppermint concentrate. Everyone in the department knows where it is, everyone knows what it is for, and everyone prays to the gods that they never have to use it.
In times like this, we rub it on the inside of our masks to keep the outside smells at bay long enough to finish the procedure and shower off. I sprinted to our central supply, ripping open the drawer where this vial of ambrosia was kept and was greeted by—an empty box. The bottle had been emptied and not replaced.
Somewhere out there was a godless person who had used the last of the peppermint oil, and not replaced a single drop of it. To this day, if I figure out who it was, I’ll hurt them with my bare hands. I darted back into the room with the next best thing I can find, a vial of Mastisol, which is an adhesive rub we use sometimes for bandaging.
It’s not as good as peppermint, but considering that over one-third of the floor was now thoroughly coated in what could easily be mistaken for a combination of bovine after-birth and maple syrup, we were out of options. I started rubbing as much of the Mastisol as I could get on the inside of my mask, just glad to be smelling anything except whatever slimy demon spawn we’d just cut out of this woman.
The anesthesiologist grabbed the vial next, dowsing the front of his mask in it so he could stand next to his machines long enough to make sure this woman didn’t expire on the table. It wasn’t until later that we realized that Mastisol can give you a mild high from huffing it like this, but in retrospect, that’s probably what got us through.
By this time, the smell had permeated out of our OR suite, and down the 40-foot hallway to the front desk, where the other nurse still sat, eyes bloodshot and watery, clenching her stomach desperately. Our suite looked like the underground river of ooze from Ghostbusters II, except dirty. Oh so dirty. I stepped back into the OR suite, not wanting to leave the surgeon by himself in case he genuinely needed help.
It was like one of those overly-artistic representations of a zombie apocalypse you see on fan forums. Here’s this one guy, in blue surgical garb, standing nearly ankle-deep in lumps of dead tissue, fecal matter, and several liters of syrupy infection. He was performing surgery in the swamps of Dagobah, except the swamps had just come out of this woman’s behind and there was no Yoda.
He and I didn’t say a word for the next 10 minutes as he scraped the inside of the abscess until all the dead tissue was out, the front of his gown a gruesome mixture of brown and red, his eyes squinted against the stinging vapors originating directly in front of him. I finished my required paperwork as quickly as I could, helped him stuff the recently-vacated opening full of gauze, taped this woman’s buttocks closed to hold the dressing for as long as possible, woke her up, and immediately shipped off to the recovery ward.
Until then, I’d only heard of “alcohol showers.” Turns out 70% isopropyl is about the only thing that can even touch a scent like that once it’s soaked into your skin. It takes four or five bottles to get really clean, but it’s worth it. It’s probably the only scenario I can honestly endorse drinking a little of it, too.
As we left the locker room, the surgeon and I looked at each other, and he said the only negative sentence I heard him utter in two and a half years of working together: “That was bad.” The next morning, the entire department still smelled. The housekeepers told me later that it took them nearly an hour to suction up all of the fluid and debris left behind. The OR suite itself was closed off and quarantined for two more days just to let the smell finally clear out.
14. The Tell-Tale Signs
I heard an “Oh God” moment happen…when I was a patient on the operating table. A couple of years ago, I was in labor for 28 hours, pushing for six, when my child started showing signs of distress. The baby had a slightly elevated heart rate. My midwife at the hospital told me the doctor was coming in to check to see if a vacuum assist could help.
She checks me. Then I see a horrifying sight. She immediately stands up with blood on her hand and says “We’re going to the operating room NOW.” At that time, I started feeling that zoomed-out tunnel vision I know is shock. I had anxiety, but I figured she knew what was best. She did. We got in the OR eight minutes later, and when they opened me up, I heard the surgeon say, “Oh God. Look at this.”
They saw blood in my catheter bag, and upon fully opening me up found my son was actually trying to come through my uterus. He had ruptured it. They got my son out. Those moments where he was stunned and not crying were an eternity. Then he cried and he was born a completely healthy baby. After I woke up and was back in my room, the doctor came in and told me what happened. I knew a ruptured uterus sounded bad, but oh darn I googled and started having a massive anxiety attack.
A ruptured uterus is extremely rare and often fatal. I read from the time it happens, you have about 15 minutes before you bleed out and the baby is gone. When I went back for my follow-up, my midwife let me know she had never once encountered that, and it was such a big deal for them that a few days after my birth, they all got together to discuss my case.
I was so incredibly fortunate I chose to labor in a hospital, and that the doctor just knew from my vitals and baby’s that something was off. They just didn’t know exactly what until they got me open. I can’t even tell you how grateful I am for Dr. S. You saved my life and my son’s life and our family will forever be grateful.
15. It’s In Your Head
I’m not a doctor, but I’m glad my parents took me in for a second opinion when I was complaining about a bad headache. I left school one day and went to the hospital complaining about a bad headache. The doctor said it was “just a virus,” and that I should just rest and take meds. I went home, laid down, took some Advil, and just carried on with my night.
At around 1 am in the morning, I was screaming on the floor. My parents took me to a different hospital and they ran tests. Eventually, they did a spinal tap and discovered a ton of white blood cells. Turns out, I had bacterial meningitis.
16. Hidden Agenda
I’m a paramedic…so many to tell, but this one will stick with me forever. Rainy afternoon in the spring. The call was for a tipsy person randomly pounding on house doors. Normally, it would be an officer response, but they were swamped. We pull up to the house, no lights, no siren. Heck, I’m so burnt out at the time, I don’t even get out of the passenger seat.
I just power the window down. “Hey!” I snap at the older gentleman on the porch, “What are you doing?” He turns from pounding at the stranger’s door and begins shuffling down the walkway toward our ambulance. I can see the elderly woman close the curtains, her nuisance addressed. “Man, I just got to lay down!” The guy says to me.
I look at my partner, and she at I. Henry Ford Hospital is six blocks away. Surely we can take the guy there? “Get in the back!” I snap at him. “And if you puke in my bus, I’ll mop it up with your clothes.” “But I got chest pains,” He says, holding his hand closed against the pelting rain. I roll my eyes, “Man, I do too. So let’s go to Ford and both get checked.”
The guy begins fiddling with his buttons, and I reach over from my seat to dial up the heater. When I look back, he’s got his trench coat open, to show me exactly where it hurts. What I saw still haunts me to this day. Right in the middle of his sternum, vividly defined against his white sweatshirt, is a star-shaped POWDER BURN.
A big one. Point-blank-to-the-chest, hole-punched GSW. Oh my God. The next four or so minutes were a blur. Rushing out the door to grab the man as he was about to fall. My partner yanking the stretcher out, loading the patient, and loading him in the back. Scissors cutting clothes, oxygen mask going on. Yelling, “Go, go, go!!!” to my partner as she raced the six blocks to the hospital.
I really only managed to get one IV started during the three minute ride. He was gone 25 minutes later. When we rolled him in the trauma room, you could see an exit wound the size of a fist. The doctors assured us that the only thing that could have helped this man was if he fell into the OR after being shot. But that didn’t bring me any peace.
We probably spent 10 minutes talking to the man as he stood in the rain. For me, that was my out cue. I took a week off work, and resigned two weeks later.
17. A Lady And An Officer
I work in the psychiatry registrar, and a memorable night involves a 55-year-old manic patient. She was brought in with hypothermia after she jumped into the local river during winter. She claimed the CIA was after her because she was ex-Navy. During her evaluation, she would only give me her name and rank. She said she would only give further information to an “officer.”
Before I finished the assessment, she leaped out of bed and ran through the busy ER naked. Our nurses tackled her while she continued screaming her name and rank over and over. We managed to sedate her and send her to the psych ward.
18. Don’t Skip The Important Stuff
When I was an anesthesia resident, a pregnant woman came into our medium-sized community hospital in the night with some abdominal pain and nausea. Her doctor determined she was not in labor so we just treated her with medication and kept her overnight. In the morning, a new obstetrician started daily rounds. When he saw her, he immediately raised the alarm.
The new obstetrician noted that the patient’s blood pressure had dropped. They felt the patient’s uterus and it was exquisitely tender. At this point, our patient is feeling very faint. Now the diagnosis is likely a uterine rupture, which is when a small hole has burst in the womb. In these cases, the solution is an emergency C section, and my team was called in to perform this delivery.
A uterine rupture is bad enough, but when we removed the tiny preterm baby, we discovered a horrific truth. It wasn’t a rupture but a placenta percreta. That’s when the placenta grows through the wall of the uterus and into the surrounding organs, in our patient’s case her bladder. The surgery became more complicated and we had to call for help.
In the OR we now had a urologist, and two other anesthesiologists and started a blood transfusion as she had lost a lot of blood. This condition is usually detected on a prenatal ultrasound, but the patient had skipped hers. If she hadn’t missed it, this surgery would have been performed in a big city due to its risky and delicate nature. Thankfully, mom and baby were OK.
19. Without A Leg To Stand On
I was a resident in the ICU and we had a patient recovering from Steven-Johnson Syndrome, which is a rare drug reaction where skin blisters uncontrollably. At the same time, he had a clotted femoral pseudo-aneurysm that was at risk of bursting and bleeding. Between the afternoon and evening rounds, this patient’s nurse asked me to assess his leg swelling.
His whole body was swollen because of all the blisters and he had fluids he’d been getting for his blood pressure. When I checked his right leg, it did look more swollen than a few hours ago and the skin was worse. However, the aneurysm was stable on the ultrasound earlier in the day so it didn’t seem like there was much to do other than keep it well dressed and monitored.
A couple of hours later, my co-resident and I are doing our evening rounds as the general surgery team is assessing a few doors down. The leg looks even worse than earlier and is another few centimeters swollen. Even with the swelling, his vitals are stable and he’s receiving the right treatment. We were scratching our heads when his leg burst.
Where the swelling had occurred has now split open and is gushing. The nurse and my co-resident throw on gloves and apply pressure while I grab a surgical kit and try to find the source. Our team is running down the hall to grab the surgeons who are still evaluating patients. Within two minutes, there’s a small team searching through this man’s leg, looking for the cause.
Another minute or two later and they’ve found they found the ruptured vein. They stopped the bleeding as best they can. I think on the repeat blood work that evening he’d lost maybe 10-20% of his blood in five minutes. Now we had to treat the infection. This patient was pretty frail and had already had a near-fatal reaction to one class of antibiotics.
I wish I could say it was a happy ending, but his wound became purulent and he developed bacteria in his blood. It was a bad day that got worse with all the other medical problems he was having. It was just too much and we transferred to palliative. I’ll never forget the experience and know my team kept him as comfortable as possible.
20. I Hope This Isn’t Personal
I have Crohn’s disease and spent the majority of 2012-2015 going in and out of hospitals due to malnutrition, anemia due to blood loss, an inflamed colon, infections, etc. No medications helped calm my disease down. As a bonus, I got something called Pyoderma Gangrenosum two months after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s.
Pyoderma Gangrenosum gave me several open wounds on my legs that were painful and required wound cleaning twice a week with high doses of pain medication. Due to building a resistance, I went from 5mg to 20mg over the course of a year and a half. My daily prescription was valium 5mg and morphine 10mg five times daily to manage the pain.
Under one of my many hospitalizations, I was sent to a bigger hospital than my local one, since they had better resources, equipment, and a special ward for people with gestational issues like mine. A couple of weeks into my stay, I got into big trouble. My stomach was hurting a lot more than usual. I also stopped making bowel movements, which was a big red flag.
I was still going to the bathroom like 50 times a day to pass blood and minuscule amounts of waste, but then stopped overnight. I informed the nurses and spoke to the doctors when they had visitation, but I was getting brushed off by everyone. I asked to be checked out, showing my stomach, which by now looked like a six-month pregnancy.
Regardless, doctors did nothing more than feel my tender stomach daily. I started crying a lot, could hardly sleep, and stopped eating the first or second day because of the pain. Eventually, I was vomiting and overall deteriorating. After six days, I had enough, and finally, someone wheeled in an ultrasound machine to my room.
After a quick look in my stomach, I got a meek, “Oh, your intestines are twisted around on themselves, you need surgery.” The next morning I was on the operating table and ended up having my whole large intestine removed because of the extent of damage from the twisting and inflammation. I now have a permanent stoma to function.
The reason they did nothing for a week despite my daily complaints was the doctors thought I was addicted to my pain relief medications. They thought I was complaining for more medication…even though I never asked. The doctor responsible had never interacted with me face-to-face and made the decision based on my medical history alone.
21. Not One, But Two
My oldest son was 11 years old and he needed a physical for youth tackle football. He had complained that his ankle hurt during the middle of baseball season so she asked if he could take off his shoe. When he did, she immediately pointed to the side of his foot where there was a strange bump and informed us he had a broken foot.
I didn’t believe her because he had the same thing on his other foot as well. So she took a look at the other foot and said, “Oh…he has TWO broken feet.” She then sent us over to get X-rays from the hospital. I was laughing in my head, thinking it was so crazy that my son, who not only finished playing in a baseball tournament but had also been running and jumping at the swimming pool literally an hour before, had two broken feet.
After the X-rays were completed, my smile quickly faded as the doctor was right. That’s when we learned about how completely flat feet can be damaged with stress fractures that go undetected. He was put into a cast for eight weeks and was made to wear special shoes and insoles for the rest of his life. His feet are still deformed, but it has never slowed him down.
22. The Digit Details
We had a patient call our clinic and say they cut their hand. They wanted to know if we were busy or had time for a couple of stitches. They failed to mention that they were working with a table saw, and had nearly cut off three fingers. Their tendons were exposed and severed, and I sent him immediately to the hospital. He received a hand specialist and kept his digits.
23. No Laughing Matter
One night I had a young guy; a walk-in who thought it was hilarious he had a stab wound. He arrived at 3:00 am and had been waiting hours before deciding to get help. He also brought in his family and friends who also didn’t think it was a serious injury. During his evaluation, it registered as a level one and his blood pressure was low.
His heart rate was soaring as his body tried to compensate for the loss of blood. As soon as we brought him into a room, he coded and never woke up. We tried to revive him with a manual cardiac massage, which meant cracking his chest and manually pumping the heart. The knife had nicked his abdominal aorta, which ruptured. But that wasn’t the most chilling part.
When we went back to the waiting room, his friends and family were having a pizza party, not recognizing the fatal status of their loved one.
As an EMT trainee, in my first ride-along we responded to a call where a guy fell at a skate park. When we got there he was conscious, walking, and talking coherently. He hadn’t been wearing a helmet when he fell and a bruise was forming above his eye. With no scrapes and his pupils dilating, we assumed it was a concussion and black eye.
We talked him into coming with us to the ER just to double-check. We get him in the ambulance, lay him down, and his blood pressure had gone down significantly since our first check. Then it took a very dark turn. It escalated quickly to him getting drowsy and throwing up blood. We turned on the sirens and started fluids, but his blood pressure kept dropping.
He was unconscious by the time we got to the ER. Skipping the bruise meant we hadn’t felt the soft skin filling with blood and the crushed bone around his eye and cheek. He ended up having emergency brain surgery. Coincidentally, they also found and removed a tumor while operating. He recovered to skate another day, and hopefully will remember his helmet.
25. Fancy Seeing You Here
My patient came in with a badly infected foot abscess. Like, the entire foot was showing signs of cellulitis and we had to put her on antibiotics for a few days of inpatient care. She was paying out of pocket and kept trying to leave, but we insisted she finish the treatment. When the infection was mostly cleared she was discharged.
She had strict instructions to change the bandages, monitor the wound, keep it clean, and also had a list of prescriptions. We also scheduled appointments at a wound clinic to monitor the abscess. She did none of those things. She never even picked up the antibiotics from the pharmacy. She skipped her wound clinic appointments and was unreachable.
We later found out this was because she went on vacation. Several days after getting home, she decided to go on a two-week-long camping and river rafting trip with some friends. Her camping trip was cut short after the first week because she developed septicemia and her friends drove her to a local hospital to get airlifted back to our hospital.
26. Game, Set, Match
When I was in pharmacy school, I was doing my internal medicine rotation in my final year. My supervisor and I were doing med reviews in the ICU when one of the doctors said “Hey, you wanna see something cool?” They were trying to extract a foreign object from a guy’s lung in one of the rooms. So we go in and watch for a bit.
There were about six people in the room. A tube was down the guy’s throat. Little grippers at the end. Two doctors are watching a monitor and trying to control the grabbers and get it like a claw game. I watched for a bit, then after a while, I lost interest and went back out to what I was doing. A few minutes later I hear: “Got it!” *Cheers from the room* “Oh it’s a tooth!”
The dude aspirated his own molar. The doctor walks out with his trophy in a jar, and it’s a completely intact tooth, root and all.
27. Never Ignore The Symptoms
My pregnancy was really painful. I was the only woman in my family besides my mother who went through this, and even she didn’t get sick at all while pregnant. I thought it was normal that I couldn’t stand straight or go farther than ten feet from the bathroom, or that I spent days on the bathroom floor unable to keep anything down to the point where I would lose track of days.
My fiancé begged and begged for me to go to the ER because of all the pain I had. It turns out, I had an acute UTI that was ready to spread to my kidneys. They told me if I waited any longer, I would have miscarried. The thought definitely makes me hold my baby tighter.
28. A Downhill Spiral
I was the patient. I had a Roux-en-Y gastric bypass in April of 2017. After I went home from the surgery, the expectation was that I would be on a liquid diet for a week, and then slowly start reintroducing soft foods, etc. I even used a check-in app that reviewed how I was feeling, just to monitor if something was wrong.
Two weeks in and I still couldn’t keep down an ounce of protein shake. My husband at the time was getting frustrated with me because he thought I was being deliberately difficult. While he was gone to a city three hours away by plane, I woke up in the middle of the night heaving and dry vomiting. My mother drove me to the hospital in the middle of the night where I spent the next 12 hours having every test imaginable run on me. That’s when doctors made a gruesome discovery.
It turns out, within 24 hours after my surgery, my intestine that was reconnected at the “Y” junction had actually come apart (it was leaking anastomosis, if you want to look it up). Everything I’d tried to eat had just been draining into my abdominal cavity. I was septic and had four large abscesses. After emergency surgery, I spent 10 days in the ICU recovering before I went home.
The surgeon told my mother that if I’d been even 24 hours late getting to the hospital, I wouldn’t have made it. Side note: less than two months later, my husband left me.
29. What Lies Beneath
My mom had to have a kidney removed due to her waiting for almost two years to go to the doctor about her pain in her back. The doctors found out it was a large kidney stone and that her kidney was infected and had lots of gross pus shutting it down. After draining the fluids through tubes, she was finally ready for surgery.
Cue last Wednesday, the day of the surgery, and she was ready to finally be done with it. They removed the stent and put in the tubes no problem, next was the kidney. Here comes the “Oh God” moment. As they get ready to remove the kidney, they realized the kidney’s infection had spread to a portion of her lung and a major artery, making them fragile as toilet paper.
As the surgeon removed the kidney, he tore a hole in the lung, and even worse, he severed the artery. At that point, it was a race to save her life and stabilize her. I don’t remember much about how they fixed her up there, but they had to fly her to a different hospital and have a heart surgeon fix the severed artery in a more permanent fashion.
Anyway, the heart doctor saw the grave situation and said she’s got a 1% chance to make it. But he did such an excellent job that my mom is still alive and getting stronger each day. The moral of this story is: If you have insurance and are experiencing pain, go to a doctor as soon as you realize it. You may save your life, and also save some doctors from an “Oh God” moment like this.
30. Gaming The System
ER nurse here. I had a lady come in for simple pneumonia. Her 13-year-old son was getting bored, so I showed him some equipment. I connected a simple heart monitor to him just for fun, and when I saw the screen, my face went white—I discovered he was in a complete heart block. I printed a strip and showed it to the doc. Hmmm. We suddenly and unexpectedly got a cardiac patient.
31. Eye Of The Tiger
Eye doctor here. I had a patient who came in several months before their scheduled annual visit, which indicated to me that something could be wrong. But when she arrived, she had no complaints—she just wanted to get an update on her eye health before she got some new glasses. We decided to just run the regular gamut of tests anyway since she was already there.
She was a 50-year-old woman. It was a fairly normal exam. Perfect vision, healthy retinas, but something about her pupils really bothered me before I dilated them. I asked her if she had banged her head or had any trauma to that area recently. She said no, but then suddenly revealed a disturbing secret she had been concealing—she had this crazy history of an old meningioma (a type of tumorous brain growth) that she’d had removed a few years ago.
She had decided to omit this from her history with us as she didn’t feel it was important, but we went and put it into the charts anyway. It turned out she got a CT done two weeks prior to her exam with me, which she said turned up completely normal. I told her she should tell her doctor about her pupils anyway, just to cover our bases.
Fast forward a few months: the patient showed up in my office ecstatic to tell me that my examination revealed her tumor had returned with an incredible vengeance. She had no idea as was totally asymptomatic, and the CT scan she had prior to seeing me showed what was very literally the size of a speck of dust which the radiologist dismissed as an “artifact.”
On her return to her doctor, they decided to re-run the CT scan to cover their bases and they found a quarter-sized tumor. Within two weeks, the tumor had gone from the size of a dust particle to the size of a quarter. She was rushed into emergency surgery as the tumor was growing super fast and was close to a blood vessel, which could have caused a massive stroke.
She had it removed that day and returned to me after recovery to tell me. She is now a long-time regular patient I have been seeing for about ten years.
32. Wrong Self-Diagnosis
We learned of a medical case involving a man who had a rash on his foot. He googled it and decided it was eczema or some similar inflammatory disease, so ordered and applied a steroid cream. For those who don’t know, those kinds of steroids act by dampening the immune system—the overactivity of which is the cause of diseases like eczema and psoriasis.
However, he, in fact, had a fungal infection and was just reducing his body’s ability to fight it off. If I remember correctly, by the time he got to the doctor’s, he needed it amputated.
33. Nightmare Fuel
It was my wisdom teeth removal. All four were impacted, and they had to break out the heavy hardware. I’m knocked out, don’t even know the dentist entered the room. I wake up, but not able to move, just eyes open awake but my limbs won’t react to my brain. I can feel the dentist hammering a chisel into my tooth to break it for extraction.
My jaw is just coming undone on every hit. My eyes are wide open, jaw even wider with some evil metal contraption. I’m staring at the assistant begging for her to see me, and after about a dozen hammers to my jaw, she glances over and drops the suction, jumps up and shrieks. The dentist stops to look at her, then looks at me and I see him say “Oh God.” Next thing I know, I’m waking up post-surgery. What nightmares are made of.
34. Where’s The Horsehoe?
When I was a medical student on my surgery rotation, I was working a shift with the trauma team. I’m observing a simple repair surgery when my trauma pager goes off. I run into the trauma bay and a young gentleman is brought in on a stretcher with the lower half of his body covered in blood, but he’s awake and coherent.
He’s screaming and had been shot 15 times, all below the belt, and one shot had gone straight through his scrotum. We’re doing an evaluation when a code is called in the next pod over. Turns out it’s the patient who was brought in with our current patient. Several of us run from patient one and into the next pod to see a woman lying on a stretcher receiving CPR.
We roll the patient on her side to get her clothes off and notice she’s bleeding out of her back. There is a tiny exit wound and we piece together it’s a ricochet from our previous patient. We take her to the trauma bay to perform the primary surgery. She’s not breathing and has no pulse. We intubate and find the entry point in the center of her chest.
Ultrasound confirms a hemothorax and we get a chest tube in place. Instantly there are two liters of blood gushing onto the floor. The resident I’m with immediately takes a scalpel and makes an incision, then they clip the sternum in half. This woman’s chest is now completely open and we can see the heart, and the clean entry and exit wound.
All of the blood and fluids we were pushing was just draining right out of her heart and into her chest. We’re running her to an OR, when I notice she’s bleeding from every single opening in her body. Her body had used all its clotting agents. The blood still flows but she can’t go for surgery under this duress. We transfer her to intensive care and monitor her for three weeks.
She can’t talk or move, and the family is having conversations about life support. I find out she was discharged as a quadriplegic and the future is bleak. The real twist happens six months later. I was working a shift in intensive care and bring up this patient to my attending. They remember the night and working on the body and proceed to tell me that a month ago at a follow-up visit, this patient walked in. After the traumatic experience, all she has is a scar from her thoracotomy.
35. The Girl On The Grill
The year I was a medical intern I had a 34-year-old woman for a patient. She was manning a grill for two days during a weekend festival for her church. During the festival, her eyes got irritated from the smoke off the grill so she asked a friend for eye drops. After using them for two days, she developed a rash. The rash rapidly progressed to cover her whole body.
It then developed into Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome, which essentially means the most superficial layer of the skin separates from the deeper layers. This leaves a wound that is similar to the raw spot underneath a big blister. In her case, it involved three-quarters of her body. Her body was also fighting off infection in her mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines.
We had silver-impregnated dressings that we had to wrap her in like a mummy and change every day. Despite everything we could do at the main burn unit in a huge metro hospital, her body couldn’t continue to fight. Her friend was racked with guilt. All over some eye drops.
36. Baby Face
This happened to my wife and I. She was three months pregnant and did an ultrasound. All normal. The baby’s heart rate was 99 and healthy. However, for some reason, the ultrasound tech forgot to measure something and the doc ordered a second ultrasound. The second appointment was about a month later, as my wife wanted to delay. She hated having to drink so much and not pee in order for the ultrasound to come out clearer.
I couldn’t be with her for the second ultrasound; however, she called me tearfully with some gut-wrenching news—she said that the doctor told her she had to lose the baby for her own safety and health. She insisted on calling me to let me know before she did the procedure. Apparently, the baby’s heart rate hadn’t changed since the first ultrasound a month before, and this was bad enough to put mom at risk in pregnancy.
I immediately flew to the hospital. I can’t remember how I got there, but I crossed heavy traffic to the hospital in about ten minutes for what is normally a 20-minute trip. I parked on the curb, jumped out, and rushed to her room. Thankfully, nothing had happened to her yet. I just camped out there insisting on another ultrasound.
I kept telling the doctor that it was a copy-and-paste error. You see, the heart rate from the first ultrasound to the second was exactly the same. I knew…I just knew that the tech copied and pasted the first report and forgot to update the rate. I screamed bloody murder if anyone would touch my wife. Security was almost called until another doctor came in and ordered another ultrasound to decide the issue.
The second ultrasound showed that the heart rate was normal. My son is now ten years old, and I remember that fear and rage every day that I look at him.
37. One Exam Is All It Took
I had been suffering from debilitating pain basically since I was 14 years old. They were worse around my periods and would kind of dull down afterward. I was told this was “normal.” When I turned 18, I started searching for answers because the pain was getting worse. I went to seven different doctors in six years. It was constantly being dismissed as “normal” period pains.
One doctor even tried to tell me it was irritable bladder syndrome. I was no medical student, but even I knew that was not a real diagnosis. I was on all kinds of different birth control and pain medications which did not help. At 23, I was finally able to see an OB-GYN who specializes in pelvic pain. She barely even touched me before she was saying, “Oh my! You have endometriosis.”
She scheduled me for my first laparoscopic surgery in January. During that surgery, not only did they find that I had the highest and rarest severity of endometriosis with complications, but they also removed several golf-ball-sized cysts that were ready to rupture. She told me I must have a really high pain tolerance because I should not have been able to walk upright into her office that day with everything that they found and removed.
The most amusing part of it all was that before seeing the specialist, I had three ultrasounds and several other exams, but none of them detected or even bothered to look for endometriosis or PCOS. It was that simple pelvic exam that saved my life.
38. A Comedy Of Errors
My father told me this back when I was younger. He had a 21-year-old patient who needed to have a penectomy. Yep, he had cancer of the penis. There were two “Oh God” moments for this. The first is a common thing: He wasn’t fully asleep. The second, however, is funny and humiliating. So, they are about to start the surgery.
Suddenly, one of the nurses who was there threw up and left. A test later, and boom! She was actually pregnant! Back to the surgery, though—halfway through, the other nurse leaves for a call about her father. So my dad is just standing there, the guy’s junk in his hand. He calls for help, but no one came to assist him again for 30 minutes, poor guy.
39. Till Burns Tear Us Apart
I had a husband and wife brought in at the same time, both with major flame burns. He was about half his body surface area, and she was 75% or more. The woman was intubated at the original emergency room they went to. She was waking up a bit when she got to our unit and kept trying to mouth something around her breathing tube.
In hindsight, I’m pretty sure it was “my baby,” as she miscarried about 36 hours after she was admitted. She developed an arrhythmia while we were starting a new IV and we couldn’t control it. Then we found out what really happened. We found out the husband lit her on fire when he discovered he wasn’t the baby’s father. He survived and after medical treatment moved to a penitentiary.
40. You Had One Job
We were operating on the carotid artery of a patient. Mid-surgery, there was a gaping hole in his neck, and suddenly the patient woke up. “Easy fix,” I think to myself, and I start shouting at the anesthesiologist to put him back under…only he’d gone out for a moment. I had to hold the guy’s head with my elbow so he wouldn’t move too much and hurt himself until the guy came back.
41. Elastic Heart
A patient came into the ER presenting with very serious heart pain that caused him to pass out frequently, sometimes daily. Apparently, he just thought it was because he was overweight. We had to explain that passing out for no reason is not normal and that he should have told his doctor about it. The problem itself was sort of on and off, so initially, we didn’t know what was up because his vitals all looked good.
When none of the meds we gave to him helped, we ended up sending him to the hospital. His heart rate was dangerously high for a pretty sustained period of time (like 45 to 60 minutes), so he started passing out due to a lack of oxygen. Turns out, he had been suffering from minor heart attacks, not realizing how serious they actually were—but that’s not the worst part.
This had been happening to him since he was at least a teen, if not younger, and his parents never thought to bring him to a doctor about it.
42. Off To A Bad Start
One of my sister’s friends was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 10. They were advised to pack up their stuff and move across the country to be near a specialist (they would have to stay there for at least a year). They even had to hire a private plane so she wouldn’t get exposed to any sick passengers on a commercial plane. Well, before they left, they got a second opinion from another doctor who said it was just pneumonia.
They then decided to get a third opinion to definitively settle the issue. That one confirmed it once and for all—it was, in fact, only pneumonia and not cancer. Now, several years later, she is completely healthy and happy. She has never received any kind of cancer treatment, even though she has been tested for cancer regularly.
43. Going Out Of My Head
I went to my family doctor with the worst headache of my entire life. She dismissed it, telling me it was a tension headache and that I should just take a Tylenol and lay down in a dark room. Over the course of the next month or so, I saw her a whopping total of 13 times, each time with worsening symptoms. First, it was just dizziness, then vomiting…then eventually, I could no longer see out of my right eye.
Every time I saw her, she told me it was just a tension headache or a “weird migraine.” All she would do was just give me a prescription for painkillers and send me on my way. The final straw was when I was no longer able to walk properly. I would try to take a step, but all I could manage was this weird shuffle. At that point, she finally, albeit still reluctantly, agreed to send me to a neurologist.
The next day, I showed up at his office and was in there for less than a minute. He took one look into my eyes and immediately called an ambulance. Turns out, I had hydrocephalus. My ventricles were five times the size they were supposed to be, and my brain was literally being squeezed out of my head. Go figure!
44. Painless Yet Severe
When I was 14 years old, I started getting an upset stomach one night and it wasn’t just another bellyache. Maybe a little bit more intense, but I slept through it pretty well. The next morning, my parents got me an appointment with the doctor to see if I was okay. We got through it all, but we had to wait at one point, and it was taking quite a long time.
I told my mom, “We should just go home, it’s probably nothing…” and then the next thing I knew, I needed surgery. When I was talking to the doctor before the surgery, he explained that my appendix had burst, and he said I just had a very high tolerance to pain. In fact, he was surprised I was able to sleep through it.
He also explained that if I didn’t have surgery when I did, I wouldn’t have made it. I can see now why a lot of people think that having a high tolerance to pain isn’t necessarily a good thing.
I once had a middle-aged female patient, with no prior medical history, who was flown in from another state for escalation of care. She was transferred for intracranial hemorrhage. But one thing made her case stand out. According to her family, it had happened after she tried smoking the green stuff for the first time. She had taken a big, long toke and she coughed so hard that it ruptured a vessel in her brain.
She survived her surgery, but during her post-op recovery her heart stopped and she went into cardiac arrest. I attended the code blue with the team, and with rapid sequence intubation and CPR, we were able to bring her back. After she was stable I was outside the room reviewing my patient list when she went into cardiac arrest a second time!
The same team had to sprint across the hospital again to handle it. I’ve never seen the code blue team so out of breath. In one night she was flown in, had a ruptured aneurysm, hemorrhagic stroke, and two cardiac arrests back to back and lived. She was a fighter but I hope her family understands no means no next time!
46. What’s Hip With The Kids
My grandmother had her hip replaced, but the hip always hurt her. She waited a year, hoping it would go away, but it never did. She asked multiple doctors and did multiple X-rays, but the doctors said the replaced hip was fine. We finally made her go to a private clinic in my hometown, and the doctor saw that the replaced hip was fine and dandy. However, the bone around it was an entirely different story—it looked like it was a tad bit eaten by bacteria.
So the new doc did an operation, and there was so much pus in the leg it was insane. If my grandmother waited any longer, her blood would have become infected and she would have lost her life. I cannot think of a more critical time for someone to have gotten a second opinion. Thank goodness she went to the clinic when she did.
47. Please, I In-Cyst
My wife went to the ER for pain in her pelvic region. The ultrasound showed a mass, probably an ovarian cyst, they said. “It will pop in time. Leave it alone.” She went to her family doctor about a week later and had to have surgery to pull it out. They did a biopsy on the mass. It was ovarian CANCER. She is now cancer-free, but what the heck??
48. The Family Jewels
My 13-year-old son complained to me that he was unbearably itchy down there. I figured probably sweat, so I told him to wash the area thoroughly and make sure to dry well. A couple of days later, he said it was still itchy and getting bigger. Bigger? He said there was no pain or anything, but it was still itchy and swollen. I still didn’t think it was anything more than a sweat rash that maybe needed some ointment.
But when we went to the doctor, we were sent off for an ultrasound. The scan showed zero blood flow to the area, so he was immediately transferred to the emergency room. He went in for emergency surgery where the urologist removes one necrotic mass. It had become randomly twisted and passed at least a week prior. The swelling was a major infection setting in, which also caused the itchiness and swelling.
He had no pain whatsoever and the doctor said that was amazing. For most boys, torsion feels like being kicked in the nuts continuously, and by the infected stage he was in, he should have been screaming and crying from the pain. If we had waited any longer, he could have developed sepsis. He had a follow-up surgery a month later to insert a replacement part and to stitch his remaining one in place so it doesn’t happen again.
49. A Little Too Late
I’m a nurse with twenty years of experience and a master’s degree. This lady had a non-healing, large wound on her left chest area for six months and painful axillary nodules that she had for six years prior to the wound. Any non-healing wound is immediately assumed as cancer until proven otherwise. Well, this lady had stage four, untreatable cancer—all for a heartbreaking reason.
She just wasn’t taught that cancer was treatable. The patient told us, “I wish they could do something for breast cancer, and cancer in general.” Clearly, she was not informed about how most women with painful nodules should come in ASAP as the cancer is most treatable when detected early. She died three weeks after her diagnosis.
She was sedated for about two weeks and five days after diagnosis because that’s how she wanted to go. At least she wasn’t in pain, and was pretty much asleep for all of it.
50. Not Quite A Baby…
Nurse here. We had a 67-year-old woman who thought she was pregnant. I’ve got to say, she did look pregnant since her abdomen was full; similar to those pregnant women who look like they’re carrying a basketball when they are at the end. But she was 67. Turned out, it was a 37-pound ovarian cyst, and it was the largest one I had ever seen in my career.
I asked if I could watch the surgery. That thing came out all in one piece, and I’ll never forget the sound it made. This was at a community hospital many years ago, before HIPAA, so naturally, the lab announced that anyone who wanted could come down to the lab and view this incredible thing before it was dissected by pathology.
The line at lunchtime was so long you’d think they were giving away free concert tickets.
51. A Life Spared
My psychiatrist saved my life! I have always had heavy and irregular periods, so when I had bleeding that didn’t go away for a month, I pretty much just kept on keeping on. Eventually, a doctor referred me to the emergency department because of the constant blood loss, and all I was told was “You’ve got endometriosis.” So for five months, I had a heavy period, with doctors just dismissing it.
Eventually, my roommate called an ambulance when I passed out in the shower. The doctors did a blood test and I was admitted overnight for a blood transfusion. Fun fact—blood transfusions make some people nauseous, which is not a fun way to find out you’re allergic to an antiemetic! A few weeks later, at about the six-month mark, I drove for an hour for my regular appointment with my psychiatrist.
He took one look at me and freaked out. He told me to proceed directly to the ER. So I did and was promptly admitted to the ICU with a bilateral pulmonary embolism. I was hours away from suffocating to my end. Turns out, all the birth control that the original doctors had been giving me to shut me up and get rid of me had caused massive clots.
The doctor that looked after me and ultimately saved my life wrote a paper on why it’s stupid to ignore a nulligravida (never pregnant) woman in her mid-20s with severe dysfunctional uterine bleeding.
52. Close But Not Quite
When I was in med school, there was an “Oh God” moment for everyone. They were prepping a patient for surgery and put him under and the nurse said “Ok, he’s out” before they were about to start slicing him open. The patient just had enough strength to move his head from side to side and said “No, I’m not out yet.” Everyone laughed it off, but if the patient didn’t do that, it could have ended badly.
53. Evil From Within
One time, we had a woman come in through the ER with excessive bleeding three weeks after childbirth. That’s fairly unusual timing and I took her to surgery for a dilation and curettage, or D&C. I expected to find a little retained placenta and that the bleeding would improve as soon as I got it out. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
As soon as she was on the table, it only got worse. We eventually performed a uterine tamponade balloon. This is a big balloon you fill with saline inside the uterus to apply constant pressure. With medication, we finally got the bleeding stopped and she did ok after a blood transfusion. In total, she lost 1,000cc in the ER plus another 2,000cc in surgery.
Her lab results never showed any retained placenta, meaning her uterus just tried to murder her that night. It’s incredibly rare and I’ve never seen this since. She took the time to send me a thank you card a few weeks later with a handwritten note in it: “Thanks for saving my life, I guess.” I kept it in my locker for a while and wish her a happy uterus future!
54. Just Bumming Around
Our patient had a pilonidal cyst that bothered them for years. This is the type of cyst that can be very large at the cleft of your backside, and is caused by hairs that burrow deep under the skin. It flared up while the patient was sitting for long periods, and became inflamed and infected. Normally we would recommend a surgeon for this procedure.
When we examined the cyst, we could see it had opened on its own and was beginning to drain. When I took a closer look, I could see the nest of hair in this opening and my curiosity and an absolute need to remove it took hold. But I had made a fatal error. I didn’t predict the nest acting like a plug, and the removal released the most foul-smelling pus.
Thankfully due to protocol, I was wearing a face shield but it did land on the bridge of my nose and eyebrow. I will never forget the sheer force, trajectory, or smell, but would do it all again if I had the chance. Chalk up my fascination to too many episodes of Dr. Pimple Popper. Even so, I still wasn’t prepared for the results.
55. The Circle Of Life
My brother is a paramedic, and he said every time, practically without fail, dispatch would downplay the calls. So one call he had was for a girl “with minor bleeding.” He arrived and found her 14-year-old brother frantic. His 12-year-old sister was bleeding everywhere and wouldn’t stop. My brother braced for a major cut and expected a blood bath.
Instead, the girl was terrified she was a goner….because of all this blood coming from between her legs. So yeah, that became quite clear quite quickly. She was in the bathtub and he calmed her down and asked them both where their mother was. They called the mom at work and she got on the phone to explain to her daughter what was happening.
When she was passed back to my brother, she asked if ambulances had sanitary pads, but they don’t carry them. He did however use gauze to make a temporary pad and explained to the girl what to do. The mom ran into the house 20 minutes later, thanked my brother profusely, and hugged her daughter for a long time. He never expected to teach someone about the menstrual cycle.
56. In The Blink Of An Eye
This patient had a history of kidney cancer but was in remission. On his latest scan, there was surprising news. There’s a focal mass on one kidney. Still, if it’s actually just a focal lesion we can chop off the tip of his kidney and cure him while retaining most of his kidney function. The lead surgeon requests better imaging, so we send him to radiology.
When radiology calls us back with the results and it was the worst possible outcome. The cancer is back and has spread into the renal veins. This takes our patient out of remission and into stage three. The radiologist also mentions he sees shadows in the liver and brain. After the dust settles, everyone agrees that this patient is more advanced and surgery is no longer an option.
The worst part was telling him. Remember, this patient came in thinking he was having a short surgery and leaving completely cured. Instead,the surgeon walks in and says, “I’m sorry, but your cancer has spread and you most likely have about six months to live.” His son was five years younger than me and standing next to his dad at the time.
57. Tainted Smile
I work at a dentist’s office. A patient came in for an exam, concerned that a part of her tooth was chipped off. On examination, it was not a chip, but rather a piece of calculus, which is the build-up of hard tartar that covers your teeth over time when you don’t brush them. It can be small deposits, or in this case, an entire “bridge” covering her actual teeth.
She thought the calculus was tooth material and was quite shocked to learn we were actually unable to see her real teeth. We gave her an extensive cleaning to remove it all.
58. Small Cut, Big Consequences
I was the patient. I had a liver transplant and was having surgery to get a new bile duct stent. Well apparently, my anatomy is different than normal, and my lungs go more down my sides. So the doctor accidentally caused a nick. It had devastating consequences. When I woke up, I couldn’t breathe. They did an X-ray and had to do a chest tube.
Apparently, he cried he felt so bad about it all. But it wasn’t him being malicious or negligent, it was simply an accident.
59. What A Wonderful World
Psychiatrist here. I was the one who made the misdiagnosis in this case.
A 30-year-old man with mild depressive symptoms was in and out of the hospital fairly quickly. He was under pressure from his home life, due to living with four roommates who were making life a bit difficult for him. No life-threatening thoughts, but still not a good situation. He was cleared of all psychopathologies by me and two other doctors.
A few months later, he came back. He had the same symptoms; however, this time he talked about five roommates. It felt wrong, and I dug into his story. What I found out shook me to my core—he lived alone and was severely psychotic. I have no idea how he hid it so well from everyone. A few more details: the patient talked, dressed, and acted normally on the surface.
However, after admitting him for a longer period, we noticed he talked with his “roommates” often. He was single, had no contact with his family, and was somehow working. He had a routine job with little to no personal contact. After a few talks, he also claimed other people’s thoughts were sometimes “thrown at him and sitting on his head,” and he could thus read people’s minds against his will.
The interesting thing about this patient was that his internal world somehow fit in the external world. His roommates sounded like they would be perfectly plausible human beings. They were not “shadow people,” Vikings, 12-feet tall, etc. His only complaint was that they teased him by hiding his stuff, but otherwise, he ate with them, watched TV with them, and so on.
Normally, a person with paranoid schizophrenia (paranoid meaning all types of delusions) will have multiple symptoms, sometimes easy to see even for the untrained eye. The patients can dress, talk, and present themselves in odd ways, usually different from cultural norms. They can have incoherent speech, even make up words and phrases, and even separate themselves from reality.
For example, another patient of mine insisted that I was behind bars while medicating him. FYI, when we quickly “scan” a patient for psychotic symptoms, we basically look for inconsistencies in the patient’s experience of the world. The patients normally know “something is wrong” or “weird” or “different,” but they often believe it is the world around them that has changed.
This is due to a discrepancy between what they experience, a failed assessment of the inputs (due to the thinking disorder), and testing hypotheses based on failed assessments that collide with the real world. This will activate defense mechanisms such as denial, wild explanations, accepting both “realities” at the same time, and so on.
An example might be a patient who says: “I am not sick, therefore my doctor must be a bad guy for saying I am. Bad guys are behind bars, so my doctor must be behind bars. But my doctor is sitting right in front of me at the same time, so he must have an identical twin or this must be an alternate reality.” This is usually the way delusions are made.
To summarize: when we scan for psychosis, we look for inconsistencies between the patient’s subjective experience of thinking, being, and acting and the objective reality accepted by the general cultural norm. This patient managed to live in a subjective psychotic world that just fit so well with the objective reality that he tricked several psychiatrists.
60. You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get
One day, I got called into a long, six-hour cardiac procedure to ensure a laparoscopic camera was working and able to record. The surgery was nearing the end, so I knew I was about to see something good—they wanted to record something big. Suddenly, the surgeon pulls out some kind of growth from inside this guy’s heart.
This thing was the size of a chicken wing. It was growing through his valve, and I’m honestly amazed the patient was alive. Supposedly the only symptoms were shortness of breath.
61. It’s Getting Hot In Here
I was working in obstetrics during a heatwave. This is important, as maternity wards are kept quite warm since newborn babies aren’t good at regulating their temperatures. Mid-emergency cesarean, the scrub nurse assisting the operation starts feeling faint. This is unusual, as this scrub nurse worked in these theaters full-time, so this was her bread and butter.
I can only conclude it was the heat that did it. Anyway, she has to step out and someone far more junior had to take her place, it was the nurse’s first section ever. They were trying to assist with the instruments in the uterus when they fainted. I had to jump in and grab the back of their gown to stop them face-planting the open uterus, and then sort of gently tug backward to let them fall into me while someone else took over. Thank God the baby was already out.
62. A Man With A Vision
I had a guy come in for a second opinion after the first doctor didn’t bother asking him about his medical history. Of course, I took his history and asked more questions as we went along. I remember telling him something felt off and that we needed to run a test, so I ordered a peripheral vision test. When I got the test back, I was shocked at the results—he presented with the most classic tumor pattern I’d ever seen.
Two weeks later, he went into surgery to get it removed. Then, a month after, the guy was back in my clinic thanking me. He was a totally different person—his personality was a complete 180 in that he was now energetic and happy.
63. How Incompetent
I had all the symptoms of a GI bleed, including vomiting blood that looked like coffee grounds. I went to the ER, had an NG tube put in, and spent the night in the ICU. They scoped me the next day and determined I had three minor erosions, then they released me with a script for antacids. I thought I would be okay from there, but I felt awful for the next two weeks.
I was tired, weak, and dizzy, but I dismissed it all because it was “just three minor erosions.” Two weeks later, my doctor sent me in to have my blood drawn. My hemoglobin was at 4.6 and my hematocrit was 15.1, which is critically low…like “How are you still standing” low. Long story short, I was rescoped at this new hospital and they found a two-inch tumor in my stomach.
It was a very rare tumor that usually doesn’t happen to people under 40, and I’m 33. I had a total of five tumors and half of my stomach removed a few days later. Where my GI found the “erosions” was basically right where my two-inch tumor was. I don’t get how he missed it, but he found what he was looking for, and that was that I guess.
All I know is I’m not paying the $7,200 bucks that the hospital wants from me. How they missed a two-inch mass baffles my mind. I’m still waiting on the bill for the week-long stay and the surgery in the second hospital.
64. You Mad, Bro?
I had a patient come in for therapy after his doctor yelled at him for being a hypochondriac. He told the patient that his symptoms were all in his head and accused him of just trying to fish for a disability. His symptoms were pretty obviously neurological, so I referred him for an MRI. To my shock, he had only ever had X-rays done. Sadly, I had to tell the 19-year-old man that he had multiple sclerosis.
With great satisfaction, I got to tell that doctor that he dun goofed and that I would be talking to our mutual chief of clinical services about the incident.
65. The New Normal
A 22-year-old guy came in to see me after seeing his primary doctor at another hospital. His mom was my patient and asked if I would see him, as I am an internal medicine doctor. He had told his doctor he had a headache. I did the usual full review of symptoms since he was new, and he also informed us that his left family jewel had a lump on it.
We did the exam and he was right. I knew right away that he likely had metastatic testicular cancer. One stat brain scan and an ultrasound later confirmed it. I asked him if he had told the other doctor about the lump, and he said yes. Apparently, the other doctor had just told him it was normal.
66. A Medical Mystery
A patient mystery I never understood was a healthy 23-year-old male. He came into the ER with chest pain that started after eating something spicy. We check his vitals, do an X-ray, and are about to discharge him when he collapses lifeless. We start CPR and get a pulse. He was stable for a CT scan but doesn’t survive the procedure.
The team was baffled. During the autopsy, it was revealed his major blood vessels basically just imploded. This sometimes, though rarely, happens to men in their 70s with a long smoking history and high blood pressure, but this patient had zero risk factors and was a non-smoker. This was a few years ago but the case still bothers me.
67. Seeing Double
I had a doctor in high school who was unconcerned when I suddenly developed vertical double vision. It was freaking out everyone in the emergency department. I also suddenly lost about 60 pounds for no reason. Then, a year or two later, I told him that my arm would fall asleep much faster than normal when I raised it to ask a question in class. Only then did he start to think that there might be something wrong with me.
An MRI was ordered. They found a huge brain tumor in my skull.
68. Fix One Problem, Find Another
My sister was having stomach surgery and the surgeon mentioned that her uterus looked strange. The surgeon thought there might be an ovarian cyst and recommended getting checked. After she recovers from the stomach surgery, she checks out the uterus, and she finds out she has uterine leiomyosarcoma. In other words, her entire uterus was just one big tumor.
The tumor also impacted her ovaries and her fallopian tubes. She had another surgery where they got it all out and then she went through chemo for five months. After six months of clean scans, she goes to get a mammogram and finds breast cancer. She chose to have a mastectomy last week and she starts radiation soon. It’s the worst treasure hunt ever.
69. And Just Like That…
My father felt a loud pop as I was helping him out of bed. This wasn’t unusual and my father thought he just pulled something. However, the pain didn’t subside for weeks. I dragged him to the GP, and then to the hospital for a scan. The “pop” turned out to be the back of his rib totally separating, as the bone was mostly powder—and the reason why was awful.
He developed lung cancer from his bad habits as a young adult and it had grown through the back of his lung and into his ribs and spine. He was in palliative care from then on. At least he got to say goodbye to his cat Tilly—I brought her into the hospital and he let her loaf on his chest with her bum in his face for one last time.
70. When It Rains, It Pours
My grandfather was scheduled to have double knee replacement surgery when he was in his 70s. They go through a bunch of health screenings to make sure your body can take the stress of the surgery, and during one of these screenings, the cardio doctor found an aneurysm in my grandpa’s aorta. But that wasn’t even the worst part.
This beast ran basically the entire length of his torso. The doctors were shocked he was still alive with that in his chest. He ended up having to have stent surgery in his aorta first, and then a few months later was cleared for his knee replacements.
71. A Clot Unlike Any Other
My father went to the hospital with chest pains, and they decided to do an angiogram. The process injects dye into his valves to look for clots. During his procedure, the surgeon asks if he suffers from blackouts, and a few more doctors get called in to have a look. My dad is the strong silent type but admits to minimal daily pain.
They take him to another type of X-ray machine and again are looking in bemusement without explaining anything. Turns out there was a blood clot the size of a golf ball floating free in his heart. It normally should have killed someone quickly and the doctors were all intrigued. He had a triple bypass 30 years ago and is still the strong and silent type.
72. Did I Do That?
I once saw a med student suck up a skin graft with a suction device. The skin graft is a very thin piece of tissue that was being carefully laid onto the wound where it was then to be sewed on, carefully, like a patch. The med student was using the suction to clean up the wound and accidentally sucked up the carefully-prepared graft entirely. Gone instantaneously.
73. A Mumbling Clue
When I was a fourth-year resident, my first rotation in the hospital was in radiology. I was waiting with a patient after an ultrasound and they told me they were thirsty. They take a sip of water but then start mumbling. It was incoherent to us but his daughter said he had spoken like that before. She said something felt off. She was all too right.
One second he was fine, and moments later he’s just quietly staring off into space and I start to wonder what’s going on. We check him and one of my seniors calls our resident and immediately starts CPR. He was wheeled down to the ER but we lost him later that day. Since then I’ve had many patients but this memory still makes me feel weird.
74. Gone In 60 Seconds
Gastroenterologist here. I was removing a large polyp during a colonoscopy. I put the snare around the polyp, and it took an unusually long time to sever the base of the polyp—until, all of a sudden, blood started squirting from where it was removed. The screen quickly turned red with blood, and I couldn’t see a single thing.
The patient’s blood pressure started to drop. The patient, who was a dark-skinned Middle Eastern man, turned pale white on the stretcher in front of me. That’s when I felt like I was going to faint and empty my own bowels…the only thing I could think was “Oh God.” I gave myself a moment to breathe and control my emotions.
Once I cleared my head, I let my instincts kick in. We gave him fluids to bring up his blood pressure and put him a safe position to maintain blood flow of his brain, lungs, and heart while reducing the blood flow to his gut, where the polyp was. I then turned on the water jet and diluted the blood with as much water as I could, hoping to see more on the screen and eventually clip or cauterize the blood vessel.
As it turned out, the patient’s blood pressure dropped just enough to stop the bleeding automatically. That gave me a short window to identify the vessel and clip it. The man lost 1/3 of his blood volume in less than 60 seconds. He was admitted, transfused, and discharged the next day. These days, if I anticipate a similar situation, I just refer them for surgery. I am not interested in being a hero like that again.
75. Will It Ever End?
My best friend was the patient. She was diagnosed with a hernia and was set to have surgery a year later because it wasn’t so bad that she needed to have emergency surgery. Eventually, she decided to go to her home country, because she felt she was being mistreated by the health care workers in her US town. She was scheduled to have a pre-surgery check-up, and then the surgery two weeks later.
Well, when she went for the check-up, she got taken to the table without anesthesia. While she was being operated on, she could see what was happening, which was frightening enough. Then, they uncovered the root of the problem—she had a birth defect that ended up causing a massive cyst to grow. She was in great danger. She had trouble walking and had to take a flight back the day after.
She is doing much better now, but she recently got diagnosed with another hernia on the other side.
76. I’m Sorry, Come Again?
Three years ago, my grandmother was in the hospital to get her brain tumor removed. Nine hours later, we got to see her—only for the surgeon to say, “It went well, for the most part, dropped the top of her skull though.” Just like that, he walked away eating his apple. We were all just standing there like ???????
77. A Tickle In The Throat
In my first year as a nurse working in oncology, we had this cute old man who had esophageal cancer. He had a golf ball-sized mass in his throat, and he had gone through radiation treatment but his doctor decided he needed a tracheotomy. Just in case you don’t know, this procedure cuts a hole near your Adam’s apple to form an airway.
His procedure never healed properly and the patient was constantly in pain at the surgical site with excessive ooze and liquid, I’m talking cups every hour or two. This wasn’t normal but it wasn’t impacting his airway, which was the most important thing. We continued to monitor the patient carefully through his radiation treatment.
We would suction out the liquid every night but one night, the suction started pumping out blood. I’m trying to stay calm and thought he’d gotten scraped when they changed the inner cannula of the trach recently, but then it got worse and worse. All of a sudden, he coughs, and his bleeding trach turns into a literal faucet of blood.
My suctioning can’t keep up with the blood flow and it starts to flow into his throat, and is choking him. I’m yelling for help as blood is pouring down his chest and all over my arms. Eventually, with CPR he was unresponsive and we couldn’t get a pulse. In the end, we presume the trach had been irritating the wall of his throat, and the radiation was making it worse.
78. Twice The Fun
My mom is 4’11”, so when she was pregnant with twins, she was almost wider than she was tall. They had her on bed rest in the hospital because they knew we’d be early. She had gestational diabetes and hadn’t had sugar in months. My loving, caring father was by her side the whole time and had also cut out sugar to support her.
On this specific day, however, he was sneaking a chocolate shake, and my poor mom became really emotional and asked for one sip. Immediately as she took the sip, her water broke. Of course, it was unrelated to the chocolate shake, but my mom was beside herself, thinking she messed up and caused early labor by drinking a chocolate shake. Oh, and there was one more thing.
After a successful delivery, my mom had intense pain. She couldn’t even blink her eyelids, her body was on fire. They rushed her to surgery and had to remove her whole gallbladder, which according to her was worse than childbirth. The constant optimist, my mom was just happy to stay in the hospital longer while we were in natal intensive.
79. The Lung And Winding Road
This actually happened a few weeks ago. My sister went to urgent care because she had a bad cough and was having trouble breathing. They said it was a virus and they gave her antibiotics. My mom took her to her primary doctor who confirmed it. 10 days later, she still wasn’t better, so my mom took her back and insisted that she get an X-ray.
The doctor said, “I don’t know why you brought her back in. It’s just a cough.” Turns out, her entire right lung was collapsed, which showed up on the X-ray. It had been that way for almost two weeks. The doctor called us and said, “You need to go to the ER right now.” They then began an emergency surgery in the ER. She was admitted to the hospital for a week and they performed another surgery on her two days later.
The doctor put a tube in her through her back to inflate the lung and another to remove excess liquid. For the rest of her time there, she had the tube connected from her back to a big plastic clear briefcase-looking thing that filtered all of the blood and liquid out of her lung. Her second surgery was because her lung wouldn’t inflate back up. The reason? Surprise! She had a big leak in her lung that they needed to repair.
She was kind of hilarious because, while on morphine, she kept dropping F-bombs, like “Where is the [expletive] nurse with my food??” Nevertheless, she doesn’t remember anything from the hospital anymore. She has Down Syndrome, and the cause of the collapsed lung was actually due to an incident at the Special Olympics. Her team of petite women played against very tall men with tattoos.
A man bumped into her and he fell on top of her. We are pretty sure that this is what caused all of the lung troubles. She’s predisposed to these kinds of injuries because of her Down Syndrome, and she’d had open-heart surgery at the age of two for a hole in her heart, so she was already vulnerable in that area of her body. Anyway, she’s a champ. She’s all better now and is excited because she’s been cleared to go to a special needs prom next Friday.
80. Hips Don’t Lie
One of my dad’s colleagues was doing a hip replacement way back in the day. Hip replacements aren’t fun: They have to pretty much butterfly you like a boneless roast to get the top of the thigh bone clear of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. They then saw off the ball end and attach the new stainless steel one, which is on a long stem they insert down the middle of the bone to keep it in place.
So the doctor has got to that stage, tapping the stem down the femur, when it jams halfway. Won’t go down any further. Won’t come out again. Can’t saw it off, because bone saws won’t touch hardened steel. Can’t close up the patient and come back to it, because there’s a foot-long spear stuck out the top end of his leg. Meanwhile, the anesthetist is saying they can’t keep him under much longer. It was not a “successful” surgery.
81. Silent And Fatal
During my father’s residency, a gentleman came in with an infection he developed after having his gum scraped during a dental cleaning. The infection had gotten into his sinus cavity, and my father told his attending that the gentleman was going to die. They had a specialist from Harvard at the hospital at that time, and he called my father an idiot.
The attending corrected the guy from Harvard saying that no, my father was right and the guy was likely going to pass. He had seen 10 such infections previously, and each time the person didn’t make it. Apparently, there’s a part of your face some physicians call the “Triangle of Death.” The gums of your top teeth form the base, with the sinus cavities forming the arms.
Over the next two days, the infection spread to the guy’s left eye. Mr. Harvard said that they should take the eye, and hopefully, that would be enough to save him. My father said it’s not going to make much of a difference and the guy should start working out his final affairs. Obviously not wanting to give up, the gentleman consented to have his eye removed.
It didn’t make a difference, and within three days of having his eye removed, the gentleman was gone. The infection went from the sinus and ocular cavities and through the blood-brain barrier.
82. A Second Opinion
For months, I was going to the doctor every Wednesday, because after running just a mile I couldn’t breathe. They checked my lungs and my heart and everything. Yet I still couldn’t run the mile without collapsing at the end. All of my doctors told my mom that I was just doing it for attention and they saw this kind of behavior all the time.
I had a physical scheduled and my mom thought about canceling it. I had seen so many doctors already, why waste the time? She finally decided I should go, just to keep on schedule. My normal doctor wasn’t there. He was sick and called in someone to take his shifts. She pushed on my stomach and asked if I was sexually active. My response made her panic. I said I was 11 and hadn’t even started my period, and she rushed me to the hospital.
After a sonogram, they said they saw something. That night, I was having surgery. When I woke up, they told me they took out a three-pound, malignant teratoma. I’d have to start chemo right away. Being the sassy 11-year-old I was, I just smiled smugly at my doctor and said “I told you I wasn’t lying!” I saw him recently, 15 years later. He still remembers me and apologized profusely for not catching it sooner.
83. Medical Insurance
I was the patient, and I’m pretty sure it was an “Oh God” moment for my OB-GYN. I was at the end of my labor and my daughter was stuck. I’d had two epidurals, both of which wore off. My doctor used forceps to try to get her out. I don’t think she knew my epidural was as ineffective as it was, otherwise I don’t think she would have shoved the forceps in like she did.
I obviously felt the forceps and started thrashing in pain. The doctor got scared and tried to take them out…but they got stuck. She had to wait for the next contraction to push them out. Then blood went everywhere. Most unsettling of all, she was on the phone with her lawyer while wheeling me in for my emergency C-section.
84. The Water Cure
When I had mono, I was getting incredibly overheated and was drinking lots of water. I still felt incredibly dehydrated, so I contacted a nurse on call and told them that despite drinking liters upon liters I was still feeling dehydrated and my headache was getting worse. She told me to just keep drinking more water. This turned out to be near-fatal advice.
My symptoms kept getting worse, so I finally went to the doctor—who told me I almost passed from over-hydration. A few Gatorades later, I felt a million times better.
85. A Stitch In Time
I was in sixth grade, and my family was living in an upstairs/downstairs duplex. The family above us had two small boys, first grade and preschool if memory serves. Their dad was at work and their mom had to run some errands, so she asked if I could watch them while she was away for a while. It was a nice summer day, so we were outside running around in the yard, generally acting like kids.
A game of tag or something soon developed, with the two boys chasing me. At some point, I ended up running right along the side of the house and losing my footing. Down I went. Instead of my knees or my palms, I hit the side of my head. It HURT. I got to my knees and put my hand to the side of my head, only to feel warm liquid. Lots of it.
I looked at my hand, and it was like it had been used as a prop from the movie Carrie. Blood EVERYWHERE. I looked up to see a nice little trail of blood on the wall of the house, leading up to the head of a nail that was sticking out about an inch. My dad grew Hollyhocks and would tie them up with twine so they wouldn’t fall over, and I just happened to catch one right over my eyebrow.
So, I went inside and informed my mother in very precise terms that I was probably in need of medical attention. My history with the emergency room was pretty robust, so my mom is quite used to the sight of me coming into the kitchen bleeding and/or broken. She made very little fuss, other than a frantic towel-grabbing mission before packing me and those two now-very-scared little boys into the car and heading to the local ER. This is where the “Oh God” moment happens.
Remember, this is a weekday during the summer in a suburban neighborhood. The ER was completely empty, except for the receptionist typing away at something. Mom lets me out to start admission while she parks the car. Apparently, my arrival went unnoticed, because the receptionist didn’t look up until I was just a few steps away. I smiled weakly and said something to the effect of, “I think this needs to get looked at” while pulling away the now very blood-soaked towel. At that moment, everything unraveled.
A small arteriole decided it had had enough and proceeded to burst forth, each heartbeat pumping a nice little jet of blood out, which I could just discern out of the corner of my eye. Needless to say, I was making a right mess of the place. The receptionist calmly responded by fainting. I have no idea how one becomes a receptionist at an ER while having issues with blood, but somehow this poor woman did.
So now I was standing there in that antiseptic-white reception room, bleeding quietly to myself, with an unconscious receptionist behind the counter and my mom out in the parking lot still dealing with two panicky little kids. I had a major “Oh God” right then and there. Fortunately, at that point, someone else of better intestinal fortitude came out and saw what was going on, and got me rushed back into an exam room.
I got 32 stitches and now the scar is barely visible as a minor line right above my eyebrow.
86. Secondary Complication
In my freshman year of college, I had a really bad sore throat for a few days. I thought nothing of it and just took a ton of Tylenol until it went away. About a month later, I noticed the joints in my fingers were extremely sore and I could barely make a fist. Next, it was my wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, etc. It reached all my joints and muscles.
It was even painful to lift my eyebrows or touch my scalp. I couldn’t roll over in bed. I literally just lied in bed for days and cried. Finally, my mom, who lived about four hours away, came and took me to the doctor. I couldn’t believe the diagnosis. He said I had something called post-streptococcal arthritis. Turns out, I had strep throat a month prior and because I didn’t treat it with antibiotics, it spread through my body and caused arthritis in literally all of my joints. He prescribed a steroid and pain killers and said good luck!
Man, I’ve had a lot of medical problems in my life but this one was the worst by far. It took another three months for me to start feeling normal again and a full year to get completely back to normal. Nowadays, I catch strep throat extremely easily and I get it at least four to five times a year. If I don’t get it treated within two days, my arthritis flares back up again.
87. Get It Off My Chest
A 40-year-old woman, who was a successful business owner and fully insured, had been taken to the ER by her sister because she was complaining of chest pain. She was asked to put on a gown for an EKG. I will never forget the sight. Her skin literally looked like a green hamburger. Sadly, she did not seek care sooner because she said she was embarrassed by the appearance and odor.
I followed her care as best I could. She went through a bilateral mastectomy, radiation, and chemo. She survived another three months before she passed away.
88. All In Your Head
In 2014, my sister got rear-ended and suffered from whiplash. She began to get awful headaches, and she’d go to the doctor but they couldn’t find the cause or solution. Over the next year, the headaches got worse, and she started to have problems with her body functions. Sadly, everyone she talked to said it was just in her head and was dismissive.
At the time, she worked for UPS and got hit in the head with a box that was dropped from above, which only made things worse. She then developed problems swallowing, breathing, and began having seizures. In September of 2015, she came to my house after school one day and laid down on my couch, and then didn’t get up for months except for the toilet.
One day, she managed to finally convince someone to give her a cervical MRI. At that point, the doctor called me in a panic to come in, but I wasn’t able to go with her. She called me in tears later because they had finally found the cause. It turns out the whiplash had made a previously unknown Chiari Malformation symptomatic, and her brain stem had fallen out.
Yes, really. It was compressed against her spinal cord and shoved into her first cervical vertebra. The back of her brain was just hanging out of her skull. She had decompression surgery but suffered irreversible damage due to the length of time she was untreated. Turns out, it wasn’t all in her head and her primary care doctor had never even heard of Chiari Malformation.
89. A Puddle Problem
I was working in the ICU one night, and it was fairly quiet. I had this older gentleman, in his 60s, admitted with hepatitis. He started complaining of pain in his stomach and chest so I gave him some morphine as he was prescribed. A short time later, I asked him how the pain was. He looked visibly uncomfortable and stated it wasn’t any better.
He started moaning and pleading for help. I called the resident and got a further order for morphine. A short while later, he’s calling me over and is now pale and restless, stating the pain was worse and begging me for help. I’ll never forget his moaning and pleading. My nursing intuition knew something wasn’t right. I turned around and walked to the phone.
I called the resident again when suddenly I become aware of a dark shadow growing and spreading under the patient’s bed. There was no mistaking this dark red puddle growing rapidly. I Interrupted the resident and said “you need to get here right now” and hung up. I ran back over to the bed and confirmed that the puddle was his blood.
Before I had the chance to say or do anything, the patient suddenly threw his head back and passed out. He went very pale and then blood spurted out of his mouth. In fact, it seemed like blood was coming out of every orifice. It was spurting, like a waterfall. I’d never seen so much blood. By the time the resident came running in the door, the patient was gone.
90. Daredevil Disaster
I took a call from a panicked woman advising me of a rollover crash that happened near her house. She lived near the top of a blind hill that people liked to “jump.” She told me that a girl was laying on the ground about 30 feet or so from the vehicle. When asked if the girl is alive, she says, “Oh yes, she’s wiggling around on the ground. My daughter is a nurse, she’s checking on her now.”
Awesome. We hardly ever are lucky enough to have a trained professional on the scene before a med unit can get there. She tells me her daughter is starting CPR. My caller was getting frantic again and we already had first responders on the way, so I started asking more questions about the scene.
Her daughter breaks CPR to get on the phone with me and tells me she can do compressions only. Confused, I asked why—but the answer nearly made me scream. The girl’s jaw was completely gone. A bit stunned, I told her to continue compressions. But rather than getting put back on with the original caller, I hear the scared voice of a teenage girl, the driver: “Is my friend going to be okay?”
I couldn’t find anything to say for a moment. Finally, I said, “They’re doing CPR, dear and we have help on the way. Are you and the other passenger okay?” “We’re fine. Just please tell me she’s okay.” The girl on the ground was confirmed D.O.A. She had been laying down in the back seat without her seat belt on because she had a headache. She was 15.
91. A Telenovela Evening
One night while I was working in the Emergency room, a patient arrived with complaints of vaginal spotting. She told us she had been bleeding for two days and had a little pain. She thought it had started after her female partner had been “a little rough” during their last intimate experience. Her examination revealed something else entirely.
There was a complete tear through the posterior vaginal wall into the rectum, and these injuries were consistent with a difficult childbirth. The story wasn’t adding up given the amount of trauma, so I ordered more tests, including a urine pregnancy test. The pregnancy test came back positive, which opened a huge can of worms, given her relationship status.
Turns out, she had secretly delivered a baby two days ago but didn’t tell anyone. She had been hiding the baby from her family and girlfriend. Everyone from child protective services to pediatrics got involved in the case. They found the baby in her apartment under some towels and it was a doozy of a night for paperwork. Her parents adopted the infant and as far as I know, they are still the child’s guardians.
92. Not Too Sick to Not Have Feelings
We had a forty-three-year-old woman who had a very rare form of cancer that spread incredibly fast to just about everywhere in her body. From diagnosis to death was about twelve weeks. The medications and therapies and the general lack of mobility caused her to become swollen and obese. She was a terribly sweet lady. They took her down to Radiology for a scan and the technician made a bunch of really mean comments about her weight because she was too large for our machines.
They had to arrange for a transfer to another hospital for her scans and then have her transferred back. The technician thought that because Miss Jeannie was dying and sick that she was deaf or didn’t understand English any longer, and so while they were alone, she made so many mean comments. Miss Jeannie waited until she was back in her room waiting for her transfer before, she started crying. I’ll never understand people who feel the need to make others feel less than or badly.
93. Feel My Pain
My friend had a horrible moment when he was going under the knife. Two minutes into surgery, the doctors noticed his pupils dilating or something. He said it was horrible, he could feel the scalpel cutting into his flesh, the agonizing pain, and the oxygen thing only gave him air every few minutes. They noticed he wasn’t under and fixed it. But then the dark truth came out.
Turns out, the anesthesiologist who put him under was his ex-girlfriend, though no one knew about it, and she likely did it on purpose. The surgery went well, the recovery was a bit longer than expected, but he’s all good now.
94. A Tickle Under The Rib
I saw this one patient with a really odd condition. While she was asking me why she gets rib pain so often, she literally reached under her own rib and jiggled it with her fingers. Turns out, there were a lot of other things she could do that she shouldn’t ever be able to. I attributed it to a variant of Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which causes connective tissue abnormalities.
I was so distracted by the popping in and out of her rib that initially, I didn’t even notice how horrifying it was that she could get her hand under there.
95. Welcome To The World
My dad is a pediatrician specializing in neurological issues. He was seeing one of his patients at the hospital and got dragged into the NICU unexpectedly by a nurse who insisted that a baby wasn’t well. The attending doctor insisted the kid was fine, and that he was just tired from a difficult vacuum assist delivery. My dad could tell the baby wasn’t okay and managed to talk the parents into a brain scan.
The NICU doctor insisted my dad was nuts to the parents. Little did he know his arrogance would cost him, big time. The kid had a brain bleed and was rushed to surgery. The baby would not have lived without the nurse bringing my dad in and the parents listening to him. The delay caused by the NICU doctor almost certainly cost the kid some brain function. I’m proud that my dad did the right thing.
96. The Rear View
Nurse here. A very panicked nursing assistant came running to the desk one day, saying, “You have to see this! I don’t know what this is!” She then brought me into a private room where she was giving the patient a bath. She pointed to an area on the patient’s buttocks. “What is that?” I leaned in for a closer inspection, and my face went white.
The patient then started to turn back around and said, “IS THAT MY EYE?!” Sure enough, my patient had a prosthetic eye that came out of the socket at some point and it became suction-cupped to her buttock. I left the room and had never laughed so hard in my life. Truly one of the most bizarre and hilarious moments in my career.
97. Got A Tell
I became a dad at 18 but broke up with my son’s mom two years later. Despite our problems, I stayed engaged in my son’s life. When he turned five, she went in for a hysterectomy. Then the day after the surgery, her mom called me asking me to go to the hospital. Apparently, she was “in a mood” and wouldn’t talk to anybody.
She thought that I could get her to talk, so I visited later that day. She just stared at me while I talked. After 20 minutes, I decided to give up and went for a hug. I noticed she was clenching her fist. At the time, I thought nothing of it and left. At home, I thought about how one-half of the brain controls speech. And that’s when I had a terrifying revelation.
I remembered her clenched fist and did some research online. I looked up strokes and quickly figured that was what was happening to her. I called the nurse at the hospital to tell her my realization and got to sleep thinking I’d done a good deed. Except in the morning, her mom called saying she was getting transferred.
Apparently, due to her history of depression, doctors assumed she was acting out. I talked to my boss and asked for a day off to go to the hospital. When I got there, everyone ignored me since I “wasn’t a family member,” so I sat with her for a little. Eventually, a doctor came to sign off on the final transport orders.
I was upset. When he asked me why I was crying, I told him that she’d obviously had a stroke, but no one could see it. He told me to leave the room, and two minutes later came out confirming that she did have a stroke.
98. No Air
Last month, I was about to take a long trip across the Pacific. One hour into the flight, they asked for a doctor. I volunteered myself. I saw this lady literally gasping for air, waving her hands because she couldn’t breathe. I looked through the meds in the first aid kid. I listened to her lungs, only to hear faint wheezing and no air movement at all. I figured she was probably asthmatic.
They later grounded that plane because there were another sixteen hours to go and she was on the verge of being intubated. Later on, I got more of her story from a family member. What they told me was absolutely shocking. Apparently, she hadn’t been able to sleep well for the past two weeks. Her doctor just gave her sleeping meds and told her that that flying was not a problem.
I asked the family why she couldn’t sleep: “Does she wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, i.e., a classic sign of uncontrolled asthma?” They responded, “Yes, how did you know?” I explained to them that sleeping meds were probably among the worst things she could have gotten, and the doctor almost ended her life by saying she could fly.
If only patients knew what the doctors missed or whatnot. Half the time, I really think it’s like going to a bad auto shop and not realizing they’re just making up half of the stuff. The same thing happens in medicine, except people’s lives suffer because of it.
99. Close To The Chest
I had just gotten my first job out of college at the local hospital. My first week went by with the usual stitches and broken bones. My second week around midnight, this very obese woman came in complaining of chest pains. So, we rushed her back, grabbed her vitals, and did an EKG and blood work. Everything was normal—or so it seemed.
The problem was, she was still complaining of chest pain. So, my supervisor and I asked the lady if we could do a head to toe check-up. Now this woman had a rather pungent smell to her when she came in, but I have learned to not think of it as the people in the area weren’t known for their cleanliness. We were looking at her chest.
I noticed that her left breast was reddened and swollen. I told her that I was going to lift up her breast to rule out any skin infections. As I lifted up her breast, a wave of noxious stench engulfed the air around me. As I kept lifting her breast, I could see what looked a mass of rotting tissue going into her chest.
My supervisor ran out of the exam room and proceeded to vomit in the nearest trash can. I looked at the lady and asked her why she didn’t come in earlier as it looked like a massive skin infection was raging under her left breast. She replied that she did not have insurance and that she didn’t think it was a huge deal.
I called in some nurses and the doctor to assist cleaning the wound. As we’re cleaning, one nurse noticed a bit of fur and bone. That’s when we made the most horrifying discovery of my career. We found out it’s a small animal of sorts. They collected the sample and sent it to pathology. We removed it and noticed that it had rotted into her chest so much that her ribs could be seen.
In the end, it was the lady’s missing kitten. She spent four months in the hospital for massive sepsis and other related issues.
100. And This Is Why We Wash Our Hands
Sometimes, surgeons are the ones in for an unpleasant surprise. My father is a physician and, although he’s not a surgeon, he did some surgery while in medical school. He told me a story about a patient he had once who had necrotizing fasciitis—a.k.a. a really nasty flesh-eating disease. I almost wish that he hadn’t told me this story. It’s like something out of The Walking Dead.
The patient had gotten a cut while gardening and never cleaned the wound properly. My dad told us that he had to peel back layers just to get at it. First, he peeled off the bandages that the patient had self-applied. Then there was a layer of holy book pages that he also had to peel off. Layer upon layer, bandage upon bandage.
Finally, beneath all that, was the wound itself. No amount of med school training could have prepared my father for what he saw. The wound was covered in maggots. Apparently, they were eating the dead-tissue generated by the disease. He said that once they removed the maggots, they were able to begin the surgery to remove the infected areas.
Oddly enough, this patient had the maggots to thank for keeping his appendages intact. Because the maggots had eaten away the dead and infected flesh, my dad and his team didn’t have to amputate the patient’s limb. After this operation, though, my dad decided to not pursue surgery and focus on becoming a specialist.