There’s a reason they make so many medical TV shows: Hospitals are full of drama. Most doctors and nurses eventually get used to the kinds of crazy moments that would give most of us a heart attack—but even they have their limits. From one-in-a-million cases to deranged patients and everything in between, these people have shared the medical moments they will never—ever—forget.
1. He Nailed it
There was a guy who attempted to take his own life by firing an automatic nailer into his ear. I took care of him in the ICU and he remembers everything. He’d been depressed for a long time and decided to end it. Nailed himself, sat around a while before deciding he didn’t want to die, drove himself to the ER, walked inside, and fainted. It was so weird how stoic he was about it all.
2. No William Tell Here
We had a patient that worked in a circus. They did an act where the guy shoots an arrow to get the apple off her head. Well, it went in through her neck! She came to the ICU calm as a cucumber and was talking and answering questions appropriately with an arrow impaled in her neck.
3. An Eye For An Eye
There was this gentleman we were taking from an ER to a specialty trauma center. He had been in a bar and witnessed a bar fight. He tried to break it up. One of the guys smashed a bottle over his head. The bottle was hard enough to break his skull, but it also broke the bottle. The way the impact hit it partially popped his eyeball out of the socket. However, that wasn’t the worst part.
Then, the broken bottle traveled down his face and sliced the eyeball in half! As an EMT, very few injuries bothered me but the second I saw his face my eyes just started watering. He was the calmest, most polite gentleman. He only spoke a little English but everything was “Si senor” or something of equal politeness. He didn’t utter a single complaint.
4. Give This Man A Hand
My friend had to go to an emergency room, and while he was sitting there, a farmer and his son came in. The farmer told the nurse, “My son cut his arm.” The nurse asks where the cut was. My friend said the farmer held something up and said: “Here.” The arm wasn’t cut, it was cut off! My friend told me the nurses freaked right out!
5. When Bovines Attack
A 60 to 70-year-old lady arrived at the trauma ER. Her story was crazy. She was being chased by a cow, and was running for her life, and fell off a 2-meter ledge. She had several fractures, but only really complained about her leg, and tried to get up and walk away several times telling us she was fine. Initially, we thought she had some head trauma and was completely disoriented.
On further examination, it turned out she was just that stubborn. She was hospitalized for a while and had a good recovery. I do wonder if the cow fell off the cliff as well.
6. So A Pregnant Man Walks In…
I had a guy come in complaining of abdominal pain, but stated it was because he was pregnant. He was absolutely sure of it. His wife was in the room with him and fully vouched for the story—which is probably the craziest part to me. He said that he had seen this other doctor at this other hospital who had confirmed it on ultrasound and shown him the fetal heartbeat.
This was a small hospital so our ultrasound tech had to be called in when needed. Obviously, there was no way that would happen for this. We wanted to work him up for appendicitis because obviously, that could be a real thing, and if he’s actually having this pain something could be wrong. Recommended a CT. The patient said he didn’t want a CT, he just needed an ultrasound to check if his baby was okay.
We told him multiple times “Sir, it is impossible for you to be pregnant. You don’t have a uterus.” He didn’t budge. We ordered the CT anyway, because we still want to see what’s causing the pain, and sometimes you just have to put the orders in and hope for the best. This guy ended up leaving his room, followed a nurse taking a patient to radiology, and gate-crashed radiology, telling them that he badly needed this ultrasound. Security escorted him back.
7. Toe Down
A patient’s son who “took care of her” brought her into our unit. When she arrived to our unit, I performed a skin assessment. I took off her socks and found a fallen off gangrenous toe. It was by far the nastiest thing I’ve ever witnessed. The son said he had no idea when his mother’s foot became “that bad.” No words.
8. Kicking And Screaming
A farmer in his 70s reluctantly came with his wife after falling over outside while wrangling a sheep one week earlier. He did not want to be there, but his wife who was worried about him had “forced” him. He was pale, short of breath, and clearly in pain all over the right side of his chest but not wanting to show it!
X-ray and blood tests showed he had broken loads of ribs, punctured his lung, and bled profusely into his chest and was now very anaemic!
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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.
12. My Boss Is A Heartbreaker
I had a doctor that constantly ignored patients in serious pain, and it let to a serious “Oh God” moment that was also his comeuppance. He thought all of his patients were faking it to get painkillers. After a senior director at Microsoft died from a heart attack in our ER that he refused to do an EKG on, I went to management and told them what I had seen. He got fired the next day.
13. The Truth Is Out There
I work in a personal care home. We used to have a resident who would constantly yell out “hello,” and it drove us a bit bonkers. After he passed, a lady moved into his old room. One night I was working a double, evening to nights, and she pulled her call bell. I went in and she asked me to make him stop. “Make who stop what?” I asked. Her response chilled me to the bone.
“The old man standing beside the bed, he won’t stop yelling hello.”
14. It’s Alive
ER Nurse here. I was doing CPR on a lady whose heart had stopped. They initially rolled her into the room unconscious and not breathing. This lady is pretty much gone. However, in the middle of doing chest compressions, her hands reached up and grasped my wrists, and then fell back to hanging off the table. We never got her back.
15. Going Up, Going Out
I took care of a lady who had end-stage renal disease, and was minutes away from passing and unresponsive in bed. My charting station was right outside her doorway, and while I was waiting for her only daughter to arrive, I was completing some of my paperwork, in full view of the door to the patient’s room. That’s when a terrifying thing happened.
The daughter finally showed up, very upset, yelling that she wanted me to help get her mother out of the elevator. We both ran to the elevator…that was empty. The daughter and I went into the room as her mother took her last breath. The daughter swore up and down that she rode in the elevator with her mother from the lobby to the 12th floor.
When they arrived at the 12th floor, her mother told her to go get the nurse to help get her back to her room, and she would wait in the elevator because she was too weak to walk back to her room.
16. Just Keep Going
I had a patient come in saying he couldn’t see. How long had it been going on? For five days. The man had been blind for five days and didn’t come in because he thought it might be “like a cold or something.” During the exam when I told him to move his legs, he answered, “Oh, I can’t do that.” I asked him for how long.
His wife chimed in and said about two years. He’d never seen a doctor about it. They just borrowed a friend’s wheelchair and kept it rolling. I found out that he’d had multiple strokes with many risk factors that he never addressed. Given how little insight he appeared to have into the condition, I honestly felt sorry.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Hidey Hole
My friend used to share stories of when she was a young nurse. She was checking out a patient and following protocol. This guy had been seen multiple times, and given an antibiotic for a lung infection. Again, a nurse and doctor had already seen this guy, and my friend was just supposed to do the last follow up before releasing him.
“What is this?” She asked. “A shirt, I keep them in my hole.” WHAT? Turns out, dude had an abscess so big that he stuffed a T-shirt in it and forgot about it. At the time, it had gotten so large that he now stuffed three shirts in. He neglected to tell the doctor or get it checked out. By the time the last one was pulled out, the smell was so bad it cleared the room.
21. A Real Mouthful
I’m a dental hygienist. The creepiest, most confusing thing I’ve seen is as follows: We had a new patient come in for a cleaning. He was around 3 or 4 years old, and the mom said he had never been to the dentist before. Not uncommon for what I see on a daily basis, so at first I didn’t think anything of it. I did his cleaning, and then went to take his routine X-rays.
This is where it got weird. After looking at the X-rays, I could see that the child had already had a large amount of dental work done. He had around six fillings. When I sat back down at my chair, I asked the parents again if he had ever been to the dentist. They were both adamant that he hadn’t, and also said there was no way a relative could have taken him without them knowing.
What the heck? How did this happen? Who took him? Where were the parents? Had they possibly been away for a long time and not known someone else took him to the dentist and had work performed? What if this wasn’t really their child, and actually some kid they kidnapped? His insurance had no record of him having previous dental work.
I think about it often, but know that ultimately, I’ll never get an answer.
22. Just Say No, Kids
I’m a medical student. While on my Psych rotation, I came across an individual who was a chemistry graduate student. Apparently, he had been taking astronomical amounts of substances, and he was just continuously disassociated. For the entire time I was on this portion of the rotation, I never heard him speak a single word.
Most of the time he was wrapped up in his sheets like a mummy, and he would just periodically laugh a crazy, soft chuckle from under his covers if you tried to talk to him. The creepiest laugh I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget that.
23. There’s Always An Explanation
Once a man came in and said he had burning genitals. He thought he knew what was happening…and the story was absolutely hilarious. He actually thought someone was coming in and lighting a fire under it while he slept. This guy wanted a cure for burning when in reality…he had gonorrhea. He got offended when my dad told him this because he was married and his wife was fine, but 80 percent of women that have gonorrhea are asymptomatic.
It turns out the dude had a serious addiction to ladies of the night, which is where he and his wife got it from. Yikes.
24. No Butts About It
Farmers are notorious for being under dramatic. We had a farmer a while ago who was up a tree for some reason and fell out. As bad luck would have it, someone had left a dirty meat hook at the bottom of the tree and he landed on it, impaling his behind on one cheek. He proceeded to pull it out, finish what he was doing, drive himself home, and go to bed.
The only reason he came to the hospital was that his wife woke up to a bed full of blood and insisted he gets it looked at.
25. One in a Million
The morning report was a good one today. We had a 59-year-old male come in with lower leg swelling. Within 3 days he becomes confused, febrile, and stiff. We put him in the ICU, thinking he had meningitis and got some CSF cultures and started antibiotics. Two days later, the cultures were still negative and he wasn’t improving.
His wife then says this whole event seems similar to her husband’s (the patient’s) mom. She had Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease and passed from it. It’s a 1 in a million (literally) diagnosis and our tests are still coming back for it. Really rare case most doctors will never see.
26. Factitious Disorder
When I was an intern, we had a 22-year-old man with persistent abdominal pain, all studies negative. His symptoms were unexplained. His mother was constantly at his bedside, and his medical history, which was extensive according to his mom, included multiple hospital stays with no definitive diagnosis. I noticed that he would frequently take ill after meals, which his mother brought from outside the hospital.
It eventually became clear that he was a victim of Munchausen by proxy. His mother was making him ill. I’d had a patient with Munchausen’s when I was in medical school (she was injecting her own waste into her IV), so I was particularly tuned in. Both cases were very sad.
27. Catching Zebras
My first rotation as a medical student was psychiatry. I was really nervous, and made a flashcard for each psych condition and a list of diagnoses to consider. One of the patients being discussed on rounds was psychotic (think: KGB is after me!) but was otherwise put together. He was really into doing art and was very, very religious.
I looked at my flashcard for psychosis and casually mentioned that we should consider temporal lobe epilepsy, which presents with religiosity and exaggerated artistic ability. An EEG showed that he had it. I’ve caught a few zebras since, but that was my favorite.
28. Cat Calling
A six-month-old baby was not getting bigger and dropping off the growth charts. The baby wouldn’t move and cried all day long. I couldn’t figure it out. I was making preparations to transfer the baby to the university hospital for admission. One of the clinic nurses commented that the baby’s cry sounded like a cat. Ding, a bell went off in my head.
Cri du chat syndrome or cats cry syndrome. Very rare. I looked it up on UpToDate and the baby had a high probability of having it. I referred her to genetics and they confirmed it. The attending called me and marveled at my clinical skills. I chuckled and told him the nurse diagnosed it. Good news, the baby had a small deletion of the 5p chromosome and managed to stay somewhat healthy and functional.
29. Socrates’ Demise
We had a young fellow come in who worked as a landscaper. He showed up in the ER with severe GI distress. The diagnosis was almost entirely from history. Apparently, he forgot to bring lunch so decided to munch on some “wild carrots” he found while he was out working. I Google “wild carrot dosing” and quickly figured out the diagnosis (this was in the this was Northeast USA by the way). I will give you a hint…a certain Greek philosopher also had an affinity for the substance…it was hemlock. AKA: Not good for you.
He recovered fine, though he did get a night in the ICU for observation.
30. 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.
31. 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.
32. 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.
33. The Subconscious Mind
I’m a nurse. I work with geriatric patients, and there was this incident about three years ago. Before I explain, let me say that I DON’T believe in ghosts. Anyway, this one time I was working the night shift and I was super sleepy, so I decided to skip lunch because I wasn’t hungry and go to my car and sleep for 30 minutes instead.
I got inside my car, covered myself with my sweater, set the timer on my phone, and immediately knocked myself out. Then I’m dreaming, but in my dream I’m still awake, just sitting there. Someone taps on my car window and I see that it’s one of my patients, we’ll call her Dee. Surprised, I asked Dee what the heck she’s doing outside.
She tells me she is looking for her daughter. I tell her to go back inside and that we will call her daughter in the morning. My patient becomes angry and starts banging on my car window. I kind of freak out and try to reach for the door handle to get out and calm her down, but I quickly realize I can’t move. Let me add that I frequently experience sleep paralysis, so even though I am asleep, I realize what is happening.
I fight it and try squirming my body in an attempt to wake myself up. I finally manage to wake up and my heart is racing and my forehead is a bit sweaty. I sit there for about a minute, realize it was all a dream, and roll the window down to cool myself off. If I knew what was coming, I would have screamed my lungs out.
My break is over and I clock back in and see that my supervisor and two other nurses are huddled in front of a room. I am still by the station clocking in when they see me and call me over. I walk over thinking maybe something was wrong with the ventilator or the patient fell, but my supervisor tells me Dee passed while I was on my lunch break.
It took a couple of seconds for the message to register, and I freaked out internally. I got goose bumps, but didn’t mention anything to my supervisor about the dream.
34. A Sixth Sense
I work at a hospital. I was helping a patient in her bed in the ICU when she started getting all squirrelly. She didn’t speak much English, but kept saying “stand, stand,” so I helped her stand up. After standing for a few seconds, something told me to lay her back down. Before her head ever hit the pillow, her eyes rolled back and she was gone.
She had a massive stroke and was gone on the spot. She all but passed in my arms.
35. Mommy’s Little Monster
As a tech in Psych years ago, there was a 7-year-old kid sent to the floor because the mom didn’t know what to do with him. Sadly, it’s a common thing to happen, even if the kids don’t have psych issues. Anyway, the mom was shaking and crying, and they had to take the kid into another room. She was genuinely afraid of her own son.
She had suspected something was wrong when she kept finding mutilated animals in the backyard, but never heard or saw coyotes or anything around. Then the neighbors’ smaller pets started disappearing. The boy also had an obsession with knives, hiding them around the house but denying anything when the mom confronted him.
Then when the two started getting into arguments, he would get really violent and hit her, push her down and kick her, and threaten to kill her. On multiple occasions, she woke up in the middle of the night with him standing beside her bed, staring her in the face. She put extra locks on her bedroom door to feel safe while she slept. But then there was the last straw.
She lifted up his mattress and found 50+ knives of all shapes and sizes under there. So she brought him to us. I remember talking to him, treating him like he was just any other kid who came through. He seemed remarkably normal…until you spoke directly to him. He had this way of looking right through you, or maybe like he didn’t see you at all while you were speaking.
He would respond like a robot, like he was just saying words because that’s what we wanted to hear. And he would always put on this creepy, hollow-looking smile. Like all mouth and no eye involvement in the smile. Especially when he would get away with something, like taking another kid’s markers and they couldn’t figure out who had done it.
Still gives me chills laying here thinking about him. I had to get up and close my bedroom door. I believe I met a 7-year-old psychopath.
36. Her Brain Was A Water Balloon
A woman in her mid-70s, who was generally healthy, presented herself to an outpatient neurology clinic with an altered gait. She was dragging feet more than usual and said she felt like she was tripping when walking up steps. The family had noticed she had a tendency to repeat herself more often. The neurological examination is normal other than a slightly odd, slow and dragging gait.
It honestly looks like she’s faking an odd gait, but it may be malingering but above average amounts of liquid in the areas surrounding the brain giving her these types of symptoms. We CT scan the brain, and we were absolutely stunned. Almost half of her brain was smashed to the other side and had filled up with water. It was a massive subarachnoid cyst, think intracranial water balloon, and it had probably been growing for years.
She had no other symptoms, and she only came into our clinic since her daughters were worried about her memory. She made a full recovery by draining the fluid, and it still makes me wonder how many people out there are walking around with half a squashed brain without knowing about it.
37. Cardiac Calm
Paramedic here. We had an alarm for a heart attack. So, we drive out to the patient’s address and are greeted by a middle-aged gentleman with a patient’s chart and a suitcase. Of course, one would suspect a family member of a patient with known problems. But no, he said he is the patient. He is having a heart attack right now.
His only symptoms were a slight itch on the spine. We were understandably annoyed and disbelieving. In the ambulance on the ECG however, we realized just how serious it was. That guy, talking with my colleague, while I fixed the meds, had such a massive heart attack that it should have taken him to the grave. He was chill all the time, joking and telling stories, right up to the CPU.
38. A Bad Prognosis
As a third-year medical student, I had a patient come in with four years of worsening balance issues and garbled speech. She had gotten a crazy work up at an outside hospital system with every sort of imaging possible, biopsies of random sites, and a number of very expensive tests. She was at our university hospital for the first time.
When I first entered the room, I reached out to shake her hand, and from her wheelchair she had to raise her head at me because she couldn’t look up with her eyes. This was the first red flag. I also asked her if she had the sensation where one of her limbs would move without her controlling it, and she said yes, suggesting something called Alien Limb Phenomenon.
I diagnosed her with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy with features of Corticobasal Degeneration, a very rare disease on the spectrum of Parkinson’s plus syndromes, and my supervisors agreed. Unfortunately, it was a bad prognosis, but the family was consoled by the fact that at least they had a name for what was happening.
39. Nothing To See Here
A patient once presented to the ER with an 18-inch machete blade firmly implanted across the top of his skull. He was driven to the hospital by a friend—who was the possible assailant/owner of said machete—walked on his own into the ER, had totally normal vital signs in triage, and a slight steady trickle of blood from the wound. He denied he was in pain, and was in no apparent distress.
The ER was insanely busy, so it took us a while to get him a bed. In the meantime, he calmly sat in the waiting area, nearest to the triage station so we could keep an eye on him and watched TV, as the staff was running around like crazy, phones ringing nonstop, patients complaining about the wait time and exhibiting other types of tomfoolery.
The machete man just sat there calmly exhibiting his true Zen mastery of machete head wounds. All these years later, I can still see him with that machete lodged in his skull. He had the machete removed with no complications and suffered no impairment from the injury. He was cooperative and nice to all his caregivers. He also profusely thanked us for caring for him. Probably one of the few that did that night!
40. A Maternity Mystery
A pregnant woman came into a gynecology practice and she was clearly already very far along; by visual, she was at least eight months. She supposedly hadn’t seen any doctors up until this point, so ignoring the extreme irresponsibility of this woman, the doctors proceeded with care. They ran some tests on her and she checked off all the boxes for the most part. Everything seemed right as rain.
They finished up with an ultrasound, and this is where things got weird. They had trouble making out a picture of the fetus, which on its own is not that unusual. High levels of gas can disrupt the ultrasound machine. What really concerned the doctors was that they couldn’t detect a heartbeat. The woman insisted that she should be induced so that the doctors can maybe save the child if something is wrong that they can’t see.
The doctors agree and send her over to the hospital. After hours upon hours of attempts to induce labor with no results, the doctor suggests a C-section. The woman agrees, so they begin the process. They popped her with an epidural and begin the operation. They delicately cut into the uterus and…There was no baby. She wasn’t pregnant!
How? She had a full baby belly. She passed pregnancy tests. She showed all of the hormones that pregnant women produce. It made no sense. It is a very very rare condition called pseudocyesis. It is essentially a phantom pregnancy. You show all of the real symptoms of pregnancy but you’re not pregnant. So weird!
41. The Meat of the Issue
A patient came in with an itchy rash that would not go away for weeks, and a new swelling of the mouth and tongue. She had “hives” all over her body and the only thing that had helped was repeated steroids. She was a mid 40s female who worked with dogs, so we assumed that she had a new allergy to pet dandruff, fragrance in a shampoo, flea medicine, or something along those lines. We discharged her home with an appointment for the dermatologist to do a biopsy of the lesions. But that wasn’t the last we’d see of her.
Later that day, she turns back up in the Emergency Department with swollen lips, increased rash, and trouble breathing. She started having these problems 15 minutes after eating a roast beef sandwich. Someone on the team remembered that she works with dogs and asked if she’d had any recent tick bites. Sure enough, she had been bitten by a tick a few weeks ago and identified a picture of a Lone Star Tick.
Turns out she had developed an allergy to red meat after a bite from that tick. This allergy is called an alpha-galactosidase allergy, and is a reaction to a carbohydrate carried on the outside of cells (think like the carbohydrates on red blood cells for ABO blood type) by all other mammals except humans and monkeys.
The tick had bitten one of these and kept some of the protein in its digestive system, and then after biting her, her body developed antibodies to the carbohydrate, causing her to have a new allergy to meat.
42. Unexpected Guests
Ordered an abdominal ultrasound on a refugee from Iraq via Syria, expecting to find gallstones because she felt full easily after eating and was having pain in her right upper quadrant. Instead of gallstones, there were two, 7 cm cysts in her liver. Hydatid cysts from a tapeworm.
43. 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.
44. 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.
45. Lights Out
When I was in nursing school, I was observing a tonsillectomy and the power went out. Everything switched over to the backup generators, except for the suction—which is incredibly important for any surgery but particularly in the throat. They ended up having to connect a giant syringe to a length of suction tubing to suction manually while someone went to the other side of the building to find portable suction.
46. 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.
47. It’s All In Your Head
I once had a patient chart on my desk that seemed a little fuller than most charts. When I opened it, there was a baggy stapled to the inside and filled with dead skin, cotton balls, and hair. The chart note said that the patient believed they had bugs crawling on their skin and brought in the baggy as proof. Except there was nothing there; it was just dandruff and hair.
She ended up calling several months later and I somehow got the call. She screamed at me about how we betrayed her because she came to us for help and we sent her away where she got a lot of medical bills that were stressing her out and making the bugs worse. I felt bad for the girl, because she obviously needed some serious help.
48. The Man In Black
People turn crazy and creepy as heck when they get really sick. There’s even a term called ICU psychosis…and trust me, it’s real. Anyway, the creepiest that takes the cake for me is this: I had a patient who was admitted for an overdose. She also had a very long history of mental health problems. She was thrashing around in bed, very combative, kicking people’s butts for days, totally incoherent.
Well, the night I had her, she started making decent sense, but still not oriented at all. She was extremely paranoid and kept talking about the man in black in the corner. I’d hear her talking to him and screaming, all night long. So I’d go in there and try to calm her down, but you could see the fear in her eyes and in the strain of her voice.
With certain patients, you try to redirect their “reality,” but what I did didn’t help. She said, “That man in black! Don’t you see him!” And pointed to the corner. I said, “There’s nobody here.” I stepped in the corner she was pointing to and waved my hands around. While I’m waving my hands around in the air, she had the most horrifically terrified look on her face.
It actually scared the heck out of me. I said, “See, there’s nobody here.” Her reply gave me goosebumps. She said in a matter-of-factly, you stupid-dumb-witch way: “That’s what you think.” I promptly got the heck out of there.
49. Black And White
I recall a lady on the ward who was terminally ill and had all the staff on edge. She was constantly talking about a lady in white who kept visiting her. She would wake up to find this lady in her room, but she was very comforted by her presence. At the same time, we had another lady in the ward who, although unwell, was not at the terminal stage…or so we thought.
One night, I was writing my reports when I heard this “healthy” lady shouting. She was extremely upset when I reached her and asked why “the other nurse” kept waking her up in the early hours. I inquired further as to who she meant. She described a nurse in a black uniform who had woken her the past few mornings and would just stand and stare at her, not speaking.
I tried to reassure her as much as possible and suggested she was having strange dreams, but she insisted she knew this nurse was real and why was she so unfriendly. The next night, I came on duty again to discover this lady had suddenly deteriorated and passed. I often wondered about these two different experiences—a lady in white and one in black. I hope the white lady comes for me when it’s my time.
50. Life On The Edge
I once cared for a repeat self-harmer that put a knife into his neck, and then must have regretted it, so he taped it in place and bicycled to the hospital. It was a journey of a few miles, past dozens of vehicles. The passengers in those cars must have freaked out when they passed a cyclist with a giant knife sticking out of his neck!
So this guy parked the bike, walked in to triage to check-in. He walked through the waiting room full of grannies and kids and men with chest pain with a kitchen paring knife duct-taped in place sticking straight out. However, that’s not even the craziest part. The CT scan later showed that the tip of the blade was 2 mm from the carotid artery.
51. A Man And His Horse
There was this one patient who fell off a horse in the middle of nowhere and blacked out. He came to and thankfully the horse hadn’t bolted, so he rode home. He noticed his ribs were moving as he rode home. He taped them up. He noticed they were still moving six months later and finally went in for an X-ray. He’d separated seven ribs from his spine.
52. Apology Accepted
In my OBGYN clerkship, this woman came in pretty hesitantly at the urging of her girlfriend for pelvic pain. She apologized if she was wasting our time and said it was probably nothing. This poor lady had a cyst the size of my head on her ovary that caused torsion, a twisting and cutting off of the blood supply. She was rushed into surgery but lost that ovary. People say it’s more painful than childbirth…yet here she was, apologizing to us.
53. Was This a Reality TV Show?
We were doing paternity testing for an apparently extremely acrimonious case of “Your son impregnated my daughter!” “No, he didn’t, your daughter sleeps with lots of other boys!” Each side sent a lawyer to the appointment. Each lawyer had a phone out recording everything, and followed the blood and cheek swabs from the collection, through the lab for DNA extraction, performing the test in our PCR room, and watching me analyze the data files…which is exactly as boring as it sounds.
It’s like dude, we’re the neutral third-party lab here. We have literally zero interest in the outcome of the case, you don’t need to be so dramatic. All the chain of custody stuff is documented. We have a second observer signing off on sample IDs. We’re not going to risk losing our license by accepting a payoff from either set of parents.
54. More Than Meets the Eye
As a fourth year during my rotations, I noticed my patient had a vertical subluxation of her crystalline lens during a dilated eye examination. The part of the eye that develops a cataract later on in life was shifted significantly up. She had severe myopia and astigmatism (-14.00 – 5.00 x 180 OU), and her 6’1″ tall body along with disfigured teeth led me to believe she had Marfan’s Syndrome.
She had never heard of it, never seen a cardiologist, etc. A few lab tests confirmed. She can live a normal life; she just needs some meds and education. She had very long fingers that jumped out at me and braces on her teeth. As an optometrist, I focus on glasses and contacts, but I see (no pun intended) and treat an unbelievable number of systemic diseases that manifest in the eye or retina.
55. My Old Mother
One of my favorites is when we had an 85-year-old man in for cellulitis or something, and everyone was documenting he was confused—in part because he kept talking about his mother; his mother was going to be so worried, he had to be discharged to take care of his mother etc. He became agitated and was actually getting ready to be dosed with Haldol because he was insistent he was going to leave to take care of his mother.
Note, the standard is to play along, tell the patient something like “Oh, we already called your mom, she knows you’re here” that sort of thing, but he wasn’t buying it. Finally, the nurse asks him if we can call his son to make sure the patient’s mother is being taken care of (really, just to placate the patient), and the patient agrees. We call the son, the nurse explains the situation, and the son informs us that the patient’s mother is indeed alive at the age of 101, but that he is staying in his father’s house assisting in her care.
Poor patient was legitimately worried about his mom, and we all thought his infection (or just old age) was causing him to be confused!
56. 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.
57. 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.
58. 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.
59. 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 ???????
60. Your Own Worst Enemy
When I was working as a critical care nurse, I sent my patient down for a heart catheterization. She was so sweet, and I remember that she and I were joking about a bunch of different things before she went down for her procedure. When she came back, she was very drowsy, as is expected, but also very, very acutely confused.
She proceeded to have ICU psychosis due to the sedatives. Every time I would come in the room, she would throw cups of water at me and yell at me. She would make this guttural noise, and tell me that I was the devil. I walked in one time and she said, “Dear Lord, please come down and slit this woman’s throat.” She continued to say this kind of stuff.
She told her husband that I was walking into her room with poison balls and trying to hurt her. She said that my skin was falling off of my face. She scratched and hit me. It was very sad and scary, and I hadn’t seen this happen prior to this. We had to give her anti-psychotics and restrain her initially to keep her from hurting herself. It was pretty terrible.
61. A Delicate Situation
I was in my last week of school as a radiologic technologist student and a patient came in through the ER for a series of X-rays. He claimed to have fallen down some stairs and we basically had to X-ray both legs from the knee down. Well, I have never met a bigger, whinier baby. He moaned and groaned and flinched at the lightest touch.
This guy refused to hold still, would not straighten his legs, complained about the table and X-ray cassette being too hard. There were no visible injuries aside from a few scrapes and nothing obvious on the X-rays. He was still convinced that he would never walk again and had broken both legs irreparably. The funniest part was that we had a different patient come in on the same day with a similar complaint.
He actually had fractures in both legs and feet and was very calm and co-operative for the X-rays despite his injuries.
62. A Brave Kid
I had a young trauma patient, a 17-year-old who was T-boned by a garbage truck. Moving him on to the CT table he said “Ow,” and silent tears trickled down his face. Then he apologized for complaining and thanked us profusely. Turns out he had a few broken vertebrae, broke half his ribs, and had a fractured hip and clavicle. Kid whimpered a few times during the CTs, and again apologized when we came back in. Like dude, you could scream in my face and I’d understand.
63. On a Hunch
ED referred a guy to me who had a platelet count of 2. The guy looked bloody sick with abdominal pain, petechial rash, feverish, diaphoretic, and he was a bit confused and drowsy too. I talked to my boss who said to give him prednisolone and he’d see him tomorrow, but I was convinced this guy had a really rare condition called TTP (Thrombotic Thrombocytopenic Purpura) and so I called the major hospital in my area and sent him to their ICU for a procedure called plasma exchange.
I ordered a test called ADAMTS13 to prove the condition, and still have a paper copy of the result (he had none of this chemical) because it’s the best diagnosis I’ve ever made, it helped save his life!
64. Growing White
Menkes kinky hair syndrome. I was called to see a 3-month-old boy with hard-to-control seizures. His most remarkable exam finding was his hair: he had been born with a full head of black hair (he was Hispanic), but at the time I saw him, the first 3-5 mm of each hair shaft was nearly white, with an abrupt color change, still black on the tips. The hair was a giveaway for this disorder, almost no need for confirmatory testing, but the admitting team had already ordered whole exome sequencing.
This was not a fun and exciting diagnosis to make, more a sinking feeling upon discovery of the hair (neurodegenerative disorder due to a defect in copper metabolism that is irreversible once symptoms appear), but it was interesting to see at that transitional stage. I had only seen older boys with Menkes before, once the hair was already pale and brittle all over. Usually the hair has changed long before the diagnosis is made.
65. 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.
66. 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.
67. Cradle To Grave
When I was a surgery intern, I was pulled to help out in a circus of a case. One of our older doctors was doing a simple liver biopsy on a patient and nicked her artery. Because the patient was already pretty sick, her tissue had the consistency of toilet paper—so every time they tried suturing the hole, the tissue just breaks apart, leaving a bigger, more leaky hole.
Pretty much all hands were on board. The chief residents were scrubbed in, the seniors were literally squeezing blood bags into the patient’s veins, and us interns were runners, going back and forth from OR to the blood bank to transport blood and plasma. We ended up transfusing over 12 liters of blood, so the patient lost over two times her total blood volume during that surgery.
A vascular surgeon eventually swooped in and did a rather slick patchwork that fixed the problem. Even better: the patient was like a daughter to the surgeon. He literally saved this patient’s life several times already, and they got really close over the years. She even named one of her kids after him. The poor guy broke down a few times during the surgery and was convinced that he had just killed his daughter.
The chief residents had to take over a few times when he was mentally not there. That was his last surgery…He retired the next day. Heck of a way to end a surgical career.
68. My Time Has Come
I’m a nurse who works in an intensive care unit. I took care of a patient who had a history of esophageal cancer. A while back, he had surgery, got better, and eventually went home. Months later, he got pneumonia and came back to the hospital in respiratory distress. He had to be put on a mechanical ventilator while he was with us.
He was stable; no blood pressure issues, heart rhythm looked great, breathing wasn’t terrible, responsive and following commands. All of a sudden, his blood pressure suddenly drops and he lost his pulse. We called a code blue and began CPR. We brought him back after an hour and continued to run tests to figure out why he crashed.
None of the results of the labs or imaging were remarkable. 15 minutes after we had brought him back, his blood pressure drops again and he lost his pulse. We continued coding him for another hour until it was clear he couldn’t be brought back. The doctor pronounced him dead, and his wife came in after the fact. Then she made a confession that drained the blood from my face.
She said she couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation her and her husband had just before he had come in. Wife: “Honey, don’t forget you’ve got an appointment with the home health nurse this Saturday.” Husband: “Well, I won’t be here this Saturday.” Wife: “What do you mean you won’t be here this Saturday? Where are you going?”
Husband: “I don’t know…I just won’t be here.” This conversation happened Wednesday. He was admitted to the hospital Thursday and he passed Friday at 11:30pm.
69. The Voices In My Head
A 13-year-old boy came in for a routine check-up and vaccines. At first, he was already acting like an angsty teenager, giving only one-word answers and pouting while his mother was in the room. At this age, I ask parents to step out of the room to ask personal questions. He answered no to everything, but after I asked, “Is there anything you want to ask me before I have mom come back in?” his tone completely changed.
He started to tear up and shudder and talk about seeing bloody shadows in his periphery, and that he has been hearing voices for four years. He always thought it was literally his subconscious and everyone could physically hear their own voices. He only started to worry recently when his best friend passed in a car wreck, and now the voices were yelling at him he’s stupid, it’s his fault.
Then he said they were telling him to hurt me. They’ve been telling him to hurt others for weeks. I could not believe what I was hearing. I had a psych team see him immediately, and he was brought to a psych ward. The mother was shocked and had no idea. I saw him two months later, and he was a completely different kid. Sarcastic, but funny and interactive and happy. It was like night and day.
70. When The Daughter Is A “Hotshot” Lawyer
I’m a nurse, and we had a patient recently who was palliative, AKA expected to pass on from natural causes in the near future. His body functions were only at about 10%, he wasn’t eating or drinking, and he wasn’t urinating or defecating any more. He just laid in bed with his eyes closed breathing. When people get to this point usually the only care we provide is for comfort.
We don’t give people food or water because they are usually unconscious and more likely to choke and be harmed. Well, this patient’s daughter was some big shot lawyer from the US and when she saw that we weren’t feeding her dad she started recording everything we did and said and then phoned law enforcement. I remember an officer coming to the unit, asking to speak to me.
He asked me why I was withholding food. I explained that I had the physician’s orders are to withhold food and that the patient was at a severe aspiration risk. The officer was like “Cool, case closed”, and left. The daughter was unfortunately banned from the hospital premises by management for interfering with patient care.
71. Cleanup In Aisle Six
I tended to a very under-dramatic patient during my nursing placement. The doctor was talking to the patient while I was inserting an IV. Then, without warning, the patient projectile vomits all over the place and onto the doctor and me. The doctor asked him if he was alright. The patient just calmly said he vomits like that a few times a day, and that it has been happened for at least three years!
My friend didn’t see that patient after that so we never really found out what it was. It was so long ago that I can’t even remember what he was in for but I know it was for something completely different!
72. A Difficult Way Out
We had a dude who had compound fractures in both lower legs. He was pretty chill until the ketamine hit and he didn’t react well. His story was that he was arguing with his girlfriend and he tried to leave. The girlfriend stood in front of the door and said something along the lines of “Either go through me or off the balcony.” You can guess what happened next.
He chose the balcony, 40 feet up. That’s my first and so far only time seeing bones stick out of someone.
73. A Bloody Mess
As a med student, I was helping a patient with gastrointestinal bleeding. People who have end-stage liver disease don’t clot well, and also have difficulty that leads to big, ropy vulnerable blood vessels in the stomach that are at risk to bleed. And when people bleed inside the stomach you can’t hold pressure, you simply must get them stable enough to have life-saving endoscopy.
This guy was Exorcist-level vomiting bright red blood, he was bleeding into his stomach and we couldn’t get his blood pressure to stabilize enough to get a scope into him for a while. There were runners bringing us coolers of emergency release blood, and the splatters and pools of blood he had vomited reached across the hall.
When we finally got him packed up to go to the endo suite, the family next door quietly apologized for taking our time for their chronic non-emergent issue and could they go home now?
74. The Living Dead
I had a lady come into the ER listed as “Multiple Medical Problems”. This usually means diabetes and the issues stemming from it, or maybe bleeding issues from another disease or maybe odd blood tests results at a clinic. I hadn’t seen the patient yet, but the doctor came to the nurse’s station asking who had room 15. I jumped up and followed him into the room.
I walked in and saw what I thought was a corpse. Then the patient’s eye swiveled over to look at me. She truly looked like one of the people they found in a concentration camp. I could see every bone, and her body was twisted in a decorticate position with her jaw locked open. Then the smell hit me: rotting flesh and body fluids. I struggled to keep a neutral face and not gag.
I tried to place a blood pressure cuff on her arm and her skin just started flaking off in my hands. I gagged. The doctor started removing her clothes to examine her. Her feet were black to the ankles. Her hip bones were poking through her skin and were black. The skin around her ribs was worn away to oozing muscle fibers.
Her calves were incredibly swollen and the skin was splitting like ripped pants. I removed her Depends, and there was excrement coating her entire genital area. Then the doctor went to remove a large bandage on her lower back. Her entire sacrum was exposed and the bones were BLACK! The skin around it was a black liquified mass.
It smelled like nothing I’ve ever smelled. I can’t even describe it. The doctor told her family I would clean up her ulcers and wounds in preparation for surgery (liar, no surgeon would operate on her). I had no idea how to clean dead bone tissue and liquified skin (they don’t cover that in nursing school). When I went to clean her sacral area, all the liquified skin separated and oozed all over the bed. I really struggled to keep myself together.
Afterward, I needed a moment in the supply closet to cry it out for a second. I had no idea the human body could break down so much without dying. I still think about that woman sometimes, and what led to her living like that. It still breaks my heart. My guess is that she had some sort of traumatic brain issue or a stroke.
Family members were taking care of her, and I think they were treating her absolutely horribly. I think as her skin deteriorated, she developed terrible pressure ulcers that never healed. The swelling was probably due to starvation and a lack of protein in her diet. I’ve had nightmares about her face since then. Once, I dreamed she crawled into bed with me.
I freaked the heck out and ran into the hallway. My toddler walked out after me, rubbing his eyes, asking why I ran away.
75. Ignoring the Issue
I’m an anesthesiologist. This happened when I was a resident. It changed me for life. We had a 29-year-old male in for finger surgery. We had an uneventful induction maintained on Sevoflurane. Within 20 minutes we started to have rising ETco2. I called my attending after trying to hyperventilate the patient (She was a young Harvard trained peds anesthesiologist).
She comes in and asks me what I think is going on. I tell her things seem strange. She tells me to chill. Five minutes later, the ETco2 is over 100 and I’m freaking out! I call her and tell her this is MALIGNANT HYPERTHERMIA (easily fatal reaction to certain anesthetics caused by congenital aberrant sarcoplasmic reticulum receptors).
She says that I’m being ridiculous when I tell her I’m afraid this is the real deal. My pages get ignored by her. The patient’s temperature starts to rise. I’m bugging out and call the board runner (supervising Anesthesiologist for all the operating rooms). He’s old. He knows me well and trusts me. Comes in, looks at the monitor—and his face went white.
Needless to say, we save the patient after many dozens of vials of Dantrolene. Six months later I’m made to do an M&M and the young Harvard attending insinuates I did something wrong in front of the department. Most of the rest of them come to my aide. She leaves the job shortly thereafter. I will soon be at her fellowship.
76. Flippant Flipping
I didn’t diagnose it, but I have a patient with primary Ciliary Dyskinesia with Situs Inversus, aka Kartagener syndrome. The cilia in the body don’t move well, and this mainly affects the respiratory cilia/lungs, although it also causes infertility, related to the cilia inside the fallopian tubes and the sperm tails not working well.
Situs Inversus is when the organs inside the thorax are mirror images of normal, the heart is on the right side instead of the left, etc. I was looking over this patient’s old medical records and one of the radiology reads of a chest x-ray said, “There has been interval development of dextrocardia. Since this is physiologically impossible, the film has been flipped.”
Probably the original film the radiologist had been comparing to had been incorrectly flipped to look “normal,” maybe by someone who assumed there had been an error. Another chest x-ray report just read: “The film has been flipped” and then went onto the rest of the interpretation.
77. A Warm Bedside Manner
I’m a female med student, and my first-ever patient had an inguinal hernia. I examined his lower abdomen and balls, and then I had to feel for the hernia. Except I was so nervous, I just started playing with his balls with my fingertips. Well, the obvious happened: He started to get “excited,” and I got so embarrassed I immediately left.
78. 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.
79. 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.
80. A Flesh Wound
I was working in the trauma unit one morning when I got an emergency call over the radio about somebody with arterial neck bleed from an unknown injury. Prior to arrival, I called down the surgeons and we all gowned up and were waiting for him in the critical bay. So in rolls this old guy with a 4×4 of gauze on his neck just sitting there, and EMS just rolling him in on a gurney.
Clearly in no distress. So we’re assessing the guy and looking him over, half of the surgeons looking at me trying to figure out why I called them down. I remove the gauze…nothing obvious.. maybe a small dot of blood…but really nothing. So all of us are leaning in to get a better look, and all of a sudden one super thin stream of blood streaks out of this guy’s neck all the way across the room and hits the wall.
All of us jumped back and half of us screamed. We all stood there looking at each other for a second before we all started laughing. Apparently this guy had been picking at something on his neck and hit a superficial arterial vessel. Scared the heck out of me!
81. Man Vs. Machine
My dad was observing a surgery during his residency several decades ago, just when electronic monitors were becoming a huge deal. He noticed the patient’s fingertips and lips were blue and tried to tell the surgeon, who informed him the patient was fine because the machines showed normal oxygen and blood pressure.
Dad responded by jumping on top of the patient and performing CPR while someone had the common sense to rush them to the ER. Best part is that a representative from the company that made the machines was there to observe this miserable failure.
82. An Honest Mistake
I have a friend who is a doctor. He was doing a rectal examination using a camera, and all he could see was crazy psychedelic colors in this patient’s rear. He was completely freaked out…Then he looked down and saw he’d pushed his tie in with the camera.
83. Karma Is Real
My wife works on the oncology floor of our local hospital. Often, she has elderly patients who are severely confused. Recently, they had a patient on their floor who was mean to everyone. He was a wife beater, and got physical with some of the hospital staff on multiple occasions. His health quickly turned VERY bad—and soon after this happened, karma came for him.
The man, who was in a cold room, began telling people he was literally on fire. He even called 9-1-1 to report him burning alive in his room. He reported seeing people in his room telling him how horrible he was. He also claimed to see a horned creature emerging over the end of his bed telling him that “you’re coming with me.” My wife requested not to have that patient anymore.
84. Not Quite Right
I took care of a lady once. She’d nearly died of sepsis, and she’d had multiple strokes and coded multiple times in the ICU. They’d given her the medicine Levophed, which shunts blood from your extremities to your vital organs, but usually results in necrosis of peripheral tissues. This means when she came to me, her fingers and toes were all black.
Oh, and she wasn’t quite right. And I’ve seen lots of crazy, but she truly unnerved me. She never talked, only whispered in this bright bubbly voice, like a little girl’s, but she said awful things, like “Can you push me outside so I can chew my fingers off?” And she would smile all time. She also had some really bad bedsores from just basically being immobile for so long.
We had to dress her wounds daily, but she’d usually rip the dressings off pretty soon after we put them on. One night, I went into her room and saw a piece of what I thought was dressing on the floor. Upon closer examination, it was a chunk of her own skin. A partially healed skin graft to be exact. Still gives me shivers.
85. Take Me Home
A long-time younger patient whose mentality was comparable to 4-6 year old would cover his head with the bedding when he went to bed. When staff playfully asked him what he was doing, he’d tell staff he was, “Hiding from the ghosts.” He never identified the ghosts and did this for years, so staff always thought it was just the patient being playful.
At one point, this patient didn’t want to do his normal routine like eat, drink, stay up to watch television, or use the restroom. While bathing, the patient said he was seeing ghosts and pointed. Staff replied, “What ghosts?” And the patient said, “My mom and dad. Goin’na take me home.” Staff gently reminded the patient that his parents had already passed, and that they couldn’t possibly take him out that weekend.
Within 72 hours of telling staff he saw the ghosts of his mom and dad, that patient went to the ER, was admitted to the hospital, and passed. I was the one who had spent half the night in the ER with that patient. I had taken him to the ER before and for other routine medical appointments. This patient was known for being rather combative during such visits, but he was unusually peaceful the entire time the last time he went.
When I went to his memorial, I told the patient’s family that I thought he knew it was “his time” based on how calm he was. I didn’t disclose the part about seeing ghosts of his parents shortly before the ER visit, though.
86. You Know It’s Bad When…
A guy I did construction with accidentally hit himself in the lower abdomen with an automatic nailer. He had fluid leaking out from around the nail. He takes it out and even more starts coming out. We were pretty sure it was pee. He went to the hospital, very calmly holding his finger over the hole. He told them he thought he might have punctured his bladder or something.
The nurse said that wasn’t very likely, so he took the finger off to show her the fluid leaking out. Once again, a solid stream of what was most likely urine came pouring out. Much like he was peeing through a hole in his abdomen. She fainted. They had to do some minor surgery to close the hole.
87. He’s All Thumbs
My uncle was a carpenter and is pretty laid back. He got the job done, no fuss. One day he comes up and says “I need to go to a doctor.” He’s clutching his left thumb very tightly in his right hand. Everyone paused and then my other uncle volunteered to take him to the hospital just down the road. Uncle has a pretty strong stomach but said even he felt a bit queasy after what happened next.
He was led into the examination area and the nurse asked him to release his thumb. He did so and blood came pouring out of it and then started spurting everywhere. Turns out he’d slipped and put the drill through the top section of his thumb. He’d missed the joint and no major damage other than puncturing the artery. Surgery sorted that out, and he was back on deck a few days later.
88. A Parental Problem
Anyone who has treated kids knows that the parents can be worse to deal with than the patient. The dental clinic pediatrician was on vacay and my wife was on call for emergencies that week. While we were eating dinner, my wife gets called in saying there was a young child who messed up her tooth when playing and was in severe pain.
When my wife arrives she finds that the child is pretty chill, but the mom was red in the face with anger. She yelled at my wife for taking so long—we live five minutes from the clinic—while her baby is in so much pain. My wife glances at the adorable little girl who then smiles and waves at my wife. She then looks back at the mom who started yelling again “SEE!! MY BABY IS IN SO MUCH PAIN!”
My wife calmly lets the mom know she is here now and will take a look. I’ll spare you the long tedious details and cut to the chase. The little girl just knocked out a baby tooth and there was no actual damage anywhere else, and wasn’t in any pain. After my wife is done, she says to the little girl that she will be okay and that it wasn’t anything major.
The little girl was all happy and smiles and says thank you. The mom then steps up and starts up with the shouting again, berating my wife for not doing enough. My wife was beyond frustrated with the mom’s outbursts by this point, but before she could say anything, a little voice spoke up. “Mommy, the nice lady says I will get a new tooth, we can go home now.” It was obvious that this wasn’t the first time the mother did stuff like this.
The mom sputters and eventually relents. My wife does the usual spiel about taking pain meds as needed and to come back if the pain returns. The little girl turned around to say bye to my wife and left. My wife turned to her assistant and just sighed. The young assistant, who had been completely silent up to now, whispered, “Wow, that mom was annoying.”
89. Don’t Push It
The one that stands out was on an OB/GYN rotation when I was in school. This stoic Eastern European lady went into labor while she was at work earlier in the day. Apparently, she never called her husband to tell him. So there she is, about to start pushing, and her husband calls her. She just says “I’m having the baby.” Then there is some pause where he says something.
She replies, “No, you stay there with [other child’s name]. I’ll be home tomorrow.” Then she hung up and pushed out a baby.
90. Caught in Her Throat
Primary doctor here. Had a two-year-old refugee child (whose parents couldn’t communicate well) who swallowed a button battery and it was stuck in her throat. For clarity, I didn’t know it was a button battery, but something just didn’t feel right, so I sent her to the ED. If she had gone perhaps one more day, she might not have made it—it had already destroyed a good amount of tissue in her esophagus and was apparently somewhat close to perforating.
I feel like it would have been very easy to just say she had a sore throat from an illness, particularly with the language barrier. I’m glad that something felt weird to me—she didn’t look that bad, but was just holding herself and breathing weirdly.
91. A Swing And A Miss
I had a biopsy done on my neck by an ear, nose, and throat specialist. It went horribly. He jabbed it in just below my ear, then wiggled the huge needle around, took it out, put it back in, wiggled it around…just awful. I was left with an enormous yellow and green bruise all over my neck. The results were inconclusive. But it gets worse.
A month later, I went to see a really old doctor. He pushed on the spot in question. “Is this the bump you’re concerned about?” “Yes, that’s it.” “That’s your second vertebrae. That guy tried to do a biopsy on it?” “What? Yeah…” “What an idiot, sorry.”
92. Doing More Damage Than Good
My father is an ER doctor. One day, an old woman comes in with a headache. Attending sees her, sends her home with some Advil. You can tell where this is going. She comes back two days later with a stroke and chest pain. It is a massive stroke, so they get her on blood thinners right away. They send her in for a CAT scan, to check out her brain.
On the scan, they notice something odd. Do another scan: her aorta has almost completely dissected. This is the most blood-filled, high-pressure artery in the body, and blood thinners are the absolute last thing that an aortic dissection patient should be given. Commence freak out. They wheel her into emergency surgery to repair the aorta, but by then she’s bleeding profusely.
Her heart stops shortly thereafter. Luckily, my father never personally prescribed the blood thinners, but apparently, that was a real “Oh, God” moment. Her condition was fatal either way, but it was not a good day.
93. Dirty Little Secret
When I was a nursing student, I was on surgery practicum. We had a guy in who needed an elbow repair. I was pretty useless in everything but emotional support, as I wasn’t qualified, so was chatting to him before he went under. He admitted to having an (un)healthy substance habit. I informed the surgeon, who shrugged it off. This was a big mistake.
Apparently, I should have told the anesthetist, because this dude woke up mid-surgery and was trying to reach for his open arm that the surgeon was working on. Super “Oh God” moment as we scramble to contain this guy’s arm and stop it from touching anything sterile.
94. Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
Former medical student here. I remember one young patient, 22 years old, was re-visiting the ER, where he’d been seen six weeks prior for sustaining some abrasions and bruises after falling hard off a skateboard. He was all scraped up everywhere but had healed up OK. But now he’s in the ER again, feeling awful sick and vomiting.
As the third year med student, I was dispatched to the bedside and hung up the CT films on the lightbox, to much finger-pointing and grunting among the surgeons. I had no idea how to read a CT at the time—I wasn’t even really sure what part of the body had been scanned. So when the surgical resident barked “Prep him for surgery,” I decided to disguise my ignorance and just go for it.
We got him gassed and prepped and I scrubbed in. The surgeon said “Open.” That’s where it all started to go wrong. First, I had to be told what we were doing: The Kocher maneuver, where you basically move the intestines to expose what you want to get it. By now, everyone knows I’m not with it, but they watch me do it anyway.
I slid my gloved hand up, getting ready to grab the entire sack of intestines and move it up and over—but I met unexpected resistance. I peered up, seeing in my confusion that everyone was edging away from the table. “What’s the trouble young man, get your hand up there and complete the maneuver! Push harder!” A spongy sort of barrier gave way with a sickening stench.
Suddenly, a gushing cascade of grey-brown, bloody pus roared out of the incision, soaking my gown, scrub pants, and shoes before splattering on the OR floor and walls. The guy had a splenic abscess, as I just found out. After that, the other doctors cleaned it up and mostly cured it. The attending finished up and the patient was good as new. I had to throw out my shoes.
95. Code Blue
I watched a patient’s heart stop on the monitor once. There are false alarms sometimes, of course. However, I was experienced enough to know that it was a true alarm. I called the nurse and told her she might want to check the patient. I remember her laughing nervously to tell me that she was talking with the patient at that very moment, so she could not possibly be dying.
I could even hear the patient talking to her cheerfully in the background. I double-checked the monitor and saw a few beats here and there and looooong lines. Just as I was advising the nurse to manually check the patient, I heard her drop the phone and go…”Oh no!” followed by the code blue alarm. That patient did not come back.
96. A Ghostly Presence
I worked in the dementia unit of a retirement home for a while, and I can tell you that it was by far one of the most interesting jobs I’ve had. It was sad in many ways, of course, but I think what some people don’t understand is that we’d never known our residents before the Alzheimer’s or whatever else. We just know and care for them as they are.
Even some of the most advanced cases are able to demonstrate that they are unique individuals who enjoy life and need love and belonging like everyone else. That said, strange things happened every day. I’d say the strangest and most unnerving would be what happened with a resident that I will call Nancy. Nancy had very advanced Alzheimer’s, to the point where we had not heard her say a word beyond incoherent mumbling for 6-8 months.
Every day, she would just pace the halls until it was time for bed. Pacing is a very common behavior with moderate to advanced dementia; in Nancy’s case, she pretty much never stopped unless we made her come and eat or something. We would commonly try to walk with her and talk to her to keep her stimulated, but she would hardly ever even look at us. Just pace.
Nancy had a husband who also lived in the community—this home had a section for dementia separate from a normal assisted living facility. Her husband, whom I will call Wayne, lived in the other section. He would visit his wife every day, until he himself became so sick that he was confined to his room. When this happened, we started to grow worried.
Even though it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, frequent visitors make a big difference to even our most advanced cases. Nancy and Wayne had been married for over 60 years. Even through her disease, Nancy still received some comfort through Wayne’s daily visits. Well, Wayne passed early one morning. We have a policy that prohibits bringing negative energy where it would not do any good, so Nancy was not supposed to be told.
Later that day though, during her usual pacing, Nancy stopped. She stared into the upper corner of the room for several minutes, and then all of a sudden started screaming. Now, this isn’t as alarming as it may seem; there are a lot of screams happening all the time in dementia units. But it made all the staff come around to see what was wrong.
She abruptly stopped screaming, and I swear by everything I hold dear she started repeating her husband’s name. “Wayne Wayne Wayne Wayne Wayne” over and over again. Keep in mind, she had not said the smallest word in almost a year. I go up to her, touch her on the arm, and ask her gently if everything is ok. What she said back was terrifying.
Nancy looks straight at me, which was also very abnormal for her, and says “He’s bothering me. Tell him to leave me alone.” Then she goes back to staring into the upper corner of the room. Half of the staff just noped right out of there, while the rest of us tried to get her distracted by giving her a snack and a different activity.
From that day on, she started talking again. Not anything lengthy, but she would occasionally start trying to talk either to us or herself. Many times, she referenced someone she called “grandpa” and started speaking to him in an otherwise empty room. While this isn’t an uncommon thing for our residents to do, the fact that it did not start until that incident the day her husband passed seriously gives me the creeps.
97. Eyes Everywhere
My trauma nurse friend told me she was caring for a patient who unexpectedly coded. She had to run out of the room for more supplies, and when she got to the supply closet, what she needed wasn’t there. She let out a string of swear words and got supplies she needed from somewhere else in the hospital. The patient survived.
The next day, she was tending to the patient who said, “You know, you shouldn’t use words like that.” The patient went on to explain that she saw my friend, the nurse, swearing in the supply room. There was no way she could have. She was dead on the table down the hall. But the patient described exactly what happened as if she was there.
98. Fighting Tooth N’ Nail
A patient tried extracting his own tooth and inadvertently pushed it up through the abscess and into his right sinus cavity. To my surprise, he adamantly declined even local anesthesia no matter how much my staff was pleading with him. Patient autonomy is a grey area in the US, given how insanely litigious everything is.
So after receiving written consent to proceed with the treatment I figured he’d just have to learn the hard way. I warned him several times beforehand that it would hurt like crazy. The guy never even flinched. I was able to complete the procedure without incident. Go figure.
99. Surprise Inside
When I was on my OBGYN rotation, we had a patient who had to come in for an MRI scan. Usually before MRIs, you have to declare if you have any metal implants. Her reply made my jaw drop. She was like “Uh, yeah I do.” And then she pointed “down there.” Turns out, she had a bottle cap inside. And it was lodged in there for 12 years.
The bottle cap was so fused to the inside of her that we had to use bone forceps to break off the fibrous tissue that was encasing it. After we removed that cap, we found another two more inside. Fun times.
100. Crowning Glory
Dentist here. One time, I had an old lady come in with a porcelain crown in a bag. She asked me if I could re-cement it for her. I looked at her tooth and it was in pretty good shape. Looked at the crown, and realized that it had some brown gunk in it. That’s when she told me the most disgusting thing I have ever heard.
She reported that she had accidentally swallowed the crown and then had been extra “vigilant” as she sat on the toilet for the next couple of days. “It’s okay, I soaked it in sterilizer for 24 hours,” she told me. Without being rude, I surmised that the brown material must have been poop. Gross huh? Well, it gets even better than that…
In order to re-cement the crown, it needs to be clean on the inside, and at the time I didn’t have our fancy sandblasting air abrasion machine. I had to do it the old fashioned way: with a drill. So here’s a quick, practical dental lesson for you. A crown that has come off, sans fecal matter in it, has an incredibly pungent smell already, lovingly called the “under the crown smell.”
It is a combination of skunk, old man pits and mothballs. As you drill it out, it produces heat, smoke, and dust. If you use water to minimize the smoke, it splashes all over you and then you stink like the aforementioned trio. So I elected to remove the poop and old cement without water so at least I wouldn’t smell like a Stanley Steamer sandwich for the rest of the day.
I took my diamond-impregnated crown drill and went to work on what I can only describe as a poop hotbox. My whole office smelled like someone had made a sacrifice to Pele the volcano God. Now, if you’ve ever sat next to a campfire, you’ll know that smoke can make your clothes stink, thus the awesome strategy of not using water as coolant backfired and I wound up smelling like roasted dingleberries for the rest of the day.
Anyway, we re-cemented the crown and saved her $1,000 at the expense of our olfactory functions. Every time we see her now, we think of her poo-tooth headset.
101. Skin Of My Teeth
I’m a children’s nurse. My first week in paediatric ED, we had a young girl about six come in with a really swollen jaw/face. The poor girl was unable to move her jaw without intense pain and had not been able to eat for several days. We learned that she had only just started cleaning her teeth for the first time ever.
She managed to develop several abscesses and rotten teeth in the process. To make it worse, her mom told us that she was recovering from the same procedure to remove most of her teeth because of the same issue. They didn’t want to bother their family doctor. They thought she was just messing about to get out of school.
102. Fixing Myself Up
I was working as a surgical junior when my team was called down to see a patient who had come in with a complication from a recent hernia operation. We saw that the patient was holding a plastic bag over their abdomen. When we took it off, it was like a scene from a horror movie. We found that their wound had opened and their intestine was visible to the air.
It transpired that this was not something that had happened overnight. It had taken several days. The patient had started using plastic bags and newspaper to dress the wound when they ran out of dressings.
103. The Lifeline
Whenever you admit a patient, you have to inquire about their Do Not Resuscitate status. I had one elderly patient who was severely demented and chronically ill. He was in and out of the hospital every month and barely holding onto life—basically a horrible, miserable quality of life. I asked the patient’s family member about the DNR status. Their response made my blood run cold.
She flat-out stated, “Oh, we want everything done for him because we really need his check.” I didn’t understand at first, but apparently the family was living off of his social security and could not have cared less about his pain and suffering or his wishes. I’m pretty sure that was the creepiest thing I’ve seen. These people were supposed to be his loved ones taking care of him, and they were using him like an inanimate object.
104. Watch Your Six
I’m an EMS. Call goes in for reports of a woman calling for help through her door. The address this lady is at has a big problem with elderly people wetting themselves or falling and needing help getting back into bed. We arrive as a four-man team and are joking in the elevator about how this is going be the one time it’s real and this lady really needs our help.
We hop off the elevator and use the master key to enter the room. What we saw was an absolute horror. I’ve never seen four grown men in stunned silence before, but darn if jaws didn’t touch the floor. This lady has around 200 deep lacerations all over her body, several large kitchen knives are on the ground, and there’s a pool of blood covering most of the floor.
I’m ashamed to say it, but the shock of the situation made for some bad tunnel vision. We go right to work trying to help this poor woman, and don’t think for a second about what caused it. The authorities arrive about five minutes later from our distress call and search the remainder of the apartment. One officer comes back out of a room white as a ghost.
He asks us if we knew what happened. We explain what we came across, and the officer, with the most poker face I’ve ever seen, stares me square in the eye and asks, “Were you guys aware he’s been five feet from you this entire time?” My heart sank to my feet and I spent the remainder of the call in a bit of shock after realizing the danger we had been in.
Fortunately the lady made it fine, dude got detained, and I think he was pleading insanity.
105. A Slip Of The Hand
I was the patient, and it was a kidney biopsy. I was pretty out of it, but still awake so they could talk to me, laying on my stomach as my kidney doctor worked behind me. He warned me, “You’re going to hear a click and it will feel like Mike Tyson punched you in the back.” “Ooookayy?” I hear, click, feel the punch, then hear, “Oh, GOD. Get on the phone now.”
A nurse came up near my face to calm me, and maybe keep an eye on me. I don’t really remember everything. Apparently, the doctor had nicked a blood vessel, and I was bleeding internally at an alarming rate. I got to spend the night in the hospital and peed what seemed like pure blood for about 24 hours. Never try to fit your kidney biopsy in on a Friday before the doctor leaves for vacation.
106. 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.
107. Throwing The Baby Out With The Bathwater
I’m a retired paramedic. I’ve seen a lot of messed up stuff—but one moment was worse than all the rest. I was once told to immediately place a freshly delivered newborn baby back inside of its mother’s body. She delivered in a transport ambulance en route to the Weill Cornell Medical Center. She then lost her mind over the fact that her baby wasn’t born in a hospital and, furthermore, not born in a good hospital.
As a result, the mother then told me to “hold the baby in with your freaking hand!” I explained that this wouldn’t work and that we were having this child on 3rd Avenue. She completely flipped out and started yelling at me like a complete lunatic. Finally, she and I made an agreement that I would say that the baby was still inside her body until we backed up at the hospital driveway.
I guess this satisfied her requirement of her kid being born at a hospital versus next to a dry cleaner’s on 3rd Avenue. So, as far as that kid knows, she was born in the Weill Cornell Emergency Room Ambulance Bay. She will never have any idea how much turmoil surrounded her birth, and how unreasonable a request I was given in the process.
108. Like Flipping a Switch
I can’t remember all the details though so bear with me. I’m at a big tertiary hospital, and had an elderly veteran brought to us one day after being found unconscious in a park. He had alcohol in his system and a quick look at his records showed that this was an ongoing problem with him. He was a sweet old man who was very grateful for our help, up until day 3 of his hospitalization. That’s when things took a dark turn.
He developed pneumonia-like symptoms and became somnolent for a few days. Then, out of nowhere, he became very inappropriate—he begins grabbing the nurses and repositioning them, touching himself, and constantly licking his lips in a disgusting manner when anyone even looked at him. He went from a sweet old man to a deviant almost overnight. We even had to wrap his hands up in bandages to stop him from touching himself and others. Oddly though, he hit on anyone and everyone (women and men) except for me. I guess I wasn’t his type.
We ended up diagnosing him with Kluver-Bucy syndrome, caused by HSV encephalitis (herpes). Symptoms include hypersexuality and hyperorality. It’s pretty rare and I haven’t seen it since, but as you might imagine, it left a lasting impression on me. He improved with treatment though, and was incredibly embarrassed after finding out what he had done.