“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” —William Osler
Doctors have to deal with a lot in their daily work, and they sometimes don’t get enough credit for it. Not only do they save lives, but they have to deal with people all day, every day—and there are some truly strange and dense people out there who test their patience. Let’s just say people believe some truly weird and downright shocking things. Here are some of the most interesting stories that doctors shared on Reddit about patients who surprised the heck out of them with what they actually believed.
41. Hunger Pains
Patient comes to ER, 19 year old male, I’m getting his history. Why are you here today? “Every morning when I wake up my stomach hurts.” How long has it been hurting? “All my life.” Well what is different today that’s made you come here? “My girlfriend doesn’t think that it’s normal.” More questions, exam by ER physician, lab tests. The abdominal pain always goes away after he eats. Always. He wakes up hungry. He thinks it is pain.
40. It Takes Two To Tango
Pharmacist, but comment still relates.
Had a lady call in complaining that their husband’s viagra wasn’t working. I then went on to explain to the patient’s wife that in order for the medication to work, the patient needed some sort of “stimulation.” The lady just screamed a loud “ME?!?!?!” and then hung up the phone.
Still my favorite viagra story.
39. Don’t Sleep With Contacts In
Medical Assistant to a cataract surgeon here.
If you sleep in your contact lenses long enough, they will fuse to your eyes and you will need surgery to have them removed. Yes, you can go blind from this. For the love of God, don’t sleep in your contact lenses.
38. Things Marriage Doesn’t Teach You
I had to explain to a grown man I still work with that tampons don’t break down in a woman’s urine after they were finished using them. He’s been married 12 years. It was not his best day.
37. Missing The Memo
Had a patient in our high priority area. Sugar was in the 800s. Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and such. Pulled Burger King and gummy worms out of his backpack and proceeded to eat them. Like bro, do you even know what diabetes is? Noncompliance and lack of medical knowledge is a big thing in Detroit.
36. Now That’s High Maintenance
So, not a doctor but I work at a hospital. We had someone come into A&E because they needed their nails redoing…They genuinely thought it was a good idea to go to accident and emergency to have their fake nails taken off and redone because they had gotten too long and had become uncomfortable.
35. Dogs Also Have A Left Side
As a veterinarian, I had a 10 minute conversation with an owner explaining which side was the dog’s left side.
34. You Just Flip ‘Em Around
I worked at a vet clinic when I was in high school. One day a vet came out of an exam room and asked me how to tell whether a puppy was a girl or a boy. Thinking it was a joke or a trick question, I said, “You flip them over and look, right?” The vet sighed and walked away.
Apparently this client who fancied herself a breeder (multiple litters at this point, expensive breed) had asked dead seriously how you tell if a puppy is a boy or a girl.
33. There’s Alway The Chance It Will Heal Itself
Lady had a broken jaw. She comes in after 2 weeks with an open mandible fracture. Referred her to the hospital for immediate surgery. She never went because it, “doesn’t bother her and she’ll see if it gets better.”
32. Missed Anatomy Class
Nurse here. Retired after 27 years on the job. The number of American 20-somethings who don’t know if they’re circumcised or not is surprisingly high. When one with urinary tract infection symptoms needs to give a specimen for testing, I ask, “Are you circumcised?” If not, I have to tell them to pull back the foreskin before peeing in the cup. The number of guys who have asked, “What’s that?” is way too many. For the record, I can count the number who were uncircumcised on two hands.
31. To Catch A Cold
So I’m an EMT, but I want to weigh in on this conversation.
I had to tell a patient with severe pneumonia (and the patient’s family) that you don’t get sick (i.e. catch a cold) by leaving your skin exposed. The family was vehemently debating me on the fact, claiming that I had no idea what I was talking about because I’m not a doctor.
Attempting to explain to them how a foreign body can enter your system was the most preposterous thing to them.
30. Not Concerned About The Heart
I’m a paramedic and recently transported an idiot who self presented to the local hospital, who found he was having a heart attack (stemi) and we needed him sent to a bigger hospital for treatment.
During my assessment, I asked him how long he’d been having chest pain. On and off for 12 months, he tells me.
Any family history? (One of the biggest indicators). Oh, yes. Dad died of a heart attack. Brother died of a heart attack. Both of them first presentation, stone dead on the spot, no messing about.
So… you have a 12 month history of intermittent chest pain, and a family history of your closest male relatives spontaneously chucking hearties and dying, and you’ve never gotten it investigated. Furthermore, the only reason you came to the hospital tonight is because your family badgered you into it.
I told him he needed a solid kick in the arse. To his credit, he agreed.
29. Coffee Addict
That the 30+ cups of coffee he was drinking every day could possibly be the cause of his chief complaints of anxiety and insomnia. He said he was not willing to give this up or try decaf.
28. Gotta Give It Up If You Want To Sleep
Patient comes in at 2 am for insomnia, clearly tweaking her brains out, heart rate 200. Can’t sit still, bouncing off the walls. I suggest maybe easing up on the drugs. “But doctor, I LOVE drugs.” OK.
27. People Should Know Better
Not a doctor (yet) but an ER tech for about 2 years. Mom comes in with her baby plus two more older kids. Complains that the baby hasn’t pooped in a while and wont stop crying. As I’m settling them in with one of the nurses, the baby is bawling, like opera singer lungs bawling.
Suddenly mom whips out a white plastic shopping bag and sticks an end in the kid’s mouth, says, “This is the only way she stops crying.” Nurse and I share a look and immediately order and emergency x-ray on the kid’s stomach. Turns out she had ingested a good amount of these bags and it was blocking up in her stomach. Big deal, potentially life threatening.
When we confront the mom about her baby feeding habits, her only words of defense are, “Well I checked all over the bag and I couldn’t find anything that said ‘non edible.'” This mom had been letting her baby teethe on plastic bags because she didn’t know they weren’t edible.
26. Pregnancy Test Are At The Pharmacy
She didn’t understand that coming to the ER for a pregnancy test is a very, very expensive way to do it. Apparently she didn’t know you could buy one at the Rite-Aid down the block. Seriously, don’t come to the ER for a pregnancy test, cause the test results won’t be the only surprise you’ll be getting.
Also, if you have diabetes, that you need to take your medication. No, “getting fatter” isn’t the worst that can happen. The worst that can happen is that you’ll die. That’s why you’re in the ER with diabetic ketoacidosis and suffering organ damage. It’s why you’re gonna lose your toes. Take your meds.
25. Uvula Discovery
My friend is a student doctor and is on placement at a small town doctor’s office. She had a 70-ish year old woman come in with complaints of a small but painless growth that was visible at the back of her throat.
Turns out it took her 70 years to notice her uvula.
24. Marriage Is Not Necessary
That having intercourse gets you pregnant. It was a 20+ year old woman who couldn’t grasp the idea that intercourse leads to pregnancy. She thought that in order for a man and a woman to have children, they needed to be married first and then have a baby. That intercourse was just an act unrelated to it.
23. How Innocent
There was a nursing student I had once who laughed loudly and exclaimed, “How can you possibly get an STD in your mouth?” Ahh, the innocence of youth.
22. Get Outta Her Way
Got placed doing a rotation in the orthopaedic floor of a big hospital in a rural area of Southern California. I was doing my rounds and saw a patient out of bed and walking around the floor following a knee replacement. She had a cane in her hand that she was carrying like a soldier would carry a rifle. I asked what she was doing and what she thought the cane was for. She replied she thought the cane was for pushing people out of her way since she’s now “handicapped,” and it wasn’t to help her walk on her post op knee.
21. Eating The Insulin
We had a diabetic patient who kept coming back with extremely high sugars. We asked him if he was following the regimen we taught him…testing his blood sugar, using the sliding scale, measuring the correct dose of insulin in the syringe, etc. He went through all the steps and it sounded like he was doing everything right.
We asked him to demonstrate the steps he took so we could observe and correct any mistakes he may have been making. He did everything right until the very last step. He drew up the insulin in his syringe, pulled an orange out if his bag, injected the insulin into the orange, then ate it.
Turns out when he was taught to practice how to give himself subcutaneous injections with oranges, he didn’t realize he actually needed to inject himself for the insulin to do its job.
20. Inhaler Miseducation
I saw a patient for a follow up after three ER visits in as many days for asthma. He was from another country, so this was the first time I ever met him. His lungs sound absolutely terrible, but he swears he is taking the inhaler every 2-4 hours with no relief. This raises suspicion to me, as the same meds are working in the ER. I ask him to show me how he is using it. He holds it about a foot away from his mouth and does two puffs and swallows. I felt really bad, he had never received any education about his illness or medications.
19. Now That’s Frugal
I had a patient come in for an STD check. She was very upset and continued to tell me that she only had one partner. Progressing through my assessment, she further divulged that even if he was sleeping with other people, it shouldn’t matter, “Because he uses a condom every time and he makes sure to wash it thoroughly after every use.” I asked what she meant when she said he washes it after every use. She explained that he washed the condom with hot water and soap before he used said condom again.
18. Bad Parenting
I had severe asthma as a kid. I was intubated for a severe attack a few times. My parents were instructed to take better precautions in our home and went through instructions, more dusting, washing bed sheets, etc., and the big one: NO SMOKING inside the house. So my parents agree to all of this.
Few weeks later I’m back in the hospital. A doctor recognized me and came over to talk. Then he bent over and smelled my head (I’ll never forget that. I thought it was so weird). He told a nurse to sit there and not let me leave with my parents. When my parents showed up he asked point blank:
“Did you not understand what I told you last time? Do you understand these attacks could be fatal?”
“But we open windows and have stopped smoking in her room when we put her to bed”
17. Just Trying Moving A Little Bit
Not a doctor, but my human sexuality professor in grad school had some interesting stories. He worked a lot in very conservative Christian communities, and so a lot of times people got married with no education. He had one couple who couldn’t get pregnant. Turns out they thought sleeping together literally meant sleeping in the same bed.
Another couple was in therapy because neither one of them enjoyed intercourse. After having them talk through step by step what they did in bed, he learned the guy was just sticking it in and nothing else. He told the guy to move back and forth next time and see what happened. They couple came back one more time to say “THANK YOU!!!!!” and didn’t need any more sessions.
16. Medical Error
I was living in China and taught English on the side to a student whose mother was a physician. This was in 2012 just prior to the London Olympics, the mother wanted to send her daughter to London with a school group to watch the Olympics but had reservations about it. I asked why, she said she was worried that her daughter would catch AIDS from using the public toilets. Yes, a doctor.
15. Amish Help
My mother helps the Amish get dental care. One Amish woman complained that she needed new dentures. When asked why she thought so, she replied, “Well, I’ve lost weight, and you know that when you lose weight, you lose it in your gums first.”
Doctors and dentists: if you’re looking for a community to serve, the Amish could truly use your help. I could write a book about the things I’ve seen.
14. Brown Sugar Is A Form Of Sugar
Not me but my wife. She’s a nurse practitioner and had to explain to a 40-year-old man that brown sugar did, in fact, contain sugar and that it is most likely the reason why he now has diabetes. The same man also adamantly insisted his wine consumption was not an issue because he, “Only drank the dry stuff like chianti so it doesn’t have any sugar.”
13. Brush Your Teeth
I’m a dental hygienist and once was telling a patient after a cleaning that she had gingivitis. She replies with, “I must have caught it from my boyfriend.” Had to explain to her that it’s because she doesn’t brush/floss enough. She was 36.
12. Let The Dentist Teach You
Things I’ve had to explain to parents:
- Breast milk CAN cause cavities
- Don’t put your kids to bed with a bottle with Coke in it. (They then switched to Diet Coke).
- Don’t wiggle out your permanent teeth just because the tooth fairy will give you money.
- You can’t brush cavities away with toothpaste or any of these new Internet fads (oil pulling, honey, chocolate). Once your cavity is deep enough, it needs to be fixed by a dentist.
- Fluoride isn’t poison any more than table salt is poison. Small quantities are good for you. Anyone who tells you otherwise has been lied to and believed it.
I have plenty more, but I’d have to think harder.
11. Drink More Water
Well, here in México we have something called social service. Our college education is free in some institutions, so we have to pay for it with one year of free work in a rural area.
So the first month, a woman in her 30s came to consult because she was feeling weird in the mornings since forever. I asked what her symptoms were, and she told me that every day she wakes up with her mouth dry, and that feeling disappears in about one or two hours. “well lady, how much water do you drink?” “Hmm, one or maybe two glasses, one at breakfast, and one at the middle of the day.”
“Do you know what thirst is?” “Yeah, when you drink water so you can pee.”
So I had a conversation that took one hour long about what thirst is and how it feels, also I had to tell her that she needed to drink more water.
10. Why Do They Call It MENopause Then?!
A 32 year old grown man asked me if the hot spells he was experiencing at night meant he was going through menopause.
9. Cancer Diet
Paramedic here. Was driving with my partner and patient in the back. Patient was fine. Patient’s skeezy boyfriend was riding in the front with me and apparently saw a golden opportunity to ask a question that had obviously been on his mind for some time.
Him: So when cats and dogs eat grass, that means they have cancer, right?
Me: Ummm. No. No it does not.
Made for an awkwardly silent ride the rest of the way.
8. It’s Not All About Aesthetics
Had to explain to an adult you have to brush all the sides of a teeth. Like… no, just the side that shows when you smile is not enough. And yes flossing is not just a thing for rich people.
7. This Is Just Sad
I think the most frustrating I’ve seen since I was a resident was a very pretty (like stunningly pretty) 17 year old with what appeared to be normal, loving, affluent parents. She had a tumor in her pelvis (rhabdomyosarcoma) and we could expect to potentially cure her. The parents declined, also declined chemo, and said they want to try holistic medicine because that made more sense to them.
I last saw her 3 years ago, she was getting huge lymph nodes removed from her groin because they were unsightly. Obviously metastatic disease. Parents did not want primary tumor removed and again declined chemo.
I see 100 patients/week probably, lots of devastatingly sad cases. But I still think about that girl, listening to her parents, costing her life. I bet she’s dead now.
I can assure people, doctors are not trying to swindle you, give you unnecessary care, or have some ulterior motive in this sort of setting. 99.99% of doctors are treating patients the same way they’d treat family, so try not to be dense, we want to help.
6. Bad Doctoring
This one is a little different.
My dad is a paediatrician. He told me the story of a teenage boy (around 13 y/o) who was referred to him (something unrelated, can’t remember what). When he asked him if he was on medications, the boy’s mom pulled out some birth control pills. Apparently his family physician suggested birth control as a way to treat his acne.
Yes, you read that correctly. A licensed doctor told a teenage BOY who was just going through puberty to take female hormones as acne treatment.
I think he had been taking them regularly for the past year…
5. Letting The Other Doctor Know They Messed Up Big Time
While on dermatological rotation, a Middle Eastern patient saw me with what she described as some funny, itching growth in her butt crack. Some quick investigation revealed it to be a severe case of genital warts. I explained the diagnosis and that it was an STD until she shockingly assured me that she was still a virgin. Now, virginity is a big issue for young muslim women (or perhaps their families even more), but apparently that doesn’t cover other forms of intimacy and therefore no birth control in the form of, say, condoms was needed.
One More: I thought I share another story, but this time with a colleague being the one acting stupidly. This was when I finally made it to neuroradiology, and in comes this mother whose maybe three, four months old son we would scan today because he had epileptic seizures after his birth. Apparently, the paediatricians didn’t tell her about the fits nor the severe neurological birth defects they knew about for weeks, so I had to explain her that her child had mental disabilities.
That was probably the first time I flipped out on a colleague I didn’t even know over the telephone and, in the heat of the moment, wanted to find this idiot and spit in his face. He was totally oblivious of how he messed up, saying there was a language barrier while this hospital employs a whole department of translators just for such cases.
4. Wasn’t Me
EMT here, I had a grown adult try to explain to me that someone else pooped his pants, not him, who had clearly pooped his pants. Went to homeless shelter for a patient complaining of finger pain, we get there and the guy jumps in the truck with very mild swelling at the tip of his right index finger. Here’s how the conversation went:
Me: so what happened?
Patient: I fell asleep in my bunk and I woke up next to my bunk and my finger hurt and there was poop!
Me: there was poop..? Did you fall in poop..?
Patient: no no, like in my pants!
Me: so… you pooped your pants?
Patient: no! It wasn’t me!
Me: so let me get this straight… you took a nap, rolled out of bed in your sleep, hurt your finger, and someone ELSE came along and pooped in your pants before you woke up…?
Patient: yeah! It wasn’t me!
3. It’s My Poop In A Box
Patient made an appointment and brought in his poop in a box. He was concerned about the size of his turd, and if it’s normal. All he got from the visit was, “Normal turd. Yes, it’s pretty wide.”
Turd box was set out with biohazard waste. Waste guy thought it was a misplaced package and put it on the front desk. Secretary got quite the surprise that day.
2. The Important Questions
A mother came in with her son to discuss treating his acne. Son was about 15 years old and didn’t really care about the acne but mom did. After going over treatment options, she asked if he just needed to “do it” to get rid of the acne. A grown woman with a child thought that by him having intercourse, his acne would magically go away.
1. . The Milk Is For The Baby
I saw a patient who was concerned because she was still lactating, despite the fact that she stopped breastfeeding her twins two years ago. She said: “sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and find my husband sucking on the breasts. He says he’s trying to drain the milk for me.” I had to explain to her that breastfeeding her husband will lead to continued Lactation.