Working in medicine is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. For one, doctors hold precious lives in their hands: One mistake or misdiagnosis can prove utterly disastrous. But, like the rest of us, they are only human. While some professionals are just downright neglectful, some medical mistakes are sure to haunt some of these poor souls for life.
1. This Doctor Was Pure Poison
I had a 2-year-old patient show up in the ER. She and her dad had been out in the fields in a small town several hours away from the nearest big city, where I worked. The dad took the child to the ER in the small town with an obvious snake bite. I'm still so furious when I think about what the doctor did. He shrugged and said, “Eh, it’s ok. She probably didn’t get envenomated,” and didn’t give the patient antivenom, which they had on-site.
They then elected to send the child to our hospital by ambulance instead of by helicopter. Several hours later, the patient showed up at our hospital coding and ended up not making it.
2. His Physician Left Him Sore
A guy came into our ICU and was very septic but still talking. He had visited his primary care physician complaining of a sore throat for a couple of days and was dismissed without any intervention since he didn't appear to have strep throat or the flu. When he reached the ICU, he had pretty severe abdominal discomfort, so we sent him for a CT scan.
As the scan was finishing, he coded, had to be intubated, and had a multi-organ failure. The CT scan was like a horror movie. There was a whole bunch of stuff in his peritoneal cavity. His wife told us that he had choked on an ice cube the day before seeing his primary care doctor. Evidently, he had swallowed a whole double half-moon-shaped ice cube that perforated his esophagus with a HUGE 4.25-inch tear.
This allowed a significant portion of his swallowed food and drinks to get into his peritoneal cavity instead of his stomach. To make things worse, he had some reflux that allowed stomach acid to get in there as well. Once we realized what was going on, he went for extensive washout and exploratory surgeries to repair the damage to his esophagus and other organs. Thankfully, he made a full recovery, but he was very close to not making it at all.
3. Use Your Head
When I was in school, I had an instructor who took a job as Vice President of patient care at a big American hospital. She said there was a patient who had been on the unit for a year and the hospital was footing the bill. When she told me why, it was just about the worst thing I’ve heard. He was in for brain surgery and they had removed a large section of his skull to access the brain.
Then they dropped it on the floor. They tried to clean it up and they apparently gave him lots of post-operative antibiotics, but he inevitably developed encephalitis or meningitis or well, probably an infection of the whole head.
4. Measure Twice, Cut Once
I work in the pathology lab where the hospital sends all the specimens. One day, a surgeon did a double mastectomy based off a different hospital’s pathology report. The report said the woman had the kind of breast cancer where both breasts need to be removed. But when we examined her specimens, we made an utterly disturbing discovery.
We found zero cancer in either breast. Obviously, the surgeon was beside himself and made us look through both breasts IN THEIR ENTIRETY...It’s unheard of to submit all the tissue like this, but he needed to find cancer. I’ve never seen a surgeon stand there and watch the pathologist like this guy did. We all felt so bad for him and of course the patient.
He was so upset, cussing up a storm the whole time and screaming about “this is why I never take outside pathology reports!” Turns out, the other lab had mis-labeled her tissue, so some other lady got the all clear who had cancer, while she lost both her breasts when she didn’t need to. All around a horrible situation, and the surgeon was sick over it all.
5. I Was Whole Heartedly Saved
When I was born, my dad knew something was wrong with me because of the way I was breathing—very rapid, short breaths. When I was three months old, my parents noticed there really wasn't any change. The first hospital they took me to said there was nothing to worry about, and babies just breathed like that. He was 100% certain they were wrong.
They took me to a second hospital, and they said there was something wrong, but they didn't have the technology to help. They recommended a third hospital, which was a couple of hours away. Finally, the third hospital took me right in and performed surgery that day. I had five holes in my heart. They tried to go through my rib cage, but it didn't work. They had to crack my sternum and go directly through my chest. They took my heart out of its body and patched the holes.
6. No Air
Last month, I was about to take a long trip across the Pacific. One hour into the flight, they asked for a doctor. I volunteered myself. I saw this lady literally gasping for air, waving her hands because she couldn't breathe. I looked through the meds in the first aid kid. I listened to her lungs, only to hear faint wheezing and no air movement at all. I figured she was probably asthmatic.
They later grounded that plane because there were another sixteen hours to go and she was on the verge of being intubated. Later on, I got more of her story from a family member. What they told me was absolutely shocking. Apparently, she hadn't been able to sleep well for the past two weeks. Her doctor just gave her sleeping meds and told her that that flying was not a problem.
I asked the family why she couldn't sleep: "Does she wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air, i.e., a classic sign of uncontrolled asthma?" They responded, "Yes, how did you know?" I explained to them that sleeping meds were probably among the worst things she could have gotten, and the doctor almost ended her life by saying she could fly.
If only patients knew what the doctors missed or whatnot. Half the time, I really think it's like going to a bad auto shop and not realizing they're just making up half of the stuff. The same thing happens in medicine, except people's lives suffer because of it.
7. He Was Wet Around The Edges
One day, I was called over by a nurse who told me a patient's bandages were wet as they were bleeding a little. The patient had recently had his leg amputated. I pulled his bandages off and couldn't believe what I found: A spurting femoral artery. At that point, the patient passed out and was sent for an emergency operation. It was a close call for sure.
8. Line Of Sight
This was one of the more bizarre things I've witnessed in an OR. So, the surgeon brought in a bad pair of glasses. Here we are, total hip replacement, and the surgeon is going to town with what I lovingly call the human grater, which is a doohickey to make sure the new hip socket will fit in. Picture a cheese grater wrapped around a golf ball on the end of a power drill. It's not pleasant.
Anyway. Dude's grinding away at the guy’s hip and suddenly yelps in surprise and stops, backing quickly away from the table. We're all like, what the heck? Well, his glasses spontaneously broke in half. They were the type that didn't have rims, just lenses with a bar across the nose and bars for the ears. So the metal crossing the nose snapped at the screw.
The surgeon quickly starts stripping off his gown, the rest of his equipment, and leaves the room. Comes back with a roll of tape. Him and the circulating nurse can't get the glasses fixed, so he just holds them to his face and has her run the tape around his head a few times. Then he suits up again and goes back to acting like nothing happened.
All in all, it only added like 10 minutes to the surgery time, at least that I could catch directly. I hadn't been with that surgeon before, but I can't imagine that was his best performance after the glasses broke, seeing how they were now taped across his eyes at weird angles. But yeah, don't buy $5 readers for the freaking operating room.
9. A Gut-Wrenching Ordeal
From the age of about 17, I started getting chronic abdominal pain every day and terrible gut problems. It was so bad, and I couldn’t eat much. I would get fluctuating diarrhea and constipation, and menstruation became more and more painful. I started losing enormous amounts of blood, despite being incredibly small. It seemed like a gynecological problem.
However, my doctor, who was a woman, insisted it was anxiety and said she "wouldn't bother testing for or treating a gynecological problem unless I was older and was having trouble conceiving." I'll never forgive her for that. Over the next few years, my gut and uterus symptoms slowly deteriorated. I was bounced around the system to dozens of different specialists.
I was told it was just stress, anxiety, even possible pregnancy, and was told to take various over-the-counter products. Meanwhile, my gut function slowly ground to a halt. A functional gut test showed it took me six hours to pass an egg sandwich when it should have taken 90 minutes. I was losing weight and bowel control. No treatment seemed to work.
At 24, I was unable to work because I was literally uncontrollably pooping my pants. Doctors suggested I should seek therapy and suggested I was exaggerating. One day, I saw a new general practitioner for some regular health tests. I received an abnormal Pap smear. Within two weeks, I went in for an exploratory laparoscopy to rule out cervical cancer.
They discovered I was riddled with endometriosis—on my bowel, on my cervix, on my perineum, on some ligaments, even in my gall bladder. I also had an ovarian cyst the size of a tennis ball. I had excisions and treatment and was able to get my gut function back within three months, although I would never be able to have children.
If the doctor I went to at 17 had just done her job, I wouldn't have lost seven years of my life, my gall bladder, fertility, and mental health.
10. Back To Basics
My mother was having intense spine surgery, and her idiot surgeon apparently couldn’t do math correctly, because he left two sponges inside of her, which meant she’d have to have an entire other surgery again to remove them. My mom was 20+ years sober, so she refused most of the pain medications after her first surgery.
When the hospital realized and had to confess they messed up, she had a mental breakdown over facing all that pain again. She got a lawyer and they settled ASAP for about $50K. My mom thought that was fair, but my godfather is a retired federal prosecutor and said it would have been $100K easy with another attorney. This happened about 15 years ago.
My mother has a master's in biology and knows, well, stuff happens. It's a testament to her character that she decided the settlement was fair for an accident. Yet another example of how extraordinary my mom is and how under-appreciated this retired high school biology teacher remains. I love her so much, and I'm so glad she's OK.
11. Keeping Abreast Of My Health
When I was 26 years old, I found a lump in my breast. I had learned how to do self-checks, and I knew this lump felt different than a cyst. It felt exactly like the tumors I had been taught to recognize. The first doctor said, "You're too young for breast cancer.” I didn't accept that and went to a second doctor where I got, "It hurts when I mash it, right?" It didn’t.
They also said, "It gets bigger with your period, right?" I told them, no, but they insisted, saying, "Sure it does!" The third doctor told me, "You'll have an ugly scar if I biopsy it." By this point, I wanted to scream. I finally told the fourth doctor to call 9-1-1 to get me off his table because I wasn't leaving without scheduling a biopsy. It turned out I had Stage 2 cancer. After surgery, nine months of chemo, three months of radiation, and being told I couldn't have kids, I survived, had three kids, and had a long life.
12. Stop, Look, And Listen
I'm an emergency doctor in the midwestern USA. The patient was transferred from some rural nowhere to our tertiary care facility. We’re a big hospital with every kind of specialist. The transferring physician described a 21-year-old male who had a rapid heart rate and breathing rate, low blood pressure, low oxygen, confusion, and a severe opacification on his chest X-ray on the right side. He was initially diagnosed with pneumonia.
They gave him a ton of fluids, started antibiotics, and put him on a ventilator, but he wasn't getting better. So they wanted to send him to us. We said sure, send away. An hour later, the gentleman arrived—he looked young, fit, and not the type to just drop from pneumonia. We rolled him onto our stretcher and our jaws dropped to the floor—we found a huge open wound in his back.
The X-ray found his entire right chest full of blood. We put a tube in it, gave him back some blood, and he had to go for surgery to fix the bleeding. Lesson: Actually look at your patient.
13. Dental Dilemma
I went to a dentist's office for several years and was repeatedly told to get braces and remove my wisdom teeth. Both of these posed an issue since I played trumpet for a living. Performing at a professional level would have been difficult to impossible with braces, and having my wisdom teeth out would put me out of work for at least a month during recovery. I told this to my dentist repeatedly.
I decided to get a second opinion about the wisdom teeth, so I went to an oral surgeon to have them look at it. That's when I finally learned the truth. They took X-rays and looked at the records from my dentist. He said, “So, you're experiencing a lot of pain in your wisdom teeth, according to your record.” I told him I was not and never had. He then told me, “So, I'm just going to assume your regular dentist falsified the rest of your record too, so I can put this folder down and do my job.”
He then explained that the way my wisdom teeth came in, they were sitting on a nerve that would be next to impossible not to cut in the process of removal. That would leave me without feeling in the lower half of my face for the rest of my life—obviously a major issue, given my career. I was advised not to worry about them if I was not in pain.
I eventually needed to extract a tooth adjacent to one of my wisdom teeth, which my regular dentist completely blew off when I asked about it. I never went back to my original dentist.
14. It’s In Your Head
I'm not a doctor, but I'm glad my parents took me in for a second opinion when I was complaining about a bad headache. I left school one day and went to the hospital complaining about a bad headache. The doctor said it was "just a virus," and that I should just rest and take meds. I went home, laid down, took some Advil, and just carried on with my night.
At around 1 am in the morning, I was screaming on the floor. My parents took me to a different hospital and they ran tests. Eventually, they did a spinal tap and discovered a ton of white blood cells. Turns out, I had bacterial meningitis.
15. It Wasn’t All In Her Head
During my psychiatry residency, I was working in the Psych ER when we got a transfer from the main ER. Her family had brought her in for altered mental status that had been getting gradually worse over the previous two weeks. All her labs and vitals were normal, so she had been "cleared" by the ER doctors, and I was told she was likely having "a mental break-down" or psychotic episode.
I went to assess her. She was non-responsive, staring off into space, crying and shaking her head back and forth and mumbling. She could not answer any questions and seemed to be having a tremendous amount of anxiety. One of the biggest lessons my mentors taught me was to assume that a change in mental status was always a medical condition until proven otherwise. Then you could think about psychiatric causes.
Within a couple of seconds of seeing her, I had an intense gut feeling. This was not psychiatric in nature. I looked through her chart and saw she had a history of blood clots in the past. Her vitals were rechecked, and again they were totally normal. At that point, I made an executive decision and ordered a stat CT of her chest to look for a possible clot.
The technicians who came to take her for the study were slightly confused as to why a psych resident was ordering this. The radiology team even called me and wanted to make sure I had not ordered it by mistake. Thirty minutes later, I got a call from the on-call radiology resident, and she said, "Are you the psych resident that ordered this CT?"
I said I was, thinking I was about to get some comment about wasting their time. She continued, "And this patient is in the psych ER?" I confirmed. She then told me, "Well, you better call the ER and have her transferred STAT because this lady has the most massive pulmonary embolism I have ever seen and will likely code any second.”
With that, we transferred her back to the ER. She was admitted to the hospital and treated for her clot, and within a few days, she was back to normal. From then on, whenever someone would make a joke about psychiatrists not being "real" doctors, I would tell them this story, and that would settle it.
16. Coming In Wrong And Strong
My mom had to have a mastectomy on her left breast. They were getting her ready and came in saying, “Ok, so we’re going to remove the right one.” Then we were like, “Uh no, the left.” The nurse goes “Oh, hold on,” and cues 15 minutes of endless right, both, left suggestions and several different nurses coming through. Finally, the surgeon comes and is like “left.” But that wasn't all.
The same surgeon told her the tubes they put in for drainage would be removed by the time she could go to work in a month. But just a day after the surgery, a resident came in toward the end of the day and told her he was there to take the tubes out. She said, no the surgeon said it would be a month. He pressured her and took them out. I mean, these had been stitched to hold them in place.
The next day, she is in so much pain and her chest is swollen and hard. They call the surgeon and he comes in without the resident who had been following him around. He takes one look at her and goes beet red in the face. He’s so angry. Yep, they definitely weren't supposed to take those tubes out, and now my mom is in big trouble.
He has to help drain her fluids himself because they can’t go back and re-insert the tubes anymore thanks to the resident. He also had his resident apologize and laid into him for the mistake, but that didn't save my mom from a month of manual drainage.
17. My Original Diagnosis Was Hard To Swallow
When I was in college, I got to where I couldn’t swallow. It started with difficulty swallowing and progressed to me having to swallow bites of food multiple times and regurgitating it. It then got to where all I could swallow were broths and mashed potatoes with no chunks. I went to the doctor numerous times and was told every time it was acid reflux and part of my anxiety disorder. I had lost 30 pounds and was just generally miserable.
Finally, my grandma was tired of watching me be sick all the time, so she called the GI doctor herself. They said we needed a referral, but she explained the situation, and they got me in the next day. They did an endoscopy and found my esophagus was 95% occluded at the gastroesophageal sphincter. For some reason, some of my primary doctor’s notes ended up in my discharge paperwork. They showed me, and I've never been so angry.
She had told them it was acid reflux and that I was being over-dramatic. She stated she did not recommend they do the procedure. I switched doctors.
18. You Mad, Bro?
I had a patient come in for therapy after his doctor yelled at him for being a hypochondriac. He told the patient that his symptoms were all in his head and accused him of just trying to fish for a disability. His symptoms were pretty obviously neurological, so I referred him for an MRI. To my shock, he had only ever had X-rays done. Sadly, I had to tell the 19-year-old man that he had multiple sclerosis.
With great satisfaction, I got to tell that doctor that he dun goofed and that I would be talking to our mutual chief of clinical services about the incident.
19. A Grave Mistake
My wife found a lump under her breast that was concerning. It took her about two months to get a proper appointment to have it looked at. The doctor diagnosed it as a cyst and fibroadenoma. She drained the lump, and it was fine. It grew back a week later and was bigger. Finally, after being in pain for weeks, the doctor decided to remove it. Upon going in for the check-up after surgery, it turned out she had Stage 2A triple-negative breast cancer.
The surgeon was floored. The most upsetting thing was that while her primary doctor was on holiday, another male doctor told her, "Any surgery would be merely cosmetic, and the lump clearly didn't bother her because he could touch it." Despite doing eight months of therapy, the cancer returned seven months later and ultimately took her life after it spread to her brain and spinal fluid. She had switched doctors twice because they wouldn't take her lump seriously. She was only 27 years old.
20. Mixed-Up Meds
I was verifying a second refill of a prescription for a patient when I realized that a different pharmacist, who had verified it a month prior, had mistakenly allowed Pantoprazole to be dispensed instead of Paroxetine. It wasn’t fun explaining to the patient that instead of getting an antidepressant for the last month, he had been given medication for acid reflux. It had been a new medication for him, so he didn’t know the name and didn’t question it.
21. 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.
22. His Symptoms Didn’t Fit The Mold
I had a patient who was thought to have a fungal infection in the chest. However, after many pulses with an antifungal, the plaque was still present and growing. So, the original physician called me to check the patient. The chest plaque was indeed very suggestive of a fungal infection. The direct examination even confirmed the existence of the fungus, but the treatments were doing nothing. When I rechecked the file, lo and behold, their leukocyte count was quite low. A quick HIV test later, the patient was diagnosed with AIDS on top of the fungus.
23. A Swing And A Miss
Recently, my eight-year-old grandson went for his surgery to have a cyst removed from his thyroid gland. It’s supposed to be a simple surgery—you go in the morning, and come home in the afternoon. An hour later, my son (the dad) calls me. Something went horribly wrong. My grandson is being rushed by ambulance to the local hospital with a children's wing.
Apparently, the damage was so severe that the surgeons at the new hospital didn't even know what to do. The original surgeon had cut my grandson's vocal cords, and he cut a hole in his larynx. They then called to talk to experts at Seattle Children's Hospital. My grandson has been sedated and ventilated this entire time.
The following day, the doctors recommend my grandson be flown to Seattle Children's Hospital. The mom gets to fly with my grandson, my son drives over by himself. They arrive Friday morning, and the new surgeon does the six-hour repair surgery from 5-11 pm on Friday night. My grandson spent the next week under sedation and on the ventilator.
After that, the new surgeon opened my grandson up again to take a look and told my son and daughter-in-law that everything looked better than he had even hoped for. The surgeon had three goals. First, that my grandson would be able to breathe on his own and not need a tracheotomy. Second, that he would be able to eat and swallow on his own. And third, that he would still have his voice.
Yes, that’s how bad this was. But after two weeks in Seattle, they came home and my grandson is doing fantastic! He does have to go to Seattle to see his wonderful surgeon every few months to have scar tissue scraped from his vocal cords. Still, he is doing awesome, and that surgeon succeeded in meeting every one of his goals.
Two other items: My grandson has wanted to be a voice actor since he was four years old. And then finally, the worst thing. The original surgeon that messed up called my son and told him that once he opened my grandson up, he saw that it was not a cyst on his thyroid gland, but a lymph node. Yet he continued to perform the surgery! My son and daughter-in-law have a malpractice suit against this doctor.
24. Hanging By A Thread
A few years ago, my mom had a major stroke, which left her on a permanent feeding tube, placed in her abdomen, for about three months of her recovery. I will say, she got the absolute best care other than this one incident, and she had a miraculous recovery, to quote the doctors. But, yeah, there was one major mess up in her case.
When she had the feeding tube removed from her abdomen, we weren't worried, because it’s a fairly simple procedure from what we were told. Then my dad goes to change the bandage when the time comes, and what does he find, but a string, sticking right out of my mother's incision. So, he called the doctors, thinking that probably wasn't right.
They very quickly got her back in to remove the pieces they had left in her. My dad taped the string to a sticky note and hung it in the kitchen. He said he'd file a lawsuit, but nothing yet. I think he was just glad she's alive, and tired from all we'd been through.
25. Matters Of The Heart
While in residency, I saw a cardiologist miss a heart attack. By the time the patient came to us, some of the muscles supporting one of his heart valves had completely perished, and he was in cardiogenic shock. Basically, his heart function was so bad that it wasn't circulating his blood enough to support life. It was awful, but happily, he made it through.
26. This Poor Stiff Got Misdiagnosed
I had a young student who was complaining about his neck feeling stiff. He went to a doctor some days before and was told he was having "joint pains" that would pass with some common anti-inflammatory meds. When I visited him, I saw many of the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen, which probably caused the stiffness. I sent him right away to have a chest X-ray done that showed a substantial mediastinal mass, suggestive of lymphoma.
27. 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.
28. This Diagnosis Was As Hard As Nails
I was working nights, and a patient came in for a nailbed repair and insisted on having it done under general anesthesia. He had no clue what was coming. He aspirated as he was going under, so we did a chest X-ray to see if he had any spit or blood in his lungs. We didn't know that prior to this emergency surgery, he had been going to his doctor for over six months complaining about chest tightness.
They had put him on various asthma medications, but none had any effect on him. The X-ray showed a giant mass in his left lung. We kept him asleep and transferred him to the ICU. His wife and three-year-old daughter were waiting for him in the ward. We had to tell them where he'd gone, why he'd gone there, and what was going to happen. He lost his life to lung cancer within the month.
29. I Should Have Trusted My Gut
When I was in training, I saw a child suspected of having meningitis. Although I was new to pediatric medicine, I had a gut feeling just by looking at the 4-year-old patient that he was too sick to have a regular childhood illness. The thing that tipped me off was the child was having a slight delay in his pupillary reflexes. Something was seriously wrong.
After seeing him, I asked the head pediatrician to do a lumbar puncture to investigate the spinal fluid for signs of infection. She said there was no need, and all signs pointed to some airborne virus that was roaming around at that time. She believed that an unnecessary lumbar puncture could scar a child for life and whatnot.
While I disagreed, I mistakenly doubted my own assessment and assumed the doctor with more experience surely knew better than me. I shrugged, wrote everything down in the dossier, and asked the pediatrician to read my evaluation afterward. I went home after an exhausting evening, having worked almost 14 hours straight.
Three days later, the child returned with fulminant meningitis that had taken a bad turn. When discussing the patient, she remarked she noticed abnormal pupillary reflexes in the patient. Not only did she discount my suggestion of doing a diagnostic lumbar puncture, but she also did not read my evaluation of the patient three days earlier.
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. We Found The Root Of The Problem
I worked as a dental assistant and had a patient come in whose color was off. His jaw and a tooth hurt. He had just come from the doctor, who told him to see us. I was suspicious of a heart attack. I put the pulse oximeter on him and almost fainted when I saw 82%. I grabbed our emergency high-flow oxygen yelled for the AED and an ambulance.
The guy was having a heart attack. Luckily, he survived and brought me a big old heart-shaped box of chocolate on Valentine’s Day. I had never been so scared or angry at another person before. The dentist I worked for called his doctor and said, “My 25-year-old assistant just saved your patient’s life.”
32. She Got Off On The Wrong Foot
I worked in EMS. We got a call for a female with leg pain. When we arrived on the scene, this woman’s leg was three times the size of her other one, blue and purple, and she had no pulse in her foot. A few days prior, she had fallen on some ice, and the urgent care she went to didn’t do any X-rays. They told her she had a sprain and gave her a walking boot. In reality, her tibia and fibula were both so severely fractured they were cutting the blood vessels and muscle tissue. She lost her foot.
33. The Difference A Letter Makes
A nurse assisting in the imaging center obtained an order for an anti-anxiety medication called Versed to be given to a patient getting an MRI. This patient had issues with claustrophobia, so this was necessary to obtain good images with the patient. The nurse went to search for the drug in the pyxis machine. Then it went so, so wrong.
So she has to type the medication name in like a Google search in the screen to pull the drug. She types in only "Ve," which pulls up relevant substances by alphabetical order, and without looking, she clicked the first medication and gave it to the patient. Almost immediately, the patient suffocated and passed, right there on the spot. It was only afterward they found out what happened.
When the nurse typed "ve," the first medication alphabetically wasn't Versed, it was Vecuronium. The difference being an anti anxiety medication versus a paralytic medication, which paralyzed them while conscious and suffocated them.
34. One Man’s Trash…
I work for pathology. An oncologist I met at the lab would tell me all of these horror stories, but one of them sticks out in my mind as one of the most horrific mistakes I’ve ever heard a medical professional make. Specifically, I will never forget about the one time a nurse threw someone's donated organ transplant into the rubbish bin. Yep, really.
35. The Doctor’s Dismissiveness Was Galling
My sister had her gallbladder out. She had routine surgery and two days later woke up at 4 AM in searing pain. She went to the ER by ambulance, and I met her there. The ER docs were all convinced she was a drug seeker and did not even conduct a physical exam beyond taking her vitals. They told her to shut her up because she was just yelling, “Help me! Help me! I'm dying!”
They eventually did an MRI but said it was negative and sent her home. She didn’t want to leave and insisted something was terribly wrong. However, they said they would call security and have her thrown out. She had no history of drug or alcohol abuse. She continued to get worse at home and the next day went to a different hospital.
They did a workup and found that the metal clip that closed off her bile duct had cut right through the tissue. She had a large bile leak that was burning all her abdominal organs. She had to have three surgeries to fix it and was hospitalized for nine days. She was left with chronic pain from adhesions and chemical burns. But that's not even the worst part somehow.
When the new hospital finally acquired the MRI from the initial ER visit, she was told that the leak was small but clearly visible in that image.
36. He Was Full Of It
When my son was two years old, he wasn't pooping normally. His stomach was getting bigger, and he seemed to always take in more food than was coming out. We brought it up with our family doctor, who suggested a laxative or some natural remedy. A few months later, and with no improvement, we brought our son back to our family doctor.
She told us the same thing again. I asked her, "What if it doesn't improve?" She replied, "It definitely will." It did not. After a few visits to the ER and a lot of doctors frantically asking a lot of questions, we found out he had a condition called Hirschsprung's disease, where the nerve cells in his colon are non-existent, so his body didn’t know when he needed to poop.
He went in for emergency surgery. The surgeon was furious at how our family doctor handled things. A short while later, the family doctor decided to retire early. I suspected the surgeon reported her mishandling things.
37. 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.
38. Small Cut, Big Consequences
I was the patient. I had a liver transplant and was having surgery to get a new bile duct stent. Well apparently, my anatomy is different than normal, and my lungs go more down my sides. So the doctor accidentally caused a nick. It had devastating consequences. When I woke up, I couldn't breathe. They did an X-ray and had to do a chest tube.
Apparently, he cried he felt so bad about it all. But it wasn't him being malicious or negligent, it was simply an accident.
39. A Mysterious Case Of Broken Ribs
My best friend was in her late twenties and felt constant irritation in her stomach. She went to see several doctors over the course of almost three years, and they all dismissed her, saying she had an irritable bowel. She would try a new diet every few months, but nothing helped. One day she called me and told me she had broken her ribs. She didn't know how it happened, but she started having horrible pain, and her doctor said her ribs must have been fractured.
When the pain became too much to bear, she went to the ER and got a CT scan. She didn’t have broken ribs. She had stage 4 colon cancer with 4-inch tumors in her abdomen that were compressing her organs and causing the pain. She only lasted a few more months. If one of the many doctors she had seen had taken her seriously and sent her to get a colonoscopy, she'd probably still be alive.
40. Itching For Answers
I went to three different doctors to get checked for a rash I had developed over my entire torso and legs. It was so bizarre. It didn't itch or anything, but it was noticeable and just stopped at my elbow and knees. One doctor said it was eczema and gave me some cream which did nothing. I went and saw a different doctor, who told me it was probably an allergy. They recommended I change my detergent.
I did, but again, nothing happened. I went back again to a third doctor, who reckoned it was pityriasis rosea, which is pretty benign. He told me to wait it out, even though I had it for the best part of three months. Soon after, I went to the clinic for my regular checkup. The nurse took one look at me and said I had syphilis. So, she asked if the student nurse could come in and look. Two painful injections later, it cleared up.
41. Trust No One
I’m a medical student on my anaesthetics placement. I went to see a patient due for surgery that morning. On my way back to theatres for briefing, a nurse comes running down the corridor to tell me that the patient had been fully anti-coagulated the night before because the surgeons had forgotten to un-prescribe the medication that thinned her blood.
If nobody had stopped us before we gave her the epidural, she would have bled into her spine and become paralyzed even before the surgeons opened her up, and that would have been even worse because had she bled, we wouldn’t have been able to stop it. It’s hard as a medical student to know your place and when to speak up, since you’re surrounded by professionals.
So when you see something like a full therapeutic dose of anti-coagulants on the patient’s medication list, you don’t want to question it because surely everyone above you knows what they are doing? The consultant I was working with told me there have been stories of medical students not speaking up when surgeons have started operating on the wrong side and things like that.
42. Can I Get A Do-Over?
Medical student here. I was watching a knee operation when the surgeon suddenly stopped and looked towards the staff. His face was absolutely shocked. Then he asks, "This is the wrong knee, isn't it?" Basically, he was told to operate on the wrong knee. Halfway through the job, he realized it was too "good-looking" to be the knee that needed the operation.
Luckily there was no permanent damage done; the team re-knit everything together and rescheduled the surgery.
43. Her Life Was Resting On My Shoulders
While I was doing a trauma and orthopedics rotation at a small hospital, I was asked by the medical team to look at a 67-year-old lady who had fallen at home. She had some shoulder pain. The emergency department had X-rayed her and ruled out a broken collar bone and shoulder. She still had pain, and the medics didn't wholly trust the emergency department, so they asked me to have a look.
I looked at the X-ray and found nothing broken. Then I saw the patient. Her shoulder was a bit bruised, but she had a good range of movement. When I felt her shoulder a bit more, I felt some weird lumpiness, like bubble wrap, under the skin. It suddenly hit me: "Holy cow, this is surgical emphysema." I went back to the shoulder X-ray and looked at the snippet of the lung in the film.
I saw a punctured lung and a hint of some broken ribs. The patient went in for an emergency chest drain and was transferred to the trauma center. Luckily, the patient survived. I don't think the emergency room doctors had even laid hands on the patient. They just simply looked at the X-rays and referred on.
44. Multiple Mental Health Mishaps
After we got married, my husband and I struggled a lot because he would go through phases where he behaved like a different person. I had noticed it before marriage, but then I stopped working, and it became clear that he was struggling with something. He had had a lot of problems his whole life, including several bouts with the law.
He got a variety of diagnoses, such as narcissistic personality disorder and sociopathy but was never really treated or medicated. One doctor told him he was untreatable. Despite all of this, my husband got out of prison, stayed sober for years, earned a bachelor's degree, graduated with honors, and moved to a new city. However, he started struggling again with alcoholism before I met him. We partied A LOT at the beginning of our relationship.
When we got married, my husband would periodically act totally crazy and then normal after about two weeks. I started charting his behavior and statements he made because he would say things like, “I never need more than a few hours of sleep!” Then, two weeks later, he would say, “I always have a hard time getting up in the morning!” I knew something was wrong. In college, I was a psych major, and I started comparing his symptoms to bipolar disorder.
He met all of the qualifications. I was able to convince him to start therapy, and BINGO! He got a bipolar diagnosis within a few sessions, especially after reviewing his history. Even so, everyone was reluctant to prescribe him medication. A whole year went by, and he was still struggling. Then he went into a full-blown manic episode and started saying things like he felt like he couldn’t control himself, so I took him to the ER.
In the ER, I told the doctor I wasn’t leaving until he got medication because he was clearly suffering and needed help now. The doctor not only 100% agreed, she actually called his therapist and lectured her for not trying harder to get him meds. He got a hefty dose, we went home, and he slept for two days. He woke up like his usual self again. It took another two years of trial-and-error before his medication was balanced out, but the difference was amazing.
My husband had been considering surgery for a problem he had with excessive sweating, but it went away when he got the proper medication. In fact, a huge list of his problems just disappeared once he was medicated for his mental health issues. He was finally as normal as someone without any mental health issues and often wondered what his life would have been like if he had gotten the proper help early on.
45. Forgive And Forget
When I was a kid, I often had surgeries to treat my genetic condition called osteochondromatosis. My surgeon came highly recommended, and although he didn’t have the best bedside manner, he was very good at his job. I went in once to get some plates put in both knees to correct the bowing growth and also to have a bone spur removed from my left foot.
Surgery went well, I’m put in recovery, and my parents come see me. My mom, however, notices something strange. “Weren’t you supposed to do both knees?” She asked my surgeon. I don’t know what his response was, as I was in dreamland, but I gather he was horrified. He’d done my right knee and my left foot...but had literally forgotten to do my left knee, which lead to me having to undergo two more surgeries than I would have.
He overall was a good surgeon. Still kind of upset about how he sort of misled us on the possibility of me developing cancer, though, but that's another story.
46. Down To The Bone
I was the patient, but I was close with my surgeon and his assistant. I was in an ATV accident and shattered my humerus. About five months later, my orthopedic surgeon decided to insert a plate, screws, and cables. Two months before, I had a bone graft to try to repair it so I wouldn’t have to have hardware for the rest of my life, but it didn’t take like my doctor wanted.
I had been in a sling and splinted from shoulder to fingers for this entire time. Surgery goes well, and I start to regain muscle. I go in for a check-up about three months after starting physiotherapy and they do X-rays. My surgeon comes in and we’re looking at the X-rays...and that's when he freezes. He points to the X-ray and tells me that I need a third surgery to repair my arm.
Due to the atrophy, he wasn’t able to extend my arm during the plate placement to test it to make sure it was high enough. Turns out, the placement was too low and as I was extending my arm, it was knocking the plate out of the bone. I cried when he told me because I just couldn’t stand the thought of going through that pain again.
He apologized multiple times and told me he was there if I needed anything or had questions. My mom was friends with his assistant, and this woman confessed that after I left the surgeon went to his office and cried because he didn’t want me to have to go through the surgery and healing all over again either. He referred me to another surgeon, and the surgery went well to move the plate and add another one.
I saw my original doctor a few months ago, and he saw my updated hardware for the first time. He cried when I told him my life was pretty much back to normal.
47. He Was Up To His Neck With Problems
A guy was brought in by ambulance for upper airway obstruction. We diagnosed what looked like advanced throat cancer and did a tracheostomy. After the operation, where you pull and push the neck like crazy, we checked his neck X-ray, and a junior asked us when did the patient break his neck. He had a brand new unstable neck fracture.
We checked his initial X-ray and saw that it was there PRIOR to the operation. I finally questioned the patient. What he said totally floored me: The ambulance was in a car crash on his way to the hospital! No one bothered mentioning it to us when he came in. He only thought he had some whiplash, but he was a few millimeters away from permanent paraplegia.
48. It Was A Worst Case Scenario
I started taking my daughter to the doctor for abdominal pain when she was 12. She had excruciating, can't function, abdominal pain. We tried tracking the pain cycles, but nothing seemed to add up. We went to doctor after doctor and specialist after specialist. All literally told her it was in her head, which caused her to develop some massive mental health issues.
At 19, she ended up in the ER again for abdominal pain, and they found a cyst on her ovary. A few weeks later, she went in for surgery to remove it. The surgery lasted a couple of hours longer than a cyst removal surgery should have. The surgeon came out and said, "That is the worst case of endometriosis I've ever seen in my entire career."
At 21, after having exhausted all avenues for controlling the endometriosis, she had a complete hysterectomy. Even prepping for that surgery, with a surgeon specializing in endometriosis, the nurses and anesthesiologists said they were warned that hers was one of the worst cases they’d seen. I get mad when I think of all the doctors we went to who believed she was faking it.
49. What Lies Beneath
My mom had to have a kidney removed due to her waiting for almost two years to go to the doctor about her pain in her back. The doctors found out it was a large kidney stone and that her kidney was infected and had lots of gross pus shutting it down. After draining the fluids through tubes, she was finally ready for surgery.
Cue last Wednesday, the day of the surgery, and she was ready to finally be done with it. They removed the stent and put in the tubes no problem, next was the kidney. Here comes the “Oh God” moment. As they get ready to remove the kidney, they realized the kidney’s infection had spread to a portion of her lung and a major artery, making them fragile as toilet paper.
As the surgeon removed the kidney, he tore a hole in the lung, and even worse, he severed the artery. At that point, it was a race to save her life and stabilize her. I don’t remember much about how they fixed her up there, but they had to fly her to a different hospital and have a heart surgeon fix the severed artery in a more permanent fashion.
Anyway, the heart doctor saw the grave situation and said she’s got a 1% chance to make it. But he did such an excellent job that my mom is still alive and getting stronger each day. The moral of this story is: If you have insurance and are experiencing pain, go to a doctor as soon as you realize it. You may save your life, and also save some doctors from an “Oh God” moment like this.
50. Not A Single Stroke
A patient presented with stroke-like symptoms. They had weakness on one side, blurriness, super high blood pressure, etc. He worked in the hospital and told his manager he was feeling these symptoms and was directed to Occupational Health and Safety. They saw him there and told him, “You’re fine. Go to a walk-in clinic after work.”
He went back to work, and luckily his manager said, “Nope! Go to the ER.” We got him there, and after a head CT, we found an intracranial infarct and three OLD infarcts that had never been diagnosed. The man had four strokes and was told he was fine and to go to a walk-in clinic after work. I couldn't believe it.
51. She Was Just Seizing The Moment
A 3-year-old girl was brought in for seizures. She had spells of leg shaking and stiffness and was not responding. She had been treated for this by her pediatrician for over a year, with two different anti-epileptics. She had to be taken out of daycare because they did not know how to handle the seizures. The mother was terrified because nothing was helping, and the seizures were getting worse, occurring multiple times a day.
The mom showed me a video of a seizure. I immediately knew exactly what I was watching: It was a pretty straightforward video of a toddler self-gratifying by rubbing her legs together. Since lack of seizures is something that needs to be proven, we admitted the child into the hospital and attached EEG electrodes to her head. We stopped the anti-epileptics and watched her by EEG and video to see if we could prove it was not a seizure on EEG.
The girl was terrified, as there were wires on her skull, strange people in white coats poking her, and nurses drawing blood which is painful. She was in no mood to perform the activity. I spend a whole week waiting for this toddler to pleasure herself. Finally, she felt at ease enough and did her leg rubbing. It was not a seizure. We stopped all her meds, reassured the mom, and sent her home.
52. Sixth Sense
Surgical ward nurse here. The worst I’ve seen was a guy who managed to get to the operating theatre for an inguinal hernia repair, but had completely forgotten to disclose his medical history, and no doctor or nurse had bothered to ask. He was otherwise a young, fit, and healthy guy, so no recent blood work had been done either.
Within a few minutes of returning to the ward, his surgical incision was starting to fill. It almost looked like an IV drip had tissued and his lower abdomen was filling with the IV fluids. But of course, no one put any fluids down there. I was still a grad then, but I’d seen enough post-op hernias to know something wasn’t right.
I called the on-call doctor, who at the time was only a medically trained junior. He took a cursory glance at it, told me he wasn’t a surgeon, and said he had another real emergency to go to on another floor, but that he would come back to check on it after that. I just knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. So I started an FBI-level interrogation of the patient.
I asked if there was something he might have forgotten to tell the doctors. No judgments etc., but I needed his 100% honesty. He then admitted that he had a condition called “thrombocytopenia,” but he didn’t know what it was and was too afraid to bring it up. He also just assumed the doctors somehow knew or could tell when they looked at him.
Basically, the condition would completely affect his bleeding. I called the other doctor back immediately and told him that with or without him, my next call would be to transfer the patient immediately to our department of emergency. The doctor told me to do what I needed to. Thankfully, we caught it quite quickly, and the patient only needed a couple of bags of blood and some medication to restore normal bleeding and clotting.
53. Try, Try Again
I haven't worked in a surgical setting, but I did work as a fire fighter and EMT for eight years. The worst mistake I witnessed was when a paramedic delayed the transport of a critical patient by 40 minutes because they couldn’t intubate the patient—the patient’s airway was compromised due to a headfirst fall off the rafter of a garage he was building.
We had a secondary option for airway protection called an igel, which is very easy to insert and should have been resorted to due to the patient’s condition. Unfortunately, the paramedic chose to attempt the tube intubation six times (our county protocols only allow two attempts) before finally letting another paramedic who had arrived on scene make an attempt.
This paramedic was also unsuccessful and resorted to the igel immediately. No idea if the patient made it or not unfortunately, but the paramedic got in big trouble over this call.
I took my son to the ER late one night because he was coughing and had a high fever. They took an X-ray, gave him ibuprofen, and told us he was fine. The doctor showed me the X-rays to prove it and gave me a dirty look when I asked what the dark spots were. I told her she was an idiot and took him to an urgent care facility four hours later.
The doctor who saw him was taken aback when immediately diagnosed him with pneumonia and confirmed it with X-rays. I flat out refused to pay for the ER visit and told them that if they persisted in trying to collect, I would press charges against their incompetence. They never called me again. I would like to thank all the fine medical professionals out there who actually do care about their patients.
55. My Family’s Concerns Were Not Displaced
When I started walking, my extended family noticed that I would waddle a lot. My parents didn't really notice it because they had grown used to my funny walking, but my grandma and my aunts, who saw me less often, insisted that I had a limp. So, my mother asked our pediatrician about it, and he reassured her that it was nothing and would fix itself when I grew up.
One year passed, and it didn't fix itself. It got even worse. My mother asked my doctor again about it and requested an X-ray to ensure everything was fine. The doctor bit her head off for wanting to expose me to the rays. He insisted it was nothing but referred us to a specialist anyway. The specialist suggested my parents put some wool around my leg with the limp.
My dad finally had enough. It was summer, and my regular pediatrician was on holiday. His partner visited me because the limping became bad, and my parents wanted another opinion. The new doctor measured my legs. There was a 4–5 cm (2 in) difference between the two legs. They sent me to a special children's hospital to get it fixed right away.
It turned out I had severe dysplasia. It was so severe that my right hip didn't have a socket for the femur bone. I needed months of physiotherapy to learn to walk again. Three years and three surgeries later, I was finally normal. If the second doctor hadn’t caught it, I would have grown up disabled.
56. Scarred For Life
My husband had a weird dimpled spot on his back. He went to the dermatologist multiple times, was brushed off, and told not to worry about it. The dermatologist even burned off a nodule that was bothering him but repeatedly said the dimpled spot was nothing and was visibly irritated with us for being anxious. We waited nearly ten years before going to another dermatologist.
The next dermatologist immediately diagnosed the spot as a sarcoma which had ten extra years to grow. My husband had a 48-inch scar snaking down his back from the removal of the tumor and the reshaping of his back. It was a massive wound that needed months of healing and care. I would like to take that first dermatologist who was so patronizing with our concerns and show him what I think of him...
57. Nightmare Fuel
It was my wisdom teeth removal. All four were impacted, and they had to break out the heavy hardware. I'm knocked out, don't even know the dentist entered the room. I wake up, but not able to move, just eyes open awake but my limbs won't react to my brain. I can feel the dentist hammering a chisel into my tooth to break it for extraction.
My jaw is just coming undone on every hit. My eyes are wide open, jaw even wider with some evil metal contraption. I'm staring at the assistant begging for her to see me, and after about a dozen hammers to my jaw, she glances over and drops the suction, jumps up and shrieks. The dentist stops to look at her, then looks at me and I see him say "Oh God.” Next thing I know, I'm waking up post-surgery. What nightmares are made of.
58. The Bad Doctors
A long time ago, I worked for a law office as an administrative assistant. The office represented doctors who were going in front of a medical board to defend their licenses when they were accused of violating medical conduct. There were surgeons who routinely left items in their patients, over and over again, who kept getting let off.
There was a doctor who was forging paperwork for parents to show that they provided services to their kids when they were never provided, which resulted in innocent people dying. There were doctors who were using their medical knowledge to poison family members. I obviously can't go into any detail. But that stuff was terrifying.
Most of them kept their licenses and faced no recourse besides losing a little money in a malpractice suit and getting their malpractice insurance raised and occasionally paying a fine to keep their license. There are a lot of good doctors out there, but these were not them.
59. Mother Didn’t Know Best
When I was 15, I fell on my wrist while playing football in gym class. The school nurse, who was friends with my mom, who was also a nurse, said to keep an eye on it during the evening. Later that afternoon, I was in agony, but my mom wasn’t having any of it. After enough whining, she finally took me to the doctor and then on to the hospital after they told me it was broken.
60. Out Of Touch With The Problem
When I was a med student, I was on my surgery rotation. We had a case where a kid broke his arm and was in for his follow-up appointment. He had already gone to the orthopedist who splinted it and put him in a cast. He complained of a lack of sensation in his fingers but could still move them. The orthopedist said it couldn't be compartment syndrome because that would be incredibly painful and not just a lack of sensation.
Soon the patient didn't have any movement in his fingers anymore. So, after getting the cast off and seeing the damage, we had to go in and salvage as much of the arm as possible. Everything on the inside was necrotic. It turned out it was indeed compartment syndrome, and the loss of sensation was because his nerve fibers had already gone.
The kid really didn't want to have his arm amputated, so they ended up cleaning out the forearm, so it was just radius and ulna, plus the blood vessels to the hand. There was no muscle or nerve left to salvage, but this way, he could keep his hand if he wanted, even though it would be 100% useless. It was a very tragic and bad call by the original orthopedic.
61. Murphy’s Law
I’m a surgery resident. For the non-medical people, I’m a doctor who's in the middle of a 5-8 year surgery training after medical school. This was not my mistake, but a mistake of a mentor of mine who I consider one of the best surgeons in terms of surgical technique, warm bedside manner, and as a teacher. A healthy young patient with acute appendicitis was booked for an appendectomy.
This is a minimally-invasive operation commonly performed every day for removing the appendix through three small incisions, followed by placing special ports through the incisions to allow the instruments to go in your belly. Before placing the ports, we inflate your belly with CO2 like a balloon to make space for the ports.
Each of these ports has a pointy javelin-looking thing so it can enter the abdomen. The first one goes around your belly button. The second goes somewhere below the belly button. The third one goes somewhere on your left side of the belly. In my mentor's case, the first port went in smooth, but upon placement of the second port, the javelin point went through into an artery, and also into the vein underneath it.
Vascular Surgery was called in for an emergency. The abdomen was opened up, and the vascular team tried to repair the injury. The patient coded from massive blood loss and eventually passed after many hours of CPR, resuscitation, and transfusion. The loss affected everyone in the Surgery department, not just my mentor. It was devastating...
62. Too Late To Turn Things Around
My dad had been feeling bad for months. He had nausea, and everything tasted like dirt to him. He lost 30 pounds and had constant cold streaks at night, where he would sit in the shower with hot water blasting to warm up. His primary doctor did nothing. Finally, my aunt forced him to go to urgent care after a friend of his called her.
The urgent care nurse took one look at him and went pale. She immediately sent him to the hospital because he had multiple liters of fluid surrounding his lungs. The doctors drained the fluid did a colonoscopy and endoscopy to see what was causing his issues. They removed a few polyps and suspected lymphoma, so they did laparoscopic surgery to confirm. Every tissue sample they took was necrotic, so they sent him to the Mayo Clinic to confirm.
He was complaining of stomach pain the whole time, which isn't uncommon after a laparoscopy. The doctors at the Mayo Clinic decided to take him into surgery the next morning to grab their own samples. As soon as they started, they had to open him up from his sternum to his pelvis. When they did his colonoscopy and removed the polyp, no one had noticed that they left his colon wall too thin.
When they pumped him full of air, it had ruptured. He was leaking from his intestine into his abdominal cavity for over 24 hours. They barely saved his life. He got a colostomy bag, was in the ICU for two weeks, and they finally confirmed large B-cell diffuse non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He fought for over a year, but it was caught late, and it was aggressive.
63. The Long And Short Of It All
When I was in grade school, I started having horrible ankle pain when I walked. My doctor always attributed it to growing pains. I knew that was garbage, and so I kept annoying him about it. After multiple attempts at a diagnosis, I finally went to see a specialist. He asked me to flex my ankle, and so I did. He told me, “No, all the way.”
I was flexing as hard as I could, but I could only bend my foot about an inch from its resting position. It turned out I had incredibly decreased mobility of that joint due to shortened tendons. After years of my other doctors brushing me off, he diagnosed me within five minutes. After a few months of physiotherapy and a shoe insert, my pain decreased substantially.
64. You Had One Job
I’m an operating room nurse. We were doing an operation for a patient with rectal cancer where we were going to remove the cancerous rectum, close it up, and the patient then would have a colostomy for the rest of their life. This procedure was done robotically, and the cancerous tissue was detached but not immediately removed, so I went to lunch.
When I came back, though, I noticed there were no specimens on my table of the cancerous tissue. Meanwhile, the patient was already closed and minutes away from being extubated—even though we hadn’t yet removed the cancer. The surgeon had to return to the OR, reopen the patient, and actually remove the specimen this time. Big deal! But luckily no real harm to the patient.
65. The Blame Game
I’m a surgeon, but this one is not a personal experience. Instead, it’s a case that stuck with me. So, a surgeon amputated the healthy leg of a 52-year-old instead of the other diseased leg. He was already cutting the wrong leg when a nurse looked through the patient’s file and stopped the procedure, informing him that he had been working on the wrong leg.
Apparently, the surgeon denied responsibility for the error and shifted it to other staff members involved in the surgery, since the blackboard in the operating room, the operating room schedule, and the hospital computer all listed the wrong leg for amputation. Also, the wrong leg had also been prepared for surgery prior to the doctor’s arrival.
66. Hy-men! They Found The Problem
When my sister was young, she had terrible lower abdominal pain for three years. It was to the extent that she could barely leave her bed that whole time. The doctor diagnosed her with colic, and everyone decided that was final. Our mother believed that she was just lazy and wanted to skip school. Finally, after three years, much crying and desperation on my sister's part, the hospital performed all the scans on her to prove it was nothing.
As it turned out, her hymen was four times thicker than normal. So when her period started, the blood had no way out. Her uterus was on the verge of bursting because it was so full of blood and tissue. She ended up having to have surgery to suck it all out, then to create an opening so it wouldn't happen again. She still has issues with her womb to this day.
67. Nurse Ratched
I was working as a CNA on an ICU step-down unit when I noticed my patient was acting strange. I asked her a few questions and got some questionable answers. She couldn’t really answer questions other than saying, “Huh,” and “Uh-huh,” and her gait was weird. It was more like a trot rather than a regular walk, and she was leaning.
I was training another CNA and said, “No matter what you do, if you see something, notify the nurse and put on the chart that you notified her.” The patient was having a major stroke, and the nurse was too oblivious to do an assessment. The woman had to go to rehab. The only reason anyone “caught it” was because the night shift nurse insisted on the bedside report. The nurse I had been working with yelled at me, “STROKE??” Meanwhile, I had been notifying her of the symptoms all day.
68. A Man With A Vision
I had a guy come in for a second opinion after the first doctor didn’t bother asking him about his medical history. Of course, I took his history and asked more questions as we went along. I remember telling him something felt off and that we needed to run a test, so I ordered a peripheral vision test. When I got the test back, I was shocked at the results—he presented with the most classic tumor pattern I’d ever seen.
Two weeks later, he went into surgery to get it removed. Then, a month after, the guy was back in my clinic thanking me. He was a totally different person—his personality was a complete 180 in that he was now energetic and happy.
69. Words Of Wisdom
Several years back, I had my wisdom teeth removed on a Thursday morning. The rest of the day was fine, but about halfway through the day after the extraction, I started having a lot of pain, which I realized was probably typical. By Saturday, I was in crying pain and started to have a lot of neck stiffness. I couldn’t open my mouth more than about a centimeter—just enough to force pills through my teeth.
I called my oral surgeon, and he said to keep taking the antibiotics they gave me and keep irrigating the sites, and this was totally normal. By Monday, I noticed a very sore spot developing on the right side of my neck. I still couldn’t open my mouth or eat. I tried to go to work on Tuesday, but my boss immediately sent me home because I looked terrible.
My surgeon was out of town that day, but I went to his office and was seen by the office manager, who was a nurse. She told me to open my mouth, but I couldn’t. She got angry and said, “If you’re not going to open your mouth, then I can’t help you.” I LITERALLY could not open my mouth. She tried to pry it open with a tongue depressor, but it snapped, and I screamed in pain.
She pulled my immensely swollen cheek out and said that my incision sites didn’t look infected. She said that if I wasn’t magically better by that night, she would get me in to see a different surgeon since mine was gone for the week. She thought my inability to open my mouth was out of “fear that it might hurt to open it.” And said, “You’re just gonna have to force yourself to do it.” If I hadn't been in so much pain, I'd have slapped her.
The next day the right side of my neck had a lump the size of a golf ball protruding from it. I could barely swallow because of the pressure and pain—and I was taking 20 pills a day for pain. I went to the ER that night. They did a CT with contrast dye and found I had developed a massive abscess in my neck from the lower right extraction site. It was starting to close off my throat so that I couldn’t swallow.
I saw a different surgeon the next day, and he also tried to pry my mouth open, to no avail. They scheduled me for surgery that day and said, “I bet your mouth will just fall open once we get you sedated.” It didn’t. It took the surgeon and two nurses in the operating room to manually open my mouth while I was sedated because I had developed trismus so bad that I could not open it beyond that centimeter.
They drained the infection, and I had to have a subsequent incision and drainage done under general anesthesia. I ended up having three surgeries in 13 days, three different antibiotics and lost 15 pounds in a week and a half. I needed weeks of facial exercises and massages, and it took a whole month to recover from the major infection. All because the original surgeon brushed off my concerns, and the office manager/nurse didn’t believe me.
70. Left In Flux
While pregnant with my youngest, I had terrible acid reflux. It was so bad, I lost 20–30 pounds because I couldn't keep anything down, not even water. I would cry and throw up all the time. At the end of the pregnancy, I was hospitalized for dehydration. My then-nurse practitioner said that I was overreacting, and it was good for me to lose weight because I was too big anyway.
After I had the baby, I was told it would get better, but it didn’t. I was popping anti-acids like candy. One night it was especially bad, I was vomiting blood, and the taste and smell coming from my mouth were horrendous. I made it to the hospital again, and the doctor there said, "Were you not here a few months ago?" Of course, I said yes.
I got a shot of Gravol in the hip, and it didn't get better. They gave me something else and still, nothing. By that point, the doctor realized something was going on. They called a surgeon over. She ordered X-rays and found that my gallbladder was highly inflamed and needed to come out. She ordered a mess of medication because, finally, someone believed me when I said I was in so much pain. It took a week before the swelling went down enough for me to get the surgery. I was so grateful for her.
71. 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.
72. 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.
73. Grandpa Wasn’t Losing It Afterall
Later in life, after retirement, my grandfather started having strange episodes. It began in an almost humorous way, confusing the remote control with the phone, the dishwasher with the oven, and spilling more coffee on the carpet than should be allowed. I lived within an hour away, so I was the first to be called and spent many nights checking in and cleaning up.
I noticed some particularly bizarre things during our time together, like the trail of coffee spills from his chair to the kitchen on the beige carpeting. He pointed at it one day and said, "You see that? I remember that from biology class. You know what those are? Amoeba!" This was funny to 20-year-old me, but it would turn out to be a clue to the actual problem.
Eventually, his condition worsened to the extent that he was going out alone at night in the middle of the cold winter and even had a couple of nasty falls on the ice as a result. The family doctor diagnosed this as dementia, and he was moved from his apartment to an Alzheimer's unit at the local nursing home. He was moved to a room with a special alarm on the chair because he fell over every time he stood up. It was devastating.
When my dad heard that he was having other hallucinations, such as thinking he lived in a house and town he hadn't been in since 1960, it struck a chord. Given my dad's experience with dementia and Alzheimer's, he mentioned it was pretty strange that he would be having hallucinations rather than memory loss. As such, my dad had the person who analyzed the medication combinations for clients at his nursing home take a look at my grandpa's list of prescribed medicine.
Quite surprisingly, he had been prescribed a sleeping pill in the mornings. We brought up the issue with his doctor of 50 years, and the guy wouldn't listen. So, we fired the doctor and got my grandfather off the pill. A mere two days later, my grandfather could not only walk but gave a speech at the university’s Quarterback Club meeting and was on point. He was back to his old self. He even married his nurse from the Alzheimer's unit and happily spent 15 years with her.
74. Almost A Waste Of Breath
I was taken to the ER because I couldn’t catch my breath. My chest was hurting, and my lungs felt like they were on fire. I went through the basic tests, and the doctor said, “It’s probably pneumonia and sent me home.” I was back a week later because my situation had rapidly deteriorated. I was put on fluids, antibiotics, and IV morphine.
The same doctor said, “It’s just pneumonia,” but I was admitted for a week. There was zero improvement, even after two weeks and then three. By that point, I’ve had multiple chest X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. Someone pointed out my lung looked a little weird. The doctor was strangely resistant at first but finally ordered a biopsy because a pulmonologist asked for it.
Instead of waiting for the results to come back, a surgeon was brought in, and they were going to crack me open and remove my whole left lung. By that point, I could barely speak, hold a pen, or comprehend what was happening to me. It was absolutely terrifying. We were at the end of week four, and when I went under for surgery, I destabilized so quickly that the surgeon didn’t want to attempt it.
I spent a week in the ICU on a ventilator. I got off the ventilator out of pure stubbornness and eventually returned to my room. I was approaching six whole weeks in the hospital. I had asked several times, “Do you think this could be cancer?” I was reassured it was not. At some point, a different pulmonologist realized there was definitely something going on with my lung and outsourced my neglected biopsy and some cultures to a university in another state.
The day I was to be discharged by the admitting doctor who said, “It’s still probably pneumonia, we don’t know, here’s a PICC line and some antibiotics,” that pulmonologist came into my room. He looked at me, sighed sadly, and told me I was dying of stage four lymphoma that had spread to my lungs. If he hadn’t trusted his gut instinct, I would no longer be alive instead of being in remission.
75. Sweat It Out
I'm a medical student. I was watching a Caesarean birth, and the first surgeon wore his mask just on his mouth, not covering his nose. He was a big name there, so no one said anything—it was strange, sure, but not the strangest thing I'd ever seen. But when it was the moment to stitch everything up after the baby was born, the mother had internal bleeding.
It wasn’t massive, but at the same time no one could say where the blood was coming from. The surgeon is now a bit troubled and starts to sweat, literally. Well, his mask doesn't cover his nose, so I swear I see a lot of drops of his freaking sweat falling into the woman’s abdomen. I pointed it out silently to the second surgeon, who then put the man's mask in place. The surgery ended well, thank God.
76. The Bionic Woman
I was a medical student at the time, so I was just there to observe. It was an elderly lady with dementia who was in for an above knee amputation. After cutting through her tissue to expose her femur, the surgeon started with the bone saw, and within a few seconds started cursing and everyone around him seemed perplexed and worried.
Turns out, the patient had a rod in her femur that the surgeon did not know about. A few other surgeons came rushing in, and a few minutes later they all figured it out eventually with a mallet and lots of pounding. I had a lot of questions, but I was not in the right place to ask with all the tension in there! I guess it was a learning experience.
77. She Was Left Tongue Tied
My grandmother had a lump on her tongue, and when she went to the doctor, the person who examined her said it looked benign but didn't feel comfortable. So, they told her she should go to an expert to make sure it’s not malignant. A more senior doctor decided against that and blocked the proposition. A couple of months later, she found out it was indeed malignant, and she needed half her tongue cut out, including her tonsils.
78. No One Is Immune To Bad Advice
My younger sibling was continuously sick for about a year. The pediatrician found nothing wrong. They just said they had a weak immune system. Finally, after my parents insisted something was wrong, they sent them to a specialist. While the intern was just feeling around my 30 pound, 4-year-old sibling's abdomen, they found a golfball-sized tumor. Luckily, it was benign but found it was a rare type of tumor that could possibly form again.
79. Breathe Easy
I was the patient in this story. When I was between 7 and 9, I had my first port put in, which is an IV catheter attached to the main vessels in my heart. When I woke up, I knew something was wrong. My lungs were horrible already, but this was way worse. I couldn't breathe and I was in so much pain. The doctor, however, thought I was just being a kid and not handling the pain very well.
My nurse knew me pretty well, though, and after me crying and struggling to breathe for a few hours, she convinced the doctor I didn't normally act like that and that something was really wrong. He ordered an X-ray and we found out that the surgeon had accidentally sliced my lung when he was putting the port in, and my lung had collapsed.
80. From Bad To Worse
I had a shoulder replacement, and one of the doctors nicked an artery. They were panicking to try and find the nick, doing everything in their power. Yet whenever they saw it, it filled with blood. At some point, he got sight of it and jabbed at it with the clamps and finally got it. Problem was, there was a cluster of nerves directly behind the artery.
So after they fixed up the nick, they had to go through the process of checking if they damaged the nerves and if my fingers still worked. Thankfully, they did. The doctor tells me he'll be telling that story to his students for years.
81. My Diagnosis Fell Between The Cracks
I fell down some icy stairs and essentially hit every step with my lower back. I ended up going to the doctor a little while later because the pain didn't go away, and he said I was bruised and gave me ibuprofen. A year later, I went back to that doctor because the pain got worse. I had to start walking with a cane because my legs started hurting a lot as well.
After a referral for an MRI, I found out I had three herniated discs in my lower back. I had surgery about three months later. I still needed a cane, but the pain was more manageable. Two years later, I ended up back at the doctor because even walking through a grocery store was unbearably painful. The guy thought I was an addict and only gave me steroids.
I went to another doctor, and for almost three years, he would only help me with my blood pressure and nothing else. Finally, when the company I was working for was shutting down, I found a doctor who helped me push through everything and got ANOTHER back surgery for the four herniated discs I then had. I was finally able to walk without a cane and was finally mostly pain-free.
82. My Ex Wasn’t A Drama Queen
My ex-girlfriend was having stomach pains and headaches for about a month. I took her to the doctor three separate times and they said it was probably nothing. The fourth time, they did a "full-body scan" on her and found nothing. As we were leaving, she said her eyes had gone crossed. They took that seriously and readmitted her.
They did a brain scan and found a two-foot-long blood clot. They had to bring in a specialist and had the surgery done immediately. They said by the size, it had been growing for about half a year. She could have lost her life because every single one of them just thought she was being dramatic.
83. Anger Management
I was standing in on a total hip replacement with the most innocent, charming, polite surgeon. Then, stuff hit the fan and the screw wasn’t holding and his tool broke. He so elegantly says an entire string of curse words. Then he stops and stares in silence for about five minutes. After that, the rest of the surgery was “hand me the [bleeping] scalpel or hand me the [bleeping] forceps.” Every time I saw him after, I just chuckled a bit.
84. Don’t Call It A Comeback
I had kidney operation when I was about a year or two old. The kind surgeon managed to stitch me up with a 2cm-long piece of tube still inside of me. When they realized, it was a bit too late. I was screened annually to see if the tube inside of me didn't cause any problems, which it did not for over a decade. Fast-forward to me being 14 or 15.
I was peeing when I suddenly saw something slowly slithering out of me. My first thought was that it was a parasite of some sort, and I freaked the heck out. Doctors, please search your patients thoroughly before stitching them up. Thank you.
85. Don’t Blame PMS
I had been suffering from terrible stomach cramps, diarrhea, and constipation since I was 14. I went to countless doctors, and everyone told me it was related to my period. As I got older and the pain continued, I went back to the doctor and again was brushed off, given some pills, told I had anxiety and should eat healthier.
I did all those things, and the pain and discomfort persisted. Finally, I found a GI doctor, who ordered a CT scan. She saw a ton of inflammation in my large intestine and colon and freaked out. She ordered me to get a colonoscopy immediately. It turned out I had ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic autoimmune disease.
86. Sleeping Screw Up
For about 12 years, all of my husband's doctors said he was sleeping all the time because he was lazy, staying up too late, depressed, etc. I thought that this was most likely not the case and that he probably had narcolepsy. It took me putting my foot down and dragging him to a sleep specialist, and telling the doctor he probably had it to get him tested for it. Sure enough—narcolepsy.
87. Down The Tubes
The nurse placed a feeding tube into a comatose ICU patient. Basically, it was a tube through the nose and down to the stomach so the patient can eat while in a coma. However, the nurse started the tube feed before getting an X-ray to confirm the appropriate placement. Well, the tube was in the wrong place. Due to some major misfortune, the tube ended up on the brain, and killed the patient.
88. The Real Problem Just Flu Over Their Heads
One time in college, I got pretty sick. I thought it was the stomach flu, and it would go away if I just rested and stayed hydrated. My friends forced me to go to the college health center. That place had a ridiculous intake process. They had five "symptom description" forms—one for head-related symptoms, one for stomach-related, one for breathing-related, etc. I had symptoms from at least three forms, but was only allowed to fill out one.
I chose the stomach-related because the vomiting was my most debilitating symptom. They handed me off to a pre-med student for intake. She did not seem to understand that I could have a headache and a fever because I only filled out the stomach-related symptom form. Finally, a doctor came in. I told him I thought I had the stomach flu.
He told me I was wrong and that I had appendicitis. They stuck me about 15 times before they could hit a vein for a saline IV. They took a bunch of blood for testing and sent me home with some ibuprofen, telling me they would contact me soon to schedule my appendectomy. Two weeks later, they contacted me to tell me I had the stomach flu, and if I stayed hydrated and rested, my body would heal itself after a few days, which had already happened.
89. A Dressing Down
A nurse went to change a surgical dressing per an order from the doctor, but misunderstood the order for how to dress it. Rather than ask questions after removing the surgical cover dressing, she cut the patient's stitches in a midline abdominal incision and packed the wound with wet gauze…opening a brand new surgical wound and causing it to split open to the fat layer.
She then re-covered the wound with dressing, which the night shift nurse didn't check, because the dressing wasn't ordered to be changed at night and there was no reason to look beneath it. We didn’t notice until the next night either, because the next day shift nurse was busy addressing emergencies and ran out of time to change it. So the night shift nurse stepped up and found the wound completely gaping.
90. Double The Fun
I saw a co-worker do this, but I had no hand in it, thank God. We make IVs for hospital patients. Well, she read the label of the IV wrong and put double the morphine in half of the amount the bag should have been. No one caught it along the way (tech, pharmacist, nurse) and it was hung and given to the patient. No one got fired, but everyone got talked to.
91. Did I Do That?
I once saw a med student suck up a skin graft with a suction device. The skin graft is a very thin piece of tissue that was being carefully laid onto the wound where it was then to be sewed on, carefully, like a patch. The med student was using the suction to clean up the wound and accidentally sucked up the carefully-prepared graft entirely. Gone instantaneously.
92. Her Decline Was Maddening
During my residency, we had a lady in her 60s who was getting progressively more forgetful, just overall declining and getting less and less able to take care of herself. She saw her primary care physician, who diagnosed her with dementia, and a neurologist who agreed with that diagnosis. Although she could not provide an accurate history, after talking to her family and friends, it became apparent that her symptoms were progressing unusually fast.
But something was just...wrong. I remember seeing the point where her new hair growth met her bright red hair dye and also her grown-out nails with hot pink polish. I thought that it obviously wasn't too long ago that she was not only taking care of herself, but going to get her hair and nails done. However, the lady who was in front of me was far from that.
The neurologist I was training with recognized this and had her admitted. He did every test, including a lumbar puncture. The workup eventually showed Creutzfeld Jakob disease—mad cow disease, which unfortunately has no treatment. She passed a few months later, but at least we were able to prepare her family for her inevitable decline so that they could make the proper arrangements.
93. Not Just Another Head Case
When I was a medical student on a surgery rotation in trauma, we had a patient come in after he fell on the street and bonked his head. Apparently, he had fallen once earlier that day. He was discharged when the trauma workup at the other hospital was negative for injuries. We examined him and noticed his eyes were yellow.
As part of our workup, and because we weren’t quite sure what had happened, we CT scanned his abdomen. We noticed that his common bile duct was three times the normal size. His next set of vitals showed that his temperature was 103F. The guy was floridly septic from ascending cholangitis, which was why he was falling. It was a big miss that was definitely an emergency.
94. My Boss is a Heartbreaker
I had a doctor that constantly ignored patients in serious pain. He thought all of them were faking it to get pain killers. 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.
95. Surgery Complications
Last year, when I went in for surgery to fix a broken leg. It was a routine procedure—until something went horribly wrong. I woke up 18 days later with a traumatic brain injury (TBI). When I woke up I couldn't see, move, or speak. I can sort of walk now. I can't see faces or read well, and I slur my words when I speak but I'm largely functional for caring for myself.
96. 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.
97. Always Look On The Bright Side
My four-year-old son had to stay at the hospital overnight for reasons I've forgotten. Somehow, it didn't make it to his chart that he has ADHD and was taking Ritalin at the time. I leave and they don't medicate him. He was mobile, wired, and unsupervised. When I came back, what they told me put me in an instant panic. They had LOST him.
He'd made it up several floors, flushed his pajama top down the toilet for…reasons. He then managed to find a very senile old man and climbed into bed with him. When they finally found him he was watching the guy's TV and was eating his ice cream. They called me to come and get him early. The staff looked like they really needed a nap. My son, however, had had a glorious time.
He never did tell me why he flushed his pajamas, though.
98. Shut My Mouth
I’m a dermatologist. I was reading a patient’s notes and found out he had been diagnosed with deadly skin cancer and was booked in to have his whole upper lip removed. Obviously, this would leave the patient quite disfigured. On a whim, he’d booked in to see a dermatologist at our hospital…who advised it was just a cold sore. He prescribed some medication and the problem was resolved.
99. He Was Itching For Some Help
I was in the hospital following a motorcycle accident. My hospital roommate, who was beside me, had been in an 18-wheeler accident. He was complaining that his back itched and someone finally came in and rolled him on his side. When they turned him over, their faces dropped—his back had pieces of glass stuck all over it. I still don't know how that was overlooked.
100. That's No Scratch
I'm a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and "feeling drowsy." We start the usual workups and this dude's blood pressure TANKED. We scrambled, but he was dead within ten minutes of walking through the door. Turns out the "scratch" was an exit wound of a .22 caliber rifle round.
The guy didn't even know he'd been shot. When the coroner's report came back, we found that he'd been shot in the leg and the bullet tracked through his torso, shredding everything in between. There was really nothing we could've done, but that was a serious "what the heck just happened" moment, and for a good while we thought we had made a fatal error.
101. Seeing Green
When I was in my early twenties, I took someone to the emergency room one time with a badly infected wound. When I told the middle-aged doctor that it was an infection, he chuckled and said, “don’t be silly. I’m sure you just mean that it’s inflamed.” I said yes, but it was also infected. He just rolled his eyes at me.
The nurses and other doctors chuckled. But then when the doctor looked at the wound, he said, “oh man. That is really badly infected.” After that, he wouldn’t make eye contact with me. I didn’t know why he had to argue with me and make me feel dumb in front of everyone.
102. Welcome To The World
My dad is a pediatrician specializing in neurological issues. He was seeing one of his patients at the hospital and got dragged into the NICU unexpectedly by a nurse who insisted that a baby wasn't well. The attending doctor insisted the kid was fine, and that he was just tired from a difficult vacuum assist delivery. My dad could tell the baby wasn't okay and managed to talk the parents into a brain scan.
The NICU doctor insisted my dad was nuts to the parents. Little did he know his arrogance would cost him, big time. The kid had a brain bleed and was rushed to surgery. The baby would not have lived without the nurse bringing my dad in and the parents listening to him. The delay caused by the NICU doctor almost certainly cost the kid some brain function. I’m proud that my dad did the right thing.
103. Got A Tell
I became a dad at 18 but broke up with my son’s mom two years later. Despite our problems, I stayed engaged in my son’s life. When he turned five, she went in for a hysterectomy. Then the day after the surgery, her mom called me asking me to go to the hospital. Apparently, she was “in a mood” and wouldn’t talk to anybody.
She thought that I could get her to talk, so I visited later that day. She just stared at me while I talked. After 20 minutes, I decided to give up and went for a hug. I noticed she was clenching her fist. At the time, I thought nothing of it and left. At home, I thought about how one-half of the brain controls speech. And that's when I had a terrifying revelation.
I remembered her clenched fist and did some research online. I looked up strokes and quickly figured that was what was happening to her. I called the nurse at the hospital to tell her my realization and got to sleep thinking I’d done a good deed. Except in the morning, her mom called saying she was getting transferred.
Apparently, due to her history of depression, doctors assumed she was acting out. I talked to my boss and asked for a day off to go to the hospital. When I got there, everyone ignored me since I “wasn’t a family member,” so I sat with her for a little. Eventually, a doctor came to sign off on the final transport orders.
I was upset. When he asked me why I was crying, I told him that she’d obviously had a stroke, but no one could see it. He told me to leave the room, and two minutes later came out confirming that she did have a stroke.
104. 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.
105. And This Is Why We Wash Our Hands
Sometimes, surgeons are the ones in for an unpleasant surprise. My father is a physician and, although he's not a surgeon, he did some surgery while in medical school. He told me a story about a patient he had once who had necrotizing fasciitis—a.k.a. a really nasty flesh-eating disease. I almost wish that he hadn’t told me this story. It’s like something out of The Walking Dead.
The patient had gotten a cut while gardening and never cleaned the wound properly. My dad told us that he had to peel back layers just to get at it. First, he peeled off the bandages that the patient had self-applied. Then there was a layer of holy book pages that he also had to peel off. Layer upon layer, bandage upon bandage.
Finally, beneath all that, was the wound itself. No amount of med school training could have prepared my father for what he saw. The wound was covered in maggots. Apparently, they were eating the dead-tissue generated by the disease. He said that once they removed the maggots, they were able to begin the surgery to remove the infected areas.
Oddly enough, this patient had the maggots to thank for keeping his appendages intact. Because the maggots had eaten away the dead and infected flesh, my dad and his team didn't have to amputate the patient’s limb. After this operation, though, my dad decided to not pursue surgery and focus on becoming a specialist.
106. A Tickle Under The Rib
I saw this one patient with a really odd condition. While she was asking me why she gets rib pain so often, she literally reached under her own rib and jiggled it with her fingers. Turns out, there were a lot of other things she could do that she shouldn’t ever be able to. I attributed it to a variant of Ehlers Danlos syndrome, which causes connective tissue abnormalities.
I was so distracted by the popping in and out of her rib that initially, I didn’t even notice how horrifying it was that she could get her hand under there.