The hospital can be a scary place. It’s where you go when you’re sick, injured, or visiting a loved one battling an illness. Unless you’re working in the medical field, the hospital is usually the last place you want to be. There are many disheartening stories that people can recall from the hospital, and here are just a few.
1. A Series Of Unfortunate Events
When I was in high school, I took a CNA course and we did our clinical training at a state-run nursing home. There was one patient who was 89 years old—she had both stage 4 pancreatic cancer and dementia. She was married at one point, but her husband and kids had already passed. All of her siblings, friends, and close relatives were gone as well.
She first entered the home about four years prior when she realized she really couldn’t care for herself anymore. Her old age, plus the other ailments she eventually developed, made it hard for her to get through her days without supervision. Most of the time, she didn’t know where she was, but she would have some days where she was lucid and she’d remember that she was alone. Those days were the most heartbreaking—I just remember she would cry a lot.
As the lucid days got further and further apart, she got to a point where she would only eat if I was the one feeding her. I went in on weekends and after school to try and get her to eat and drink something. Watching that poor woman have to face the reality of her cancer over and over again, then realize she was alone in the world was horrible.
The day she passed, I walked by her room as they were cleaning out her things and saw a picture of her sister…We didn’t look identical to one another, but I think she thought I was her sister. People imagine horrible ways to pass, but dementia is by far the worst way to go.
2. Let Me Go
I had a 94-year-old woman who had been beaten by her niece so horribly that she had to be intubated in the ICU. The woman was in pure agony and her family claimed they wanted to “do everything” for her. I later came to find out their horrible secret—they were keeping her alive to collect her social security check. One time, while I was cleaning her, she grabbed my arm and held it tight.
Huge tears welled up in her eyes and she mouthed over the ET tube: “I want to die…Please let me die.” That night, I sobbed the entire way home. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to this woman. That was one of my last days in the ICU—I was a young nurse and I could not emotionally handle working there. That, for me, was the last straw.
I started having nightmares about being at work and trying to take care of patients. I would wake up in a cold sweat and see my husband laying next to me, realizing the sounds I was hearing were him snoring and not a patient who was on a ventilator. It sounds silly, but it’s horrifying if you actually think you’re in that situation. I wish as nurses we were able to talk about what we experience on a daily basis but, because of HIPPA, we aren’t allowed. Years later, I am now an ER nurse and I love it! I see awful things quite often, but I have a better way of coping with those experiences.
3. The Cleaner’s Empathy
I cleaned the rooms of the ER in my local hospital as a summer job. This woman in her 40s was dying from cancer and she had a room in the ER for a couple of days to wait for another room in a different service. She looked fine for someone who was dying—I mean, she was bald and looked ill, but she was still nice and lovely to be around; cheerful even.
One time, I was cleaning the corridor when I heard cries from her room. I opened the door and my jaw dropped—there she was on the floor, just laying there. She fell from her bed after trying to walk to the bathroom. I helped her to the bathroom as she was crying in fear because she realized she could not walk anymore and that her end was coming. She broke my heart. It was the first time I realized where I was really working.
4. Hospital Work Is Tough
I helped clean up a cancer patient’s room after an unfortunate bowel movement ended up all over her room and bathroom. I did my best to assure the patient that it was no big deal, but I could tell she was embarrassed and too tired to say much. She thanked me afterward when I was getting ready to leave her room. I could see in her eyes how much it meant to her that I’d been so caring and understanding.
I’m very empathetic, so feeling what she must have felt just about broke me. I left her room, took care of my cleaning supplies, and as soon as I was alone, I just busted out sobbing. I saw the courage in her eyes and knew she was a tough lady, but that in and of itself made me cry more for some reason. Then it came to me.
I’d seen that same tough courage in my mom’s eyes when she was battling cancer, so that’s probably why it really hit home for me. I heard afterward that the patient whose room I’d cleaned up had passed. Working at a hospital is tough. People sometimes don’t understand the clinical detachment that providers can have, but if you don’t have it to some extent, then your emotions can break you. Provider burnout is a real thing.
5. A Chilling Experience
There was this 40-year-old woman who was paralyzed from the chest down due to a car accident years prior. She was currently on a ventilator through a trach and had a permanent feeding tube inserted in her stomach. The moment I saw her, I had a hard time keeping it together—she had a bleed in her stomach that was seeping out through the tube and she kept pulling out her trach in an effort to end it all. They ended up having to sedate her pretty heavily to keep her from repeatedly pulling the tube out. Seeing her pulling the tube loose and actively begin to suffocate with a totally blank look in her eyes was chilling.
6. A Frightful Car Wreck
I was in the hospital after a car wreck many years ago. It was a pretty bad one—the first few days, I wasn’t expected to live. They later decided that I might make it, so they attempted to save my leg and put my face back together. They came in to transfer me to surgery and somehow, the absolute worst thing that could have happened, happened—they dropped me between the bed and gurney.
They scraped me up and took me down in the elevator to surgery. As we were leaving the elevator, they started pushing the gurney and left the stand with my catheter bag in the elevator! Luckily, someone had just got in the elevator and yelled HEY!!! I was hyperventilating badly after all this when I got into surgery, so they put me out right away. The doctor mentioned it later when he came in to talk to me. I told him about getting dropped and he said that I must have imagined it as they would have never let that happen. The patient in the next bed called BS and told him all about it. He stormed out and I think a couple of people may have gotten fired.
7. Volunteering Has Its Quirks
I’m a teenage volunteer at my local hospital. They were short on people in the psych ward, so I was put there for the day. Basically, all I had to do was to get water or snacks for patients who asked and watch movies with them in the movie room. Well, one of the nurses turned on The Wizard of Oz—and triggered an unexpected response from this one crazy little old woman. She walked up to me, held my hand, and said: “I love you.”
I replied “Thank you!” and she sits back down. Then she got up again, sat beside me on the couch, and said “I’m in this movie.” Since I was with a bunch of crazy people, I just went along with her, smiling and nodding. Later, when her family came to visit, the movie was still on and one of her family members asked her, “Did you tell them you were in this movie?” Turns out, she really was in the movie as a child.
8. A Mother’s Worst Nightmare
I lost my baby one week before the due date. I had a lot of complications after birth that assured, I’ll never have another. Thanks, universe! That being said, thinking back on that day, five years later, what sticks with me most is the amazing care I received from my doctor and the nurses who were on duty. One held my hand during emergency surgery (I was lucid and terrified) while another rubbed my back when I was throwing up from the painkillers. I don’t remember their names or faces, but I remember their compassion. I’m forever grateful that they made an awful situation as comfortable as they could.
9. A Top-To-Bottom Tragedy
I got sent to the pediatric ICU to watch over a 16-year-old who tried to shoot himself in the head in a failed suicide attempt. He broke the bones that held his eyes in and lost his sight (for obvious reasons). He also shattered the part of his skull holding the brain out of his upper sinus. He was very confused and obviously terrified.
He had just learned he was going to be blind for the rest of his life and needed a new skull fragment put in to keep the brain in place. But that’s not all—on top of everything, his divorced parents were fighting. The dad blamed the mom because he used her weapon, while the mom then refused to let the dad visit by not giving him the special access code ton the unit. It was the most messed up night I’d ever worked and I refuse to go to that unit ever again.
10. A Frightful Pregnancy
We nearly lost our daughter twice before she was born. The first time was like 12 weeks in when my wife woke up bleeding pretty bad. We rushed to the hospital and they did an ultrasound. Afterward, they told us it was a low-lying placenta, and the doctor gave us about a 50/50 chance of the pregnancy sticking. We waited on pins and needles for two weeks before seeing her regular OB. Later on, he gave us the verdict—thankfully, he told us things were fine.
I haven’t told my wife, but I broke down bawling the moment I was alone. I was the rock, you know, so I couldn’t be weak. I’ve never told her that. The second pregnancy was much less severe. A few days before she was born, my wife had to do a non-stress test because of some irregularities. A few hours later, we were all clear, and soon after, my daughter was born. She’s almost two now, and although I wouldn’t have ever known her if she didn’t make it through, thinking about it now makes me so sad. I’m just so happy she’s healthy.
11. What Happened Next
The most awful story my paramedic friend told me was a teen suicide that was actually a cry for attention. This girl had had a huge fight with her dad and decided at the moment that she was going to”end it all” to “scare the heck out of them.” She took a whole box of paracetamol. Nothing happened. Later that night, she started feeling really sick, so she told her parents what happened and they called the ambulance.
Unfortunately, paracetamol starts having negative effects when it has already been absorbed into the blood. If you don’t catch it early, you can’t minimize the effects. So, when they got to the hospital, the doctors gave them the tough-to-swallow truth—there was nothing they could do. They had to explain to the family that all they could do was wait for her to pass. The girl just kept apologizing to her parents over and over. She just wanted a trip to the hospital so they would listen to her. Paracetamol is incredibly dangerous and not enough people know about it.
12. A Clinical Rotation Turned Worse
I was in my second clinical rotation as a nursing student. The patient I was assigned to was a grumpy old guy who was 79. He had a good sense of humor, but you had to tread carefully around him. He had chronic pain and was diagnosed with colon cancer. His son would visit in the mornings just in time to talk to the doctors doing their morning rounds.
I was helping him get ready for breakfast when the doctor walked in. This was pretty typical, but he was anxious to see the doctor today as he just had a bunch of tests done and was hoping to hear some results so he could be discharged to go home. Usually, I would just finish up whatever I was doing and then leave so that the patient and doctor could talk privately.
That morning, his son was not able to make it in and my patient asked if I could stay in the room with him to hear everything. I said sure, no problem, as long as the doctor was okay with it as well (some doctors don’t like dealing with students). The doctor just got right to the point. Cancer had spread and there was nothing more they could do.
The palliative team would be coming to meet with him this afternoon to discuss where he could be transferred to during his final days. My patient thought the doctor was joking and started to laugh, and then he just sat there with a completely blank look. As a student, I was NOT prepared to know how to comfort someone in that situation as it was something I didn’t have experience with. I felt awful because 10 minutes before he got this news, he was telling me he couldn’t wait to see his cat once he got home. For the next week, he did not get out of bed, refused to eat and take medication or shower. And then I came in one day and he was transferred out.
13. The Nursing Home Nightmare
This was the worst part of working in the nursing home. I had one lady named Max, and man was she just the sweetest…but her mind was going. She lived there with her husband and he passed first. Max was 96 and she was always asking where he was. She was happiest to be told that he was bringing flowers or candies or something and he’d see her soon.
We would sneak those items into her room at her meal times so she would think he came. She was happy and it was working well…until she got a new CNA, Heather. Heather deserves to die in a fiery agonizing pit. She got mad that Max asked about her husband, so Heather told Max that her husband passed 10 years ago and was never coming back.
She essentially told her to “get over it” and called her an “overgrown toddler”. The sound that came out of max will haunt me for the rest of my life. Max was strangely lucid afterward. Even when she was out of it, she was sullen and depressed and would say she didn’t understand why. After that day, Max stopped eating. Stopped drinking. Stopped playing Dominos.
She stopped walking around the halls. She never left her room to socialize. She stopped asking about her husband. She got very sickly and was declining fast. It was at that stage in her progress that I left that home. I filed a formal complaint against Heather and left for other reasons. I don’t know if Max ever came out of it or if she wasted away in there. It was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen.
14. A Famous Writer
I knew a girl in college whose grandma got dementia. The family visited her weekly and they were stressed out over the fact that she couldn’t enjoy her own life. Anyway, one day they visited the grandma and she said, “Who are you?” to the granddaughter. The granddaughter remembered that the grandma always loved writing and books, so she said something that changed the whole tone of the visit: “I’m your granddaughter. Don’t you remember me? I’m a famous writer!”
The grandma perked up and said, “You’re a writer? Wow, my granddaughter is a writer!” They spent the rest of the visit talking about books, stories, and how the girl had won a Nobel Peace Prize award for one of her books. Now the family had a mission—to create stories and characters that the grandma loved. Most of the things revolved around things the grandma enjoyed (for instance once the daughter said she was the first female astronaut because the grandma liked space and astronomy).
The grandma was so proud to have family members so accomplished and doing amazing things, and the family was able to focus on more than just the illness. The girl said when her grandma passed, no one felt horribly sad because they knew she passed happy and was proud of what her legacy was.
15. The Eye-Opener
I volunteered in a children’s hospital throughout high school. There was a sixteen-year-old patient there who had spina bifida and had no feeling beneath the waist. He had routine surgery and was expected to be in the hospital for about a week. The worst thing I’ve ever seen was the look on his face when he told me the doctors’ horrible surprise diagnosis—they had found MRSA on both of his legs, and he wouldn’t be leaving the hospital any time soon.
Hospital trips are kind of funny. The first week, everybody wants to visit you, but after that, guests seem to taper off dramatically. I remember him stating that the hardest thing for him was the lack of social support beyond his family (and to a much lesser extent myself), as this was the year before Facebook really took off. It was a happy ending though—he eventually did recover from MRSA after spending around six months in the hospital.
16. Horror In The ER
This occurred in an emergency room. An old lady came in—I don’t know what for, but she told us she came from a nursing home. There is no way to describe accurately how horrific this woman’s condition was. Her hair…it was so matted and dirty…it seemed like the bugs that lived in it couldn’t even get to the center of the dreadlock… They ended up cutting most of it off because it was so bad. But it gets worse.
Her skin was just straight up open, infected with oozing sores. It was like if you took someone’s skin off, laid it flat, then took a hole punch to the entire thing and put it back on…there were HUNDREDS of small, round, infected, smelly, gooey, painful sores on her entire back, rear, and legs. Her mouth was also decaying and missing teeth.
But there was one thing that baffled all of the doctors—the mold. Just straight-up mossy. MOLD. Originally, we thought she had a napkin in her mouth or was eating toilet paper…nope, it was just mold. I had to leave the room because I kept throwing up. This lady smelled worse than a dead body. Thank God for nurses because those people handled the situation like champs …They cut her hair, patched her up, and cleaned her mouth. She looked like a new person by the time they were through with her.
17. Food Trays And Hospital Rooms
I worked at the hospital in high school. I delivered food trays to hospital rooms, so it was a very easy job. We were encouraged to have brief conversations with the patients to try and cheer them up a bit. The hardest one to deal with was someone I never expected to see in the hospital—our high school principal. Our principal dealt with 2,700 students but was beloved by all. Not often you find a person like that.
Well, one day she got really sick and had to go to the hospital. I walked into her room and saw her there. Somehow, she remembered my name although I had only met her twice. I saw her every day I worked and saw her declining for months. All that time, people in school had spread rumors that she was getting better. Apparently, somebody’s mom saw her shopping, so people thought she was coming back next week. I couldn’t say anything obviously, but it was very hard to deal with watching so many people have hope and knowing in my mind that it truly wasn’t looking good. She passed about three months after being admitted to the hospital. The school was devastated.
18. Horror Of The Third Degree
In the burn and trauma unit: a guy had third-degree burns on 80% of his body. He had very little skin left, I could actually see part of his tibia and his fingertips were necrotic…he was heavily medicated, but still, I can’t even fathom the pain. I don’t know if he made it because he was quite septic the last time I was there. I now work in the NICU.
Most of the babies end up doing pretty well and going home eventually, but some aren’t so lucky. I could go on about the medical stuff, but really the worst is when their parents don’t care about them. Some parents live far away and have other kids to take care of, so it’s understandable if they aren’t there every day.
But then there are others who never call or visit, and no one can track them down, so the kid ends up being discharged to foster care. It just burns deep in my soul sometimes. One day, I might hand a perfectly nice couple their baby to hold one last time while we withdraw life support, and the next day I’ll be trying to soothe a baby withdrawing from the substances his MIA mom took. Despite the challenges, I still love my job, though.
I have seen many people die, but the worst one BY FAR was a man with active bleeding, hemorrhaging from his esophagus due to long-term substance abuse. This was many years ago and there are better ways to treat it now, but at the time, the treatment for this kind of hemorrhaging was putting an inflatable tube down the throat into the stomach.
It was attached to some kind of helmet that you had to put on the patient afterward, which was tough. You would inflate the tube to stop the bleeding but also aspirate the blood out of the stomach with a huge syringe. Just putting it in was a nightmare—the patient was so scared and there was blood everywhere…he was vomiting so much blood he couldn’t talk.
This was in the ER. We got IVs in him and started transfusions pouring into him as fast as they’d go. We worked on him for a long, long time, but he didn’t make it. What I remember is how hard he fought, how scared he was, and how much blood there was. And this was before rubber gloves were worn for everything. I just threw out my uniform. Everyone’s shoes were soaked. I never saw anything like it, before or since.
Don’t become involved with drinking to excess. Don’t get cirrhosis or esophageal varices. It’s a bad way to go.
20. A Tragedy At A Young Age
This is how my uncle went. He ruptured his esophagus and the physicians saved him. He had all kinds of other medical issues due to drinking too much, and after that, he was on dialysis. I still recall going to see him in what I now know was hospice care. It was weird—my previously handsome and fit uncle was skinny and had yellow eyes and long scraggly hair.
I was about nine, and to me, he looked like Jesus because of his long hair. I was so scared of him. I remember hugging him and for some reason—my hearing was muffled and I got dizzy. The rest of the visit I sat in my grandpa’s car eating candies he had in the glove box. That was the last time I saw my uncle. Shortly after that, he ruptured his esophagus again and passed. But here’s the kicker—he was still drinking in hospice. He was only 34. I really loved him, still do.
21. A Nurse’s Empathy
I work in an OR and had a teenage patient who weighed was a clinical psychotic. He was known to be violent on waking up from anesthesia, so we were prepared with four burly guys surrounding the OR table at the end of the case. When he opened his eyes, they got really wide, and then…He started crying.
Not just whimpering, but full-on lip quivering and tears. It broke my heart. So, As I was standing near the head of the table, I leaned down (probably not the smartest thing) and asked him, “Dude, what do you need?” to which he responded through those shudders you get when you cry-talk, “I JUST WANT A HUUUUUUUG!” I reached down, gave him a big bear hug, and he quieted right down and relaxed. It got a bunch of giddy responses from all the nurses in the room too.
22. An Angel Of A Nurse
I recently lost my mother to cancer. Oncology nurses are a different breed. I’ve met some awful nurses in my time spent in hospitals and doctors’ offices, but none of them were ever in oncology. One nurse will forever be an angel in my eyes. I went for a run in the afternoon and left my mom in the room by herself…or so I thought.
In an hour or so I was gone, this nurse never left my mother’s side. She sat with her and they cried together. She even prayed with my mother, who was deeply religious and always said that God had a plan for her. When I got back, the nurse left to sit with her other patients. I left my mom’s room to go brush my teeth a while later, and she stopped me in the hall crying, asking about my mom and all that our family had been through.
She told me about how much of an inspiration my mother was to her. This was within a few months of mom’s passing, She constantly felt like she couldn’t breathe and would wake up with panic attacks as a result. This nurse would literally RUN when my mom pressed the call button. She stayed with her for probably eight hours of a 12-hour shift. She was the best nurse I have ever met and I fully believe that if angels do exist, she was one.
23. Lightening The Mood
The nurse that worked in the hospital said that this is one of the funniest things she’s seen. I had brain surgery and a huge wound (about 10 inches) across my skull. It wasn’t stitched, it was stapled. I hadn’t had a dump for about three days after the surgery and the nurses gave me some tablets to soften my stool up. They often coaxed me out of bed to try and go to the bathroom.
I sat there and strained and strained, but nothing. Then, slowly but surely, it inched its way out; but the problem was it was like concrete. After straining for so long, my worst fear happened—I fainted and fell forwards onto the bathroom floor. The nurses came in and found me face down and a big pile of waste protruding from me that was sticking out of me like the Tower of Pisa. I now know that anesthetic can back you up a bit! The nurse put a glove on and literally pulled the iron bog out of my backside before they cleaned me up. She said it was one of the most satisfying things she has done and even better than picking at her boyfriend’s blackheads. Legend.
24. Resilience Of A Different Kind
I wasn’t employed by the hospital, but I worked as an interfacility transport EMT at the time. I had one patient who had terminal bone cancer and was morbidly obese. I was transporting her from the hospital to a radiation appointment. I developed a rapport with her, so she was comfortable opening up to me. The most jarring thing she told me was that she was just buying maybe six months by treating her cancer…otherwise, she would have passed already.
Well, as some of you may know, bone cancer is one of the most painful and terrible ways to die, so for her to extend that misery for a little longer just so she could experience life and see her family more was very inspirational. We got to the facility to do the radiation treatment and we were told it should only take about 45 minutes.
We got to the room and we immediately saw a problem—the table she was supposed to lay down on was the same size a small adult would use. They had no modified version for morbidly obese adults, and the only way to keep her on was to use extra straps to tie her down to the table. They constantly had to stop the procedure to adjust her for comfort.
What was even worse was that the fentanyl dose that she was given at the hospital had completely worn off and the facility wasn’t authorized to administer meds like that… Her appointment ended up taking about four hours longer than it should have and she was just miserable, but still so sweet and apologetic the whole time. I felt awful for her and after it was done, there was a huge sense of relief in her voice. I told her how inspirational she was to me to see how resilient she was being.
25. Instability In The ICU
I’d been a nurse for a few years and thought I was pretty awesome. A patient in the ICU was unstable with a heart problem, but she was pretty stable when my shift started because she had already been put on meds. On her chart, it said she was a DNR with heart failure. The family had been there for days: the husband, her adult sons, and her daughter-in-law. They were the nicest folks. They were contemplating going home for a few hours to shower, eat, and rest.
I told them her heart rhythm looked good, so they could go home and get some rest if they wanted. I took their cell phone numbers and told them if anything changed I would call right away. Well, that didn’t turn out as well as I thought. They traveled at least an hour through a dead zone because as soon as they walked out the door, I was struggling to keep her alive. Her heart was all over the place.
Her blood pressure kept dropping and dropping. I got them on the phone an hour later and told them to come back. I spent two hours desperately trying to keep her alive, and they ran back through the door five minutes after she was gone. I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so bad. There was no professional boundary there at all. We all knew a young stupid nurse took their last moments with their mother.
The mom passed alone, with a few scattered staff doing what they could, but without her family by her side. That family comforted me more than I comforted them. I was beside myself. They told me I did my best, and it was OK. The grace and kindness they showed me were incredible and it affects the way I treat every family now.
26. Things Get Messy
I had a patient who was an escaped slave. It was a younger individual in their 30s who was dragged into their situation through an addiction. She was sick, but she ended up finding a way out somehow and landed herself in a local psych ward. Because of her physical health, she was sent to the hospital where she passed away not long after (I forgot the exact reason why).
As I was helping to clean up the patient for family viewing, I saw something incredibly peculiar—her certain body parts were stretched to a point I’ve never actually seen before or after. It was awful, especially with this person being so young. She was swollen all over and bruised before they even passed. When the family showed up they just talked over their body like it was a Sunday dinner. No tears or anything. The whole thing was a mess.
27. Most Have It Lucky
I’m a children’s nurse, and I once worked on a ward that specializes in brain and spinal tumors in children, amongst other specialties. The worst thing I can think of was a little boy; I think he was three or four years old. He’d been in a different hospital the two weeks prior with a weakness to his legs that was sweeping up his body, eventually causing incontinence.
The other hospital hadn’t scanned him, which was the first thing we did, and we found out a shocking underlying condition—his brain and spine were covered in tumors. There was literally nothing we could do. He had weeks if not days left. On my shift, I was trying to push for him to get moved to the ICU. He was barely conscious and there were a few times whilst I was waiting for the medical team I actually thought he’d passed in front of me. Being with his poor parents as they went through this, watching their typical, previously healthy child fade away with no information, was the worst. The mom was asking, “Will he live? Please save my baby.” It was truly awful.
28. Abdominal Toughness
In residency, I took care of a young boy with E. coli 0157:H7. No one knew where he got it and it wasn’t part of a bigger outbreak. I’ll never forget the screams of pain from the severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, but then I’d go in the room to check on him and when I asked him how he was, he’d just say in a weak little voice “I’m okay” even when doubled over. Such a tough kid.
There’s no treatment besides supportive treatments (fluids, pain relief) because antibiotics make renal failure more likely. Unfortunately, he did go into renal failure anyway and he passed before dialysis could be started. In medical school, I took care of a middle-aged woman with advanced uterine cancer. She was extremely obese (>400 lbs) so it was too difficult to do her hysterectomy without first doing a panniculectomy (basically removing her pannus, which is excess abdominal fat). It was risky, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
This involved an incision in a circle around her entire abdomen, which is extremely painful during the healing process since the whole abdomen is involved. Because she was bed-ridden, she developed terrible pressure ulcers in her back, a couple of which ulcerated all the way to her bone. She had a ton of fat on her back too, so these ulcers were deep—I could get my whole arm up to the elbow inside of them when changing her dressings. She’d scream and sob anytime we moved her. I don’t remember anyone ever coming to visit her and I’m pretty sure she eventually passed alone.
29. Even Limbs Can Rot
A friend’s stepdad was training to be a nurse so he got all the gross stuff that came in because of being a newbie. A homeless man came in complaining of stomach pains. When he told the guy to undress, he didn’t want to take off his jeans. When asked about it, he said, “I can’t take them off, my leg will fall off.” Sure enough his leg was rotting and had maggots crawling in and out of it.
I’m a dentist. During my study a couple of years ago, a friend and I were placed at a nursing home. This was to educate us about the challenges of oral care in an aged care facility. The home was divided into three sections: low care, high care, and terminal. On the first day there, a lot of the residents would approach us and keep doing so throughout the day to become friends with us as they kept forgetting they had met us only hours before.
It was very sweet and I became attached to many of them. It’s surprising how they will forget you in an hour but will never forget “growing up on a farm with a sheep called Gilbert.” I became closest to a woman called Elsa (who had dementia and another fatal disorder that I cannot recall) in the terminal section. She was named so due to her long white hair, similar to the Frozen character.
Every day, I’d feed her, brush her hair, and wash her dentures; yet she only ever spoke two words; Jessica and Joel. She would repeat both names every day and point to their pictures in her room. They were her children. Speaking to the nurses, I found out a despicable truth: they dropped her off seven years ago and never came and visited again.
Every day, she would get better at remembering me, but never said my name once, always just Jessica and Joel. I would check up on her during the day and every time, I would see her crying in bed and I would offer to bring her some water, she would reply with Jessica and Joel. One morning after a month of first meeting Elsa, I walked into her room and she wasn’t in there.
She wasn’t the kind to walk around, so I knew something was wrong and I was fearing the worst. After asking one of the nurses that I hadn’t ever met, she told me she crossed over the rainbow bridge the night before after gesturing for water and saying the names Jessica, Joel, and Joseph. My name is Joseph. I cried just writing you this story.
31. Toughness In The ER
This little girl, probably six or seven years old, had some form of spinal cancer. My mother had talked to her a couple of times. On this particular day, she was excited because her dad was coming home from a business trip to Bali. This little girl was so happy because he was bringing her back a toy. The next day, the Bali disasters occurred, which caused her father to pass.
She was distraught and spent the next four days just crying with little bits of sleep in between. Her mother spent most of that time with her daughter. Then, about two months later, fate decided she would suffer even more—her mother passed in a car accident while driving to the hospital to visit her daughter.
So her grandparents got the duty of care for her, but she passed two weeks afterward from cancer. The poor girl suffered worse than I could even fathom in her last two months of life; losing most of what was important to her before dying herself. I hope no one goes through anything like that again. My mother thinks she just gave up after her mother passed, but this little girl lost everything just by some form of poor luck. My mother does leave flowers on her grave every year on the anniversary. Sometimes, I really do not understand how my mother deals with being in the ER. She is quite possibly the strongest person I know just because of that.
32. Epinephrine Overdrive
Recently, we coded a baby eight times in one night. We should have let go after the first code, but unfortunately, the epinephrine kicked in…after 40 minutes of CPR. Really, this was an attack on the baby. The parents were unrealistic about the baby’s chances of survival, and they wanted everything done to try and save it. At some point, the attending on the case finally told the parents that we could do this all night, but in the end, there was nothing that could be done for the infant’s survival.
33. Real-Life Zombie
In 2009 I worked as a transport EMT. Essentially, my partner and I transported people out of hospitals to specialty care facilities (mostly nursing homes). However, one day in early April we got a call to transport a young kid, 16 maybe 17, to a more advanced hospital. I can’t remember NYU or LIJ or something like that.
Just another day on the job…or so I thought. We arrived at the young man sitting on the bed, feet on the floor, and the mother crying by his side. The nurse informed us he was going to the advanced care hospital for monitoring and more tests. During spring break, this kid and four of his friends went to the Dominican republic unsupervised, and when they returned, the mother had to physically get the kid off the plane as his brain was literally fried.
His friends said nothing happened and he “was normal the whole time” and they promised they “didn’t do substances.” Sure enough, he tested positive for nothing, and the hospital suspected, by way of MRI and EEG, it was most likely mushrooms The crazy part that made it one of the things that stick with me, is this kid had almost no executive functions.
And the MRI showed big black spots on his brain. He was incontinent, he couldn’t talk, and he couldn’t eat anything…BUT he would follow every command he was given with a shuffling stumble. He walked to the stretcher and sat down on command. He waved when he was told to wave bye to his mom, and he even blinked when the nurse told him to. He was a real-life zombie, almost like he was trapped in his own mind, or parts of it were missing. Seeing the mother so sad and having no idea what happened was the most tragic part of the whole ordeal.
34. The Experience On The Cardiac Ward
I was a patient in a hospital for a heart issue when I was 22. They kept me for three days in the cardiac ward and I shared a room with an older gentleman who I believe was around 80 based on his visitors. I never saw him behind the privacy curtain. I was completely okay and sitting up in bed working on schoolwork for most of my visit.
When his family came in, I could tell the situation was bad. His whole extended family came. Everyone from his wife to his grandchildren. He was also on a ventilator that was keeping his breathing up. On the same night, after they all visited he tried to pull everything off and it set off an alarm, causing a nurse to rush in. All I could hear from a very muffled voice as the nurse tried to tell him he needed this equipment to live was: “What kind of life is this…” It made me question my own issues and cry in the dark next to him.
35. Esophageal Cancer At 24
Seeing a 24-year-old (the same age as me at the time) come in with difficulty swallowing, then being told he had end-stage esophageal cancer and only weeks to live, whilst his wife was about to give birth, was eye-opening, to say the least. I was there when he was told, and to this day I still don’t know how I turned up for work the next day.
Having worked there for five years already, I’d never experienced anything so awful. He managed a few months, met his son, then passed away at home. It’s something that will stick with me forever I think.
36. TBI – Traumatic Brain Injury
I currently work on an intensive unit. I’ve seen so much…and I don’t believe anything has hit me as hard as this. I was working at a mental health facility after graduating. This facility was interesting—it was in a modest, ranch-style house that was made specifically for this population (open layout for easy supervision, panic buttons, etc), but mostly, it was just a house and the staff were the outliers.
There were eight clients at a time, and they would either get rehospitalized or go on to independent living, which was a step above being hospitalized. I got extremely close to these clients and got to know them very well. I have many stories of their antics, but I recall a certain individual whose situation really hurt.
I was specifically hired for a man in his 60s, M, who had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). M was a successful toy marketer in his “past life” (as his family called it). One day, twenty-something years earlier, M got into a horrific car accident. He survived, but was cursed forever from the incident—he became afflicted with poor memory and severe PTSD. Many psychological issues and physical concerns manifested as well.
M would scream every two minutes (on the dot), begging staff to not bring him to the hospital. He would then ask if he were OK. It was difficult for him to communicate, but he would sometimes get moments of clarity. He was a big man who seemed intimidating when he had these bouts, but it made a lot more sense when he had come to us with the diagnosis of bipolar with a history of other things.
M was never violent towards our staff, and we knew that he was pawned off to us because his insurance was no longer covering the hospitalization. His family also did not want to take care of him. He was a lot to handle, but he quickly took a place in my heart. He remembered my name because his sister’s name was the same, but other than that, he did not recognize any other staff members and did not remember his day-to-day living.
He needed help showering and would often be embarrassed to have a 20-something-year-old woman helping him. He would cry, whispering, “Not fair.” We watched Titanic every single shift together. He liked Rose in particular and seeing her on-screen would calm him down. M loved diet soft drinks and would smile every so often when I brought one to him.
He would be still until his next outburst. I would be able to successfully de-escalate the situation once I showed him his diet soft drink and helped him drink it. I bought 300 movies on VHS for us to watch together because it was the only thing that calmed him down. M was much more than his impairment. He was still a human—one who I grew fond of because I could not grasp the immeasurable pain he was in.
His wife abandoned him after it was deemed he would not sign the divorce papers. She wanted him to die so that she could take his money. I never met her. He had sons, and he pleaded for them to come, but I only saw one, once. He only stayed for a half-hour. I think M saw me as his form of family (telling me that I was his daughter when he never had one). The other staff did not like M as much as I did. They petitioned for him to be sent to a nursing home because his care was too much. I would miss M but hoped for him a better life—mostly for him to have staff trained in adults with memory issues. I never got to say goodbye as he got transported by medical staff to his new nursing home.
37. Wailing Of A Different Nature
I was doing a clinical rotation in the emergency room when the ambulance called. They revealed the details of an urgent case that made the hairs on my back stand up. They said they were about ten minutes out with a 19-year-old male who had a close-range wound to his upper left chest area (that is, the front of your shoulder, just below the collarbone). He came home early and some guys were robbing his house, so they shot him and took off. His parents had to wait in the lobby for the authorities to finish up with him before they could see him. The angry look on his father’s face and the wailing sound that his mother was making are not things I will soon forget. The kid made a full recovery, by the way. He’s got a small scar and story to tell.
38. Crossing The Rainbow Bridge Together
Two of them, both senior citizens. They both haunt me, years later, because I don’t know what happened to either of them. The first came in as a homeless woman in the winter. She was fine medically but homeless because her husband passed, and her demonic children took the family home out from under her, leaving her on the street. Somehow, she ended up in my city.
They put her on a psych hold, just so she had somewhere to sleep while they figured out where she could go. She was in her 80s. Her entire life was in a grocery bag. The other was transferred to our ER after being medically cleared elsewhere (because ours has a psych ER, and the other main hospital in the area does not).
She was also in her 80s, I believe. She was the sole caretaker of her very ill husband and she reached a point where she felt it was impossible. Just everything. Life. She was so tired. Ultimately, she medicated her husband and herself so that they could die together. He passed. She lived. The doctors sent her for a psych eval and I assume there was a discussion about the law as well. I wish I had remembered her name, just so I could try to find the outcome.
39. The Transportation Tragedy
I don’t work for a hospital exactly, I do medical transports between hospitals. I had a patient that was suicidal and took, among other things, half a bottle of Tylenol. She went to sleep expecting she would never wake up, but when she did, she changed her mind and called the authorities. She was rushed to the hospital and treated. I encountered her several months later—and her situation was heartbreaking.
Thanks to Tylenol, her liver was failing. She was jaundiced a lot and in constant abdominal pain. I was taking them to another hospital for a last-ditch liver consult. One of the nurses told me that the patient was on the transplant list, but since she had a history of suicide, she was bumped by anyone without such a history. Essentially, she had no real chance of getting one. It was sad to see someone slowly passing because of one decision they made and almost immediately regretted. They were in their 40s if I recall, so still would have had plenty of time otherwise.
40. A Heartbreaking Tragedy
A four-month-old passed from pneumonia. The mother was out of town for the week for a bachelorette party, so the dad was taking care of the baby. The only thing is, he really shouldn’t have been the one looking after it—he had a pretty bad cough, which should have been a red flag. He went to check on her around 3 am to find her blue and not breathing. By the time she arrived in the ED, it was too late. Hearing the mother scream via phone after being told that her infant was dead still gives me chills.
Another one—I saw the same guy come four times in four months from an overdose. Every time, his parents would pay for him to go to rehab, and four times he relapsed and overdosed within a week of sobriety. The fourth time, his parents didn’t find him in time, and it was too late. They were able to revitalize him, but he was down for so long that he was brain dead. Seeing his parents, who gave him every opportunity to help himself, have to make the decision to pull him off life support was heartbreaking.
41. Amputation From Flesh-Eating Bacteria
A woman got flesh-eating bacteria on her C-section wound. All of her limbs had to be amputated and her kidneys failed. Our staff rarely get upset, but our nurses would cry after caring for her since it was so heartbreaking.
42. From Normal To Aggressive
I wouldn’t say this is the worst, but the story still makes me upset. A young lady who just finished chemo for breast cancer came in with behavioral changes. She would scratch the staff and pull out her IV lines. At one point, it got so bad that we had to restrain her. Whenever we gave her an antipsychotic, she calmed down and became lucid; but when it wore off, she’d get very aggressive. She’s still in the hospital, but it’s very sad because she’s so young and was normal before the chemo.
43. Ice Packs At 106
I had an experience with a patient with a blood born yeast infection. His temperature stayed above 106, even when covered in ice packs, and this pretty much fried his brain…but it got even worse than that. His tiny blood vessels started to clog, so he went blind and we also had to cut off his toes, fingers, and limbs. By the time he passed, he was a blind torso vegetable.
44. Point Blank
He had a point-blank wound to the face. Not the slug-type, but the pellets-type. The dude was obviously more dead than alive, but he held on to dear life. He made a HORRIFIC “snorting” sound when breathing. He was airlifted to a bigger city where they could actually do something about it.
Being totally honest, I hope he passed in peace. I never knew what happened to him after the helicopter took off.
45. The Sixth Floor
We have what we call “the sixth floor” in our psychiatric unit. It’s usually voluntary for patients to admit themselves because they want the help, which is why it was so unnerving to find out what I did. A girl my age had gone away with herself with her pajamas about a month ago up there. Nobody expected her to get through it as she was put on a ventilator and had brain damage. But thankfully she’s woken up—she’s been talking, writing, and doing all sorts of things. So far, that’s the worst. For a hospital, I know that’s not much, but I just started in November so we’ll see.
46. A Fatal Mistake
We had a patient that needed a central line. For those not in the medical field, this is where they insert basically a large IV into the jugular (a much larger vein than those in your arms). We only do this for critically ill patients who need specific medications for blood pressure. The resident performing this procedure was attempting to place the line, and instead of inserting the line in the jugular, he placed it into the aorta
The aorta is the huge artery that pumps blood away from your heart. This is a potentially fatal mistake. The patient could have passed. I still don’t know what happened to her, but she was also taking blood thinners, meaning that her ability to clot (and heal) from such a procedure was severely compromised. Everyone makes mistakes, but that was a bad one.
47. The Trampoline Tragedy
A dude in his thirties was playing with his kid on a trampoline when the worst happened. He fell off, broke his neck, got confined to a wheelchair, became a tetraplegic, and had minimal use of his hands. From fitness, independence, career, etc. to complete, permanent disability in one second. Bang. Just, you know, what do you say to that guy? It won’t get better. It’s not like he’s 80 and nearing the end anyway. And it’s not even like he was driving under the influence or tombstoning or whatever. He was just really, really, really unlucky.
48. Nurse Horror Story
I don’t work in a hospital, but my mom does. She worked in long-term care and she said there is so much that goes on in the hospitals. She’s had to report several coworkers for overmedicating patients with their heart and seizure meds, to the point of harming the patient. She once found out a patient passed away when she came in the next morning—but the reason was so much worse than overmedicating.
Apparently, the nurses were beating the patients if they did something they didn’t like. It was all captured on the security footage. But the one I personally saw was when my great-grandma had hip replacement surgery—she was having trouble using the bathroom, so they gave her an enema. It still didn’t help. So they gave her another, and another, and another, but all too close together because they weren’t keeping records. It basically caused her bowels to burst.
49. Fit As A Fiddle
I went to see a patient during clinical rounds a few years back when I was a med student. I think it was for dermatology. The guy was just a year older than I was. Remarkably fit, fairly good-looking, and from what little I got to see of him, he was also pretty mild-mannered. Well, so his story was that he loves to play basketball, and that’s what he did on that fateful day.
After a quick shower and a wipe down, he came across a disturbing sight—he found blood on his towel. The blood came from his scalp, from some weird scab-like growth. No prior symptoms. He freaked out, then went to a neighborhood dermatologist to get it checked out. The doctor ended up telling him to go to a bigger hospital, which is where I ended up meeting him. He took some tests, and my prof and I went over to the station to check out the EMR. He grilled me a bit on what exams I would have ordered, knowing what I did.
I said I would suggest a PET-CT, and so we checked that out first. For those who don’t know, a PET-CT will check the uptake of radioactive glucose that has been injected for the test. The more active metabolism an organ has, the more radioactivity it shows, meaning it shows up black. Cancer has a lot higher metabolism than normal tissue, so it’s a pretty neat way to check the entire body for metastasis.
When we loaded this guy’s PET-CT, we were both struck momentarily speechless. His whole spine and both hips were fully covered in black. Bones…should not be black. Cancer (which the prof later told me was melanoma, a particularly aggressive type of skin cancer) had spread across his whole body.
The prof gave him about three months to live, at best. The guy was just one year older than I was, and a heck of a lot fitter. It was really eye-opening to see that my young age didn’t mean I was immortal or invincible. Since then, I’ve adopted the motto of Memento Mori. I still think about him every once in a while.
50. A Woman, The ER, And Her Husband
One of my nursing lecturers had a peculiar story. The mother was only a few weeks off giving birth and had suddenly become unconscious. She was immediately rushed to the ER by her husband. Apparently, she and the other nurse on duty were on the mother’s bed taking turns giving her CPR as she was being rushed to surgery.
They explained to the father the horrible prognosis: either both of them would die, or only one of them would. This was their first child together, so I can’t imagine how the father felt—just the day before, he was excited to have a family with the love of his life, and the next day, he was going to be all alone. They finished the surgery and the mother had unfortunately passed, but the baby was alive and well. I can’t imagine the pain the father went through, but I’m so happy his baby was okay. He apparently named the baby after the mother.