No one likes going to the doctor: hospitals are scary places even when the wait times are manageable. But think about what it’s like for the medical professionals who work inside hospital walls. To that end, Reddit asked doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to share some of their most horrific, funniest, and absurd moments on the job—and they truly delivered.
1. Bacon Wrap
I had a diabetic foot patient a couple weeks ago who thought that wrapping his foot in raw bacon would help get rid of bacteria. He’d apparently been doing it awhile, ‘cause it cost him four toes.
2. The Important Questions
A mother came in with her son to discuss treating his acne. Son was about 15 years old and didn’t really care about the acne but mom did. After going over treatment options, she asked if he just needed to “do it” to get rid of the acne. A grown woman with a child thought that by him having intercourse, his acne would magically go away.
3. Smuckers Jelly
Had a young woman with recurring urinary tract infections that began after a recent partner. She had no STDs and we went through the standard questions trying to figure out what could be causing them. We eventually found out that she had been lubricating with jelly. Not KY jelly. Like, Smucker’s. The mix-up had literally been a joke on the TV show House. It took me some effort to keep a straight face, but we eventually resolved the problem and she stopped getting UTIs.
4. Dehydration Therapy
I had a patient who was a completely non-compliant diabetic smoker who had his first heart attack at 45. His blood pressure was also super high. And instead of taking his anti-hypertensive medications, he went to the gym. In the gym, he would sit in the sauna for a very long time, sweat a lot, and lower his blood pressure by becoming dehydrated.
5. Doesn’t Make Any Sense How She Survived
I was working as a helicopter retrieval doctor in Australia last year. Called at 2am to a car crash in the middle of nowhere. Patient was 150 kg (330lbs.) and 5-feet tall. So drunk you could smell the alcohol in her blood. Had been ejected from the front passenger seat of a car through the front windscreen. Wearing no seatbelt.
She had lain undiscovered for three hours on the side of the road. The temperature that night was 2 degrees centigrade. Her entire right scalp had been degloved. Blood pressure and oxygen saturation were unrecordable at all times on transfer due to shock, hypothermia, and body habitus. Carotid pulse only. GCS 3 (completely unconscious).
Due to her ENORMOUS obesity any movement of her head from the position she happened to land in obstructed her airway. If she had landed in any other position she would have had no way to breathe and died. Two hour flight from nearest trauma center. Unable to intubate her without drugs due to muscle tone. Scariest RSI of my life.
Gave her drugs to paralyze then intubate in the middle of a paddock, on ambulance stretcher, under lights, with patient placed in RAMP position. With best rewarming we could do in the helicopter core temperature was 29 centigrade on arrival in ER. We didn’t carry blood on the helicopter at that time. Survived and discharged neurologically intact.
6. Radical Cure
I had a pregnant woman whose ultrasound showed the baby had Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. It means the baby has half a heart, and it’s 100% fatal without surgery. She stopped seeing her obstetrician so she could have the baby in the forest and bathe it in breast milk to cure him.
7. Shove It up Your Nose
The mother of a toddler came into emergency. The kid had cruddy stuff coming out of his left nostril, and a lot of redness and swelling of only the left side of his nose and the adjacent cheek. Mom was sure he caught a sinus infection and just wanted some antibiotics. Now, I know some kids like shoving whatever will fit into their bodily orifices, and that this was more than likely given the one-sided nature of his condition.
But Mom was insistent that he NEVER puts things in his nose. It took some convincing, but I finally got her to let me take a look. Gave a squirt of midazolam in the good nostril to settle him, then dug with some tweezers through the crud until I pulled out a big ole button battery—like the kind they use in watches. It would’ve been burning his nose for a couple days. Hopefully, he healed up well.
8. It Takes Two to Tango
Pharmacist, but still relates. Had a lady call in complaining that their husband’s viagra wasn’t working. I then went on to explain to the patient’s wife that in order for the medication to work, the patient needed some sort of “stimulation.” The lady just screamed a loud “ME?!?!?!” and then hung up the phone. Still my favorite viagra story.
9. Bad Diet
I had a patient who had a hard time getting pregnant. She finally conceived but miscarried. She has a procedure to clear the uterine lining so that she can try again, this time with medical help. We monitor her blood to ensure the pregnancy hormone is gone before beginning the new treatment. But she keeps coming back with high levels of hormone.
Docs are worried because she might have some retained placenta or pituitary disorder and this could be super bad for future fertility. We call her in for a conversation about the hormone levels not clearing up. After talking together about what might be wrong, they are going to go home and think about further tests.
She says “I need to go. I have an appointment at the weight-loss center for an HCG shot.” Turns out that she is on the HCG diet. HCG IS the pregnancy hormone. And this was after an hour of the docs saying “We don’t know why you have these constant high levels of HCG in your blood and we are worried.”
A patient of mine once inquired about birth control, and she was adamant she wanted an IED (improvised explosive device).
11. Disease Machine
Optician here. We had a patient who refused to let us use the tonometer, which is a machine that checks ocular internal pressure to diagnose glaucoma. He said that machine gives you glaucoma, and we weren’t going to pull that on him. He told us his father got an exam, and had glaucoma after using that machine.
His uncle and brother also had no signs of glaucoma, and after getting the puff test, both people had been diagnosed with the disease. Glaucoma doesn’t have any outward symptoms before you start going blind. This idiot just told me he has a very strong familial disposition to glaucoma and refused to be tested for it.
12. Annoying Family
An 80-year-old patient was declining with multiple diagnoses and three bedsores. The daughter was adamant that her father was kept on his strict “paleo” diet because that would “supercharge” his healing. She had a stack of diet books. He simply wasn’t getting enough nutrition to heal the ulcers. He didn’t like the diet at all. At some point, you kind of have to stop being polite, and just tell patients/ family members bluntly that you don’t have time for this and what you recommend, and they can do what they want and just document everything. It happens a lot but she sticks out.
13. Tales From the Eye Doctor
As an eye doctor, I’ve seen a lot and could write a book about all the weird ways people neglect their eyes, but three stories in particular stick out. I had a patient tell me they clean their contact lens with MILK because it “gets the acid off them.” I had a patient with a 6-year-old translating for them. They basically couldn’t elaborate on the problem except to say that their eye hurts.
Another patient came in with her hand covering her eye. I asked to see the problem. Her eye looked like a shriveled up grape. The optic nerve was holding onto a shriveled up decayed eye loosely hanging in the orbit. She wanted glasses to fix it. I also had a guy recently come in because “wife made me.” He had tried to use tweezers to remove a piece of metal from his cornea. Didn’t look pretty. I removed the remaining metal rust with a needle and spinning burr tip brush. He needed antibiotics. I told him not to do that again.
14. Paging Dr. Liar
I am a dental student. One patient, in particular, is a pathological liar. During one visit, they claimed to have gone to medical school. Next visit they said that they were in the Royal Army Dental Corps. Last visit was that they had a PhD. The patient will say things like, “Hey doc, do you need me to move my head mesial or distal?” No. I need you to move your head to the right. “Hey doc, are these cavities being caused by the anaerobic pathology microbes?” No. They are caused by you eating snacks all day and not brushing.
15. Be Careful Blowing Your Nose
Not a doctor. But this is what I have been asked repeatedly when I was in the hospital for my open heart surgery: “How the heck are you still alive?” Back story: I was basically born with a congenital birth defect which has an extremely high mortality rate. Like 1 in 120,000,000 chance of it happening and about 95% to 99% chance of dying.
Not only did I survive it for 20 years, I played lacrosse for four years. Now, the issue was that I was missing a major blood vessel on my heart that is required to pump blood. My body compensated in such an extreme way that the blood vessel on the right side of the heart went down and around the heart and attached itself to aorta.
My heart was basically circulating blood around itself alone and the rest of my body didn’t get enough blood. So how it was found out? Not when I was a baby or kid, no. As an adult, I blew my nose and had a full-on heart attack. Surgeons repeatedly stated and asked “How was I alive” and “You played lacrosse for four years?” Also, the main surgeon stated that anyone with this condition usually dies at birth. They only know of the condition from autopsies.
16. We Didn’t Start the Fire
Not my story, rather, my colleague’s. A patient was admitted for anemia and a localized cancer was found. She was referred to surgery so that the cancerous cells could be removed. She started telling everyone that it was the doctors who had caused the cancer and that she was doing just fine before coming to the hospital. She lectured the surgeon and my colleague, who pleaded with her to get surgery, so that the cancer doesn’t advance, and yet she refused, saying she knew better and probably didn’t even have cancer…
17. Walking Dead
I didn’t treat this patient, but I was on shift when this guy came in with chest pain. His EKG showed tombstone shapes, meaning he was in the middle of a cardiac episode. He told the emergency doctor, “I want a second opinion before going to the cath lab.” This EKG is unmistakable. The interventionalist had to come down to the emergency department to tell him he was having a heart attack.
18. A Shot in the Dark
I had a guy bouncing around clinics for probably years, if not decades, with nonspecific back pain. It affects millions of patients so the typical thing is, rest, stretch, ice, maybe over the counter meds, and go about your life. Well when he got to us, he mentioned he never had any imaging. So we do just a regular x-ray of his back.
Sure enough, there’s a small caliber bullet lodged near where the rib meets his spinal column. Apparently, he had been near a drive-by shooting decades ago and was shot, but thought he just cut his back while jumping over something to get cover and never had it checked out. Never had expected an incident bullet, probably never see one again.
19. Teaching Moment
I had a patient who was a young child. She came in with an extremely high blood glucose level. Once she was stable we did some teaching and kept her for a few days for observation. For some reason, every time I checked her, her levels would be extremely high, although we were appropriately treating her. Turns out her family would bring her fast food for every meal and hide it in the side table.
20. Who’s the Idiot?
Picture a middle-aged man, but his index finger is five times the size of the rest of his fingers. It smells, it’s leaking pus, there’s necrotic tissue. Basically, one huge infected cancerous finger. He was a firm believer in not taking any sort of medication; including antibiotics or chemo. He died a few weeks later, but he did manage to tell us we were all idiots before he passed away.
21. Whole New Meaning to Being Full of Crap
Med student here. Last week there was a man that came into the emergency room theater and had 14 kg or over 30 lbs of feces removed from his bowel. No one in the theater had seen anything close to that before.
22. Gangrene Is No Joke
This is a story from my mom, who was a nurse in the ER for 20 years. She helped care for a patient that had massive gangrene that began as diabetic ulcers. They went untreated and she had already gone through a double amputation at the mid-thigh, but the gangrene continued to spread, leading to her ER visit. My mom distinctly described seeing this woman’s stump of a femur moving amidst a mass of rotting tissue, its end wiggling like a trapped pencil when they changed her bandages.
One nurse had the task of standing in the corner with a bottle of air freshener. My mom said the smell was something straight out of hell. Unfortunately, this woman’s gangrene spread to her abdomen and there was no saving her. Now I realize why my mom, after being diagnosed with diabetes herself years later, was so damn protective of her feet!
23. Fool Yourself Twice
I once had a child who swallowed a sizeable magnet that passed to the intestine, and we were just waiting for it to pass in stool. The next day, when he came for follow up, we just found out that he swallowed another one that got stuck to the first magnet in the intestine through the stomach wall resulting in intestinal obstruction, and he was transferred to the OR immediately to have them surgically removed.
24. Whatcha Gonna Do With All Those Lumps
I’m ashamed to say I have a story that fits here. I have a ganglion cyst (pretty harmless) on the inside of my wrist, when it starts getting large, I smash my wrist down on a hard table and it goes away. I developed a similar bump on the top of my foot. I couldn’t smash it down like my wrist so I tried hitting it with a hammer.
Didn’t do anything and it was getting bigger and interfering with my shoes so I got it investigated. Not a cyst, but arthritis in the joint. No wonder my hammer trick didn’t work. The radiologist did find my treatment method amusing, but advised me to get any more lumps checked out rather than randomly hitting things with a hammer.
25. Why You Shouldn’t Doubt Your Patients
Elderly lady came into my practice asking if there was anything she could be given to help her sleep as the Irish terrorists in the apartment below were keeping her awake at night. She was reassured that terrorists were not planning to blow her up, or Cannock (a small inconsequential town in the West Midlands) for that matter.
On the second visit, she insisted that they were going to blow something up soon and expressed paranoid thoughts. A full mental health review was conducted by the GP and the community psychiatrist. She came up clean. That’s when we contacted the police, a couple of days later the apartment below our patient was raided and found to be full of bomb-making equipment and actual IRA members.
26. Decide for Yourself
My aunt (who has varicose veins, pretty obvious to anyone who sees it) once asked me why her legs hurt and what those bluish lines under her skin were. I almost went on to explain to her about dilated veins, when she interrupts and decides for herself that those are her nerves. Dying nerves. And the blue stuff was blood clots inside the nerves. I’m a med student.
27. Like the Plot of a Really Twisted HBO Series
When I was an intern, we had a 22-year-old man with persistent abdominal pain. His symptoms were unexplained as all studies turned up negative. His mother was constantly at his bedside and detailed her son’s medical history, which included multiple hospital stays with no definitive diagnosis. I noticed that he would frequently take ill after meals, which his mother brought from outside the hospital.
It eventually became clear that he was a victim of Munchausen by proxy. His mother was purposely making him ill. I had a patient with Munchausen’s when I was in medical school (she was injecting her own feces into her IV), so I was particularly tuned in. Both cases were very sad.
28. Who Needs That Money?
I was doing a respiratory system examination on this guy who frequently (about once a month) gets admitted in the general ward with complaints of breathlessness. He’s had COPD for a couple of years. Quite bad. And he tells me that he isn’t going to quit smoking because God told him not to. When asked why, he tells me that the people who are relying on him for their daily livelihood won’t survive if he stopped. I went on to ask him if he meant the people at the cigarette factory or the health industry. He didn’t get the sarcasm though.
29. Moral of the Story: Don’t Cut Corners When Handling Gunpowder
We had a dude who worked with gunpowder (legitimately, I hasten to add). He decided to cut a few corners in his preparation and the mixture literally exploded as he worked on it. He went from ten fingers to four in that split second and instead of forearms he had two raw gaping holes of mashed tendon and bone. Taking those bandages off was…interesting.
30. Alternative Doesn’t Mean Better
Patient comes to the surgery clinic with complaints of a mass in his rectum. I wasn’t there the first time he came. The surgeon wanted to do a couple of investigations and advised him to get admitted. The guy decided he doesn’t want to. A couple of months later, he comes back to the clinic. Apparently, he went to one of these alternative medicine places or whatever, and they had tied this metal wire—not exactly sure why—around the mass. By then, this mass had eroded through it, was bleeding, and had gotten much bigger. It turned out to be a cancerous growth.
Not a doctor but dental nurse. My favorite was a 30-something-year-old woman who came in for a check-up at the emergency low cost clinic I worked at. Teeth were broken and almost black and gums are angry swollen, bright red and bleeding by just moving her tongue against them, needed multiple scaling/hygienist appointments and a debridement.
Honestly, YouTube has some amazingly disgusting videos of this treatment but maybe keep the sound off if you don’t like the scraping sound. X-ray showed she had all but her wisdom teeth and 10 fillings, root canals to try and save some teeth and extractions for I think 3, but more if the root canal didn’t work.
Explained everything and did the usual explanation of proper oral hygiene. Asked her if she had any questions to which she says “It’s okay if I lose this set of teeth, my others will come through.” Me and the dentist just looked at each other probably a lot longer than we should have. No words. I couldn’t think of anything to reply to that comment. I had a lot of weird and disgusting things happen at that clinic. I actually miss working there.
32. The Leatherface Origin Story?
I had an old guy come in from taking a chainsaw to the face. Apparently, he was cutting a log and it kicked back. He had a big cut from his left eyebrow down to his right cheek. He got stitched up, was released and went home. I’m guessing he took a break from getting firewood for a while.
33. Hot Oil and Human Skin: a Terrible Combination
My mom used to work as an ER nurse in a major trauma center in Stockholm. There is one patient story she told me that has stuck with me. It was a boy no older than five who had tipped a pan of boiling cooking oil down from the stove. He had third degree burns all over his arms and upper body. Poor kid had his mother rush him to the hospital covered in towels that stuck to him. My mom said that he was in intensive care for a few weeks before being taken to dermatology. She said that his screams still haunt her.
34. Get Glasses
I work for an optometrist. It was the month before school started and a woman brought in her son to have his eyes checked for the first time. Seems like a pretty reasonable thing for any parent, even if he was a little older than normal for a first eye exam. Better late than never, I guess. The mom was well-spoken and appeared fairly intelligent.
Everything went as normal, the doctor examined the boy and ended up prescribing glasses. The doctor was explaining to the mom that her son had to wear his glasses all the time, since he’s nearsighted and basically can’t see clearly past 5-feet in front of him. He would definitely need glasses for school. For some reason, this caused a switch to flip in the mom and she spazzed out on the doctor, saying that her son doesn’t need glasses and that the doctor is only saying that because he wants to sell glasses.
She says that she only brought her son in because there was some form for school that needed to be filled out and that doctors are all con artists trying to push unnecessary medications and interventions. The doctor tried to calm her down and explain that he’s only trying to help them but that she was free to get a second opinion and gave her a copy of the kids’ prescription and sent them on their way. About four months later the lady is back asking for another copy of her son’s prescription. Apparently, the first semester midterm results were in, and her son had failed them all, because he couldn’t see the board in his classes.
35. Uvula Discovery
My friend is a student doctor and is on placement at a small town doctor’s office. She had a 70-ish year old woman come in with complaints of a small but painless growth that was visible at the back of her throat. Turns out it took her 70 years to notice her uvula.
36. The Importance of Trusting Your Instincts
The patient I saw visited the OR because of a follow-up due to a viral illness. While talking to him he was completely normal, said the only reason he showed up was because the company was covering it. Anyways, I wasn’t sure what to do with such a case; normally we have to present to the attending with a diagnosis after taking an examination but this patient was fine and I didn’t really want to do it.
What I did do however was just check his pulse and though I wasn’t really good at detecting abnormal stuff just yet, it was obvious something was off about it. So I asked my friend to check it, who told the resident, who told the attendant, who made the patient get an ECG on the spot. Lo and behold the patient had atrial fibrillation.
37. Denial Is Not Just a River in Egypt
I had a patient come in with several pages he printed off the internet. He kinda slammed them down and said, “This is what I have.” He had bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, and fever among other things. He insisted he had schistosomiasis. He was being a real jerk about it, like we’re wasting time since he already knew what he had.
So, I asked him when he got back from Africa. And he said, “Africa? I’ve never been to Africa. What the hell would I be doing in Africa?” I proceeded to tell him that schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease one gets while swimming in the Nile River or other rivers in developing countries, like in Southeast Asia. He got mad at me because he thought I was being a smart aleck. He got seen and diagnosed with gastroenteritis—regular old stomach flu. As for the bloody stool? He had hemorrhoids.
38. Don’t Do Your Own Dental Work
I had a patient who came in with a toothache on his front tooth. He had used a power drill and attempted to perform a root canal on himself. Suffice to say, it had failed to achieve the desired result.
39. Hallucinations in the Hospital
About two years ago we treated patients during a fungal meningitis outbreak. Our acute care floor has a census of 20. During this time at least 10-15 were meningitis patients, ages ranging from 20s to 90s. There are no shared rooms and all the patients were in isolation, no contact with one another. Many of them had the same hallucinations, children in the corners of their rooms and auditory hallucinations of religious music.
40. Yahoo Answers
I’m not a doctor, but I’m a patient whose mother was negligent. The doctor had to speak to me on the side because of it. My grandmother has Crohn’s disease. Very, very badly. It skipped my mother and her brother. When I was 15 years old, over the course of six months, I went from being 5’9” tall and 190 pounds to being 110 pounds.
I was a skeleton, extremely anemic, and coughing up blood. My mother was CONVINCED it was something else. I forced her to bring me to a doctor and she spouted off all these possibilities. She then talked about what she Yahooed. Not even Googled. Yahoo. About genetics and such. And “Crohn’s can’t skip generations.” Well, the doc said, “Just in case. We’re gonna run some tests.” Long story short, I have Crohn’s in my throat and small intestine. So does my cousin. It just skipped a generation.
41. Right Down to the Bone
Surgeon here. I once saw hardened trauma nurses leaving an operating room looking grim and a bit green. Went in to see what the fuss was about. A homeless man was attacked by Rottweilers. He was left incapacitated and the dogs proceeded to eat all the flesh from both legs and one arm as he lay there helpless.
Don’t ask me how he lived, but he survived that and ultimately lived long enough to leave the hospital. I will be haunted by the look of just his leg bones, intact, with no flesh on them. He still had the interosseus tendon holding the tibia to the fibula (hard to bite off, I guess) but otherwise just intact leg bones completely free of flesh. His feet were gone of course.
42. Let It Go
My one patient used to hold in her farts to the point of being in antagonizing pain because she thought that there was a certain amount of air inside a person, and if you let too much out you’ll deflate.
43. What Do Nurses Know?
Not an MD, I’m an RN that works with oncology (cancer) patients, some of which are on clinical trials. I got a patient and, before starting his chemotherapy, reviewed some of his lab work with him. I told him his glucose level was 73. Normal range is usually between 70-100. He got really upset at this point, so I asked him, “What’s wrong? Your labs are within range!”
And he said, “I need it to be zero.” I said, “what? Why would you want your glucose to be zero?” He said he’s trying to meet requirements for a new clinical trial that requires his glucose to be zero. I told him, “I don’t know what clinical trial you’re trying to get into, but if your blood glucose was zero, you’d be dead or dying.” He was not convinced because I’m “just a nurse,” so I sent a message to his doctor asking them to educate their patients better.
44. Harvey Dent Syndrome
When I was a paramedic, I transported a patient to the ER who put a shotgun under his jaw and pulled the trigger, blew the right side of his face off. Gray matter was showing, you could see the remains of his eye socket. Heck of a thing, he was still conscious. We got him to the ER and a couple of the trauma nurses vomited at the sight. Usually, people injured that severely die on the scene and never make it to the ER. Seeing this poor guy was more than a couple of them could handle.
45. DIY Plastic Surgery
A male patient injected kitchen oil into his own cheeks because he saw a plastic surgery TV show where a surgeon injected something similar to a model. He was amazed that the bumps of the oil didn’t go away, and were turning red and painful.
46. Eating the Insulin
We had a diabetic patient who kept coming back with extremely high sugars. We asked him if he was following the regimen we taught him…testing his blood sugar, using the sliding scale, measuring the correct dose of insulin in the syringe, etc. He went through all the steps and it sounded like he was doing everything right.
We asked him to demonstrate the steps he took so we could observe and correct any mistakes he may have been making. He did everything right until the very last step. He drew up the insulin in his syringe, pulled an orange out if his bag, injected the insulin into the orange, then ate it. Turns out when he was taught to practice how to give himself subcutaneous injections with oranges, he didn’t realize he actually needed to inject himself for the insulin to do its job.
47. Don’t Smoke Near a Combustible Gas
I’d say one of my worst experiences was an elderly woman who got horrible burns over most of her body after her oxygen tank exploded. She made the grave mistake of lighting a cigarette while hooked up to the tank. Never thought I’d know what cooked person smelled like.
48. It’s My Poop in a Box
Patient made an appointment and brought in his poop in a box. He was concerned about the size of his turd, and if it’s normal. All he got from the visit was, “Normal turd. Yes, it’s pretty wide.” Turd box was set out with biohazard waste. Waste guy thought it was a misplaced package and put it on the front desk. Secretary got quite the surprise that day.
49. Another Reason Why You Shouldn’t Have Rats as Pets
When I was on pediatric infectious disease, we had a young girl come in with a rash on the bottom of her feet. She was also having headaches and joint pains. We spent close to an hour interviewing the girl and the mother. Her history didn’t reveal much. Finally, as a last ditch effort, I pulled out the weird questions you ask in med school. I asked if they had any unusual pets, as we had already ruled out normal pets. They said actually they did just return a pet rat for biting her. They thought that this wasn’t really relevant. Bam! It was rat bite fever!
50. Now That’s Frugal
I had a patient come in for an STD check. She was very upset and continued to tell me that she only had one partner. Progressing through my assessment, she further divulged that even if he was sleeping with other people, it shouldn’t matter, “Because he uses a condom every time and he makes sure to wash it thoroughly after every use.” I asked what she meant when she said he washes it after every use. She explained that he washed the condom with hot water and soap before he used said condom again.
51. How Do You Fix It
I was treating cavities on a very nervous 4-year-old. Had finally gotten into a cooperative groove when genius mother looked up from her phone and noticed that I was drilling teeth. She was in the room the whole time—I had reviewed treatment with her, she knew we were fixing cavities. She proceeds to curse me out under her breath, saying, “You’re drilling holes in her teeth! this is freaking ridiculous, you people are scammers making holes in people’s teeth!”
I kept my calm and said “Ma’am if you have questions I will be happy to answer after I’m finished”—I’m shaking with rage at this point, because she was 20 minutes late to her appointment, and I’m bending over backward to make sure her kid has a good visit and doesn’t end up scared of the dentist. When the appointment is over, the kid jumps down, high fives me, and gives me a big hug.
I turn to mom and ask her how exactly she thought cavities were fixed? She said, “You don’t drill, my mother is a dental assistant.” I then proceeded to explain in excruciating detail the scientific process of how we remove decay. She said, “That’s not true.” I then told her that she can go ask her mom, ask Google, or go to dental school if she wants to know more, but I won’t be treating her child anymore.
52. Technical Dummy
I had a patient insist: “I didn’t have a heart attack, I had a myocardial infarction.” That’s just the technical term for a heart attack, genius.
53. The Old Flashcard Trick
My first rotation as a medical student was psychiatry. I was really nervous and made a flashcard for each psych condition and a list of diagnoses to consider. One of the patients being discussed on rounds was psychotic (think: KGB is after me!) but was otherwise put together. He was really into doing art and was very, very religious. I looked at my flash card for psychosis and casually mentioned that we should consider temporal lobe epilepsy, which presents with religiosity and exaggerated artistic ability. An EEG showed that he had it.
54. Look It up in the Dictionary
This one happened to my ex-father-in-law, and it’s funny, but it’s not. He was a surgeon. He is a very gentle, soft-spoken guy, and came out to tell a patient their biopsy results, to which they responded: “Praise Jesus, it’s malignant.” He had to explain that malignant meant bad.
55. Just When You Thought You Had Things Under Control
We had a patient come in for chest pain, which in our hospital is pretty routine. A few hours pass and she starts complaining of abdominal pain. We thought we had it under control, so we sent her from the ER to ICU. In transit, something ruptured and I saw a fountain of blood and fecal matter erupt from this poor woman.
We rush her into a room to prep her for emergency surgery, and in a matter of minutes, she had filled the bed with a vile soup of blood, stool, and tissue. She gets rushed to surgery and that’s the last I know. My shift ends, and I return the next day to find that she had been stabilized and was doing okay after receiving a ton of blood transfusions.
A few hours into my night I get called to a code blue in nuclear med. It’s the same woman, and apparently whatever was wrong with her intestine had ruptured again, and was now filling her abdomen. Within 5 minutes of giving her CPR, her stomach had tripled in size. I will never get over how surreal the scene was. My brain couldn’t make sense of what I was looking at, because her body looked so distorted.
I did a round of CPR, and at that point, she had blood coming out of every orifice, and we soon had to call it. I’ve been working in a medical setting for a while now, and I have never seen so much blood in my life, especially from something that wasn’t a flesh wound. This was gross in a sense, but even more scary because it came out of nowhere and we didn’t have time to do anything about it.
56. Protect Yourself
Lady walks into the office. The smell of cigarette smoke is so strong on her that I start coughing. Her dry leathery skin cracks while she talks, from years of sun abuse. She tells me, “I’ve stopped using sunscreen because I researched that it causes cancer.”
57. Kicking Away From the Rocks
Not a doctor, but EMT. A very experienced rock climber fell about 100 feet after missing a clip. The area below the cliff was mostly boulders and a few pine trees. Based on our dispatch information, we thought this was a body recovery call. When we got to him he was somehow alive and conscious. He had managed to kick himself away from the wall and fallen much of the way down through pine branches (slowing his fall), then managed to land flat on his back in a tiny patch of thick, soft soil between the boulders. The ER’s final verdict? Bumps, bruises, and a single cracked rib.
58. When the Hunter Becomes the Hunted
I saw this big 30ish-year-old guy in full camo come into the emergency department with an enucleated eye. He had shot a young male white-tailed deer in the northern woods in Arizona and was carrying the thing back to his car over his shoulder. He stumbled and the deer’s neck bent towards his face and the antler plunged straight into his eye. So naturally, he hiked another three miles to his car and drove himself to the hospital. Oh and he didn’t leave the deer. I wonder if it rotted in his car over the next day or so of treatment.
59. Growing Pains
One thing I will never forget is how I learned never to be mad at a patient. Now, this was when I began as an intern, A patient had intestinal obstruction. We inserted a nasal feeding tube, as the patient could not eat anything orally before the surgery. The problem was that they would always come and complain to me about how I didn’t stick it properly.
After two to three such episodes where I reluctantly redid it, they complain that the tube is out of the nose, and lo and behold, it is out. It’s very uncomfortable, most patients try and pull the nasal tube out. I replaced it like four times. Poor guy was fed up by then. On the morning of the surgery, his wife comes and asks me, “Doc, can you just remove that tube so that I can give him some coffee?”
Now, I got totally mad. I was working a 72-hour shift, So I scolded her by saying that if she or he didn’t want the surgery then I couldn’t do anything, and it would be nice if they gave me some peace. She didn’t say anything. The patient, 50 years old with no other complications, died on the table. I couldn’t face her. The moral being, doctors know more things than patients. But it’s not always wise to bite their heads off. I could have convinced her it was impossible to remove the tube before surgery in a calm way. Since then I’ve tried to be a better speaker to patients.
60. Jumped the Gun on That Confession
A patient of my dad’s (a dermatologist) had a visit from a city councilman who presented with a large brown growth on the tip of his penis. He started by confessing, “I haven’t exactly been faithful to my wife recently.” After a close-up inspection my dad asked him “Have you done any camping recently, Ted?” He replied, “Why yes, I took the boys to Arkansas two weeks ago. How did you know?” “Because,” my dad replied, “you have the largest wood tick on your penis I’ve ever seen.”
61. How Dare You Pronounce Me Dead
My dad is a physician. He tells a story about being on call overnight and monitoring a patient with a severe cardiac condition. In the middle of the night, the patient went into cardiac arrest and he pronounced him dead after they were unable to resuscitate him and he’d shown no vital signs for close to an hour.
Later on that night, he got a page indicating that there was a patient who had a bone to pick with him. He returned to the ward to find the “deceased” patient upright in bed, alert and fully lucid. He was joking about the fact that he had been pronounced dead earlier that night. His return to health was remarkable, and possible only because his condition had involved the very gradual shunting of his pulmonary artery so that his body had slowly, over the course of months or years, become adapted to a low oxygen environment, allowing it to survive approximately an hour without any cardiac function.
62. Don’t Tweeze and Drive
Back when I still did x-rays, I had a girl who was driving with a pair of metal tweezers resting on her leg. Unfortunately, she got into an accident and all of sudden the tweezers went from being on her leg to in her leg. The crazy thing is that she didn’t even realize they were in there until I brought it up. Then she started yelling at her boyfriend for no reason like it was his fault.
63. Having a Hard Nugget Definitely Helps
Paramedic here. I ran a call on a guy that was ejected out of a late-‘80s Mustang. The guy said the car rolled two times before pitching him out of the driver’s side window. He said he landed on his head and the 7-inch scalp avulsion seemed to corroborate his story. The car was completely crushed and sitting on its top.
The guy wanted to refuse treatment and transport. 15 on the GCS (Glasgow Coma Scale) but he never lost consciousness. I insisted though that he be seen at the ER. He rode the whole way texting people. When I told him that he shouldn’t be alive he said, “Yeah, I got a hard nugget.”
64. Flea Treatment
I have one. I got this from my friend, who is a doctor on the children’s ward in a rural hospital. These parents bring in their child, whose hair is infested with lice. The lice were visible to the naked eye and could be seen crawling on the child’s clothing. While the medical staff examined the kid in order to determine a course of action, they discovered the child was covered in a white powder and smelled heavily of chemicals.
They asked the parents what the substances and the smells emanating from the child were. The parents said, quite matter of factly, it was Sevin powder (a garden insecticide) and flea and tick spray they used on their dogs on the family’s farm. Needless to say, social workers were notified about this case.
65. Grandma’s Back
Not a doctor, but I have a story about one that screwed up and one that saved the day. My grandmother was seeing this physician because she had multiple issues with heart disease and high blood pressure. He prescribed about a dozen different medications to fix all her problems. Soon after she started to speak strangely. She would start accusing people of being in the Mafia, and wanted to kill her and the rest of us.
This kind of talk became more frequent as time went on, until finally she just stayed in bed because if she left she would be killed. None of us knew what to do, because who really wants to have their grandmother committed. During this time, my uncle (my grandmother’s son) goes to the supermarket to do some shopping. While there he meets her old physician, who just happened to ask how she was doing.
My uncle goes into all the details on what we were going through. The doctor then says he wants to look into the case since she was a good patient of his, and asks for the phone number to the house. The very next morning he calls and says he found what the problem was. The concoction of medications she was given had severely depleted the salt in the body causing her brain to swell.
He was shocked that the other doctor had not realized this before over medicating her. His short-term solution was for us to give her one tablespoon of salt. The long term solution, of course, was to change her medications. I have never seen such a change in a person before. We gave her the salt in a drink, and within the hour she was completely normal again.
It really was an incredible moment for us. One hour before we thought we were going to lose grandma to some institution, and then the next moment she is downstairs in the kitchen making herself a cup of tea. That doctor saved my grandmother, and I can’t express enough gratitude to him.
66. Brush Your Teeth
I’m a dental hygienist and once was telling a patient after a cleaning that she had gingivitis. She replies with, “I must have caught it from my boyfriend.” Had to explain to her that it’s because she doesn’t brush/floss enough. She was 36.
67. Mr. Hot Pants
I had a fella come into the ER who was stone sober, but only because he had spilled all of his rubbing alcohol onto his pants, which meant he couldn’t drink it. The reason why he was in the ER if the first place was because he tried to burn the alcohol off of his jeans by lighting the alcohol on fire, thinking the alcohol would burn and not his pants. He had some pretty rowdy burns from the calves down because he couldn’t get his pants off of his shoes. To be honest, pretty nice guy… absolutely the kind you’d expect to light themselves on fire, but he was very pleasant considering the circumstances.
68. Wife to the Rescue
Nurse here, but I have some good stories coming from a level 1 trauma center. Had a patient once with throat cancer and his tumor ate through his carotid artery. Due to the cancer and a previous surgery he had a fistula (a hole) in his neck. He and his wife were at home… he was dozing in the sunroom. Wife goes to the kitchen and comes back to see him covered in blood and bloody handprints on the glass door where he tried to open it and get help.
He had perforated his carotid artery and the blood was pouring (spurting?) out of his fistula. This tiny little old lady pulled the drapes from the window, jumped on his neck, and pushed her life alert button. Somehow she held pressure enough to keep him from bleeding out, and we actually saved the man with very little neuro deficit. People perforate carotids in the ICU and don’t survive the run to surgery…and he survived until EMS got to him and got him to the hospital, all because his wife thought quick and was remarkably strong.
69. The Things You See as a Young Medical Student
I’m a medical student, but I have seen two cases that I don’t think I’ll see again. First was a woman with Frey’s syndrome. Basically, every time she chewed, a small area on her cheek (right in front of her ear) would start sweating a lot and get red. The other one was a middle-aged man who got stabbed by his wife. It was actually the second time that he had come to the ER for being stabbed by his wife, and apparently, his son had stabbed him once before too. He defended his wife by saying, “I made her mad,” and refused to take legal action against her.
70. Facebook Help
Not a doctor…Was a patient. Had five different specialist teams come and try and figure out what had happened.One night I was at my friend’s house and my neck started feeling all crazy. We were drinking and I powered through it. At about 6 am, I woke up cold and just took the liberty of taking a bath to warm up.
Go home, still feel like crap… But I write that off to too much alcohol. A day more goes by, I think I might have pneumonia. This was before I had insurance, so I figure that I can tough pneumonia out. Then my neck and back start hurting. My symptoms are pretty close to bacterial meningitis, but not exactly right.
In a fever haze, I go on Facebook—not call a friend or do something reasonable—I put it on Facebook that I might need someone to take me to the hospital. I tell them that I think I have pneumonia. They x-ray my lungs, I don’t. She runs me through the meningitis mobility tests. I don’t have meningitis. She asks me about my medical history, I tell her I’ve only been to the hospital twice in my life. Once when I fell in a bonfire, the second when I broke my ankle.
She decides that I’m obviously messed up and runs an MRI on me—they cost a lot. Turns out that I had a 7-inch (13 cm) abscess on the inside of my mediastinum. It had ruptured and was pouring pollutants into my body. She came back and turned to the other nurse and said, “He has a 13cm abscess on his mediastinum.”
The other nurse responded with, “I didn’t know that that could happen.” She says, “I didn’t either.” If I had waited a day or two more, I’d most likely be dead. Anyhow, I had five different medical specialist groups come in and run me through their diagnostics. Even had a class come through just to check me out. They never figured out what caused it or even what the infection was because it was so close to my heart. I just did daily infusions for three months and I believe that I’m okay now.
71. Take One Apiece
One day in the pharmacy, a girl comes to the counter requesting a refill for her birth control. We pulled up her profile and realized we couldn’t refill it because she just got a 28-day fill less than two weeks ago. When we asked what happened to the pack she’d been given, she said she was out. Apparently, both her and her boyfriend were each taking a pill each and was adamant that was how they needed to prevent pregnancy.
72. Good Thing for That New Insurance
A year and a half ago, my dad got a new cardiologist because of insurance reasons and high blood pressure. He got standard new doctor tests and I think the doctor gave him an echocardiogram. He called my dad when he got the results and told him to get to the ER immediately, he had an aortic dissection. My dad, not knowing what that was, charged his phone up, finished his episode of The Young and the Restless, and called car service.
For the majority of people who don’t know what an aortic dissection is, it’s when there’s a tear in your aorta, which causes the blood leaving your heart to fill up the walls of the artery until it has an aneurysm and it bursts. Basically, if it bursts, you die. It’s what killed John Ritter. Usually, when it tears, you feel pain in your chest, but in very few cases there’s no pain.
My dad was one of the very few cases. The mortality rate once the aorta tears is 1-2% per hour for the first 48 hours, meaning 50% die within the first 2 days. When he got to the hospital, his aorta was three times the size of a healthy person, and the surgeon said that it was likely dissected for four days minimum, and if he waited a few more hours he would certainly be dead.
After the surgery to replace his artery with an artificial one, which took eight hours and involved essentially (and intentionally) killing him three times, the surgeon told him he was a miracle case and he really shouldn’t be alive, as his aorta was past the size it ruptures 9 out of 10 times. But there’s a kicker.
When he called my aunt to tell her she was the emergency contact, he told her he was having minor surgery on his big toe, because he didn’t want anyone to worry. Nobody besides his girlfriend—she knew but had to fly back home so she couldn’t be the contact—knew until six hours into the surgery what it actually was.
73. Hospital Hijinks
In the morgue at my hospital, I would always hear knocking coming from inside the freezer. It really creeped me out, especially when the pathologist looked up, grabbed me by the shoulders, stared me straight in the eye and said, “You hear that? You never open that door when they’re knocking. Never.” It turned out to be some loose pipes. I didn’t sleep that night, but the pathologist thought it was hilarious.
74. Good Enough Shape to Not Die
One guy had a congenital heart defect that caused an arrhythmia. He didn’t know about it until much later when he started playing minor league hockey in the AHL. Turns out, the guy started passing out during practices and one time needed to head to the hospital as a result—apparently, cardiac arrest. Basically, he was going into something called “Torsades de Pointes.”
Anyway, he recovered from every incident without issue and he was finally seen by a cardiologist who referred him to a specialist cardiologist known as an electrophysiologist who would use a special procedure to fix his heart (hopefully) indefinitely. The problem is, Torsades is incredibly scary, could kill the guy, and could strike at any moment. So he had to wear this thing called a “Life Vest” which will shock his heart if it goes into Torsades, likely saving his life.
Now, I’ve never been cardioverted (shocked) before. But, from what I’ve heard, from the very rare instance that it happens to someone who is conscious, it feels like getting kicked firmly in the chest. It hurts. So this pack had a sort of dead man switch that you could press and hold. The device would say something like, “arrhythmia detected, issuing shock in 5-4-3…” and if you got your finger on that switch you could hold off the shock until you pass out (you know, from your heart inadequately pumping blood).
So this happens to this 20-something-year-old hockey player and he presses the button. And he holds it. And he walks five blocks to the hospital. And by the time he gets to the ER, he’s in a normal rhythm. The ER staff think maybe he was mistaken, but they download the data from the pack and the guy was in, like, two solid minutes of Torsades before spontaneously converting. How could this possibly happen, you ask?
He was in such profoundly good cardiovascular health that, even though his heart was pumping maybe 5% of the usual volume at the time, he was giving enough oxygen to his brain to stay awake and moving.
75. Out of Mind, Out of Womb
Ob-Gyn doctor here, 40 years experience. About once a year would take care of someone in full blown labor, full term, who did not know she was pregnant. Very hard to wrap my head around, I guess the denial power of the mind is substantial.
76. Skipping Meals
We had a patient come into our hospital with anorexia requiring treatment, which, as usual, she didn’t want. However, she appeared to be eating her prescribed meals. After a few days it becomes clear she’s not putting on any weight, but the room is clean and she’s supervised for her bathroom visits, so we know she’s not flushing it away.
It turns out her family are going through some tough times and her dad’s down on his luck and out of money. So when he’s coming to visit his anorexic daughter in hospital every day, he’s eating the food prescribed to her because he can’t afford to feed himself. Meal time is unsupervised if there’s a family member there. The dad was blocked from visiting when the daughter fessed up.
77. Night Snowmobiling Isn’t the Best of Ideas
I was at a regional Level 1 trauma when I get called for a code. The team assembles and we get the initial report of a guy riding a snowmobile and hit a fence. So this guy is wheeled in and, at first, I think, “Oh, he’s intubated already.” On closer inspection, the tube isn’t coming out of his mouth, it’s coming out of his neck.
What actually happened was the guy decided to do some night snowmobiling. I didn’t know this was a thing. Anyway, he’s driving around property he doesn’t own and he happens to catch a wire fence that is exactly neck-level. The wire transects his trachea, the windpipe that we breathe through. Here’s where it gets “holy crap”: the large arteries that essentially rest next to the trachea were untouched. If they had been lacerated, he would have bled to death prior to EMS arriving. The one smart thing he did was travel with a buddy, who called 911.
They sent Aeromed to go pick the guy up. Even though he missed these arteries, he was still compromising his airway and aspirating a lot of blood. So, the paramedic on scene tried to intubate and made the split second decision to intubate through the opening in the trachea (I was able to personally confirm his view and he had nothing from above).
When I asked the paramedic how he found his landmarks to do it, he said: “I just looked for the bubbles as my guide.” We reverted to a trach, made a primary closure, and the guy was awake the following day and in relatively good spirits. That medic was so badass, I’ll never forget him. My girlfriend at the time made homemade doughnuts and we fried him a big plate. I stuck an ET tube through the hole and gave the treats to he and his friends for the save.
78. Guessing the Dad Didn’t Read the Fine Print
A good friend is doing residency at a pediatrician’s office that had a six-month-old girl brought in because she had started growing pubic hair. A nurse took note of the fact that the father was in his 60s and had enough insight to ask if he was taking testosterone treatments. Turned out that during “skin to skin” time he would lay his daughter on his chest, in the same spot he had applied his testosterone gel earlier in the day.
79. Count Them All
Fun story, while my wife was having her c-section for our daughter she overheard one of the nurses say “there’s only nine,” and my wife thought they were talking about my daughters fingers or toes. So she’s freaking out that our daughter is missing a finger or toe, and I keep assuring her that our daughter was perfect, which she was.
We found out about ten minutes later that the nurse was talking about the surgical tools that were supposed to be accounted for, and one of them was missing. So my wife got to spend the next two hours in x-ray because they thought they had left a tool inside her and stitched her up. They found the missing tool, not inside my wife, a couple hours later, so that was a relief.
80. The Death Call Wakes Him From a Coma
When I was in pharmacy school I did a clinical rotation in a hospital with an infectious disease doctor. One of his ICU patients was in a coma. He had severe trauma from a motorcycle accident. My doc was just one of the many doctors following him—in our case, it was because of sepsis from a perforated colon. Things were not going well.
He’d been in a coma for two weeks and showed no signs of coming out of it. The team of doctors (and me) sat with the family and discussed taking him off of life support. The family decided that it was the right decision. They said their goodbyes and I figured that was it. But the next day I came in and he was still on my patient list. I went to the ICU, and there he was. Alive and actually awake.
Apparently, he woke up that evening after I left. And he actually started to get better pretty quickly. Less than a week later he was out of ICU and in a regular room. And the next week he was no longer my patient because his sepsis had cleared and he no longer needed to be followed by the infectious disease doctor. It was pretty darn amazing.
81. First Responder
I’m a first responder for psych-related issues. I had one patient self-diagnose themselves as being dead. Emergency medical technicians didn’t believe him. He was quite insistent though and wanted an ambulance ride because he thought a dead person ought to have one. The EMTs argued with him, stating that he was both standing and talking. He countered that he was in hell. In fact, he was just extremely intoxicated on a bad combination of substances. I had a fun hour with him while he came back down to Earth.
82. Double Ouch!
This happened when I was a student nurse, and I got the story from one of the physiotherapists there at the time. A guy with a dislocated hip came into the emergency room at the hospital where I was completing my training. So with the whole team and a number of med and physio students, they went to put his hip back into place.
They’ve done this, and then the guy just started screaming in absolute anguish and pain and continued to scream and scream till his voice box gave up and he just screamed silently until he passed out from the pain. Doctors found on closer examination that one of the patient’s testicles somehow got in the way and ended up being squashed like a pancake.
83. Butt Shot
When my dad was a resident he had a guy come in with a gunshot wound to the shoulder. The guy had been caught with another man’s wife and had been shot while running away naked. In addition to the shoulder, the patient kept saying he had been shot in the gut. Dad searched all over and just couldn’t find any wound.
But the guy kept complaining about excruciating pain in his lower abdomen. X-ray revealed that, indeed, there was a bullet in the abdomen. Took a while to find, but my dad finally found the entry wound… The guy had been shot directly in the butthole. Swish. A few years ago, I saw something very similar on ER. Guess if enough people get shot, there are bound to be a few one-in-a-million shots.
84. Just Trying Moving a Little Bit
Not a doctor, but my human sexuality professor in grad school had some interesting stories. He worked a lot in very conservative Christian communities, and so a lot of times people got married with no education. He had one couple who couldn’t get pregnant. Turns out they thought sleeping together literally meant sleeping in the same bed.
Another couple was in therapy because neither one of them enjoyed intercourse. After having them talk through step by step what they did in bed, he learned the guy was just sticking it in and nothing else. He told the guy to move back and forth next time and see what happened. They couple came back one more time to say “THANK YOU!!!!!” and didn’t need any more sessions.
85. Heartbreaking Experience
As an ICU nurse, I’ve seen the decisions of some doctors result in death. Families often times don’t know, but it happens more than you’d think. It usually happens on very sick patients that ultimately would have died within six months or so anyway, though. Procedural wise, I have seen a physician kill a patient by puncturing their heart while placing a pleural chest tube.
It was basically a freak thing as apparently the patient had recently had cardiothoracic surgery and the heart adhered within the cavity at an odd position. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came to the realization of what had happened. You rarely see people accidentally kill someone in such a direct way. Heartbreaking.
86. Be Gentle With My Head
When I was in trauma surgery, got a notification about a man who was shot three times in the head. He comes in, literally one eye hanging out of the socket, blood everywhere, and he’s slumped forward. Apparently, he was shot once in the temple, exiting out his right eye socket, again in the nose, exiting from the roof of the mouth, and finally, in the cheek, exiting from the side of the head.
At this point, I’m thinking they just brought him in so we can pronounce him in the ER because he looked dead. I go to examine him, tilt his head back, and he says “Yoooo, be gentle!!!!” I jump back and scream like a little boy, as did everyone in the room. Literally, the bullets missed his brain in every single shot.
87. Can’t Get Worse Than That
I had a nine-year-old girl bought in one night with her parents complaining of fever and respiratory distress, presenting with coughing and wheezing. The kid was really out of it and the parents were very upset. I thought it was Bronchitis, but I admitted her and ordered treatment for her fever and cough as well as throat cultures.
I was with another patient when the kid started hallucinating, sobbing and spewing everywhere. I figured it had to do with the fever, so I packed her with ice, but she died maybe a half hour after that. This wasn’t my first death, but it was one of the worst. I couldn’t tell the stiff neck since the kid was out of it. She also couldn’t tell me anything else that would point to simple or complex seizures.
She died of neisseria meningitidis. Completely wrong diagnosis. To make matters worse, we called in all her schoolmates and anyone else we could wake up just in time to see three other kids go. The rest got antibiotics quickly enough. Probably my worst day in medicine.
88. There’s Alway the Chance It Will Heal Itself
Lady had a broken jaw. She comes in after 2 weeks with an open mandible fracture. Referred her to the hospital for immediate surgery. She never went because it, “doesn’t bother her and she’ll see if it gets better.”
89. A Decomposed Discovery
I work as a paramedic in Canada (more specifically Ontario) and we were dispatched to a call by police for a Code 4 (emergency) and Code 5 (obviously dead) and requested to bring a box of N95 masks. My partner and I were quite confused but we did as we were told. When we arrived on scene, a police officer met us outside and when I handed him the box of masks he looked significantly relieved.
My partner asked what was going on and the officer directed us to the door. Within two steps of where we were, we began to smell it. That oh-so-obvious smell of death—death that has had time to fester. At this point we understood the request for masks and as we poke our heads through the door a clearly deceased human greeted us.
The officer proceeded to tell us that she hadn’t been seen or heard from in two weeks until someone finally came to check on her. To make matters worse, she had her heat blasting (it was the middle of summer and temperatures can get up to 30+ degrees Celsius or approximately 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and she had all her blinds open and seated in direct sunlight. It was probably the most disgusting sight I had ever seen.
90. Oh NO
Not me, but my mom. She just retired as an OB/GYN and she told me about a time early on in her career when, while not a real medical mistake, she still almost ruined the operation. She was performing a c-section I think, and she dropped her scalpel on the floor. Before she could think, she blurted out “oh crap” as a reaction. The mother, thinking something was wrong with the baby, started panicking. It took a team of nurses, the husband, and the mother of the patient to calm her down. This was very early in her career, and she practiced for another 25 years without major incident.
91. This Is Just Sad
I think the most frustrating I’ve seen since I was a resident was a very pretty (like stunningly pretty) 17 year old with what appeared to be normal, loving, affluent parents. She had a tumor in her pelvis (rhabdomyosarcoma) and we could expect to potentially cure her. The parents declined, also declined chemo, and said they want to try holistic medicine because that made more sense to them.
I last saw her 3 years ago, she was getting huge lymph nodes removed from her groin because they were unsightly. Obviously metastatic disease. Parents did not want primary tumor removed and again declined chemo. I see 100 patients/week probably, lots of devastatingly sad cases. But I still think about that girl, listening to her parents, costing her life. I bet she’s dead now.
92. That Patient That Stays With You
20-something-year-old male, motorcycle vs SUV; SUV won. We arrived on scene to a man face down in a pool of about a liter of blood. We were told he was wearing a helmet, but it was nowhere to be found. He was about 30 feet from his bike and there was a clear trail of blood to the bike because he wasn’t wearing leathers. We rolled him onto the board and that was the first beating heart I ever saw.
His road rash was so bad it eroded his chest wall and we were staring at his heart, a collapsed lung, his great vessels, and the branches of the brachial plexus. Amazingly, they were all intact. Of course, he had multiple injuries to his other extremities, mandible, zygomatic arches, etc. but we frankly didn’t care at the time.
We were on scene for no more than two minutes before we sped off to the trauma center. I remember transferring the patient to the chief of trauma surgery whose first words when the trauma pad was removed were “Holy [expletive]!” I thought for sure he died.
Fast forward two years when I was at my primary care physician’s office for a checkup after my medical school interview and saw a collection bin for a veteran’s wedding. Guess who? Yup, it was him. They had taken his left arm to reconstruct his chest since the nerves were shot, but he recovered.
93. Let the Doctor See You Now
I was a unit secretary and nurse aide on a radiation oncology unit in the early 2000s. We had a patient show up through the ER who was admitted for emergency radiation treatment. She had a fungating mass in her mouth that had consumed half her head. When the doctor tried to examine her and open her mouth, her remaining teeth fell out into his hand.
It had eaten through the bones of her face, invaded her eye socket, everything. Doc said it was the worst case of mouth cancer he’d seen. According to her husband, she had a small lesion on her hard palate (the top of her mouth). Upon receiving the diagnosis of an early stage squamous cell carcinoma, she decided to treat with essential oils and things like frankincense, because chemo was poison. Her husband said he had tried to reason with her, but she was adamant about the “natural” treatment. She died in agony shortly after.
94. Always Look Under the Pillow
One of my mentors (in life, not medicine) was telling stories from his college days when he was still an EMT and not a doctor yet. He was called to a house where the parents of an 18-year-old girl had called 911. They said their daughter was feeling really bad and having stomach pains. So they arrive on the scene, him and his partner (both still pretty new to the whole gig), and the girl is laying on the couch in the living room with a pillow covering her stomach.
They do standard EMT stuff and get her on a stretcher and into the ambulance. They’re on their way to the hospital when the girl starts saying she’s been shot. And what my mentor was thinking was “Oh she’s in so much pain she’s become delusional and thinks she’s been shot.” Him and his partner decide to look under the pillow, which the girl still has covering her stomach, for the first time to find a bullet wound.
She had tried to kill herself in the bathroom by shooting herself in the stomach. She used a small enough caliber where the bullet didn’t pass through her body so there was no exit wound. On top of that, her parents weren’t even aware of the wound.
95. It’s Eating Me, Doctor
There was a 24-year-old patient who was brought in from a jail in a rural county. He was working roadside cleanup when he found a bottle in a ditch that he thought contained alcohol and he quickly chugged it down. To be fair, it did look like whiskey. It wasn’t. It turns out it was a substance that contained sulfuric acid. Its pH was less than 2.5…it just ate up the litmus paper. So shortly after he gets to the ICU he is in excruciating pain and.
The gastroenterologist took him to do an EGD (basically a procedure where they can look at the esophagus, stomach and duodenum with a camera attached to a flexible tube) and the pictures were horrendous. You could literally see his stomach and esophageal mucosa eroding away. He had to be sent off to another hospital where they had an esophageal surgeon who could repair the mess.
He, of course, needed multiple surgeries and had a very long hospital stay. I saw him a few months later when he was admitted for another issue. He was down to 90 lbs. from about 150 and was getting fed through a PEG tube. He was very lucky to be young and otherwise healthy—but obviously not very smart at all.
96. Allergic to Everything
Registered nurse here. I see some crazy stuff, but one thing that stands out was the time I was admitting a guy to the hospital. I can’t really remember what for but he was diabetic, had heart disease, and was generally unhealthy. Anyhow, I’m at the computer going over some admission questions with him and his 10 family members who are crowded in the room with him.
A few minutes in, he starts complaining that he’s thirsty. He needs something to drink right now. So I get on my phone and call the nurse assistant, and ask her to bring in some ice water. As soon as the words are out of my mouth the whole family screams: “NOOOO! NO WATER! HES ALLERGIC TO WATER!” Well, this is going to be a problem.
Turns out the guy had been drinking nothing but Sprite and sweet tea for years, because of his “water allergy.” The next question his wife had was “Where are we all supposed to sleep?” The whole family, 10 people, were planning to stay at the hospital with him. You can’t make this stuff up.
97. A Flesh Wound
Heard this from an emergency doctor friend of mine a while ago. Female patient comes in complaining of severe abdominal pain, nurses take vitals, ask questions, etc. Eventually, my friend sees her and, after a few questions, he has her lift her shirt. The “severe abdominal pain” on the chart was in fact due to a gash so severe that part of her intestines were sticking out of her. No one had noticed and she hadn’t thought to mention that her organs had started leaking out. In fact, she seemed just as surprised as he was.
98. The Milk Is for The Baby
I saw a patient who was concerned because she was still lactating, despite the fact that she stopped breastfeeding her twins two years ago. She said: “sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and find my husband sucking on the breasts. He says he’s trying to drain the milk for me.” I had to explain to her that breastfeeding her husband will lead to continued Lactation.
99. 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.
100. Always Check the Decimals
I very nearly injected a premature baby that had Down Syndrome with ten times the amount of Lasix I was supposed to give him: I had put the decimal in the wrong place when I did the math on the dose. That baby would almost certainly have died if I’d given it to him. I had the liquid drawn up in the syringe and had the syringe actually in the port ready to push through before I looked inside the chamber and realised how uncharacteristically full it seemed. Paediatric IV doses of anything are simply tiny. I was supposed to give him 0.1 mls, and nearly gave him 1.0mls. I needed a very large cup of tea after that.
101. Having Your Heart Ripped out
My brother is a surgeon, and during part of his residency, he had to work in the pediatric unit. He was working with two newborns. One was getting much better and fighting for life. He was going to make it just fine. The other baby was hours from death. He wasn’t going to make it. My brother was in charge of informing the families.
My brother realized about 15 minutes later that he had mixed up the families. He told the family with the healthy baby that their baby wasn’t going to make it, and he told the family with the dying baby that their baby was going to be just fine. He then had to go back out to the families and explain the situation to them. How devastating. To be given a glimmer of hope and have it ripped away from you not even an hour later. That was most upset I’ve heard my brother. He felt destroyed.
102. Not Fazed by Basal Cell Carcinoma
This lady came in and literally half of her face had been basically eaten up by basal cell carcinoma. One of her eyes was completely missing. According to her, it had been this way for years. And here’s the kicker, that’s not even the problem she came into the hospital for! She had come in for an umbilical hernia as big as a basketball that had been there for months, and she’d started vomiting over the past week so she finally went to the emergency department.
103. Seeing Red
I’m that patient. My dad is a doctor, and as a kid, I called him in a panic because I was peeing blood. Mind you, we were in Africa at that point and he was doing development work. Told me not to flush and rushed home.Just to clarify, my dad was in the middle of a meeting with a bunch of big kahunas from different NGOs and I ruined that instance for him. I’d eaten beets.
I work as an ER nurse and had a patient with a little dizziness, a little nausea and a swollen abdomen. She was fairly bright, able to talk, and nothing seemed too horrific. But she was turning a grim gray color and breathing quickly. Our average wait time today was two hours. I could have put her back in the queue and moved on.
But I had a little dark feeling that there was something sinister happening here. So I called our most senior doctor out of a consultation and asked him to see her. Right now. Ever heard of your abdominal aorta? Enormous blood vessel that can pouch out, suddenly rupture, and make you bleed internally to death in minutes?
It’s called a burst AAA (abdominal aortic aneurysm). You’ve heard of it now. That’s what she had. I’ve never seen one before. But now I have. Within five minutes, she was barely responding. Within ten, her blood pressure had dropped to a barely sustainable level. Within twenty minutes, I was pouring blood into her and eight people were around the bed.
Within an hour, she was on an operating table clinging to life. But because I raised the alarm, and because my team worked their butts off, that woman is still, somehow, alive. Feels good, man.