Doctors and nurses see a LOT of patients in their careers. What would be an utterly harrowing moment for us civilians is just part of a day’s work for them. But sometimes, a patient will come in who can shock even the most seasoned medical professionals. From truly gruesome injuries to idiotic questions to one-in-a-million diagnoses, these doctors reveal the patients they will never forget.
1. Neighbors Can Be Real Panes
I’m a medical student. During my mental health placement, I saw a guy on a home visit who tried to convince us that his neighbor was trying to kill him. This guy had a history of mental health problems, and the doctors were sure he was psychotic and that all of this was in his head. However, a few days later, the doctor came around for another home visit and found his patient’s neighbor trying to climb through the window with an AXE.
The poor man wasn’t psychotic at all, his neighbor was actually trying to murder him, and everyone thought he was just mad.
2. Don’t Judge a Book By its Cover
My mother worked in the ER and she once told me this crazy story. One day, a scruffy guy in his mid-50s came in looking for nonspecific help. He was confused, smelly, and dressed in a ragged, mismatched, thrift store suit. He was clearly homeless and just looking for a bed. He also kept muttering something about quantum, so she thought he was a little off his rocker. She was in for the shock of her life when she discovered who he really was!
Mom decided that she might as well give him a workup so that she could teach the residents. Tests showed that the guy was actually in near-total renal failure, so they gave him dialysis. Fairly quickly after that, he became coherent and sane. Suddenly, he started talking about REAL quantum physics. It turns out that he was a math professor!
His kidney problem had sent him into a mental tailspin on his way to a conference a month earlier. Apparently, he had exited his train in wrong city and had been wandering the streets ever since, missing and presumed dead!
3. A Maternity Mystery
A pregnant woman came into a gynecology practice and she was clearly already very far along; by visual, she was at least eight months. She supposedly hadn’t seen any doctors up until this point, so ignoring the extreme irresponsibility of this woman, the doctors proceeded with care. They ran some tests on her and she checked off all the boxes for the most part. Everything seemed right as rain.
They finished up with an ultrasound, and this is where things got weird. They had trouble making out a picture of the fetus, which on its own is not that unusual. High levels of gas can disrupt the ultrasound machine. What really concerned the doctors was that they couldn’t detect a heartbeat. The woman insisted that she should be induced so that the doctors can maybe save the child if something is wrong that they can’t see.
The doctors agree and send her over to the hospital. After hours upon hours of attempts to induce labor with no results, the doctor suggests a C-section. The woman agrees, so they begin the process. They popped her with an epidural and begin the operation. They delicately cut into the uterus and…There was no baby. She wasn’t pregnant!
How? She had a full baby belly. She passed pregnancy tests. She showed all of the hormones that pregnant women produce. It made no sense. It is a very very rare condition called pseudocyesis. It is essentially a phantom pregnancy. You show all of the real symptoms of pregnancy but you’re not pregnant. So weird!
4. Nothing To See Here
A patient once presented to the ER with an 18-inch machete blade firmly implanted across the top of his skull. He was driven to the hospital by a friend—who was the possible assailant/owner of said machete—walked on his own into the ER, had totally normal vital signs in triage, and a slight steady trickle of blood from the wound. He denied he was in pain, and was in no apparent distress.
The ER was insanely busy, so it took us a while to get him a bed. In the meantime, he calmly sat in the waiting area, nearest to the triage station so we could keep an eye on him and watched TV, as the staff was running around like crazy, phones ringing nonstop, patients complaining about the wait time and exhibiting other types of tomfoolery.
The machete man just sat there calmly exhibiting his true Zen mastery of machete head wounds. All these years later, I can still see him with that machete lodged in his skull. He had the machete removed with no complications and suffered no impairment from the injury. He was cooperative and nice to all his caregivers. He also profusely thanked us for caring for him. Probably one of the few that did that night!
5. Factitious Disorder
When I was an intern, we had a 22-year-old man with persistent abdominal pain, all studies negative. His symptoms were unexplained. His mother was constantly at his bedside, and his medical history, which was extensive according to his mom, included multiple hospital stays with no definitive diagnosis. I noticed that he would frequently take ill after meals, which his mother brought from outside the hospital.
It eventually became clear that he was a victim of Munchausen by proxy. His mother was making him ill. I’d had a patient with Munchausen’s when I was in medical school (she was injecting her own waste into her IV), so I was particularly tuned in. Both cases were very sad.
6. The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
My favorite incident of all time was a surgery we did on a lady in her 80s. She volunteered at the hospital and was a widow. In the recovery room, I started hooking up her ECG. This involves attaching some cables to stickers on her upper chest. When I reached for them, she tried to just pull her gown down and show me her breasts.
I told her that she didn’t need to do that. She just said, “But this is so exciting! It’s been a while since I’ve been with a man!” The nurse just started laughing her head off, and I got a little red. She then said, “It sure is getting hot in here!” I had to leave after that, as I was way too uncomfortable. But hey, I hope she had some fun.
7. Fastidious Faker
While taking a trauma call during my surgery residency, I had a prisoner come in after a fight claiming he couldn’t move or feel his legs. All of the CT scans and MRIs were normal. We also tried shielding his legs so he couldn’t see them and poking them with needles and other sharp objects with enough force to cause pain—but he never flinched or moved his legs at all.
He was diagnosed with SCIWORA (spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality). He stayed in the hospital for a week, with no improvement. He always had one guard with him. One night, they were down in the lobby watching some television when the guard needed to use the restroom. The patient said, “Where could I possibly go? I’m paralyzed!” So, the guard left him alone for two minutes—but that was all it took.
The patient was last seen sprinting down the road in his hospital gown, naked butt cheeks flapping in the breeze. He made it to a city four hours away by car before he was caught again. I have never seen anyone fake so well. Truly playing the long con!
I’m an OB-GYN resident. This one still freaks me out. As a medical student, I had a superbly kind and funny patient with mild hypertension and an IVF twin pregnancy conceived overseas; she was a little older than usual, slightly overweight, and had a previous C-section. There was nothing really remarkable about her condition, just a few small risk factors altogether.
She came into the high-risk clinic, and the fetal heart tracing was a bit too quiet; not scary, just not great. The maternal-fetal medicine subspecialist doctor said she should go for delivery. The lady and I were chatting, and she was from the same city as my then-girlfriend. She had a great sense of humor, and she took the delivery news like a champ.
She jokingly said, “Okay, but don’t let me die. I want to meet your girlfriend after all this.” We said goodbye, the nurse and I smiled, and we wished her well. The attending then said, “I don’t like this. This is the kind of patient that smiles, looks good, then dies.” The nurse and I both thought he was crazy. She had a textbook, uncomplicated C-section, and we moved her to recovery.
One hour later, she suddenly lost her pulse with essentially no warning and passed from an amniotic fluid embolism. Amniotic fluid embolisms are unpredictable and unpreventable. It occurs in one out of every 20,000–50,000 births. I can still remember how she looked, waving goodbye to us. I’ve seen a lot of people in a lot of different fields die, but this one still hurts my heart today.
9. Luck O’ The Irish
A young woman went running into a small rural hospital ER pretending to have abdominal pain. The police officer who followed her in had tagged her going 40+km/h over the speed limit, which was considered “stunt driving” as per the new law in Ontario, and resulted in an automatic car impoundment and license suspension.
The police officer said he’d be waiting for her when she left the hospital. When I talked to her, she flat out admitted that she just came in because she freaked out and didn’t stop when he tried to pull her over, and now didn’t know what to do. I told her I’d give her 45 minutes to call her parents before I booted her out.
In the meantime, one of her tests came back, and something looked seriously wrong. A subsequent ultrasound came back showing extremely early ectopic pregnancy. The officer figured out something was up when he heard an air ambulance call come in over the radio, as our small hospital did not have the resources to treat her safely.
She was completely asymptomatic, so she was incredibly lucky that we found it. She managed to dodge both charges and a life-threatening issue, purely by accident!
10. A Spotty Story
Dermatologist here. I once saw a patient who was convinced she had a melanoma and needed a biopsy, and would need to be on workers comp. I told her the spot she was pointing to looked like ink from a marker, but she still demanded a biopsy. I wiped the area off with an alcohol swab, showed her the ink, and pointed out that there was no spot on her skin anymore.
She stormed out threatening to sue. I’m just glad I cured her melanoma!
11. What, Do You Think I Was Bourne Yesterday?
I work in neuro rehab. I saw a patient who had a history of excessive drinking and attempting to end her life. The last attempt left her with brain damage, hence my involvement. She had a five-second memory. She asked if her mother was still alive, then asked if she came to visit her, then asked again if her mother was alive.
Anyway, I’m going through basic orientation questions with a calendar, asking if she knew her name, where we were, and what she did for a living. Her name was correct, but as to her occupation, she replied, “I’m a spy, but I’m not supposed to say that.” I tried to cue her to the correct answer, asking questions like, “Do you work in an office? Are you in finance?” But she wouldn’t change her answer.
After the session, I went to look in her personal file to check her occupation—I couldn’t believe what I saw. It read, “Classified.” I checked with the family, and they told me that they’ve never known what she does, but she works for the national intelligence agency… I tried to convince my patient she wasn’t a spy. She was.
12. The Miracle Of Birth
A fellow nurse who worked on a psychiatric floor in a hospital told me this story. This one woman was convinced that she had been impregnated by a ghost-like figure and upset that no one would believe her. One day, she started complaining about massive pelvic and uterine pain. She called them contractions.
The doctor did an exam and he felt something larger in there, so they prepped a table to get the object out. The woman still claimed that she was having contractions, and was yelling things like, “SHOULD I PUSH?!!! I’M GONNA START PUSHING!!!” The doctor was trying to work forceps around this woman’s parts in a way that would not hurt her.
He finally said, triumphantly, “Got…” and as he started saying “it,” he pulled out a baby doll’s head. It’s not unusual for psych patients to stash things in various orifices, so the doctor wasn’t overly surprised, but there was a third-year medical student helping with the procedure who had not been adequately prepared to witness a doll’s head get pulled out of a woman screaming that she was giving birth.
The poor medical student did the wobble, went flushed, had problems keeping his balance, and then almost passed out. She was told that he didn’t live that down throughout his whole rotation.
13. It’s Not A Fashion Accessory?
I’m a nursing student who works in a pharmacy. I find that people need a lot of explaining for things that should be common sense and this is why in the pharmacy we have to give extremely detailed instructions and counseling. I had a woman upset that she became pregnant after using a Nuva Ring, which is a round birth control insert.
I told her that birth control is not 100% effective so it’s possible to get pregnant while using it. But then, I heard the rest of the story, and nearly burst out laughing. The patient was wearing it every day…around her WRIST…. so it wasn’t quite effective.
I once had a patient who worked in a hospital as a janitor, so he knew enough to fake illness fairly convincingly. He was seeking pain meds, complaining of chest pain. He was worked up for everything cardiac and was fine. Then, he tried to claim GI discomfort when he was being discharged. He was checked and cleared again for everything.
Then, he faked chest pain again; he was cleared again. Then he was sent to me, and since I was a new face, he claimed to have abdominal pain again. I called the doctor, knowing the guy’s history, and he said he’d be up to see him soon. This patient asked for a ginger ale, and after bringing it to him, I decided to go to lunch.
About ten minutes later my co-worker came into the lunchroom, looking supremely disgusted. Apparently, the guy had defecated in a basin and then dumped the ginger ale over it and tried to tell her he’d had fecal vomiting. He claimed that he needed pain medication immediately. I went back and told him I’d have to take away his food and drinks and we’d have to give him a nasogastric tube. Suddenly, he changed his tune and admitted to faking it.
15. One in a Million
The morning report was a good one today. We had a 59-year-old male come in with lower leg swelling. Within 3 days he becomes confused, febrile, and stiff. We put him in the ICU, thinking he had meningitis and got some CSF cultures and started antibiotics. Two days later, the cultures were still negative and he wasn’t improving.
His wife then says this whole event seems similar to her husband’s (the patient’s) mom. She had Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease and passed from it. It’s a 1 in a million (literally) diagnosis and our tests are still coming back for it. Really rare case most doctors will never see.
16. 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.
17. A Dream Diagnosis
A patient strolled casually into the ER because his dead grandfather appeared to him in a dream and said, “Go to the hospital as soon as you wake up.” He told this to the doctors and nurses who admitted him, and insisted that they check on his brain. He didn’t even feel sick at all. Very calm about the whole thing. However, the truth was absolutely disturbing.
A scan revealed his heart had basically torn open down the side and he had maybe a few hours before he completely bled out internally. So the dead grandpa vision was a bit overdramatic. The guy’s demeanor was under-dramatic. The actual medical issue was truly dramatic.
18. Tummy Troubles
So we’re in this small treatment center on a small island in Greece, it was the night shift, and this guy comes in through the ER door. Now I want you to imagine the most typical bulky Russian guy. Two meters tall, wide as a bull, and just straight-up menacing. This is the kind of guy you see in movies bouncing at a mob club.
So he’s walking slowly towards us, and in broken Greek, he says “Tummy hurt” with the thickest Russian accent. He’s holding his abdomen and has a sour face, looking like he has some gastro-intestinal issues, so we point him to the internal medicine room after he does the paperwork. He takes his time, reaches the bed, and just sits there, chilling.
We ask what’s wrong, again, same answer, just a small “Tummy hurt.” Yeah, he was shot three times. I’m pretty sure he walked it off, came here on his own and the only thing he figured he should say is a chill “tummy hurt” like it’s a Tuesday and he had some indigestion.
19. Keep Your Eyes Open
On my ER rotation, a trauma patient who had been arrested came in. During the drive, the patient apparently banged her head four times against the window of the police car and then went unconscious. She came to us with a bruise on her forehead and still unconscious. We all thought that she was probably faking to get out of going to jail, but the patient was a great actor.
She didn’t even flinch during the digital rectal exam, which is standard for all patients that come in through the trauma bay, but some of the nurses said that they had caught her peeking at us when we would leave the room. We ended up getting a CT scan (which was normal) and were even considering intubating her to secure her airway when our attending physician finally walked over to her.
He opened her eyelids and held them open while telling her to wake up. She held out for a few moments, but then started automatically fighting to close her rapidly drying eyes and the jig was up. The doctor called her out and she proceeded to start screaming at us. She was much more pleasant when she was pretending to have a brain injury.
20. Miracle Worker
There was a geriatric patient taking advantage of the call bell one night because she was an attention seeker. She always needed really basic things to get done for her because she thought the place was a hotel. She would ring the bell for reasons like “please lift the blanket up for me” or “please pass me my phone” or “please feed me,” even though we all knew she could do these things herself.
After days of saying no and that she needed to start doing things for herself, she grew more and more frustrated. Eventually, she snapped—and it was chilling. She grabbed me by my collar, shook me aggressively and yelled, “What don’t you understand about the fact that my hands don’t work?!?!” I didn’t know what to tell her. I just looked at her and blinked as she slowly released her death grip on me. I guess I healed her hands. Praise the Lord.
21. Miracle Porridge
I made a clinical diagnosis of fairly early-stage necrotizing fasciitis (the infamous flesh-eating bacteria) in West Africa which was pretty cool… The patient was a young adult male who was writhing and screaming in agony as he was carried in. He spoke a tribal dialect and I spoke ugly French, so it was basically impossible to get any information out of him or the friends who brought him in.
I laid him on the table and did a rapid trauma assessment. When I stripped off his shirt, I saw a small patch (maybe 4″ x 6″) of blackened tissue below his left nipple along the side of his ribs. It looked like a chemical burn to me at first glance. I realized that some of the skin had torn off the area when I removed his shirt, and when I touched the lesion to examine it, I could feel the skin separating from the tissue below it.
The technical term is “desquamating.” It had a horrible odor like spoiled meat/rotting garbage mixed with 100 degree west African heat and 100% humidity. Putrid. His temperature was over 40C (104+ F) and his O2 saturation was terrible. The rotting garbage smell indicated anaerobic bacteria, the skin peeling off indicated connective/soft tissue involvement, and the disproportionate pain (relative to the size of the lesion) is a hallmark of necrotizing fasciitis.
I ran back to my room and grabbed the Oxford Handbook of Tropical Medicine (highly recommend if you work over there in medicine) to double-check because I had never seen a case of flesh-eating bacteria in person before and didn’t want to screw up the diagnosis and move things in a different direction if I was wrong. Sure enough, everything matched up and the chief of medicine stopped by to confirm the diagnosis. He basically said, “Oh yeah we see these fairly frequently, people get a cut or a bug bite and then rub dung or dirt into it and the infection takes hold.”
The craziest part was the outcome. In the United States, patients with necrotizing fasciitis in one limb frequently die or suffer amputations of both arms and both legs—even in the best ICUs. Here we were in the middle of West Africa at a remote bush hospital and this guy has it on his chest, which pretty much wrecks the standard aggressive surgical approach since you can’t exactly amputate the chest.
We loaded him up with high dose IV ampicillin a few times a day and his wife forced him to eat multiple bowls of porridge…miraculously he made a full recovery and left smiling 10 days later. I’m convinced it was the porridge.
22. Non-FDA Methods
We had a case a couple of years ago that still gives me chills whenever I think about it. A younger girl goes to her family doctor in a small town outside of the bigger city where I live. She had persistent headaches, which just started a few days prior. No past medical history of anything similar or really at all about her that stood out as relevant.
Unable to diagnose or treat her headaches (which were rapidly growing more severe), she was sent to our hospital (X state’s Childrens’ Hospital) for evaluation. We ran her through the typical gauntlet of testing for common causes, CBC/CMB/CT/MRI etc. still with no clue. Nothing came up on blood cultures either. At this point she was in the PICU rapidly deteriorating, with high fevers and periodic losses of consciousness.
After eliminating all the horses, we had to start looking for zebras…and quick. We collected a CSF sample for culture thinking it might be one of the rarer forms of bacterial meningitis. While this was cooking (cultures usually take at least a few days) we tried again to get any other possible info from her parents…that’s when we learned the whole story.
For the first time, they mentioned that they had visited a local waterpark a week or two before the girl’s symptoms started…and this was in the middle of summer. For any Peds doctor, or especially ID doctors in the room, those words made their hearts sink. Sure enough, the cultures came back, positive for Naegleria Fowleri, the pathogen responsible for Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM). Which up until that point, I don’t think there was a documented case of a patient being diagnosed with PAM who survived.
It’s the incurable brain-eating amoeba that lives in warm stagnant water and can enter through the cribriform plate at the top of the nose if the patient gets water up there…which happens all the time at waterparks. Anyway, long story short, we basically cook up a (very non-FDA-approved) drug cocktail as a sort of Hail-Mary attempt at fighting this infection, as nothing else in any other case had ever worked.
In addition to this, we basically stick her in a Mr. Freeze chamber, lowering her body temp to below what N. Fowleri can usually survive. Unfortunately, most people can’t survive it either. But for some reason, (though in an induced coma the whole time) she steadily improved. When we took her out of the deep freeze and allowed her to wake up, it was incredible…
She was alive with no apparent neuro/cognitive deficits, and the new cultures showed no growth of N. Fowleri. It’s not too hard to figure out where this occurred, as it may still be the only successfully treated case in the US.
23. He Nailed it
There was a guy who attempted to take his own life by firing an automatic nailer into his ear. I took care of him in the ICU and he remembers everything. He’d been depressed for a long time and decided to end it. Nailed himself, sat around a while before deciding he didn’t want to die, drove himself to the ER, walked inside, and fainted. It was so weird how stoic he was about it all.
24. So A Pregnant Man Walks In…
I had a guy come in complaining of abdominal pain, but stated it was because he was pregnant. He was absolutely sure of it. His wife was in the room with him and fully vouched for the story—which is probably the craziest part to me. He said that he had seen this other doctor at this other hospital who had confirmed it on ultrasound and shown him the fetal heartbeat.
This was a small hospital so our ultrasound tech had to be called in when needed. Obviously, there was no way that would happen for this. We wanted to work him up for appendicitis because obviously, that could be a real thing, and if he’s actually having this pain something could be wrong. Recommended a CT. The patient said he didn’t want a CT, he just needed an ultrasound to check if his baby was okay.
We told him multiple times “Sir, it is impossible for you to be pregnant. You don’t have a uterus.” He didn’t budge. We ordered the CT anyway, because we still want to see what’s causing the pain, and sometimes you just have to put the orders in and hope for the best. This guy ended up leaving his room, followed a nurse taking a patient to radiology, and gate-crashed radiology, telling them that he badly needed this ultrasound. Security escorted him back.
25. There’s Always An Explanation
Once a man came in and said he had burning genitals. He thought he knew what was happening…and the story was absolutely hilarious. He actually thought someone was coming in and lighting a fire under it while he slept. This guy wanted a cure for burning when in reality…he had gonorrhea. He got offended when my dad told him this because he was married and his wife was fine, but 80 percent of women that have gonorrhea are asymptomatic.
It turns out the dude had a serious addiction to ladies of the night, which is where he and his wife got it from. Yikes.
26. Testing His Patience
There was a patient demanding a heavy Percocet prescription—far more than I would prescribe even post-surgery—after having a nasal swab test completed. I get that it’s temporarily uncomfortable, as I’ve had it done several times myself, but no way was I buying him writhing around screeching about how much pain he was in.
When the patient eventually realized I wasn’t budging it was as if someone had flipped a switch and he “miraculously” recovered.
27. In Too Deep
One patient that I met had faked cancer for over a year. He ended up in our Emergency room and I saw him as a consult. He had two liters of urine in his bladder (which is too much) and said he had stage-4 melanoma. However, the hospital where he claimed to be getting treated had no record of him. His Dad and girlfriend were in the room when we confronted him, and his poor Dad was so embarrassed.
This man had had his girlfriend shave his head every day, claiming that he was embarrassed by how patchy it was getting from the chemotherapy. They had all even gone on a huge trip together as a bucket-list goal. It was insane. He would text his girlfriend updates from the “doctor’s office” while she was at work.
His parents would give him rides to get his treatments, but no one actually went in with him, because he didn’t want them to. They would wait in the lobby or the parking lot, which they didn’t find super unusual since he was in his 30s and said he wanted privacy. We signed off on the case before they figured out why he had such bad urinary retention since we were so disgusted with the whole thing. I hope that girl dumped him.
28. Feeling Blue
My Mom once had a guy come in with terrible pain in his testicles, which had also turned blue! He was crying in apparent agony, with both nurses and doctors unable to work out the reason for his blue appendages. One doctor suspected twisted testicles, and the patient was told he was about to have emergency surgery—until one of the nurses noticed some blue on his inner thigh.
Apparently, he was either using dye on his skin or he had gone commando in new jeans, and some of the dye had rubbed off. They found out later that he was an addict who had visited most local hospitals with obscure excuses for requiring strong painkillers. He had even convinced one doctor to give him stomach surgery at another hospital weeks before, also for some pain the surgeons couldn’t find a reason for!
29. Dr. Google
The weirdest case I ever had was the woman with Stiff Person Syndrome. Technically it was paraneoplastic antibodies causing a case of mild stiff person-like syndrome, but it was basically a lady who had glutamic acid decarboxylase antibodies which caused her to be really stiff. How’d I figure it out? Well, she was really stiff and it was very odd. I was out of ideas and literally googled “stiff person” and got the result of a disease I’d probably heard mentioned in passing in med school but is so rare you forget about it: Stiff Person Syndrome.
I thought it was a joke at first—but it’s all too real. Ordered the test, it was positive. Later, after more research, I learned that you can have similar antibodies and symptoms with paraneoplastic syndromes, so I did a scan, and found a lung tumor. Boom. SPS is really rare. Paraneoplastic syndromes are less rare. She was somewhere in the middle.
30. No Butts About It
Farmers are notorious for being under dramatic. We had a farmer a while ago who was up a tree for some reason and fell out. As bad luck would have it, someone had left a dirty meat hook at the bottom of the tree and he landed on it, impaling his behind on one cheek. He proceeded to pull it out, finish what he was doing, drive himself home, and go to bed.
The only reason he came to the hospital was that his wife woke up to a bed full of blood and insisted he gets it looked at.
31. The Meat of the Issue
A patient came in with an itchy rash that would not go away for weeks, and a new swelling of the mouth and tongue. She had “hives” all over her body and the only thing that had helped was repeated steroids. She was a mid 40s female who worked with dogs, so we assumed that she had a new allergy to pet dandruff, fragrance in a shampoo, flea medicine, or something along those lines. We discharged her home with an appointment for the dermatologist to do a biopsy of the lesions. But that wasn’t the last we’d see of her.
Later that day, she turns back up in the Emergency Department with swollen lips, increased rash, and trouble breathing. She started having these problems 15 minutes after eating a roast beef sandwich. Someone on the team remembered that she works with dogs and asked if she’d had any recent tick bites. Sure enough, she had been bitten by a tick a few weeks ago and identified a picture of a Lone Star Tick.
Turns out she had developed an allergy to red meat after a bite from that tick. This allergy is called an alpha-galactosidase allergy, and is a reaction to a carbohydrate carried on the outside of cells (think like the carbohydrates on red blood cells for ABO blood type) by all other mammals except humans and monkeys.
The tick had bitten one of these and kept some of the protein in its digestive system, and then after biting her, her body developed antibodies to the carbohydrate, causing her to have a new allergy to meat.
32. A Bloody Mess
As a med student, I was helping a patient with gastrointestinal bleeding. People who have end-stage liver disease don’t clot well, and also have difficulty that leads to big, ropy vulnerable blood vessels in the stomach that are at risk to bleed. And when people bleed inside the stomach you can’t hold pressure, you simply must get them stable enough to have life-saving endoscopy.
This guy was Exorcist-level vomiting bright red blood, he was bleeding into his stomach and we couldn’t get his blood pressure to stabilize enough to get a scope into him for a while. There were runners bringing us coolers of emergency release blood, and the splatters and pools of blood he had vomited reached across the hall.
When we finally got him packed up to go to the endo suite, the family next door quietly apologized for taking our time for their chronic non-emergent issue and could they go home now?
33. Educated Faker
I’ve seen all sorts of weird people faking symptoms. The most devious was a guy I’ll call Steve. Steve had to be in the medical field somehow, probably a nurse or technologist, because he had a good knowledge of conditions. He was fairly tall and skinny naturally, but he claimed to have Marfan Syndrome, a rare connective tissue disease that makes you tall and skinny and puts you at a higher risk for an aortic dissection.
You can think of aortic dissections as a condition in which the main pipe carrying blood starts to break. They’re bad. Steve didn’t only claim to have Marfan’s; he also stated that he had had a dissection in the past, and that a “Dr. BFD” at BFD Medical Center had treated it. He did display classic symptoms of dissection; he’d say he had a tearing chest pain radiating to the back, but then clever Steve took it to the next level.
He’d flex his arm when the blood pressure cuff was on one arm, and then relax the other. This caused vastly different blood pressure readings in each arm, and this is another classically-taught finding in dissection. In addition to this, Steve would say that he had had an anaphylactic reaction to contrast dye. He did this in an attempt to force us to pre-treat him with Benadryl and steroids, which took eight hours. During those eight hours, he’d request opiate after opiate before getting his CTA done.
He also would get nauseated and request medication for that as well. For those who don’t know, that particular combination of drugs is the best “ride” the hospital can really give you. Highly reviewed by opiate junkies everywhere. I got Steve on his third visit. His two prior visits showed no dissections.
Steve was dumb enough to come in during normal business hours the third time, so I decided to make some calls. I managed to get hold of the surgeon that he had claimed had seen him, who said he’d never taken care of the guy, but that he’d received multiple calls about him.
I still offered the CTA scan to the patient, but I told him he’d be getting zero opiates. He left in a fit and no one has seen him since. I’m sure he’s at a new hospital now.
34. Her Brain Was A Water Balloon
A woman in her mid-70s, who was generally healthy, presented herself to an outpatient neurology clinic with an altered gait. She was dragging feet more than usual and said she felt like she was tripping when walking up steps. The family had noticed she had a tendency to repeat herself more often. The neurological examination is normal other than a slightly odd, slow and dragging gait.
It honestly looks like she’s faking an odd gait, but it may be malingering but above average amounts of liquid in the areas surrounding the brain giving her these types of symptoms. We CT scan the brain, and we were absolutely stunned. Almost half of her brain was smashed to the other side and had filled up with water. It was a massive subarachnoid cyst, think intracranial water balloon, and it had probably been growing for years.
She had no other symptoms, and she only came into our clinic since her daughters were worried about her memory. She made a full recovery by draining the fluid, and it still makes me wonder how many people out there are walking around with half a squashed brain without knowing about it.
35. You Know It’s Bad When…
A guy I did construction with accidentally hit himself in the lower abdomen with an automatic nailer. He had fluid leaking out from around the nail. He takes it out and even more starts coming out. We were pretty sure it was pee. He went to the hospital, very calmly holding his finger over the hole. He told them he thought he might have punctured his bladder or something.
The nurse said that wasn’t very likely, so he took the finger off to show her the fluid leaking out. Once again, a solid stream of what was most likely urine came pouring out. Much like he was peeing through a hole in his abdomen. She fainted. They had to do some minor surgery to close the hole.
36. Cardiac Calm
Paramedic here. We had an alarm for a heart attack. So, we drive out to the patient’s address and are greeted by a middle-aged gentleman with a patient’s chart and a suitcase. Of course, one would suspect a family member of a patient with known problems. But no, he said he is the patient. He is having a heart attack right now.
His only symptoms were a slight itch on the spine. We were understandably annoyed and disbelieving. In the ambulance on the ECG however, we realized just how serious it was. That guy, talking with my colleague, while I fixed the meds, had such a massive heart attack that it should have taken him to the grave. He was chill all the time, joking and telling stories, right up to the CPU.
37. He’s All Thumbs
My uncle was a carpenter and is pretty laid back. He got the job done, no fuss. One day he comes up and says “I need to go to a doctor.” He’s clutching his left thumb very tightly in his right hand. Everyone paused and then my other uncle volunteered to take him to the hospital just down the road. Uncle has a pretty strong stomach but said even he felt a bit queasy after what happened next.
He was led into the examination area and the nurse asked him to release his thumb. He did so and blood came pouring out of it and then started spurting everywhere. Turns out he’d slipped and put the drill through the top section of his thumb. He’d missed the joint and no major damage other than puncturing the artery. Surgery sorted that out, and he was back on deck a few days later.
38. Spread of Hysteria
I had a mom in hysterics because she was convinced that her neighbor’s friend’s stepson’s teacher’s dog has MRSA, so her baby was going to die. It took everything within me to not tell her she was being unreasonable. But it took three hours for me to finally calm her down after I called: infectious control, her pediatrician, her gynecologist, and her family doctor.
Yes, I had to call all these people; yes they laughed at me; yes she was beside me the whole time questioning their judgement. I love my job, but at times it makes me crazy!
39. Hitting Rock Bottom
When I was a medical student, I worked in an inpatient psych ward. We admitted a guy who was having psychotic delusions. He lived in a “holler,” or a small valley between two mountains. For weeks, this idea that the mountain was going to fall on his house was absolutely preoccupying his every thought. He would spend days at a time without sleep finding rocks, branches, and other junk and piling them up behind his house because “the mountain’s gonna fall down on my house.”
I guess this wasn’t the first time this happened because the family brought him in, saying he was off his meds and was working himself to the bone to build a pile of junk behind his house. We admitted him for a week or two; he went to group therapy, had his meds adjusted, and was doing well. We decided he’s all tuned up and ready to be discharged.
But when his family came to pick him up, they had grim looks on their faces. “We’re bringing him back to the hotel. Yesterday there was a landslide. It destroyed the house.”
We had a woman come into Emergency carrying a kidney stone she had “passed” in a plastic bag, and claiming she was in agony with another stone. She received pain medication, but it was never strong enough, she claimed. However, all of the scans came back negative and when we had the stone she brought in analyzed, it came back as being quartz, which is not a mineral that occurs in the human body. When confronted with these facts, she quickly left.
Six months later, I’d been rotated to another nearby hospital, and I was working in Emergency again. A woman came in with abdominal pain. When I walked in her room, we locked eyes and instantly recognized each other. It was the same woman! I said nothing, but she knew the jig was up and self-discharged.
41. Plug the Hole
I was an intern on the trauma service. A young lady had been in a horrible car accident. She was crashing and a last ditch thoracotomy was performed. It turns out the accident was violent enough to rip a hole in her heart. The fourth-year resident recognized this immediate and stuck his finger in, literally plugging the hole.
He straddles her with his finger still in her heart and she’s taken immediately to surgery. He is literally prepped in with her until someone else can get scrubbed to plug the hole. He then scrubbed in and fixed it. She walked out of the hospital on her own less than a week later. It is the single most badass thing I’ve ever witnessed.
42. 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.
43. Ignoring the Issue
I’m an anesthesiologist. This happened when I was a resident. It changed me for life. We had a 29-year-old male in for finger surgery. We had an uneventful induction maintained on Sevoflurane. Within 20 minutes we started to have rising ETco2. I called my attending after trying to hyperventilate the patient (She was a young Harvard trained peds anesthesiologist).
She comes in and asks me what I think is going on. I tell her things seem strange. She tells me to chill. Five minutes later, the ETco2 is over 100 and I’m freaking out! I call her and tell her this is MALIGNANT HYPERTHERMIA (easily fatal reaction to certain anesthetics caused by congenital aberrant sarcoplasmic reticulum receptors).
She says that I’m being ridiculous when I tell her I’m afraid this is the real deal. My pages get ignored by her. The patient’s temperature starts to rise. I’m bugging out and call the board runner (supervising Anesthesiologist for all the operating rooms). He’s old. He knows me well and trusts me. Comes in, looks at the monitor—and his face went white.
Needless to say, we save the patient after many dozens of vials of Dantrolene. Six months later I’m made to do an M&M and the young Harvard attending insinuates I did something wrong in front of the department. Most of the rest of them come to my aide. She leaves the job shortly thereafter. I will soon be at her fellowship.
44. Child Actor
I was in a Children’s Hospital in Seattle back in the early 90s for a huge surgery due to a birth defect. I was rooming with a girl who had woken up one morning and just couldn’t use her legs. I think she was between 8-11 years old. They spent a lot of time doing physical therapy, and she would cry and scream like it was the most painful thing she’d ever felt.
I would cry with her, because my physical therapy was also very painful, so I understood. She got really good at using her arms, but her legs showed no improvement despite the tests still showing nothing. They were stumped. Then one day, we were all outside for lunch and the volunteer that was watching us left for a moment to step inside (we were in an enclosed courtyard perfectly safe). In an instant, this girl’s web of lives unraveled.
All of a sudden, Miss Can’t Use Her Legs did a cartwheel! Then she did a backbend! Her legs were supporting her entire weight! I didn’t catch it at six years old, but an older girl did and told her nurse when they went back in. They pulled the surveillance tapes and she was busted. She just stood up and started crying.
She said she didn’t know how to stop lying once it got out of hand. It was nuts.
45. Stop Hitting Yourself!
When I was in my last year of med school, a patient came in who was apparently a regular at the ER. She came in unconscious, but as soon as the paramedics said the word “seizure,” she started convulsing. The physician calmly said, “Observe: in grand mal seizures, you also see convulsions of the legs.” Sure enough, as if on command, the patient suddenly started to move her previously neglected legs. After a short while, she fell “unconscious” again.
No amount of poking or shaking would wake her, and her arms fell limp on the mattress when picked up. So the ER doctor took her limp arm and held it over her face. He let go and the arm dropped but, centimeters before she would have hit her own nose, the arm stopped. She opened her eyes and muttered an expletive, then got up and walked away.
46. Against All Odds
Five years ago, I spent six months working in a small rural Zambian hospital in the medical ward as part of a volunteer/outreach program. I have done mostly family medicine, and some surgery in my early days, but decided to mix life up a bit. The hospital was typical third world—a few basic medications, rudimentary clinical tools, a small lab on site which was usually broken.
No resuscitation tools whatsoever. HIV, TB and malaria were rife—it would not be uncommon to encounter a loss per day despite our best efforts. On one of my first days there an unconscious person was carried in by a mob of locals. I could smell him before I saw him. He had been in a house fire and his skin was cooked—completely black around his chest, face, and over his legs.
He was still breathing on his own and maintaining his airway but we had no doubt he had inhaled a lot of smoke. With no way to intubate or provide oxygen we merely had to hope that he didn’t swell up and close off and deal with the rest of the burns while he was unconscious. Two colleagues who worked in the hospital came over urgently.
We all kept our cool externally and got the nurses to translate to the man’s family that we were going to do everything we could to get him better. In reality, all three of us knew his chances at survival were in the single-digit percentages. We decided that due to the extent of his burns we were going to have to do an escharotomy (cutting the burned skin to prevent it contracting and stopping him from breathing).
Turns out I had the most surgical experience so despite having never done one before I gave it a go, hoping for the best. We got an IV into a neck vein and got fluids going. The local nurses dressed his burns. We gave him whatever pain relief we had. He was unconscious for a couple of days but eventually came to.
Each day we were expecting his kidneys to pack up but to our surprise, gradually he got better. He was with us for just over four months recovering. He came out severely scarred but he had beaten the odds and survived.
47. It Was Really Bugging Him
A patient complained of movement and itching in his lower-left edentulous mandible. While in my chair, he reached up and scratched a hole through his gingiva and was bleeding profusely, trying to “show me the wriggling things.” I’m sad to say that I suggested a psych evaluation. But to be fair, I did refer him to an oral surgeon just in case. I even made a personal phone call to ensure a “warm hand-off” and a rapid response.
When I discovered what they found, I almost lost my lunch. They uncovered some kind of parasitic insects. He healed, and now I listen to patients no matter how bizarre-sounding they are. They feel something.
48. The Living Dead
I had a lady come into the ER listed as “Multiple Medical Problems”. This usually means diabetes and the issues stemming from it, or maybe bleeding issues from another disease or maybe odd blood tests results at a clinic. I hadn’t seen the patient yet, but the doctor came to the nurse’s station asking who had room 15. I jumped up and followed him into the room.
I walked in and saw what I thought was a corpse. Then the patient’s eye swiveled over to look at me. She truly looked like one of the people they found in a concentration camp. I could see every bone, and her body was twisted in a decorticate position with her jaw locked open. Then the smell hit me: rotting flesh and body fluids. I struggled to keep a neutral face and not gag.
I tried to place a blood pressure cuff on her arm and her skin just started flaking off in my hands. I gagged. The doctor started removing her clothes to examine her. Her feet were black to the ankles. Her hip bones were poking through her skin and were black. The skin around her ribs was worn away to oozing muscle fibers.
Her calves were incredibly swollen and the skin was splitting like ripped pants. I removed her Depends, and there was excrement coating her entire genital area. Then the doctor went to remove a large bandage on her lower back. Her entire sacrum was exposed and the bones were BLACK! The skin around it was a black liquified mass.
It smelled like nothing I’ve ever smelled. I can’t even describe it. The doctor told her family I would clean up her ulcers and wounds in preparation for surgery (liar, no surgeon would operate on her). I had no idea how to clean dead bone tissue and liquified skin (they don’t cover that in nursing school). When I went to clean her sacral area, all the liquified skin separated and oozed all over the bed. I really struggled to keep myself together.
Afterward, I needed a moment in the supply closet to cry it out for a second. I had no idea the human body could break down so much without dying. I still think about that woman sometimes, and what led to her living like that. It still breaks my heart. My guess is that she had some sort of traumatic brain issue or a stroke.
Family members were taking care of her, and I think they were treating her absolutely horribly. I think as her skin deteriorated, she developed terrible pressure ulcers that never healed. The swelling was probably due to starvation and a lack of protein in her diet. I’ve had nightmares about her face since then. Once, I dreamed she crawled into bed with me.
I freaked the heck out and ran into the hallway. My toddler walked out after me, rubbing his eyes, asking why I ran away.
49. Spandex Works Miracles
Years ago, I had a patient who had been rear-ended in an auto accident a few weeks before I saw her. She also had a history of lupus. She was decked out in the usual paraphernalia; crutches, neck brace, elbow braces, wrist braces, and knee braces. She could barely walk. I saw her a couple of times, and she showed no improvement.
Then, one Saturday I was on call, but had to take a back route to the hospital because of an event taking place on the main thoroughfare. I apparently drove through her neighborhood because, wonders behold, there she was, wearing old-lady spandex, power walking down the sidewalk and holding weights in both hands!
The next week, she was back in the clinic, with her crutches and all of her braces on again. A few weeks later, I received a subpoena for a deposition in her case. I was glad she’d been caught.
50. A Parental Problem
Anyone who has treated kids knows that the parents can be worse to deal with than the patient. The dental clinic pediatrician was on vacay and my wife was on call for emergencies that week. While we were eating dinner, my wife gets called in saying there was a young child who messed up her tooth when playing and was in severe pain.
When my wife arrives she finds that the child is pretty chill, but the mom was red in the face with anger. She yelled at my wife for taking so long—we live five minutes from the clinic—while her baby is in so much pain. My wife glances at the adorable little girl who then smiles and waves at my wife. She then looks back at the mom who started yelling again “SEE!! MY BABY IS IN SO MUCH PAIN!”
My wife calmly lets the mom know she is here now and will take a look. I’ll spare you the long tedious details and cut to the chase. The little girl just knocked out a baby tooth and there was no actual damage anywhere else, and wasn’t in any pain. After my wife is done, she says to the little girl that she will be okay and that it wasn’t anything major.
The little girl was all happy and smiles and says thank you. The mom then steps up and starts up with the shouting again, berating my wife for not doing enough. My wife was beyond frustrated with the mom’s outbursts by this point, but before she could say anything, a little voice spoke up. “Mommy, the nice lady says I will get a new tooth, we can go home now.” It was obvious that this wasn’t the first time the mother did stuff like this.
The mom sputters and eventually relents. My wife does the usual spiel about taking pain meds as needed and to come back if the pain returns. The little girl turned around to say bye to my wife and left. My wife turned to her assistant and just sighed. The young assistant, who had been completely silent up to now, whispered, “Wow, that mom was annoying.”
51. A Stroke Of Luck
When I was a tech in the ER, a young-ish guy (maybe mid-30s or early 40s) came in. He had felt weird driving to work and decided to drive himself to the ER instead. Based on his symptoms, they did some early tests for a stroke, mostly as a precaution because what 30-year-old has a stroke and catches it that early?
Lo and behold, he was probably within the first 10 minutes of a stroke. The doctor that the patient got transferred to said he’d never before had a conversation with a patient prior to their receiving treatment. The average time between admitting to transfer is usually 40 minutes to an hour; this guy was in and out in 20 minutes max, and he was completely lucid the entire time.
52. Maybe The Doctor Will Get To The Bottom Of This One Day
I had this patient who was a really nice guy but had a pretty severe untreated mental illness. He was always telling me stories about his celebrity friends, how he was producing a Broadway show, and other really grandiose stuff that there was no way could be true. He was barely scraping by; he always dressed very neatly, but his clothes were very worn, and he was on Medicaid and lived with an alcoholic roommate.
Anyway, at one point, he needed a colonoscopy, and I tried to send him to a clinic where I knew they would take Medicaid, but he said that he had been in a medical research study with a fancy gastroenterologist, and the guy told him he would do free colonoscopies for life. Right, I thought and resigned myself to having this conversation again in three months.
Three weeks later, a colonoscopy report from a very upscale GI practice arrived on my desk. I’ve always wondered how much of the rest of it was true.
53. 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 heck 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.
54. Everything Was Fine Until…
I was doing a ride-along in an ambulance and we picked up a guy that fell off a skateboard ramp. He’d landed on his forehead. I can’t remember if he had a helmet or not, probably not. He was in good spirits when we arrived, never lost consciousness, and could walk. He looked a little bruised, but was talking. This was before concussions were as well understood and we figured he probably had a moderate concussion and a black eye and that was it.
He almost turned down the ride to the ER but we convinced him not to mess around with possible head/neck injuries and he should get checked out just in case. Good thing he didn’t, because on the way he started losing consciousness, blood pressure, vomiting huge amounts of blood. He was unconscious and had very low vitals by the time we got there. It was crazy how quickly he went downhill, this was only like a 10-minute drive.
Turned out that the whole quadrant of his face/skull was crushed but instead of bleeding outside, the blood was draining down the back of his throat into his stomach so it didn’t seem that bad at first glance. We made a crucial mistake by deliberately not touching his obviously banged up forehead to not cause him more pain—normally you would do this as part of an assessment.
Had we done that his forehead and eyebrow ridge would have felt soft and spongy, a very clear indicator he needed to get to the ER pronto with sirens/lights and have the ER surgery ready. He ended up with massive brain swelling and emergency brain surgery. The silver lining? The surgery went well, and they found a previously unknown brain tumor that they then removed. He made a full recovery.
55. Oscar-Worthy Performance
Early in my career, I was seeing a workman’s compensation patient for a low back injury. She came into my office bent over and practically crawling, crying and yelling out in pain. She told me she couldn’t walk or stand up straight after the injury. I tried my best to complete an evaluation, but every time I attempted to initiate a test to pinpoint the injury, she would scream and cry.
I couldn’t even lightly touch her skin without her crying out. I even offered to call her an ambulance several times since she was so distressed, but she refused. She left and I walked over to my computer to write up my report. My co-worker, who had witnessed the whole thing, looked at me and said, “Wait, you’re about to miss the best part of the show!”
I looked out the window into the parking lot—and saw her walking fully upright, strutting her stuff across the parking lot while slinging her purse over her shoulder with one hand and chatting on her cell phone with the other. She got in her car no problem and drove away. I’ve never seen such a fast cure. It was a miracle!
56. It’s Always A Farmer
I work as a physician assistant in the ER. A farmer came in for hand injuries by private vehicle. His hands were wrapped in towels. He calmly told us that he was helping a birth a calf by wrapping twine around the protruding legs and pulling. Mommy cow decided to take off and the twine became tangled around his hands.
He is covered in manure because the cow dragged him a bit face down. He unwrapped his hands and he still has the twine embedded to the bone in three of his fingers. We unwrapped the twine and there was nothing but bone still intact underneath. Still, he was completely chill. Started on IV antibiotics and began to wash the wounds.
This was the point where I called a hand surgeon and transferred him.
57. 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.
58. A Plea For Help
One night, a little girl was bouncing on the bed after dark. She was told once to stop, but kept doing it. She fell out of bed, which alerted her parents, and rather than face their wrath, she pretended she had a neck injury. The parents then called an ambulance. It was obvious she wasn’t hurt, but the parents were in such hysterics they hadn’t noticed.
The whole situation seemed extreme, and despite trying to scare her out of pretending, the little girl wouldn’t stop the act. I started thinking that if she was that terrified of what her parents would do to her when I left, then something terrible must be going on. She would not drop the act, so we took her to the hospital for further investigation.
This horrible story would later make the news. She was a victim of abuse and her parents were utter monsters. Her sheer determination not to set them off was what clued us into something being wrong. In this case, faking may have saved her life.
59. A Surprise Ending…
I was dispatched with law enforcement for an assault with injuries. We get near the scene and was cleared that the scene was safe while they were actively searching for the assailant. We were told our patient was sitting on the bench of the bus stop. The guy was about 30 years old with a decent laceration on his face but nothing major. This was his story:
He told us he was jumped by some guy in the bushes out of nowhere and had to fight him off. He didn’t really complain about his laceration too much and stated his back was a little sore and that he felt fine and didn’t want to go to the hospital. Vitals all looked good and he appeared fine. Just to be safe I wanted to give his whole body a look over. What I found absolutely shocked me.
As I pulled this guy’s large coat off (it was winter at night) I see a knife protruding from his lower right back with a slow but steady stream of blood coming out. The guy was as shocked as I was.
60. A Small Town Story
We had a Jane Doe trauma code, a pedestrian hit by a car. Polytrauma with clearly non-survivable injuries to the head and neck obscuring her features, but as we cut her clothes off the nurses exclaimed, “It’s her!” She recognized her jewelry. She was one of our frequent flyers, a lady with severe schizoaffective disorder and chronic depression whom we all knew very well.
By the EMS report, she had jumped out onto a state highway right in front of a car, while wearing dark clothing at night. It’s hard feeling like we were in a sense her only family. We were gentle with her and genuinely grieved. Then EMS brings us a patient having a panic attack. When we realized who he was, we were stunned.
He told us that he had been driving on a local state highway at night when someone jumped out in front of his car, and he was terribly afraid the person was badly hurt. I don’t work in a large place, and there were some delicate logistics involved in keeping her body, and the State authorities photoing her away from him.
61. This Sounds Like A Soap Opera Plot
I had an odd 74-year-old patient keep telling me that her mom passed upstairs last night and that her mom’s lover, “a 51-year-old Mexican man,” would be down to bother her, and we were not to let him into her room. I deal with a lot of dementia patients and loopy older people coming down from anesthesia and pain meds, so I treated all her comments like I would any other patient making odd claims.
It turned out my patient’s 94-year-old mother really did die in the unit above us the night before, and she really did have a 51-year-old Mexican caretaker/alleged lover who got turned away from the daughter’s room the next shift.
62. A Bad Prognosis
As a third-year medical student, I had a patient come in with four years of worsening balance issues and garbled speech. She had gotten a crazy work up at an outside hospital system with every sort of imaging possible, biopsies of random sites, and a number of very expensive tests. She was at our university hospital for the first time.
When I first entered the room, I reached out to shake her hand, and from her wheelchair she had to raise her head at me because she couldn’t look up with her eyes. This was the first red flag. I also asked her if she had the sensation where one of her limbs would move without her controlling it, and she said yes, suggesting something called Alien Limb Phenomenon.
I diagnosed her with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy with features of Corticobasal Degeneration, a very rare disease on the spectrum of Parkinson’s plus syndromes, and my supervisors agreed. Unfortunately, it was a bad prognosis, but the family was consoled by the fact that at least they had a name for what was happening.
63. Shocking Threat
When I was in prison, there was a guy who wanted to go to the medical ward because it wasn’t as strict as a regular ward. He told the guards he felt like he was having a heart attack, so they called for a medical emergency. He pretended to fall on the ground and the prison’s doctor came strolling in, not hurried at all. He put his fingers on the prisoner’s neck and said, “I can’t feel a pulse!”
The guards looked scared, but the doctor just opened his bag and took out his clipboard. He started tapping on it and making other noises with it, as if he was setting up a defibrillator, and then yelled out, “I’m going to shock him!” The prisoner immediately sat up and gasped (I think he was holding his breath). The doctor put his clipboard away and sent him to segregation on suicide watch, not because he was concerned the guy was suicidal, but as punishment.
Just to be clear, suicide watch SUCKS. You get absolutely NOTHING in your cell but a dress made of rip-resistant fabric. He was there for two weeks and didn’t try any tricks like that again.
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. Junk in a Box
I had a guy present to the ER requesting an ice chest (a cooler full of ice). After a lengthy discussion, this is the narrative that we managed to sort out, as the story was erratic. This guy went to a party. Guy met gal. They had fun dancing. She asked him to her place. She asked for a roll in the hay. She asked to kick things up a notch. He said, “Why not?”
She pulled out a syringe and injected a drug into his genitals to make their good time last longer. They proceed to have lots of fun. A few days later, things are sore. Somethings not quite right down there. Some red spot starts getting redder, larger, and darker across time. Things start turning black, and smelling bad. He decides it’s a good time to take some initiative, so he pulls out a knife and starts sawing at his genitals to carve out the dead skin.
Then, he hits a nerve. At this point, he changed his mind to see if he can fix the issue, and covered it in olive oil, then wrapped it in Saran wrap. You know, to fix it. Some more time passes, and he goes to the bathroom in a restaurant. He pulls down his pants, and his junk slides off of his urethra like a corn dog off of a stick, and lands on the floor next to him.
He picks up his junk, goes and gets a cup from the vending machine, fills it with ice, and puts his genitals in it—to help keep it fresh, of course. He wanders around for a few more days, then decides that his cup is getting too smelly, So…he goes to an ER and asks for an ice chest full of ice. He gets taken to the ER. The ER docs consult Urology, and it turns out that when he goes pee it just flings around everywhere like an unbridled firehose on full blast.
The hospital won’t let him keep it, as it is a bio-hazardous tissue at this point, but he won’t let the hospital take it…until they decide to give him a receipt. Then the junk is taken to wherever they incinerate penis, and the dude wound up admitted with a surgical/ urology consult. Moral of the story: Don’t inject stuff in your junk. Even if it is from random strangers for sexy, sexy time.
Kidney stones are very painful and pretty much a guarantee to get opiates, so those seeking a high sometimes fake the symptoms. One of the signs suggestive of kidney stones is blood in the urine, and many addicts know this. A person came in complaining of kidney stones, and so was asked for a urine specimen. While in the bathroom, they stabbed their finger with a needle to put a few drops into the sample. Unfortunately, they stabbed too deep, and then couldn’t stop the bleeding with just pressure.
The nurse was getting worried when the person spent so long in the bathroom while refusing to let anyone in. She called me because she was worried something was badly wrong, and we unlocked the bathroom. The patient was sitting there on the floor, holding a stolen needle tip and a sporting a thumb that was still flowing with fresh blood.
We found the urine pot on the sink with only a little blood at the bottom, but no urine in it.
67. Probably Never Heard of it
I was a fourth-year med student seeing patients on clinical rotations. The patient comes in with a laundry list of chronic conditions he suffers from—fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. Guy is wearing over-the-counter braces on all of his fingers and both thumbs, as well as both wrists, forearms, knees, and shins, because of a rare bone disorder he has.
When I say I’ve never heard of it, he says, “Well that doesn’t surprise me, doctors go to med school to learn how to prescribe drugs and make money, not heal people.” Alright. He tells me that he suffers from a rare disease that I’ve probably never even heard of called myalgic encephalomyelitis. True, I’ve never heard of it. Again: “that’s because doctors don’t care about educating themselves about illness and healing, they just care about giving patients drugs and getting money from big pharma.” Ok.
I don’t have a vested interest in this patient thinking I’m smart, so it doesn’t really get to me. He continues “educating” me throughout the appointment, and I just make conversation with him, the third time he tells me about how all doctors just go to med school so they can put all their patients on drugs I just say, “Well, lucky for you, pharmacology was my weakest subject!”
That actually gets a laugh out of him, and I listen to his explanations of all of his rare diseases and disorders. The appointment ends, and he leaves. I look up myalgic encephalomyelitis. It’s the British term for chronic fatigue syndrome, which the patient also had. He has a weekly standing appointment with my teacher, which is the only thing that keeps him from visiting the local ER every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
His diagnosis is Illness Anxiety Disorder, although he would tell you it’s 800 other things you’ve obviously never heard of. He swears that my teacher is the only honest doctor in the country, because he basically just has him come in once a week and talk about all of his various illnesses for 20 minutes, after which the patent returns home feeling validated.
The ER docs love my teacher for sparing them. The patient is mentally ill, so I’m not insulted by him or anything, but you’d be surprised how many people come to the doctor to be treated for something, all the while telling the doctor how horrible they are and why all doctors are evil puppets of big pharma. It’s like when I worked fast food and people would say “Every time I come here you guys screw up,” and I’d just think, then why do you keep coming here?!
68. The Neighbors
An 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 flat 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 flat below our patient was raided and found to be full of explosive equipment and real IRA members.
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
69. An Eye For An Eye
There was this gentleman we were taking from an ER to a specialty trauma center. He had been in a bar and witnessed a bar fight. He tried to break it up. One of the guys smashed a bottle over his head. The bottle was hard enough to break his skull, but it also broke the bottle. The way the impact hit it partially popped his eyeball out of the socket. However, that wasn’t the worst part.
Then, the broken bottle traveled down his face and sliced the eyeball in half! As an EMT, very few injuries bothered me but the second I saw his face my eyes just started watering. He was the calmest, most polite gentleman. He only spoke a little English but everything was “Si senor” or something of equal politeness. He didn’t utter a single complaint.
70. Rehabilitative Rugby?
We had a guy who had to come in every three months to get a medical certificate saying he couldn’t work at his retail job due to severe, disabling back pain. He was receiving large amounts of insurance money for this condition. After the doctor had done his usual examination and questions and signed it off, the guy asked the doctor to check his shoulder, as it had been giving him pain. The doctor checked it and asked how he had injured it.
The guy answered, “Playing rugby for a competitive team.” The doctor was surprised and asked how long the guy had been playing on the team. Apparently, the guy had been playing and training the whole time! The doctor added that information on the insurance form, sent the man home, then lost it in the staff room, laughing.
The next week the patient returned and lost it, yelling in reception because his insurance had been canceled.
71. Life On The Edge
I once cared for a repeat self-harmer that put a knife into his neck, and then must have regretted it, so he taped it in place and bicycled to the hospital. It was a journey of a few miles, past dozens of vehicles. The passengers in those cars must have freaked out when they passed a cyclist with a giant knife sticking out of his neck!
So this guy parked the bike, walked in to triage to check-in. He walked through the waiting room full of grannies and kids and men with chest pain with a kitchen paring knife duct-taped in place sticking straight out. However, that’s not even the craziest part. The CT scan later showed that the tip of the blade was 2 mm from the carotid artery.
72. Very Superstitious
I’m still just a medical student, but our hospital sees a lot of poor and poorly educated patients, since we’re a big tertiary hospital in a developing country. Worst I’ve seen so far are the old ladies who everyone in the family turns to for health advice, their only qualification being seniority. They usually have a bunch of superstitions that end up contributing to the patient’s condition in the first place.
I once saw a baby brought to the ER for a really bad oral infection, and the mother clearly hadn’t taken a bath since the delivery (it’s a common superstition here that mothers shouldn’t take a bath a week or so postpartum), so we figured that’s the source of the infection. While we’re assessing the patient, the doting grandmother in the background decides she has to comment on everything we’re doing—remember, she’s probably the one who advised her daughter not to take a bath.
I just had to shut her down because: A) It was late and people were running out of patience in our understaffed, under-equipped ER; B) They’re more worried that device monitoring oxygen in the blood is hurting the baby’s tiny widdle toes when there’s freaking pus leaking out of the baby’s very inflamed salivary glands. I mean, I get that infections like these are a disease of poverty, that their poor education is just indicative of a wider systemic problem that society fails to address time and again, but by golly, does it get annoying.
73. 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.
74. A Private Problem
A woman walked into the ER very bow-legged. She seems calm and explains that she has some swelling on the right side of her external genitals. She thought she may have had an infected cyst and she drove herself, hoping for help draining it and antibiotics. We didn’t think much of it, it clearly wasn’t a rush to the front of the emergency line.
So an hour or so later they bring her into a room. She has a fever and high blood pressure but still calm and stoic. So the nurse practitioner gets her story and has her remove her pants and underwear and covered her with a sheet. She is apologizing profusely about not being able to clean herself very well before coming in.
When the NP pulls up the sheet her labia is swollen to the size of a coconut. She had an abscess that was starting to cause sepsis. The only emotion she showed was being embarrassed about not being able to clean herself because of the pain and a single tear down her face when they wheeled her to the ER.
75. 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.
76. My Business Partner Is Better Than Yours
I worked on the ambulances for a stint when I was fresh out of university. One day, I transferred an elderly patient to another county with such severe dementia that he didn’t remember his wife or even his own name. He happily chatted away the whole ride there, telling me that he was an ex-international footballer, about his big victories and how he owned a business with David Beckham, mixed in with other psychedelic nonsense.
I just kept asking him questions to keep him occupied and chatting, but in my head, I thought it was just a funny side effect of his dementia. So we arrived at the new hospital, and his lovely wife was waiting there. My crewmate and I transferred him to his hospital bed, and his wife shook our hands and thanked us profusely for being so kind to him.
She asked, “I know he’s a bit of a handful. Did he say much on the way?” I said, “Yes, he was telling us about being an international footballer and that he owned a business with David Beckham.” She scoffed and said to her husband, “You told these nice people you were David’s business partner?! You only met him a couple of times!” What she said next floored me.
When I asked how he knew him, she explained that he had indeed been an international football player and was well known for “heading” the ball. In fact, the doctors thought that was why he developed dementia. I was so shocked. I’ll never forget him.
77. Fairy Tale Fraudsters
I had a woman in my office claiming that she had multiple personalities. Dissociative Identity Disorder is kind of a sticky diagnosis to begin with, but she was claiming that she could talk to her different personalities and then bring them forward if she needed to. All of this seemed like it could potentially be more of a psychotic disorder or attention-seeking to me, but I was prepared to give her the benefit of the doubt and do some tests.
Then she introduced me to her girlfriend who, shockingly, also had multiple personalities. DID is not a common diagnosis, and the odds of having two affected individuals in my office who happened to be friends is very low. I almost lost it laughing when they started naming their other “personalities.” Most of them were Disney princesses except, notably, the bad one was called the Beast.
78. 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.
79. Popsicle Hustlers
When I was a medical student, I worked in the pediatric side of the emergency room, and we would give popsicles to all the kids. One afternoon, an 8-year-old came in with his father, and I asked what was wrong. The kid couldn’t remember what he had complained about to his Dad, and the Dad couldn’t remember why he had brought his kid in.
The kid’s mom was a nurse, and she was the one who would usually keep track of these things, but she was working at another hospital at the time. After a few minutes trying to figure out what was going on, the kid asked: “So, can I have my popsicle now?” The kid was 100% healthy. He had just come in for the popsicle.
Unfortunately, we reinforced bad behavior and both the kid AND the Dad subsequently left with popsicles, after a conversation about telling the truth.
80. 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.
81. Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
I asked a patient once if he was diabetic. He said no, but his condition told me otherwise. I then asked him if he had been tested. He said “Yes, and they said I was.” Uh, okay, my dude. So I said, “Okay, so you ARE diabetic then?” His response was so dumb, I’ll never forget it. He said, “No I’m not, because I choose not to be.” Wow.
Paramedic student here. Last week, a patient started having abdominal pain that would last a little bit and stop. And about two to three minutes later would start again. When she googled her symptoms, the answer shocked her. Everything she found was saying she was in labor. Well, to our surprise, unlike most people, she actually was.
She had no idea she was even pregnant, but as we walked into a room, the baby was crowning.
83. No Choice But to Break It Down from Scratch
My sister is a paramedic. One day she and a team are sent to house. A man had called about a broken arm. I don’t know how he broke his arm the first time but had read somewhere on the internet that if he just kept breaking his arm, then the pain would go away. He had tried around three times by jumping up and smashing down his weight on his arm, and it shocked everyone that he proceeded after the first time.
In the end, the guy had to get four surgeries on his arm, but my sister isn’t sure if it wasn’t eventually amputated or not, since she was pretty sure by the look of it and the x-rays that it would have to be.
84. Red in the Face
I had a dad make a really big scene about his kid. He claimed she has internal bleeding and a clotting disorder, all because she had some red areas on her tummy and he googled it. He even claimed she was fading into unconsciousness. At that point, the child was dancing around the examination room. No trauma in her medical history, so he assumed it’s a genetic clotting disorder.
We told him it’s fine, she might have a rash, but if it doesn’t go away we can see them again. Then he took it to the next level. He threatened the doctor, screamed in the hall, then demanded emergency MRI and blood transfusion because the internet said that’s what we should do. We even had to call in security.
When we finally offered him to give her an ultrasound to rule out bleeding, he agreed, sobbing the whole time. He was clearly distressed, so even with his attitude, we tried to balance helping him (rather than the child, who was fine) and staying safe ourselves. A few minutes later, a supervisory doctor comes to take an ultrasound. The results were immediate and incredible.
The gel used in the ultrasound made the RED PAINT she had on her skin wipe right off. It was probably from some clothing. Needless to say, he was embarrassed…
85. Two of Hearts
Heart Transplant RN here. We had THE only patient in the world that this has happened to: Back in the 90s, I did a particular kind of heart transplant where you implant a donor heart NEXT to the native heart instead of replacing it. Later on, this man came back because the extra heart was failing. He’s a young guy with kids so we did all we could but we didn’t really have an end game strategy because most of these patients don’t make it this far anyway.
The surgeons then brainstorm and decide to implant a total artificial heart. So they implant the TAH, and sew shut the donor heart from the 90s (which has to stay in his chest as it’s scarred on to his lung). He recovers from that surgery, and then finally gets a second heart transplant (with a kidney). So, this man now has two donor hearts in his chest (one not working).
He’s recovered and gone home.
86. A Mother’s Love Isn’t Always Accurate
A mother who was convinced her son had familial Mediterranean fever. He did not. She was repeatedly told this, nicely of course. Yes, the child had had genetic testing by the time I saw the family. Oh, but a small percentage aren’t detected by the testing! Thing is, her kid was fine. Healthy kid. Mom was just obsessed with this diagnosis.
Not exactly Munchausen by proxy, she never did anything to him to make him sick or subjected him to a lot of unnecessary procedures. But on that spectrum.
87. Gut Feeling
My husband is a doctor. One night, he came home with a surreal look on his face. He had been seeing a patient and noticed that although he was in his mid-20s, he didn’t seem to have gone through puberty. The patient didn’t mind his state too much but my husband believes that medicine should improve your life, not just keep it going.
So, on a shot-in-the-dark hunch, my husband sent him for an MRI. The patient had a previously benign and now malignant brain tumor suppressing the part of the brain that controls puberty. The test led to a very early brain tumor detection.
88. Tangled Up
During my residency, I worked in a unit that did a lot of urology. We had a series of regular patients with urethral strictures (narrowing of the urinary passage) and they used to visit from time to time to get their strictures dilated. These veterans would eventually learn how to catheterize themselves. One of the patients, a young boy of 14 whose original injury had been a pelvic fracture in a road traffic accident, came to the ER on a Saturday in considerable discomfort.
I was on call and asked him what happened. He said, “I passed this catheter in and I can’t get it out.” I quickly figured out why: he wasn’t using wasn’t really a conventional urinary catheter. He was using an infant feeding tube because the conventional catheters were too big for his narrow passage. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the catheter out either.
The catheter was fitting so snugly in the stricture that he couldn’t pass urine and his bladder had filled up like a balloon about to burst. We took him to the OR and did a suprapubic cystostomy (basically made an opening into the bladder from the abdomen). This relieved the pressure in the bladder. Next, we passed a scope down the SPC and found that the feeding tube that he had used as a catheter had gone into the bladder and got knotted around itself.
Every time we tugged on it, the knot was getting tighter. We had to cut it off below the knot to get the rest of the catheter out. It was a stressful day for everyone involved.
89. Knuckle Cracking
At 3 AM on a Saturday, I was working in the emergency room of a trauma center. We heard that we were getting three people from a shoot-out—but nothing could prepare us for the carnage. The first person wheeled in…just didn’t seem to have a head. There was this bloody mass at the top of his neck but it didn’t look human.
I remember being so confused that we were using one of the bays for this person/body, who just could not still be alive. I was looking him over and I noticed his left thumb was calmly and repeatedly cracking the knuckles on his left hand. It would squeeze one finger and rhythmically work down the other four and start over.
He didn’t have any anatomy left that we could easily intubate and yet he was cracking his knuckles. I still can’t make sense of it. He didn’t stay alive much longer, maybe a couple of hours, but that knuckle cracking seemed like such a human thing to do for someone that had no reason to still be alive.
90. It’s All In The Family
We had a whole family running around our ward while they waited for the father’s surgery. The kids are fractious at this stage and are playing tag up and down the ward corridor, almost banging into a few frail patients. I shout at the boy to stop before he ran into the catering lady who was carrying a tray of tea. Eventually, they calmed down.
Later I’m at the nurse’s station doing my documentation when I catch the mother of this family waddling away from the clearly marked PATIENT ONLY male bathroom. I walk up there and ask if she’s just used the bathroom. She said she has. I ask her, did she not see the huge yellow sign saying male patients only—radioactive hazard.
From her waddle, I ask if she’s pregnant, and she says yes with the smarmiest look on her face and thinking I want to blab about the fetus I have no interest in. I pull down the door sign and ask her to read it. Her face absolutely drops. I tell her she needs to leave the ward with her children NOW. A hospital isn’t a playground.
91. Get That Blood Pumping!
I worked at a detox center with a bunch of people who liked to exaggerate their symptoms for more medication. Some patients were actually experiencing really bad withdrawal, but some just wanted a bed and free drugs. One girl tried to raise her blood pressure so that she could get some anti-anxiety meds. We checked vitals every four hours, so when she saw us with the cart, she immediately went to the bathroom for an unknown reason.
She obviously didn’t realize that, when the bathroom blinds were open, we could see into it from the stairs by the entrance. The patient was doing jumping jacks in her bathroom so that when it was time to take her vitals, she came out sweating and breathless. After this happened a few times, we told her that if she had high blood pressure, she couldn’t smoke.
She promptly freaked out because she wanted the medication AND to smoke, and she left. She came back a few months later actually wanting to be sober, and I mentioned the jumping jacks and we laughed about it. She’s doing much better now, thankfully!
92. A Shocking Story
As an X-ray technician, we had a young woman come at about 7 AM with a bullet wound to the face. She was about to graduate medical school and had an interview at the children’s hospital down the road from our trauma center. As she got out of her car, a man came up to rob her. She gave him everything and he still shot her point-blank.
Luckily for her, she put her hand up and it went through her hand first before lodging directly in front of her spine. When she first arrived, she was awake and very alert. She explained all of this to us and in the end, she finished with, “I am about to black out, please intubate me.”
While working at a pharmacy, we saw a guy come in to try to get a refill on some pain meds that had no refill prescribed. After pleading with us and claiming that his ear really hurt, we told him again that we couldn’t refill it without a new prescription. He stormed away, but one of the other employees saw him step into a side hallway, take a pencil, and JAM it forcefully into his ear repeatedly, drawing blood.
He then calmly left and went to the ER, and came back a few hours later with a prescription for pain meds.
94. That Escalated Quickly
While taking a break from the ICU, I worked in home health for a bit. I had a patient who clearly had Munchausen Syndrome. On a daily basis, she would call her insurance to see what things would be covered if she was diagnosed with this or that. She called her doctor’s office an average of five times during my shifts with her, reporting all kinds of “symptoms.”
She actually pestered the doctors into doing exploitive laparoscopic surgery, though of course, nothing was found. But that’s nothing compared to the worst thing I caught her doing. I walked in and she was rubbing her incisions with rotten cabbage trying to get them infected. She wasn’t seeking pain meds really, she was just as happy with antibiotics or stool softeners, anything, as long as they wrote her a prescription and she got to go to the pharmacy. Of course, she did a whole song and dance for them too, claiming all sorts of allergies and reactions.
All of her ailments also became progressively worse fairly quickly. One time, she fluttered her eyes (after making sure I was looking) and said that she had lost consciousness in that half a second. She then called the doctor and claimed she had lost consciousness for five minutes; she then called the insurance and claimed it was 10 minutes; she called the pharmacy and claimed it was 30 minutes; and then finally, she called 9-1-1 and told them she woke up on the floor after losing consciousness for four hours.
95. Stinky Attitude
Not a doctor but a gastro nurse. We had a recurring patient who was just a really very strange lady. She had a stoma (an artificial opening into an organ needed for certain medical problems) that absolutely stunk to high heavens because, for the last 20 years, she had not been cleaning it properly. Every single day her stoma would come off, because she was twisting the drain tube and wouldn’t allow us to change it.
So this lady was really rude and would shout at us too, and one night shift I couldn’t take it anymore and I snapped at her. I didn’t yell, but I was overly stern about the fact that if she did not let me clean and treat her stoma then the MRSA bacterial infection that she wasn’t able to get rid of would eat her alive. In hindsight, I didn’t handle that very well, but she let me change the stoma.
Throughout this entire ordeal, she’s yelling at me that her stoma bags are not cut to fit her stoma, that they are too small because her stoma is “50cm by 50cm,” to which I corrected her, saying that’s impossible. She was adamant that’s how big her stoma was. When I was cleaning the stoma, she yelled at me because it was hurting, so she wanted to just pop the new one on.
I explained it was hurting because of infection, as she never cleans it. She proceeds to tell me that she knows better because she has had the stoma for nearly as long as I’ve been alive. I eventually ended up telling her to shut up and let me do my job, which seemed to work, and the stoma did not come off again that shift. When she was eventually discharged—she refused every placement in any nearby care facilities to the point where we almost considered a court order to evict her—one of our staff nearly cried with relief.
96. Like Flipping a Switch
I can’t remember all the details though so bare with me. I’m at a big tertiary hospital, and had an elderly veteran brought to us one day after being found unconscious in a park. He had alcohol in his system and a quick look at his records showed that this was an ongoing problem with him. He was a sweet old man who was very grateful for our help, up until day 3 of his hospitalization. That’s when things took a dark turn.
He developed pneumonia-like symptoms and became somnolent for a few days. Then, out of nowhere, he became very inappropriate—he begins grabbing the nurses and repositioning them, touching himself, and constantly licking his lips in a disgusting manner when anyone even looked at him. He went from a sweet old man to a deviant almost overnight. We even had to wrap his hands up in bandages to stop him from touching himself and others. Oddly though, he hit on anyone and everyone (women and men) except for me. I guess I wasn’t his type.
We ended up diagnosing him with Kluver-Bucy syndrome, caused by HSV encephalitis (herpes). Symptoms include hypersexuality and hyperorality. It’s pretty rare and I haven’t seen it since, but as you might imagine, it left a lasting impression on me. He improved with treatment though, and was incredibly embarrassed after finding out what he had done.
97. One Bump Can Wreck Your Love Life
Used to work the desk in an ER. One day, we had a fellow brought in via EMS after a car wreck. After a while, a lady came to the desk and said, “My husband is here, he’s just been in a car accident.” I checked with the unit, they said he could have visitors, so I let her go back. I went on with my day.
About 20 minutes later, a different woman came to the desk and said, “My husband is here, he’s been in a car accident.” I knew damned good and well that we only had one MVA back there, but I asked her for the patient’s name, figuring maybe she’d come to the wrong hospital. But she had not.
Now, it’s not my place to judge other people’s lifestyles. I myself am polyamorous and know a number of people who all refer to one another as husband and wife, though there are more than a regulation number of players on the field. So, I do my job. I called back and said, “There’s a visitor here for room X, may she come back?” The unit clerk gave the ok, so I opened the door and let her back.
This man was not polyamorous. Instead, he was leading a double life of Bruce Wayne proportions. He wasn’t just sleeping with two different women. He had two sets of children. He had convinced both that he was legally married to them. And neither had any idea the other existed.
There was, how you say, a mild kerfuffle. In the end, the women joined forces against him and walked out planning their respective divorces. It was just amazing to me that this guy’s whole life was blown up by a minor fender bender that wasn’t even his fault. Dude looked just haunted when he walked out.
98. 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.
99. 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.
100. 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.