PSA: This collection of gut-wrenching, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I accounts of medical misdiagnoses and mishaps is not for the faint of heart.
1. Don’t Assume
I’m an X-ray tech and was helping a woman who had been involved in a motor vehicle accident at around 9:00 am. They told me she was acting weird and kind of wild at the scene, so they brought her in and gave her Narcan, assuming she was on narcotics. We have a very high rate of substance and addiction issues in our area, but I decided to give her another examination...and made a horrifying discovery.
It turned out that her liver had been lacerated in the accident and it was causing her to act all weird. After she came out of the operating room, she was a completely lovely person.
2. Malpractice Much?
When my daughter was three months old, she suddenly transformed from a perfect baby with no health issues to a baby who would frequently full-on projectile vomit. She also became lethargic and would sometimes act all weird and zoned out.
Every time I called her pediatrician, he suggested something different: reflux meds, allergies, etc. Finally, I exploded and demanded that he test her for everything. He said he did.
He also said he noticed that her head was swollen, but dismissed it after saying that the ultrasound “found nothing” and sent us home with another reflux medicine instead. Well, two weeks after that, to my absolute horror, the worst happened. My daughter had a seizure…
I rushed her to the hospital where they gave her a CT scan, which showed swelling in her brain. The ultrasound tech had missed the hemorrhaging by one-and-a-half inches. I later found out that my doctor had started altering my daughter’s documents after the fact to make it look like he had known what the issue was from the start.
3. Wrong On SO Many Levels
When I told the anesthesiologist that the general anesthetic was absurdly painful, he treated me like I was being a big baby and subsequently paralyzed my lungs. His IV missed my vein, which meant that I didn’t get any general anesthetic. During the surgery, I was fully awake and suffocating while flopping around like a fish.
The last thing I remember before I passed out from the pain was the surgeon telling the anesthesiologist that I "wouldn’t remember anything anyway”. Wrong.
4. Not-So-Sweet Dreams
When I was 10, my mother started seeking medical help for me because I was having severe night terrors, migraines, sore muscles, and rapid weight changes. She took me to various clinics and emergency rooms but no one could figure it out.
To make matters worse, more than once I was accused of faking it to miss school or of having an addiction problem—at 10 years old! Eventually, I moved in with my first boyfriend at the age of 19. He started coming to my doctor appointments because he swore that I was expiring in my sleep.
Tests were run, but they were all normal. Finally, my boyfriend decided to call the ambulance every time I was fading. At 24, I finally found out the truth. I was diagnosed with nocturnal epilepsy. I had been having generalized grand mal seizures in my sleep for my entire life.
5. Fully Loaded
One night we had an inebriated patient come into the emergency department with an eyebrow laceration. She told the doctor that her boyfriend had fired a revolver at her, but we all thought that she was just being dramatic.
She basically looked like she had just taken a good slug to the face and so we stitched her up and thought that was it. Then we performed an X-ray to check for any fractures and that’s when we all got a big dose of humility.
Right there on the X-ray was an actual 22. It had hit her orbital bone and kind of bounced off to the point that it stayed outside her skull but under the skin. Once you knew it was there, you could actually feel it above her ear.
6. Mother Really Does Know Best
I had a patient in his mid-30s who had come to see me because he had “difficulty reading”. He was very shy and actually came in with his mother, which I thought was strange. He said he worked at a library and the words would get “jumbled up” while he was reading. That was his only complaint.
I did a very thorough neurological exam and found zero problems. I asked him to read a magazine out loud at different speeds and he did it perfectly. I said everything looked fine and wanted to order some labs. I honestly felt he was just a strange character. He agreed to labs but his mom was very pushy to do head imaging.
I said we could and ordered a CT scan. The lab results came back before the scan. The labs revealed that he was extremely low on vitamin D, so I suggested that we should deal with that and hold off on the CT scan. Not only did his mom not want the scan canceled, but she also wanted an MRI and she wanted it STAT.
I basically got tired of trying to be reassuring and just ordered what she wanted. I couldn’t believe it when the results came in…Her son had the biggest glioblastoma (aggressive brain cancer) that I have ever seen. Go, mom.
7. Now There’s A Plot Twist
Psychiatrist here. This happened during my residency years when I was at the brief internment unit, which was mostly for acute psychotic cases. There was this woman who had been there for some time because she had paranoid delusions that the Russian mob was trying to get her, complete with hallucinations and everything.
Her family confirmed that nobody was actually following her and that these scenarios were all made up in her head. She had been getting medication for some time and her symptoms had improved a lot. She no longer believed that she was in danger or being hunted, and everything seemed to be going well—or so we thought…
Following protocol, the staff contacted her family so that she could start going out for the weekends with them before being fully discharged. The first weekend away from the hospital, she was actually kidnapped by the Russian mob and forced to sell her body to repay a huge debt that nobody in her family had known about.
There was a happy ending, though. She was found and brought to safety quite quickly because we had already spoken to law enforcement about her “delusions” just in case, and they were quick to act when she disappeared. And, yes, people were locked up and, thankfully, quite a few other women were saved.
It was, all in all, a satisfying ending.
8. Can You Feel The Rage Tonight?
About 14 to 16 weeks into my pregnancy I started to feel very full. It felt like there was a basketball in my stomach. I started to have difficulty breathing and eventually was not able to walk a block without squatting to rest because I felt so heavy with this “basketball” feeling.
I even had to sleep sitting upright on the couch because I couldn’t breathe lying down. Around that time, some other weird things started happening that just didn’t feel right. I brought all these concerns to my doctor—three times—and she would wave them off every time.
Even when I would ask her “if she was sure”. That should have been my first red flag: If I didn’t feel confident with my doctor I should have left right then and sought care elsewhere. At 23 weeks I started leaking fluid and was sent to the hospital.
The doctors were stunned to realize that my doctor had overlooked a serious issue: twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. They put me on a helicopter to go to another hospital to have the surgery, but by then it was too late. The twins were born alive but we lost them about an hour later.
I then had to go have surgery again and was put into the ICU cause I wasn’t doing so great. But yeah, my doctor totally messed up.
9. Those “Dramatic” Teens
I’m a paramedic and I was responding to a call about a 16-year-old female who had just stopped responding while watching a movie on the couch with her boyfriend. She was just staring straight ahead. It was a “lights on but no one’s home” sort of deal. There were lots of weird vibes in the room, too.
Her boyfriend kept looking at her strangely and her mom and aunt were praying for her. All her vitals were fine. I had this unshakable feeling that she was doing this for attention because most of the calls like this are just dramatic attention-seeking behavior. On the way to the hospital, I tried a new trick.
I told her, “I think you’re faking. I need you to stop and talk to me honestly so we can figure out how to help you”. Her heart rate rose and her blood pressure cycled higher. I thought, “Ah-ha, I got her”. I was open with her mom about my thought process and although she was skeptical, she understood my angle.
Her mom called a week later to say they found a brain tumor. It was a very humbling experience. Never let your personal bias influence your overall clinical decision-making.
10. Can’t Be Too Careful
This happened when my daughter was a baby and we were getting her first set of vaccines. While we were waiting for the doctor, I read the little pamphlet that they gave me. It listed each of the vaccines that children get and at what ages they should get them. Eventually, the doctor came in with a vial and set it on the counter.
As he was prepping the needle, I looked at the vial and my stomach dropped. It didn’t match the pamphlet. I told him that he had the wrong vial, but he brushed me off. Maybe he thought I was some sort of anti-vaxxer or just a dumb mother, I’m not sure.
It got to the point where I actually had to physically stop him from injecting my baby with the wrong thing. I thrust the pamphlet at him and showed him. He seemed super annoyed at me. However, it turned out that he was wrong and, for some reason, he had the wrong date of birth for my daughter.
He then gave her the correct vaccine, but we decided it would be best if we switched doctors after that.
11. Mind Blown
A patient was brought into our ER for the sixth time in six months with the same complaint: fits and progressive neurological symptoms. Four months earlier, she had had an MRI scan done and it was normal.
We gave her a referral to a “functional neurologist” to help her deal with what was labeled as psychosomatic neurological symptoms (i.e. her issues were more mental than physical).
We came to this diagnosis because a) the patient had had her first neurological event while she was on the phone, getting some bad news, b) her MRI was normal four months ago, and c) she had seen a neurologist who couldn’t find anything wrong with her. On this particular visit, though, the patient rolled up in a wheelchair because she was unable to stand.
This caused one of the senior ER doctors to order her another scan. Cue me, walking in to see a “crazy neuro patient who is going to see the specialist as there is nothing wrong with her”. Until my last day on earth, I shall never, ever forget my horror when I saw her repeat MRI scan on my computer screen just before entering the room…
The patient had a golf ball-sized tumor at the very back of her brain. Her rapidly progressing neurological signs meant she was in huge, huge trouble. I felt so terrible for both the patient and her family. The first thing I did was to tell them that we were very wrong and that there was something physically wrong with her.
I apologized for the 10 or so times this woman had been sent home from ER and told that she had been making up the symptoms and signs. The family was just so grateful that they now knew what was going on. The patient passed a month or so later.
I tell this story to all of my junior colleagues because I am now extremely wary when people are labeled as having a fictitious illness.
12. I’m Not Lying. Period.
I’m a trans guy (assigned female at birth) and it took me five years to be diagnosed with a disorder known as MRKH. It’s a condition where the female reproductive organs are underdeveloped or totally absent. Mine were the latter.
After four ultrasounds, two of which were impossible to perform on me, loads of blood tests, and one DNA karyotyping, I was finally referred for an MRI. The first doctor lied about everything being normal on my ultrasound, and all the rest of them “just couldn’t get a clear picture”.
I think the whole ordeal was made worse by doctors just straight up not believing me when I said I had never had a period. They thought I was lying because I didn’t want to admit that I’d had one. It was all very frustrating.
13. Couldn’t Get Much Worse
My best friend’s aunt had a terrible headache that was unlike anything she’d ever felt before. Her doctor told her it was probably a migraine and prescribed her some serious pain meds. The next day the aunt was feeling even worse, so they took her to the ER.
The doctors sent her away with the same message even though she insisted this wasn’t like anything she had felt before. The aunt tried to emphasize that this was way too intense to be a migraine and she ended up in a small scuffle in the ER. Security was even called to remove them!
That night, the aunt woke up and was BLIND. They rushed her to the ER where she was put into a coma. It turned out that she had meningitis, but it was too late to do anything about it. She passed three days later, leaving behind two small kids.
To make matters worse, her ex-husband didn’t want to take the kids because he had a new family and not enough space in his three-bedroom house. He is such a jerk. Now my best friend is bringing up her aunt's two kids plus two of her own—as a single mom.
14. Just Like Basic Instinct
I was working as a clinical pharmacist in the emergency room when a patient calmly approached me and told me that he has an ice pick stuck in his back from an incident with his inebriated neighbor. I said, “If you got jabbed with an ice pick, you should be DOA”. Just then the patient decided to remove his shirt and lo and behold…
You guessed it. He had a frigging ice pick sticking out of his back. Of course, he needed emergency surgery. During the operation, one of the nurses who had overheard me talking to him came close to me and whispered, “You messed up. Big time”.
15. That Sounds Awful
I went to the ER because I had a moth in my ear, and, yes, it was as horrifying as it sounds. To make matters worse, they were pretty dismissive and just thought that I was an addict. The best part about the ordeal, if that’s possible, was the reaction from the ER nurse when she stuck the scope in my ear...
“EeeerrrrgghhhAhhhh!!! He DOES have a bug in there and it’s alive!"
16. A COVID Nightmare
This happened when my grandmother was isolated for COVID. She was steadily becoming weaker and weaker, and, in my developing country, the hospitals were so full that some people were quarantined at home and doctors would give them instructions via Zoom.
Sometimes the doctors went on home visits wearing bunny suits (aka personal protective equipment). It was such a desperate time. No vaccines had arrived yet. Anyway, my mother alerted me that my grandmother’s oxygen levels were going down and with someone in their mid-80s, this is a bad sign.
It was likely that she would need hospital admission and high-flow oxygen. I’m just a GP, so my family found a specialist to treat her. The specialist told me I was paranoid. He said, “Your grandmother only has mild COVID. The pulse oximeter probably just has a low battery. Change it and see what happens. I’m sure she’ll be fine”.
I pleaded with my family that this wasn't the case. I told them she was getting worse, and she could perish if we ignored her symptoms. No one listened.
It was during this time that I had been deployed as a COVID swabber, so I couldn’t go home because I was exposed to the virus every day. The patients I saw who were close to the end looked very similar to how my grandmother was starting to look. I was starting to really worry about my grandmother but I felt so helpless.
Somehow, someone went there to change the batteries in her machine. A day later, the specialist also sent one of her colleagues for a home visit. The visit quickly revealed that my grandmother had severe pneumonia, based on just listening to her breathing with a stethoscope.
She had decreased breath sounds instead of just crackles. We found her a hospital bed in another city because the beds had run out where we were. My grandmother perished 10 days later, alone, in some rural hospital far from her family—all because some specialist told us she looked fine over Zoom.
Unfortunately, we can’t file a case. The worst part? The specialist is my cousin.
17. Too Close For Comfort
For two days, my sister endured excruciating abdominal pain. She had a super swollen belly and pain so intense that it made her puke. She was unable to walk, so her husband had to drag her across the apartment on a blanket so that she could use the restroom.
We live in Switzerland and her insurance requires a phone call to determine if a doctor is needed. On the phone, they dismissed it as some kind of stomach flu. When she stated that she had extreme pain, the operator asked if she felt she was going to perish my sister answered, “No”.
I should note that we had a tough upbringing, which gave us a pretty intense pain tolerance. The next day, she refused to call in again and instead went directly went to her doctor. After an ultrasound, they immediately flew her to a hospital by helicopter because she lives in a remote place in the mountains.
At the hospital, she had emergency surgery and blood transfusions. It turns out she had lost more than a liter (33 ounces) of blood due to a ruptured tube from an ectopic pregnancy. If they had waited any longer, she would not have survived the day.
18. It’s Hard To Be Humble
I work in behavioral health and our emergency department provider put in a psychiatric evaluation after a woman came in, initially for a medical issue, but then stated that her gynecologist was madly in love with her and was stalking her.
Our emergency department provider said that that was highly unlikely as he knew this gynecologist personally. This caused us to highly doubt that this woman was telling the truth. After the evaluation was done, however, the patient showed us a ton of texts and pictures that proved her right.
One of the very difficult parts of this job is that it can sometimes be hard to tell what is real and what is not. Lesson learned.
19. Doing God’s Work
This happened when I worked as a developer for a medical alarm company. Think: “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!" I had a woman call my extension by accident complaining that somebody was contacting her through her pendant device and threatening her.
I checked the notes on her account and they said that she was schizophrenic and had this issue multiple times. She told me that she knows she hears voices sometimes, but it would put her mind at ease if I could find out what was happening.
So, I pulled up the cellular usage logs for her device and I couldn’t believe it. There were hundreds of calls and text messages about gruesome and unlawful activity. Luckily, the pendant device had no way of showing any of the images.
It turns out that the number for her device was targeted by some bad people. She was part of what’s known as a cartel scheme where people target seniors and pretend they are members of a cartel and will do terrible things to you if you don’t pay them. They even send awful images to intimidate their targets.
I got this woman a new phone number and had a word with the people who kept dismissing her.
20. The Art Of Self-Defense
I ruptured my ACL while doing Jiu-Jitsu. I heard it pop when it happened and the pain was unbearable. I went to a walk-in clinic over the weekend to get a referral for an MRI to confirm the damage. I would have gone to my regular GP but they weren’t open on the weekend, it would have taken longer to get in, and it would have cost more.
All I needed to hear was, “Yep, sounds good. Here’s the referral”. The random GP at the walk-in tried to convince me that it was a soft-tissue injury and that I should just stay off it for a while. I told her that I very much hoped it was a soft tissue injury, but I still wanted an MRI to confirm it.
She even tried talking me out of it by saying, “It’s very expensive”. I finally had to say, “Doc, I’ve got plenty of money. I’m not worried about the cost. I just want the peace of mind”. She eventually gave me the referral for the MRI.
When I went back to her a week later for the results the news was bad but it was just what I wanted to hear. Lo and behold! I did indeed have a ruptured ACL. Thanks for trying to get me to walk that one off, Doc.
21. Don’t Mess With Testes
My 20-year-old son went to his doctor complaining of an uncomfortable testicle. The doctor kept blowing him off until my kid finally had to get forceful and insist that he knew something was wrong. The doctor finally ordered an ultrasound. Tumor. Cancer. Treatment. The doctor even called to apologize to him.
My son is now 34 and is totally fine. I’m glad he got to learn this lesson early in life.
22. Don’t Call Me Sweetie
I was driving home on the interstate one time when my car started acting up. I pulled to the side and the fear and anxiety of being stuck in a broken car in such a busy spot gave me an adrenaline rush and caused my blood sugar to tank. Just as I was reaching into the glove compartment for my glucose tabs, I passed out.
When I came to, a law enforcement officer was screaming at me. He kept yelling that he needed to know how much I had had to drink. I tried to answer, but I wasn’t able to form a coherent thought. Suddenly, an EMT popped his head out between the front seats from the back seat of my car.
He said, “Sweetie, we REALLY need to know how much you drank so we can treat you”. Upon seeing his badge, I was finally able to lock in on one thought. “SUGAR”! I blurted. He suddenly went all Pikachu-faced and asked, "Are you diabetic??!" I nodded. He opened a package of glucose gel and handed it to me.
By the way, that stuff tastes awful! When I was halfway through the gel pack, I calmly apologized to the officer for being unable to answer him earlier. He was still busy scraping his jaw up from the floorboard of the vehicle. I hope he now knows that some “winos” are actually diabetics with severe hypoglycemia.
23. Paging Dr. Google
After several years of odd symptoms and being brushed off by multiple doctors, I became convinced that whatever I had was serious. At different points over about three years, I experienced hearing loss, balance issues, vertigo, tinnitus, pain, and just a general feeling that something was “off”.
During this period, I was diagnosed with sinus issues and inner ear infections. At my last ineffectual appointment, I flat-out told the ear, nose, and throat specialist that I had done some research and I thought I had a brain tumor. I didn’t ask...I TOLD her.
I could see her stifled eye roll before she told me that it was very unlikely and that the type of brain tumor that causes these symptoms is extremely rare. I’m sure she was thinking, “Here’s Dr. Google at it again” but she did order an MRI—mostly to pacify me, I’m sure. Guess what my diagnosis turned out to be?
I had a golf ball-sized brain tumor. It was benign but large enough that it was pushing my brain stem out of the way. When the doctor called me with the results she sounded SHOOK.
24. All Is Vanity, Nothing Is Fair
I had a tumor on my foot that my primary care physician basically dismissed by saying it was a fatty deposit that kept getting bigger because I was gaining weight. After struggling to put on shoes and then suffering from intense pain from the pressure on this “deposit”, I realized that I would need to be more forceful.
The doctor still didn’t want to send me for testing because he thought I was just being vain. However, he finally sent me to a surgeon after my ultrasound results stated that it looked abnormal. The surgeon poked it a few times and told me that it was a fatty deposit and the pain was in my head.
She refused to biopsy it so that she could “save me money”. BIG MISTAKE. Instead, she removed it and then sent it out for testing. It ended up being cancer. I had two additional surgeries and was on bed rest for three months with a frigging hole in my foot because the initial surgery destroyed the integrity of the skin.
I now have two giant scars on my foot and inner thigh, so I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t actually just being vain.
25. I Told You So
My friend is a nurse and she told me about a woman in her early 30s who kept coming to the ER insisting she was really sick. She was basically sick for about a year and a half—solid.
For whatever reason, probably because she was so young, the healthcare team assumed that she was a medication seeker and just wrote her off. Well, eventually they did find something.
They gave her a biopsy and it turns out the woman had Stage IV cancer. Stage IV! Her whole ordeal could have been entirely prevented if only they’d taken her seriously from the beginning. Age discrimination is no joke.
26. Head Games
I’m a retired nurse, but in this story, I was the patient. Out of the blue, I had an acute onset of hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior. I was dragged to a crisis center in my area, involuntarily committed, and placed on some serious psych meds, which made it much worse. This happened not once, but three separate times!
Each time I begged for a CT scan of my head. Each time they refused. I then went to emergency at a much smaller hospital. Success! The head CT revealed that a bone in my skull was infected and was pressing on my brain and causing the pseudo-psych behaviors. A round of high-dose antibiotics cured my “crazy”. Go figure.
27. A Terrifying Lesson In Humility
I’m a nurse and whenever I’m teaching, I make sure to tell this story to my students. I had a very difficult long-term dementia patient. Some idiot higher-up decided it would be appropriate to put her in a four-patient ward on an acute care floor, which included people recovering from surgery etc.
This patient would routinely scream and throw herself out of bed all night long. We finally ordered a sleeping pill and gave it to her three nights in a row as she wouldn’t stop screaming about the rats climbing all over her, which would disrupt the entire ward, including the neonatal intensive care unit on the other side of the wall.
On the fourth night, I went in when she started screaming, sleeping pill ready…and did a double-take. There was an actual mouse on the windowsill next to her. I felt like such a jerk.
Now when a coworker tells me about anything off the wall that a delirious, dementia, or anesthetized patient says, I always say, “Did you really check though? Are you sure there aren’t actually [whatever crazy things they are seeing]”?
28. So That’s Why Anesthesiologists Get Paid So Much
On my anesthesia rotation, we had a spine surgery case who needed all of his anesthesia through an IV because the gas messes with neurological monitoring. This patient was a difficult needle stick but we finally got one in. The anesthesia was given by IV and the patient was given paralytics as usual.
Unfortunately, when we flipped the patient to the prone position, his IV came out. The rapid-acting anesthetics were wearing off while he was still paralyzed. We had five people desperately trying to get an IV on him while, at the same time, his heart rate and respiratory rate started spiking, which indicates insufficient anesthesia.
I ended up turning on some anesthetic gas for a few minutes which delayed the surgery by a bit but was definitely necessary. All we could hope for was that the medicine that caused temporary amnesia (midazolam) was still working.
When the patient awoke after the surgery, the anesthesiologist hovered over the bed and nervously said, “Hey buddyyyyy. So, how was the surgery”? Fortunately, the patient remembered nothing. Anesthesiologists can tell when a patient is in pain and give meds accordingly.
Having someone wake up during surgery is the absolute worst-case scenario. This is not only because of lawsuits but also because of the psychological harm it causes. A few years ago, a patient ended his life due to the overwhelming mental damage caused by waking up during surgery.
29. That Escalated Quickly
I am an elder care nurse and I had one patient that I had looked after for years. She had advanced dementia and would often go into a very sleepy and unresponsive state for a day or two. During one of her unresponsive periods, a doctor had come in to do rounds and general reviews.
Because my patient wasn’t eating or responding, this doctor insisted that she was palliative. But then he went even further.
I was dumbfounded when he told me he wanted to use a syringe driver (which delivers end-of-life medications via an automated syringe) on her. My team and I had to work hard to convince this doctor that she was in fact just having a “sleepy” period.
Thankfully, the patient did go back to normal and even went on to live for another year and a half after that incident.
30. An Unforgettable Thanksgiving
As a child, I suffered from chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs). When I was in sixth grade, I woke up on Thanksgiving Day with intense abdominal pain. I assumed that I was hungry but I couldn’t eat—it made my stomach churn.
I hardly touched my Thanksgiving dinner and ended up throwing up while everyone else finished eating. My mom took me to the ER, but they refused to do an ultrasound as she requested. They just passed my symptoms off as another UTI and told me to rest and drink lots of water and cranberry juice.
My mom took me back at midnight that night, insisting that this was not normal. I suffered UTIs often enough for her to know these were NOT the symptoms. After being sent home and coming back AGAIN that night, they finally did an ultrasound.
My right ovary had flipped and swollen to the size of a softball. One emergency surgery later and I was fine for about three months—then the other ovary flipped. This time they diagnosed it quickly and were able to save it. They also took out my appendix while they were at it because with my luck that would have been the next thing to go.
31. Now, That Was Unexpected
My kid was just shy of his first birthday when he banged his head pretty badly at daycare. The emergency room doctor ordered a CT scan to take a look just in case. My son had no suspicious symptoms or history of medical issues. The doctor was just being extra careful. We were expecting the scan to be 100% normal. It wasn’t…
The scan revealed a lesion on the opposite side of my son’s brain. The follow-up MRIs showed it to be a slow-growing tumor in his frontal lobe. Since he was so young for surgery, we had to endure about nine months of “watch and wait". During this, he still didn’t have any symptoms that would have otherwise alerted us to the tumor’s presence.
Eventually, the doctors were able to achieve a near-total resection/removal and my son has been stable ever since. It has been 15 years now with no progression of the little bit that was left. The post-op pathology confirmed it was a grade II astrocytoma. I’m so grateful that we ended up discovering it out of pure chance.
32. Brutal Honesty
A three-year-old kid with gastro issues came in. His mother said he is floppy and weak, but during the examination, he was climbing furniture and doing normal kid stuff. All seemed objectively normal as far as it is possible to do a neurological exam on an uncooperative three-year-old.
I advised her to encourage fluids and small frequent meals. I also prescribed the kid something to prevent nausea and then moved on because it was a busy emergency department and ambulances were lining up by the minute. After 24 hours he was back.
This time he was completely flaccid. They intubated him and flew him to a tertiary center. It turns out there is a super rare autoimmune reaction to certain gastrointestinal pathogens that causes neurological problems similar to Guillain-Barre syndrome, and I frigging missed it.
Every day there are thousands of kids that turn up in emergency with gastro. Most of them are a bit flat because they’re exhausted, hungry, and dehydrated. So are the parents. I can’t MRI and spinal tap every kid who is lethargic after a bout of gastro, the number needed to treat is far greater than the number needed to harm.
Medicine is largely a numbers game. We go for the most likely diagnosis, acknowledging that sometimes we will miss the occasional unicorn—that’s why we tell patients to come back if something changes or gets worse. No one knows everything about medicine, and it’s only a matter of time before you miss something bad.
If it hasn’t happened to you, then you haven’t seen enough patients. When it does happen to you, it will burn itself into your brain forever. It will eat at you and keep you awake at night, but the only way to keep going is to find a way to persevere and learn so that you never miss it again.
33. I’ll Show You “Tough”
I had a miscarriage a few years back and needed to have a D&C procedure to remove tissue from my uterus. Afterward, everything seemed to be fine, but I was in constant pain. If I missed my next pill by anything longer than 10 minutes, the pain would become debilitating.
I called the doctor’s office, and they told me that I just needed to toughen up. I went back for my two-week post-op checkup and upon examination, the doctor discovered that my body had been trying to remove some leftover tissue. I’d basically been in mini-labor for two weeks.
No apology was given. No acknowledgment beyond “whoops”. Needless to say, I found a different doctor for my next pregnancy.
34. Pearls Of Wisdom
My dentist told me I should go to a specialist to have all of my wisdom teeth removed. I couldn’t believe it when they said they were going to cut open my gums before the teeth even grew in. I said, “Nah, let’s let them grow in, and at the first sight of trouble we’ll pull them”. Guess what? They grew in. No trouble. No pulling required.
35. Talk About Looking On The Bright Side
I had an issue where printed words were wavy if I looked at them with my right eye. It was almost like a funhouse mirror effect. I also would occasionally lose some vision in the corner of that eye, but if I blinked, it would come back.
My father had a spontaneous retinal tear in his late 20s. I’m in my mid-30s. So, I’m pretty sure I know what’s going on. I went to the eye doctor. I told the doc that I suspected it was a retinal tear. She did all the tests. Then she asked if I was stressed. I said, “Yeah, work’s been really bad lately”.
She told me that my optic nerve was inflamed, but she didn’t see any issues with the retina. She told me it might be stress-related and prescribed me some steroid eye drops. The eye drops did nothing. Shocker. After about two weeks, I called her back and told her that the same symptoms were still happening.
She said that she doesn’t refer patients to specialists, but I could come back in for another exam. I’m like, “Wait. Should I be going to a specialist”? She got really quiet and then tried to get me to schedule another appt. I don’t.
I ended up finding a local retina specialist on my own and begged the front desk to give me an appointment without a referral. By this point, I’ve lost about 30 percent of my vision in the upper left quadrant of my eye: retinal detachment. The doctor there doesn’t understand why I waited so long to come in.
He also didn’t understand how the regular eye doc didn’t see it. I was sent to emergency surgery. Over the next year, I have three more operations on that eye (including cataract surgery), and I still only have 20/200 vision in that eye along with a large blind spot in my central vision caused by optic nerve damage.
I’m not technically blind in that eye but I functionally am. At least my new eye doctor is much more competent.
36. Sometimes It Pays To Be A Karen
My husband is on disability because he suffers from crippling bipolar disorder and anxiety. This incident happened in the hospital after he had his gallbladder taken out. He was in horrendous pain. It was so bad that I had to scream at the nurse to get her attention.
I told her that something was very wrong and he needed to be reevaluated. She told us—in a very dismissive way—that he was just having bipolar-related issues. I demanded that she call the doctor and have him order a blood test. The results showed that his hemoglobin levels were extremely low.
He was rushed into emergency surgery to replace a failed clamp from his gallbladder operation. What was supposed to be a same-day surgery turned into a five-day hospital stay.
37. Take Heed
I had a massive abdominal infection that was arguably caused by the hospital. It was a particularly nasty version of E coli, so they gave me Invanz via IV. I was a poor college student without insurance and it was just before the Affordable Care Act was signed. Invanz is expensive, so they told me I was done with treatments after four weeks.
I was really glad because the Invanz made me feel exhausted. I knew there was still something wrong with me, but the infectious disease doctor brushed off my concerns. Plus, I was afraid to go back there and get an even bigger hospital bill. However, I realized that I might have a problem when I couldn’t even fit into my “fat jeans”.
I was extremely bloated because my abdomen was so full of infection. I went back and told them to look harder. They opened me up, cleaned out FOUR abscesses instead of just one, and completely destroyed my fertility in the process.
To make matters worse (if that’s even possible), they wanted me to pay $320,000 for a mistake THEY made. I should’ve sued them but was too disturbed by the whole ordeal to do anything about it. Moral of the story? Don’t prioritize fear of medical bills over your own life, and don’t believe them when they say nothing is wrong even though your body is telling you otherwise.
38. Hero’s Journey
I had to visit two doctors and two therapists in my quest to get an assessment and referral for my autism before finally paying in full out of pocket for a private practice. I was dismissed over and over again with statements like: “You’re just being overdramatic”; “No one likes doing that stuff, but you have to do it anyway”; “Just grow up”; “Just breathe”!
Some of the practitioners even told me to try harder and said that they thought I was fine because I could communicate well and hold a steady job. I wanted to scream, “That doesn’t mean I haven’t been struggling for the last decade”! For years I was willfully ignoring increasingly intolerable levels of anxiety and stress. It was not healthy.
It got to the point where my world started to crumble down around me because I could no longer fake “being normal”. I finally took the plunge and paid for the private practice. All I ever wanted was to be taken seriously.
39. Time For An Exor-cyst
I have a lump on my face that is about the size of an acorn. It has been there for years, but in the last two to three years it has been growing rather quickly. I have been to multiple doctors about it, trying to get a proper diagnosis.
Most of them told me it was a subcutaneous cyst and there is nothing they can do. Some even told me that I should just try to wash my face better.
Fast-forward to July of this year…I visited a new doctor who actually decided to see if he could “release some pressure” from the apparent cyst on my face. After 15 minutes of prodding, he couldn’t get any more than a few drops of semi-clear fluid out of it.
Thanks to him, I now know that I actually have a benign tumor on my face. It makes me so mad that nobody bothered to look any deeper than the surface level to find this out.
40. You Learn, They Live
A patient came to our emergency department with complaints of loin to groin pain, which is a typical presentation of kidney stones. I started him on the needed pain meds but it wasn’t enough. I had just finished medical school and it was pretty much my first day working in emergency.
I was definitely following all protocols 100% by the book. I told the patient he had to wait a little bit longer before I could give the next dose of pain meds. The patient said he couldn’t bear it. I kept insisting that I have to follow protocols.
His pain became so unbearable that he vomited and peed blood as the stone ruptured a little bit of the tube that goes from the kidney to the bladder, which I couldn’t do anything about. As soon as he vomited, we gave him the pain medication.
After noticing the blood, we took him to emergency occupational therapy and the urologist came and did what was needed. The fact that I didn’t give him the pain meds didn’t cause him any harm, but if I had given them to him I could have saved him some horrible discomfort during a very stressful time.
That day I learned that sometimes we just need to put the patient’s needs before protocols. I worked in a rural area without much access to labs or good materials. The nurses aren’t always well trained and the intubation kits aren’t well maintained. It was tough, but it definitely made me a better doctor overall.
41. Thanks For Nothing
Back in college, I started having these really weird chest pains when I inhaled. The pain continued for a couple of days, so I decided to visit the school clinic to see if they could find out what was wrong. The RN said that my lungs sounded clear and that my pains were probably caused by anxiety due to midterms. I insisted that this wasn’t the case.
The RN was pretty dismissive about it, but she gave me an Advil and ordered blood work “just in case but I doubt we need it”. Two days later I got a frantic call telling me to go to the ER. I found out I had blood clots in my lung. The real cherry on top was when an ER doctor told me that if I had delayed getting there any longer, I could’ve perished.
42. Total Bummer
Long story short, I had extreme pain from my chest to my back and was taken by ambulance to the local hospital. After running some tests, they told me I was constipated and gave me some pain meds and an enema. A day later, the same pain came back. I have never felt anything so painful. Back to the hospital I go.
In the hospital, they keep telling me that I’m literally full of poop. They ran more tests and then put a double enema in my hand and sent me to the bathroom. On my way to the bathroom, a doctor chased me down. He started apologizing and saying I’m not constipated after all.
I’ve got necrotic pneumonia and need antibiotics badly.
43. Weak In The Knees
In the seventh grade, I joined the throwing team. During the warm-up run at the beginning of practice, my leg would always start to hurt. Doctors attributed this to my being chubby. The following year my leg started to hurt when I was throwing too, but again I was just told to lose weight.
Then, in ninth grade, I dislocated my knee during marching band practice. No less than four doctors asked me if I tried losing weight because that had to be the problem. When I told them I tried to exercise, but it was too painful, I got a lecture.
I ended up dislocating the same knee five more times during high school and each time was attributed to my weight (for context, I was a size 14/16 at the time). In college, I was doing more walking and stair climbing, which made the pain and dislocations much worse.
It got to the point where my kneecap was popping in and out about four times a week. Finally, my doctor ordered an MRI. It took the orthopedic surgeon 30 seconds to spot the birth defect in my knee that had been causing my dislocations.
He told me there was absolutely nothing I could have done to prevent it, and they were concerned that I could do permanent damage to my knee without corrective surgery. No fewer than seven doctors wrote off my issue as weight-related when it was actually part of the reason I was overweight to begin with.
44. A Happy Scratchy Ending
My sister had an awful skin rash for several months. She went to various doctors and dermatologists who told her it was an allergy, it was stress-related, etc. and each gave her a new cream to help settle it. Unfortunately, nothing worked. I visited home one day, Googled her symptoms, and thought that I might have a diagnosis. Don’t laugh.
It turns out she had microscopic mites laying eggs and living in her skin (aka scabies). We figured it couldn’t hurt to get an over-the-counter cream for it and see if it worked—and it sure did! One of the drawbacks of the treatment was that the itching and pain temporarily get worse as the mites start to perish.
I stayed up with the poor girl eating Maltesers and watching America's Next Top Model all night to try and distract her from the itch. I felt so sorry that she had to go through the embarrassment of having scabies for months on end as a teenager.
For the amount of time she had it and the number of doctors she saw, I couldn’t believe it was so easy to figure out what it was.
45. Something’s Screwy!
I’d had problems with one of my joints for a long time, and after trying out for a local team, the pain was flaring up again. The way I described it to the GP was a general weakness and a rattling feeling. He said it was likely a meniscal tear and that I should rest it until it feels better.
I couldn’t help but feel that he saw me as a bit of a time waster. In fact, he was pretty dismissive of me during the whole visit. Then, out of the blue, he offered to sign me off work for two weeks. I was genuinely incredulous. I wondered if he was just trying to get rid of me.
When I told him that I couldn’t possibly take any time off work, he suddenly took my complaint more seriously. Sometime later I had an MRI and it turned out that one of my previous operations on the dodgy joint had come undone and there was a screw just floating around inside me.
They eventually operated on me, removed the screw, and fixed the joint back up. Now I’m back to playing sports without any pain.
46. Make Mine A Double!
At 13, I went to the dentist to get my wisdom teeth removed and the surgeon was a man I had never met. He told me that I fit the age category for one dose of anesthesia but the size and weight category for a much larger dose.
He decided to go with the smaller dose despite me telling him that he should definitely use the bigger dose since I weighed 90 kg (200 lb) at the time. Halfway through the operation, I woke up at the exact moment he was pulling out the first tooth.
All I felt was a bit of pressure, but once it was out I remember asking if he was done yet. He and my regular dentist nearly jumped out of their skins. The surgeon scrambled for more anesthesia while shouting, “Nope! Go back to sleep!"
When I woke up after it was finished, my first words to him were, “I told you I needed a double dose!" I guess I was coherent enough to boast about my own impeccable judgment. According to my mom, I didn’t start getting loopy until we got in the car and headed home.
47. Just Scratching The Surface
I suppose one of the first warning signs was that I was incredibly fatigued during my pregnancy. I know some fatigue is normal, but I’m talking about sleeping for two-thirds of the day. Annnd then I got COVID about halfway through my pregnancy. The symptoms were brutal for me.
I couldn’t even walk a few steps without coughing and wheezing. However, the real symptoms started halfway through my second trimester and they were subtle. It started off with an incredibly itchy scalp, and then it was the soles of my feet. Those were my only symptoms. Out of curiosity, I Googled my symptoms.
I read about a rare liver condition called cholestasis of pregnancy. Eventually, my entire body was itchy. I should mention, choleostasis isn’t regular itchy. It’s the kind of itch that would drive even the sanest woman mad. I had this weird gut feeling that something was wrong.
I continued to bring it up to my ob-gyn, but I was repeatedly struck down. They said it was normal because my skin was stretching. I was told to eat less, drink more water, and start exercising. It got to the point where I was so itchy I couldn’t sleep. At my 36-week checkup, I insisted on one final blood draw.
I left that doctor’s office feeling so incredibly gaslit. I don’t even think I had been home for 15 minutes when I got a call telling me that I needed to be induced immediately. I’m sure you can guess the diagnosis.
48. The Next Doogie Howser, MD
When I was five, I had MASSIVE migraines daily for almost a year and a half. I went through so many scans and had three spinal taps done in the span of a month, which, from my understanding, is extremely dangerous.
Finally, after a frustrating year of doctors not knowing what was wrong and probably assuming I was faking, we figured it out in a surprising way…
We were at an eye doctor appointment for my brother and my silly five-year-old self insisted that the eye doctor do an exam on me too because I wanted to be like my big brother. The doctor looked into my eye and could see that I had a massive buildup of fluids in my brain.
Less than two weeks later, I had a shunt placed into my head. I was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which occurs when a little flap in your neck doesn’t open to release fluids. The only cause we could think of was a baseball that had struck the back of my neck earlier in the year.
I’m sure the doctor isn’t alive anymore, but that man probably saved my quality of life if not my life in general.
49. A Shocking Silver Lining
In my experience, encounters with dismissive doctors are commonplace if you happen to have a female reproductive system. I visited my gynecologist with a slight fever complaining that it felt like I had a “lead Rubik’s cube in my uterus”. She did a physical exam, told me that I had cramps and a flu virus, and sent me on my way.
A week later I went to my family doctor with the same, worsening, issue. They gave me antacids and sent me on my way. A week after that, I was still feverish, but now I was having spasms down there. I visited the ER and they tried to give me ibuprofen and sent me away. I told them that I wasn’t leaving without being scanned.
An 18-year-old nurse scoffed at me and said that there was NO WAY that they would scan me. I left. After a week of this pain, I wasn’t able to walk and my fever had risen to 39 C (103 F). I took a cab to a different ER. I was left curled up in the fetal position on a heater in that ER for hours.
Once I was finally in a room, an angel of a nurse who reminded me of my mom came in. The nurse took some info and said, “Wow, you’re really sick! Don’t worry. We’ll take good care of you”. At this point, I burst into grateful tears.
They scanned me and discovered that I had a goose-egg-sized abscess under my fallopian tube that had “bacteria and other things that we don’t recognize” inside it. I spent the next five days in the hospital on three types of antibiotics and two types of pain meds. It felt like Heaven.
On day five I was awake in the operating room as they pulled out what looked like Hexxus from the movie FernGully. A good time was had by all in the operating room. There was much rejoicing.
I confronted my gyno when she visited my bedside, accompanied by a student doctor, and told her in great detail just how much she messed up. She didn’t apologize. I got myself a new doctor. Oh, but the story doesn't end there.
Two months later, my boyfriend started to become increasingly annoyed about our lack of intimacy. I told him I was still healing and he told me that months should be enough recuperation time. I dumped him and am very grateful that my brush with fate showed me exactly how little my partner actually cared about my well-being.
50. Hello, Dr. Dad
When I did a rotation in pediatric radiology, we had this father who came in with his kid. The kid, who was about five, wouldn’t eat properly and would throw up a lot. Understandably, he was very slim. I read his file and it stated that he had been in and out of the hospital a lot for the same issue over the last half year or so, but no cause was ever found.
The file also stated that the father suspected his kid might have ingested something, but since the symptoms were so unspecific, this lead was never followed. By the time they saw me, they must have decided to revisit this suspicion since they were coming to me for a functional fluoroscopy. The first picture I took blew my mind…
There was a button battery stuck in the kid’s esophagus. His father was so relieved that the cause of his son’s issues had finally been found, that his eyes started to tear up. I later read up on the file and found out that the battery was removed endoscopically the same day and that there was significant inflammation of the esophagus due to leaking battery acid.
It is so crazy to think that this kid’s dad suspected something along these lines right from the beginning but it took half a year before it was properly looked into. This instance taught me so much about how easy it is to misjudge people. I am constantly reminding myself to treat all of my patients equally, even in my thoughts.
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