For most of us, the dim halls of a hospital are a completely different world—and a terrifying one at that. These stories prove that, even for doctors, a day at work can quickly devolve into a medical nightmare. From patients with unbelievable diagnoses to scores of surgical mishaps—these Redditors recount the gory details they'd rather forget.
1. Close To The Chest
I had just gotten my first job out of college at the local hospital. My first week went by with the usual stitches and broken bones. My second week around midnight, this very obese woman came in complaining of chest pains. So, we rushed her back, grabbed her vitals, and did an EKG and blood work. Everything was normal—or so it seemed.
The problem was, she was still complaining of chest pain. So, my supervisor and I asked the lady if we could do a head to toe check-up. Now this woman had a rather pungent smell to her when she came in, but I have learned to not think of it as the people in the area weren't known for their cleanliness. We were looking at her chest.
I noticed that her left chest area was reddened and swollen. I informed her that I was going to lift up her chest area to rule out any skin infections. As I lifted up her chest area, a wave of noxious stench engulfed the air around me. As I continued to lift the area on her chest, I could see what appeared to be a mass of decaying tissue extending into her torso.
My supervisor ran out of the exam room and proceeded to vomit in the nearest trash can. I turned to the woman and asked her why she hadn't sought help sooner, given that she seemed to have a severe skin infection developing on the left side of her chest. She replied that she did not have insurance and that she didn't think it was a huge deal.
I called in some nurses and the doctor to assist cleaning the wound. As we’re cleaning, one nurse noticed a bit of fur and bone. That's when we made the most horrifying discovery of my career. We found out it’s a small animal of sorts. They collected the sample and sent it to pathology. We removed it and noticed that it had rotted into her chest so much that her ribs could be seen.
In the end, it was the lady’s missing kitten. She spent four months in the hospital for massive sepsis and other related issues.
2. Thar She Blows
I was NOT prepared for the day a patient exploded in surgery and splattered all over the entire operating team. Basically, a watermelon-sized tumor was being removed from the patient. It turned out, the tumor was more of a giant cyst. The surgeon didn’t open up the belly wide enough to facilitate the thing, so imagine someone trying to dig out a giant water balloon from an eight-inch incision with their hands.
The pressure on the tumor caused it to erupt out and upwards, spraying its contents on everyone and everything in the room. On the positive side, this made the removal of the thing A LOT easier. I do recall a lot of people screaming when it happened though. The patient came out fine!
3. Let Me Go
I had a 94-year-old woman who had been beaten by her niece so horribly that she had to be intubated in the ICU. The woman was in pure agony and her family claimed they wanted to “do everything” for her. I later came to find out their horrible secret—they were keeping her alive to collect her social security check. One time, while I was cleaning her, she grabbed my arm and held it tight.
Huge tears welled up in her eyes and she mouthed over the ET tube: “I want to die...Please let me die". That night, I sobbed the entire way home. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened to this woman. That was one of my last days in the ICU—I was a young nurse and I could not emotionally handle working there. That, for me, was the last straw.
I started having nightmares about being at work and trying to take care of patients. I would wake up in a cold sweat and see my husband laying next to me, realizing the sounds I was hearing were him snoring and not a patient who was on a ventilator. It sounds silly, but it’s horrifying if you actually think you're in that situation. I wish as nurses we were able to talk about what we experience on a daily basis but, because of HIPPA, we aren’t allowed. Years later, I am now an ER nurse and I love it! I see awful things quite often, but I have a better way of coping with those experiences.
4. Heartbreaking Experience
As an ICU nurse, I've witnessed how some doctors' decisions can lead to life-ending outcomes. Families oftentimes don't know, but it happens more than you'd think. This commonly occurs in gravely ill patients who are projected to have had approximately six months or so left to live, nonetheless. Procedural wise, I have seen a physician kill a patient by puncturing their heart while placing a pleural chest tube.
It was basically a freak thing as apparently, the patient had recently had cardiothoracic surgery and the heart adhered within the cavity at an odd position. I'll never forget the look on his face when he came to the realization of what had happened. You rarely see people accidentally kill someone in such a direct way.
5. 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. This called for desperate measures...
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.
6. An Upset Stomach
I was in charge of the ICU unit the other day and we had a pretty messy situation. We had a patient who had some big abdominal trauma. He had gone to the OR and he was too sick for us to be able to close his abdomen, so we left it open. We had a sheet of plastic protecting his intestines and we placed a vacuumed sponge dressing on top of it called a “woundvac".
The patient's nurse called me into the room to look at the abdomen because she thought she saw pieces of the bowel seeping out of the bag and getting sucked into the “woundvac". I agreed and thought the bowel looked pretty dusky as well, so we called the doctor to come and look at it. He advised that we take the woundvac off, tuck the bowel back into the bag it had escaped from and put a new woundvac on.
It all just sounded like it was going to be a disaster, but whatever. So, we took off the “woundvac”—we could see that the patient’s bowels had become very swollen from the fluids, trauma, etc. Just as we were lifting it, the unexpected happened—the patient’s bowels all slipped out. The bag had dislodged significantly. When we tried tucking the bowels in one side, they would spill out the other.
The guy was in his bed just disemboweling and we simply could not get everything back in. Luckily, the anesthesia we had given the patient kept him very nicely sedated...But it was MESSY. We really had to step back and say, "Well, shoot. How do we get this guy’s guts back inside of him?” We ended up having to call in six other people to help tuck things back in. We finally got him back to the OR for them to get everything back into its proper place.
7. What Happened Next
The most dreadful tale my paramedic friend shared with me was about a teenager's self-harm incident which was actually a call for help. This girl had had a huge fight with her dad and decided at the moment that she was going to"end it all" to "scare the heck out of them." She took a whole box of paracetamol. Nothing happened. Later that night, she started feeling really sick, so she told her parents what happened and they called the ambulance.
Unfortunately, paracetamol starts having negative effects when it has already been absorbed into the blood. If you don't catch it early, you can't minimize the effects. So, when they got to the hospital, the doctors gave them the tough-to-swallow truth—there was nothing they could do. They had to explain to the family that all they could do was wait for her to pass. The girl just kept apologizing to her parents over and over. She just wanted a trip to the hospital so they would listen to her. Paracetamol is incredibly dangerous and not enough people know about it.
8. And the “Eyes” Have It
I was a junior doctor working in the neurosurgery department back in 2008. One of the senior registrars I worked with told me his most unfortunate moment in the operating room. In order to have a patient’s head stabilized for surgery, he used a frame that had a set of three spikes that held the head in place. Due to the angle he needed to approach from, this required the patient to be face down.
As he was placing the head of the anesthetized patient onto the frame, the unimaginable happened—the head slipped and his eye landed on to the spike, perforating the eyeball. Panicking and thinking that his career was now over, he then started poking at the eyeball, trying to work out what was what until the anesthetist told him to stop.
They then called the ophthalmologist who came to tidy up what was now a completely ruined eye. After the surgery, he went to explain to the patient what had happened. Understandably fearing the worst—anger, distress, and tears—he received the response of, "That's OK, I was blind in that eye anyway!" from the patient.
Luckiest guy ever.
9. A Top-To-Bottom Tragedy
I was dispatched to the pediatric ICU to care for a 16-year-old who had tragically attempted serious self-harm but was unsuccessful in his attempt. He broke the bones that held his eyes in and lost his sight (for obvious reasons). He also shattered the part of his skull holding the brain out of his upper sinus. He was very confused and obviously terrified.
He had just learned he was going to be blind for the rest of his life and needed a new skull fragment put in to keep the brain in place. But that's not all—on top of everything, his divorced parents were fighting. The dad blamed the mom because he used her weapon, while the mom then refused to let the dad visit by not giving him the special access code ton the unit. It was the most messed up night I'd ever worked and I refuse to go to that unit ever again.
10. Horror In The ER
This occurred in an emergency room. An old lady came in—I don't know what for, but she told us she came from a nursing home. There is no way to describe accurately how horrific this woman’s condition was. Her hair...it was so matted and dirty...it seemed like the bugs that lived in it couldn't even get to the center of the dreadlock... They ended up cutting most of it off because it was so bad. But it gets worse.
Her skin was just straight up open, infected with oozing sores. It was like if you took someone’s skin off, laid it flat, then took a hole punch to the entire thing and put it back on...there were HUNDREDS of small, round, infected, smelly, gooey, painful sores on her entire back, rear, and legs. Her mouth was also decaying and missing teeth.
But there was one thing that baffled all of the doctors—the mold. Just straight-up mossy. MOLD. Originally, we thought she had a napkin in her mouth or was eating toilet paper...nope, it was just mold. I had to leave the room because I kept throwing up. This lady's scent was more unpleasant than that of a rotting item. Thank God for nurses because those people handled the situation like champs ...They cut her hair, patched her up, and cleaned her mouth. She looked like a new person by the time they were through with her.
11. A Chilling Experience
There was this 40-year-old woman who was paralyzed from the chest down due to a car accident years prior. She was currently on a ventilator through a trach and had a permanent feeding tube inserted in her stomach. The moment I saw her, I had a hard time keeping it together—she had a bleed in her stomach that was seeping out through the tube and she kept pulling out her trach in an effort to end it all.
They ended up having to sedate her pretty heavily to keep her from repeatedly pulling the tube out. Seeing her pulling the tube loose and actively begin to suffocate with a totally blank look in her eyes was chilling.
12. A Frightful Car Wreck
I was in the hospital after a car wreck many years ago. It was a pretty bad one—the first few days, I wasn't expected to live. They later decided that I might make it, so they attempted to save my leg and put my face back together. They came in to transfer me to surgery and somehow, the absolute worst thing that could have happened, happened—they dropped me between the bed and gurney.
They scraped me up and took me down in the elevator to surgery. As we were leaving the elevator, they started pushing the gurney and left the stand with my catheter bag in the elevator! Luckily, someone had just got in the elevator and yelled HEY!!! I was hyperventilating badly after all this when I got into surgery, so they put me out right away.
The doctor mentioned it later when he came in to talk to me. I told him about getting dropped and he said that I must have imagined it as they would have never let that happen. The patient in the next bed called BS and told him all about it. He stormed out and I think a couple of people may have gotten fired.
13. Luckily That Tooth Was Bad Too
Dentist here. I was performing a simple extraction and preparing for the case when I didn't realize that I had the X-ray flipped the wrong way the whole time. I was viewing the film backward and pulled out the wrong tooth. When I realized my mistake I started freaking out, only to find out that by some dumb luck, the tooth I extracted had to go as well.
For the record, this happened in dental school, so safe to say it was a learning experience. It was my first and very last time to make that mistake...And yes, we are doctors.
14. A Clinical Rotation Turned Worse
I was in my second clinical rotation as a nursing student. The patient I was assigned to was a grumpy old guy who was 79. He had a good sense of humor, but you had to tread carefully around him. He had chronic pain and was diagnosed with colon cancer. His son would visit in the mornings just in time to talk to the doctors doing their morning rounds.
I was helping him get ready for breakfast when the doctor walked in. This was pretty typical, but he was anxious to see the doctor today as he just had a bunch of tests done and was hoping to hear some results so he could be discharged to go home. Usually, I would just finish up whatever I was doing and then leave so that the patient and doctor could talk privately.
That morning, his son was not able to make it in and my patient asked if I could stay in the room with him to hear everything. I said sure, no problem, as long as the doctor was okay with it as well (some doctors don’t like dealing with students). The doctor just got right to the point. Cancer had spread and there was nothing more they could do.
The palliative team would be coming to meet with him this afternoon to discuss where he could be transferred to during his final days. My patient thought the doctor was joking and started to laugh, and then he just sat there with a completely blank look. As a student, I was NOT prepared to know how to comfort someone in that situation as it was something I didn’t have experience with. I felt awful because 10 minutes before he got this news, he was telling me he couldn’t wait to see his cat once he got home. For the next week, he did not get out of bed, refused to eat and take medication or shower. And then I came in one day and he was transferred out.
15. Don’t Burn Yourself Out
My parents are nurses. They knew a doc who'd been on a 36-hour shift. The patient came in with a punctured lung (I think) and the doc had to collapse the lung to fix whatever was wrong with it. From exhaustion, he mistakenly collapsed the wrong lung, leading to the patient's unfortunate demise. That doctor ended up taking his own life not long after being dismissed.
16. 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.
17. Right Place, Right Time
I'm a nurse, and this happened in the car park of the hospital where I work. A staff member got out of his car only for it to start rolling back. He reached in to pull the hand-brake. From where I was sitting, everything looked fine, but a few minutes later a lady walked by and starts screaming. Turns out he had been pinned half inside his car. He was unconscious and he wasn't breathing.
A bunch of us managed to push his car back enough for people to pull him out. Luckily all this happened at a hospital so the crash team had already been called. They did CPR. He lived.
18. The Cleaner’s Empathy
I cleaned the rooms of the ER in my local hospital as a summer job. This woman in her 40s was dying from cancer and she had a room in the ER for a couple of days to wait for another room in a different service. She looked fine for someone who was dying—I mean, she was bald and looked ill, but she was still nice and lovely to be around; cheerful even.
One time, I was cleaning the corridor when I heard cries from her room. I opened the door and my jaw dropped—there she was on the floor, just laying there. She fell from her bed after trying to walk to the bathroom. I helped her to the bathroom as she was crying in fear because she realized she could not walk anymore and that her end was coming. She broke my heart. It was the first time I realized where I was really working.
19. Don’t Go Empty-Handed
When I was a new nurse working in the ICU in a large teaching hospital, I came into work one morning to a patient who was admitted that night, sedated, intubated, and all. Long story short, by the end of the same shift his breathing tube was out and he was completely alert and oriented, so he was able to tell us what was going on.
He was an end-stage renal patient, meaning his kidneys didn't work and he needed dialysis, and he was only in his late 30s. He said he never made urine anymore and didn't need his catheter so he wanted it out because it was hurting. So I went to remove the catheter as I’d done about a thousand times on other patients. It was the start of a nightmare.
As soon as the catheter left, blood started pouring out of his you-know-what in a heavy stream. Turns out, the nurse who placed it on admission hadn't advanced it far enough, since there was no urine production to indicate correct placement. This had caused a massive amount of trauma. It would not stop bleeding. I had to hold this man's nether region "shut" to put pressure on it while my co-worker paged the resident.
The doctor came in, looked at me with pity, and told me to just keep holding this 30-something-year-old man's junk in my hands to staunch the blood flow until urology could get there to assess. It just kept gushing blood every time I eased up to check. For over an hour total, I held it and tried to make polite conversation until the urologist arrived.
20. Food Trays And Hospital Rooms
I worked at the hospital in high school. I delivered food trays to hospital rooms, so it was a very easy job. We were encouraged to have brief conversations with the patients to try and cheer them up a bit. The hardest one to deal with was someone I never expected to see in the hospital—our high school principal. Our principal dealt with 2,700 students but was beloved by all. Not often you find a person like that.
Well, one day she got really sick and had to go to the hospital. I walked into her room and saw her there. Somehow, she remembered my name although I had only met her twice. I saw her every day I worked and saw her declining for months. All that time, people in school had spread rumors that she was getting better. Apparently, somebody’s mom saw her shopping, so people thought she was coming back next week. I couldn't say anything obviously, but it was very hard to deal with watching so many people have hope and knowing in my mind that it truly wasn't looking good. She passed about three months after being admitted to the hospital. The school was devastated.
21. Horror Of The Third Degree
In the burn and trauma unit: a guy had third-degree burns on 80% of his body. He had very little skin left, I could actually see part of his tibia and his fingertips were necrotic...he was heavily medicated, but still, I can’t even fathom the pain. I don’t know if he made it because he was quite septic the last time I was there. I now work in the NICU.
Most of the babies end up doing pretty well and going home eventually, but some aren’t so lucky. I could go on about the medical stuff, but really the worst is when their parents don't care about them. Some parents live far away and have other kids to take care of, so it’s understandable if they aren’t there every day.
But then there are others who never call or visit, and no one can track them down, so the kid ends up being discharged to foster care. It just burns deep in my soul sometimes. One day, I might hand a perfectly nice couple their baby to hold one last time while we withdraw life support, and the next day I’ll be trying to soothe a baby withdrawing from the substances his MIA mom took. Despite the challenges, I still love my job, though.
22. Right Down To The Bone
I’m not quite a surgeon but I received some medical training. I was bisecting someone's leg and I hadn’t realized that the person had a metal rod through their femur. I’m not a construction worker, so I don’t know why I did what I did...but surgeons must press on. So, I did something that no one in the OR could have predicted. They all just stared at me with their jaws to the floor. I proceeded to cut through the bone with a metal saw. Sparks were flying everywhere and before long, my blade broke.
Luckily, I was standing off to the side instead of directly behind the blade as it flew backward and hit the wall. The clothes the person had been wearing were lying underneath the body and caught a spark. My “Oh, God, what have I done?” moment only lasted a second. I was able to douse the person with the water hose before a large fire could start.
Fortunately, the person I was operating on was deceased…or I would have been in big trouble.
I have witnessed numerous fatalities, but the most distressing one, without a doubt, was a man who was actively bleeding from his esophagus as a result of prolonged substance misuse. This was many years ago and there are better ways to treat it now, but at the time, the treatment for this kind of hemorrhaging was putting an inflatable tube down the throat into the stomach.
It was attached to some kind of helmet that you had to put on the patient afterward, which was tough. You would inflate the tube to stop the bleeding but also aspirate the blood out of the stomach with a huge syringe. Just putting it in was a nightmare—the patient was so scared and there was blood everywhere...he was vomiting so much blood he couldn’t talk.
This was in the ER. We got IVs in him and started transfusions pouring into him as fast as they'd go. We worked on him for a long, long time, but he didn't make it. What I remember is how hard he fought, how scared he was, and how much blood there was. And this was before rubber gloves were worn for everything. I just threw out my uniform. Everyone's shoes were soaked. I never saw anything like it, before or since.
Don't become involved with drinking to excess. Don't get cirrhosis or esophageal varices. It's a bad way to go.
24. Close But Not Quite
When I was in med school, there was an "Oh God" moment for everyone. They were prepping a patient for surgery and put him under and the nurse said "Ok, he's out" before they were about to start slicing him open. The patient just had enough strength to move his head from side to side and said "No, I'm not out yet." Everyone laughed it off, but if the patient didn't do that, it could have ended badly.
25. A Nurse’s Empathy
I work in an OR and had a teenage patient who weighed was a clinical psychotic. He was known to be violent on waking up from anesthesia, so we were prepared with four burly guys surrounding the OR table at the end of the case. When he opened his eyes, they got really wide, and then...He started crying.
Not just whimpering, but full-on lip quivering and tears. It broke my heart. So, As I was standing near the head of the table, I leaned down (probably not the smartest thing) and asked him, "Dude, what do you need?" to which he responded through those shudders you get when you cry-talk, "I JUST WANT A HUUUUUUUG!" I reached down, gave him a big bear hug, and he quieted right down and relaxed. It got a bunch of giddy responses from all the nurses in the room too.
26. Baby Powerball
A co-worker's son was born with hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy. Basically, the valve controlling blood flow to and from his mother while in utero failed, and he was born with 30% of the blood volume you're supposed to have. The EEG results revealed significant irregularities—though the young boy hadn't yet reached a critical state of brain inactivity, it was conveyed clearly to my colleague and his wife that their son would never be able to survive without the support of a ventilator and the probability of him ever regaining consciousness was extremely low.
The hospital persisted with treatment, though, and brought in a trauma team who worked on him for nearly a week, before three more weeks in the NICU trying to control the seizures and prop up his organ function. Fast forward to yesterday, when the little dude made an appearance at a house party we threw. He's almost two and is neuro-typical.
He walked up our treacherous back staircase by himself and was talking up a storm in a language no one knows. He was a big fan of our cat. His entire trauma team came to his first birthday party, because none of them would believe it without seeing it. His entire brain essentially rejuvenated and reconnected itself after he was at the brink of severe brain damage.
It's the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen. Guy basically won the Powerball a couple of times in the first two weeks of his life.
27. Lightening The Mood
The nurse that worked in the hospital said that this is one of the funniest things she’s seen. I had brain surgery and a huge wound (about 10 inches) across my skull. It wasn’t stitched, it was stapled. I hadn’t had a dump for about three days after the surgery and the nurses gave me some tablets to soften my stool up. They often coaxed me out of bed to try and go to the bathroom.
I sat there and strained and strained, but nothing. Then, slowly but surely, it inched its way out; but the problem was it was like concrete. After straining for so long, my worst fear happened—I fainted and fell forwards onto the bathroom floor. The nurses came in and found me face down and a big pile of waste protruding from me that was sticking out of me like the Tower of Pisa.
I now know that anesthetic can back you up a bit! The nurse put a glove on and literally pulled the iron bog out of my backside before they cleaned me up. She said it was one of the most satisfying things she has done and even better than picking at her boyfriend’s blackheads. Legend.
28. Ups and Downs
In the ER, we give an antibiotic called Rocephin to patients with UTIs. The only complication I’ve ever seen from it is vomiting if it’s pushed too fast. I had a patient transferred from our urgent care side who had walked in fairly healthy, but was complaining of UTI symptoms. They had tested his urine, diagnosed him with a UTI, given him Rocephin, and were planning on discharging him with oral antibiotics.
We still don’t know completely what happened, but this is our best guess. We think he had a gram-negative infection that reacted to the Rocephin by “lysing". The bacteria essentially exploded and raced through his body, putting him into almost instant septic shock. He had to be intubated and put on blood pressure medications to keep his BP high enough to perfuse his organs.
His temperature skyrocketed A central line was placed because we kept running out of IVs to give medications. He was transferred to an ICU. I have never before visited a patient of mine in the ICU but because of his drastic decline, I had to see him and know how he was doing. I cleared it with the ICU charge and visited him two days later.
He was extubated and walking almost on his own. One of the fastest declines and recoveries I’ve ever seen.
29. Instability In The ICU
I'd been a nurse for a few years and thought I was pretty awesome. A patient in the ICU was unstable with a heart problem, but she was pretty stable when my shift started because she had already been put on meds. On her chart, it said she was a DNR with heart failure. The family had been there for days: the husband, her adult sons, and her daughter-in-law. They were the nicest folks. They were contemplating going home for a few hours to shower, eat, and rest.
I told them her heart rhythm looked good, so they could go home and get some rest if they wanted. I took their cell phone numbers and told them if anything changed I would call right away. Well, that didn't turn out as well as I thought. They traveled at least an hour through a zone with no signals because as soon as they walked out the door, I was struggling to sustain her life. Her heart was all over the place.
Her blood pressure kept dropping and dropping. I got them on the phone an hour later and told them to come back. I spent two hours desperately trying to keep her alive, and they ran back through the door five minutes after she was gone. I couldn't stop crying. I felt so bad. There was no professional boundary there at all. We all knew a young stupid nurse took their last moments with their mother.
The mom passed alone, with a few scattered staff doing what they could, but without her family by her side. That family comforted me more than I comforted them. I was beside myself. They told me I did my best, and it was OK. The grace and kindness they showed me were incredible and it affects the way I treat every family now.
30. Medical Mystery
My father is an anesthetist. I remember his one in a million (way more rare actually) thing happened when I was 13. During pre-op, the patient's consultation showed no flags for anything major but then she had this horrible reaction to the medication. Her own skin started to split and peel away from her body in large chunks. Her own body was rejecting her skin.
The woman spent quite some time recovering. There was an investigation into the whole thing, but everything was done by the book and there was no reason for this to happen. The pharmaceutical company was contacted and they had never heard or seen about this happening with any of their medications. Turns out it was an allergic reaction but it was so rare that no one had seen it even the drug had been used for decades all over the world. My father ended up writing a paper on it.
26. Things Get Messy
I had a patient who was an escaped slave. It was a younger individual in their 30s who was dragged into their situation through an addiction. She was sick, but she ended up finding a way out somehow and landed herself in a local psych ward. Due to her physical health, she was transported to the hospital where she succumbed not long afterward (I can't recall the precise cause).
As I was helping to clean up the patient for family viewing, I saw something incredibly peculiar—her certain body parts were stretched to a point I've never actually seen before or after. It was awful, especially with this person being so young. She was swollen all over and bruised before they even passed. When the family showed up they just talked over their body like it was a Sunday dinner. No tears or anything. The whole thing was a mess.
31. Most Have It Lucky
I’m a children’s nurse, and I once worked on a ward that specializes in brain and spinal tumors in children, amongst other specialties. The worst thing I can think of was a little boy; I think he was three or four years old. He’d been in a different hospital the two weeks prior with a weakness to his legs that was sweeping up his body, eventually causing incontinence.
The other hospital hadn’t scanned him, which was the first thing we did, and we found out a shocking underlying condition—his brain and spine were covered in tumors. There was literally nothing we could do. He had weeks if not days left. On my shift, I was trying to push for him to get moved to the ICU.
He was barely conscious and there were a few times whilst I was waiting for the medical team I actually thought he’d passed in front of me. Being with his poor parents as they went through this, watching their typical, previously healthy child fade away with no information, was the worst. The mom was asking, "Will he live? Please save my baby." It was truly awful.
32. Abdominal Toughness
In residency, I took care of a young boy with E. coli 0157:H7. No one knew where he got it and it wasn't part of a bigger outbreak. I'll never forget the screams of pain from the severe abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea, but then I'd go in the room to check on him and when I asked him how he was, he'd just say in a weak little voice "I'm okay" even when doubled over. Such a tough kid.
There's no treatment besides supportive treatments (fluids, pain relief) because antibiotics make renal failure more likely. Unfortunately, he did go into renal failure anyway and he passed before dialysis could be started. In medical school, I took care of a middle-aged woman with advanced uterine cancer. She was extremely obese (>400 lbs) so it was too difficult to do her hysterectomy without first doing a panniculectomy (basically removing her pannus, which is excess abdominal fat). It was risky, but we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
This involved an incision in a circle around her entire abdomen, which is extremely painful during the healing process since the whole abdomen is involved. Because she was bed-ridden, she developed terrible pressure ulcers in her back, a couple of which ulcerated all the way to her bone. She had a ton of fat on her back too, so these ulcers were deep—I could get my whole arm up to the elbow inside of them when changing her dressings. She'd scream and shed tears anytime we moved her. I don't remember anyone ever coming to visit her and I'm pretty sure she eventually passed alone.
33. Just Breathe
I was working as an EMT when we had to take a patient back home and set him up in an at-home hospital bed. Right as we get in the door, we hear the answering machine: "This is Dr. (whatever his last name is), I just looked at his stat CT and it shows he has a collapsed lung on his left side and a partially collapsed lung on his right. He needs to return to the hospital as soon as possible!"
I pick up the phone because his wife still hadn't made a move towards the phone and I answer introducing myself as "Hi this is the EMT with EMS. We just dropped him off from his appointment, and we were about to leave until I heard this message." I tell my partner to get us to the hospital in a speedy manor, but don't hit the lights and sirens UNLESS I tell him otherwise.
What people don't realize is when we hit those sirens, the patients in the back start to get more anxious, they breathe faster and in his case it may have exacerbated the problem. In the end, we got him there and he was treated. He's doing well and is stable, but man, I had never experienced anything quite like that night.
34. Even Limbs Can Rot
A friend’s stepdad was training to be a nurse so he got all the gross stuff that came in because of being a newbie. A homeless man came in complaining of stomach pains. When he told the guy to undress, he didn't want to take off his jeans. When asked about it, he said, "I can't take them off, my leg will fall off." Sure enough his leg was rotting and had maggots crawling in and out of it.
35. Proof of Miracles
My brother sustained a severe brain injury during a terrible car accident. His entire face was crushed and crumbled beneath his skin. His skull fractured in many places and he bled profusely. After he was stabilized enough for emergency surgery, which was already a miracle in itself, he had his entire face reconstructed, as well as metal plates placed throughout his skull. He registered the worst possible score on a scale that measures brain functionality after a severe brain injury.
At first, he couldn’t speak, and, after many weeks, he finally began speaking in word salad. Nonsense like, “triangle water". He couldn't identify the names of his family or his girlfriend. We almost lost him a few times. It was a rollercoaster. I would hold his hand and sing Beach Boys songs from our childhood while he was in an induced coma, and I could physically see the effect it would have on stabilizing him. That was like a miracle to me.
Flash forward a few years, he recovered to the point that he graduated with his master’s degree in IO Psychology. He can walk, talk, laugh, read, study and has recovered so much that most people will never know about the TBI he had a decade ago. When new doctors see his chart for the first time, they all say the same thing: that they have never, in their many years of experience, seen a patient with such grave injuries make such a significant recovery.
36. A Slip Of The Hand
I was the patient, and it was a kidney biopsy. I was pretty out of it, but still awake so they could talk to me, laying on my stomach as my kidney doctor worked behind me. He warned me, “You’re going to hear a click and it will feel like Mike Tyson punched you in the back". “Ooookayy?” I hear, click, feel the punch, then hear, “Oh, GOD. Get on the phone now".
A nurse came up near my face to calm me, and maybe keep an eye on me. I don’t really remember everything. Apparently, the doctor had nicked a blood vessel, and I was bleeding internally at an alarming rate. I got to spend the night in the hospital and peed what seemed like pure blood for about 24 hours. Never try to fit your kidney biopsy in on a Friday before the doctor leaves for vacation.
37. The Nursing Home Nightmare
This was the worst part of working in the nursing home. I had one lady named Max, and man was she just the sweetest...but her mind was going. She lived there with her husband and he passed first. Max was 96 and she was always asking where he was. She was happiest to be told that he was bringing flowers or candies or something and he’d see her soon.
We would sneak those items into her room at her meal times so she would think he came. She was happy and it was working well...until she got a new CNA, Heather. Heather deserves to die in a fiery agonizing pit. She got mad that Max asked about her husband, so Heather told Max that her husband passed 10 years ago and was never coming back.
She essentially told her to "get over it" and called her an "overgrown toddler". The sound that came out of max will haunt me for the rest of my life. Max was strangely lucid afterward. Even when she was out of it, she was sullen and depressed and would say she didn't understand why. After that day, Max stopped eating. Stopped drinking. Stopped playing Dominos.
She stopped walking around the halls. She never left her room to socialize. She stopped asking about her husband. She got very sickly and was declining fast. It was at that stage in her progress that I left that home. I filed a formal complaint against Heather and left for other reasons. I'm uncertain if Max ever emerged, or if she slowly dwindled away in there. It was the most heartbreaking thing I've ever seen.
38. The Zen Master
I’m a thoracic surgeon. I was still a young intern when this happened. I was young enough that the senior surgeon wouldn't let me perform the whole surgery (under his supervision, of course), but old enough that he allowed me to do parts of the procedure. He might have overestimated my abilities at the time, honestly.
In my mind, I was doing a pretty decent job of dissecting a branch of the right pulmonary artery, freeing it from the cancerous nodes around it. Then, suddenly, dark blood started pulsing out of it. It was like the tide coming in, only way quicker—and way redder. My brain froze and I could only think, "Oh shoot,” but in far less family-friendly language. I then realized the grave error I had just made.
I had perforated the pulmonary artery—a very fragile organ that carries two and a half liters of blood every minute. Thank goodness my senior surgeon was the Zen Master he always is. He put his finger on the breach which stopped the bleeding immediately, then looked at me and just winked as if to say, “Well, you're in trouble now, aren't you?”
He stitched the pulmonary artery up himself and finished the procedure as if nothing had happened.
39. Epinephrine Overdrive
Recently, we coded a baby eight times in one night. We should have let go after the first code, but unfortunately, the epinephrine kicked in...after 40 minutes of CPR. Really, this was an attack on the baby. The parents were unrealistic about the baby's chances of survival, and they wanted everything done to try and save it. At some point, the attending on the case finally told the parents that we could do this all night, but in the end, there was nothing that could be done for the infant's survival.
40. Odd Anatomy
I’m a biomedical scientist, and my officemate was a medical doctor working on his PhD. He once did an appendectomy and cut into this person’s abdomen—only to find no appendix. He started freaking out. The support nurses in the room, however, started snickering at him because they knew right away what the problem really was.
Occasionally, they see someone with a rare genetic disorder where all their left-right asymmetries are reversed. This patient’s appendix was on the other side.
41. Real-Life Zombie
In 2009 I worked as a transport EMT. Essentially, my partner and I transported people out of hospitals to specialty care facilities (mostly nursing homes). However, one day in early April we got a call to transport a young kid, 16 maybe 17, to a more advanced hospital. I can't remember NYU or LIJ or something like that.
Just another day on the job...or so I thought. We arrived at the young man sitting on the bed, feet on the floor, and the mother crying by his side. The nurse informed us he was going to the advanced care hospital for monitoring and more tests. During spring break, this kid and four of his friends went to the Dominican republic unsupervised, and when they returned, the mother had to physically get the kid off the plane as his brain was literally fried.
His friends said nothing happened and he "was normal the whole time" and they promised they "didn't do substances." Sure enough, he tested positive for nothing, and the hospital suspected, by way of MRI and EEG, it was most likely mushrooms The crazy part that made it one of the things that stick with me, is this kid had almost no executive functions.
And the MRI showed big black spots on his brain. He was incontinent, he couldn't talk, and he couldn't eat anything...BUT he would follow every command he was given with a shuffling stumble. He walked to the stretcher and sat down on command. He waved when he was told to wave bye to his mom, and he even blinked when the nurse told him to. He was a real-life zombie, almost like he was trapped in his own mind, or parts of it were missing. Seeing the mother so sad and having no idea what happened was the most tragic part of the whole ordeal.
42. Rare survivor
A friend was living in South America 15 years ago. He had a cut on his leg and went swimming in some relatively clean water that had been sitting for a few weeks (it was a small tiled pool filled with drinking water). Enter flesh-eating bacteria on his scrotum. He was the second known case and the doctors had no idea how to treat him.
They ended up cutting his scrotum open and scraping the infected cells off, leaving the wound open. Multiple times a day, nurses would clean the wound and pour sugar on it. Not too sure why, but it worked. He ended up living, and pictures of his testicles are now floating around in medical journals as he was at the time the only survivor of this rare bacteria.
43. Esophageal Cancer At 24
Seeing a 24-year-old (the same age as me at the time) come in with difficulty swallowing, then being told he had end-stage esophageal cancer and only weeks to live, whilst his wife was about to give birth, was eye-opening, to say the least. I was there when he was told, and to this day I still don’t know how I turned up for work the next day.
Having worked there for five years already, I’d never experienced anything so awful. He managed a few months, met his son, then departed from this life at home. It's something that will stick with me forever I think.
44. Bad Point
I had a guy come into my clinic one day with a complaint of finger swelling. His finger got swollen and painful about a week prior. It just got worse and worse, and about three days before coming, a hole opened up in the tip of his finger. The day of the visit, he said, “By the way, I pulled something out of the hole." The second he said it, my stomach dropped.
“I did it yesterday with a pair of tweezers, no idea what it is". I asked him if he took a picture or had it, and he produced a tissue from his shirt pocket. It was his distal phalanx, the last bone in the finger. The bone had gotten infected, did its thing, and his body basically tried to eject what was now a hot foreign body.
The guy pulled his fingertip out of his fingertip. A better magic trick, I have not since seen.
46. It’s Getting A Little Hard To Breathe
I’m a nurse. In this medical nightmare, the doctor was an anesthetist. The patient had her surgery (I can't remember for what) and it all went well. She was awake and in recovery, but we still needed to give her medication through her IV line. As is standard practice, we flushed the line with ten milliliters of saline. Just as soon as we did that, the patient had a reaction that made our hearts stop beating. Almost immediately, she stopped breathing and we had no idea why.
We called the code and the anesthetist came running. He actually said, “Oh God!” when he realized what had happened. During the surgery, the anesthetist had given the patient rocuronium through that same IV line and he hadn't cleared the line afterward. So, when we flushed the line, the patient got a dose of rocuronium that had been sitting in the line.
In case you’re wondering, rocuronium is a muscle relaxant. It’s used to inhibit the respiratory muscles to allow for intubation and ventilation while under general anesthetic. In layman’s terms, it paralyzes the breathing muscles so you can't take a breath no matter how hard you try. But that's not even the scariest part. You'd think it puts you to sleep, but it does quite the opposite.
This patient was wide awake but totally unable to breathe throughout the whole ordeal. Luckily, the anesthetist worked out quickly what had happened and easily reversed it. The patient was physically fine but understandably traumatized.
47. Crossing The Rainbow Bridge Together
Two of them, both senior citizens. They both haunt me, years later, because I don't know what happened to either of them. The first came in as a homeless woman in the winter. She was fine medically but homeless because her husband passed, and her demonic children took the family home out from under her, leaving her on the street. Somehow, she ended up in my city.
They put her on a psych hold, just so she had somewhere to sleep while they figured out where she could go. She was in her 80s. Her entire life was in a grocery bag. The other was transferred to our ER after being medically cleared elsewhere (because ours has a psych ER, and the other main hospital in the area does not).
She was also in her 80s, I believe. She was the sole caretaker of her very ill husband and she reached a point where she felt it was impossible. Just everything. Life. She was so tired. Ultimately, she medicated her husband and herself so that they could die together. He passed. She lived. The doctors sent her for a psych eval and I assume there was a discussion about the law as well. I wish I had remembered her name, just so I could try to find the outcome.
48. When Nature Calls
This happened to me when I was in training to be a cardiologist. This disaster occurred during just my second or third heart procedure. Everything was going well until, all of a sudden, my senior doctor ran out of the room. He just ripped off his surgical gown and yelled "Oh, no!" and left. This surgeon had just abandoned me, a student, to complete his surgery. Little did I know I was in for the worst panic of my life.
I had just positioned these catheters with wires into the sleeping patient's heart. They were just hanging out, pulsating to his heartbeat. I had never made it to this point in the procedure before and I started wondering where to take it from there. I hadn’t even learned how to take the catheters out safely. I was looking at the vitals and monitors like, “Oh no, what do I do now?”
They paged my senior cardiology fellow in training but he was taking a nap and not returning any of my pages or calls. There were no other doctors around. Finally, thank God, my tech assistant who had done these procedures before gave me a nudge to flush the catheters out in order to prevent blood clots. After a few minutes, I had properly removed the catheters and wires.
It appears that the doctor had contracted a foodborne illness and urgently needed to use the restroom.
49. The Transportation Tragedy
I don't work for a hospital exactly, I do medical transports between hospitals. I had a patient that was suicidal and took, among other things, half a bottle of Tylenol. She went to sleep expecting she would never wake up, but when she did, she changed her mind and called the authorities. She was rushed to the hospital and treated. I encountered her several months later—and her situation was heartbreaking.
Thanks to Tylenol, her liver was failing. She was jaundiced a lot and in constant abdominal pain. I was taking them to another hospital for a last-ditch liver consult. One of the nurses informed me that the patient was on the transplant list, but due to her history of self-harm episodes, she was superseded by anyone without such a history. Essentially, she had no real chance of getting one. It was sad to see someone slowly passing because of one decision they made and almost immediately regretted. They were in their 40s if I recall, so still would have had plenty of time otherwise.
50. A Pain In The Neck
I did college gymnastics. In my senior year, I had an accident in practice and landed on my neck. I went to the hospital and got X-rays, but the doctors told me that I was perfectly fine. Nothing could be further from the truth. I walked around in utter pain for the longest time.
Weeks later, still in pain, I went to another doctor and got a new set of images. Guess what? My neck was broken in three places and was majorly dislocated. I had a multi-level fusion surgery days later—but the story doesn’t end there. I found out my initial X-rays the first time around got swapped with someone else’s in the ER and I was originally diagnosed based on someone else’s images.
This was revealed long after my surgery when I went to get my records for insurance purposes. My files had someone else’s medical records and images in them. Because of the time I spent walking around with my neck injury, I had to have a posterior surgery instead of an anterior surgery, which is way more invasive. It gives me major issues to this day.
51. A Heartbreaking Tragedy
A four-month-old passed from pneumonia. The mother was out of town for the week for a bachelorette party, so the dad was taking care of the baby. The only thing is, he really shouldn't have been the one looking after it—he had a pretty bad cough, which should have been a red flag. He went to check on her around 3 am to find her blue and not breathing. By the time she arrived in the ED, it was too late. Hearing the mother scream over the phone after being informed of her infant's untimely demise still gives me chills.
Another one — I saw the same guy come in four times in four months due to excessive substance consumption. Every time, his parents would pay for him to go to rehab, and four times he relapsed and overdosed within a week of sobriety. The fourth time, his parents didn’t find him in time, and it was too late. They managed to resuscitate him, but he had been unconscious for so long that he suffered irreversible brain damage. Seeing his parents, who gave him every opportunity to help himself, have to make the decision to pull him off life support was heartbreaking.
52. Miracle Mistake
It all started with a sudden severe pain in my abdomen. I had to crawl to my front door to yell for help. A neighbor rushed to take me to the hospital. I was given x-rays because the doctor suspected a burst appendix but instead, they found an ovarian cyst the size of a softball. The doctor wanted to consult the gynecologist but she was 30 minutes away, so they emailed her the x-rays.
She told the doctor that everything looked okay, but there was a picture missing. The technician had forgotten to take a picture of the ovary's blood flow. The new x-ray showed an unknown fluid which the gynecologist thought was the leaking cyst. When she came to the hospital, she said my body would absorb the fluid, and I'd be fine.
I asked about the worst-case scenario. She said, "if the fluid isn't cyst fluid, you might be hemorrhaging. If you go home and don't come back in time, you will die. But that's only the case if you feel shaky, weak, and nauseous." I told her that I'd felt that way in the waiting room. Her eyes got wide and she said, "We're going to do a laparoscopy."
When I woke up I was in intensive care. Apparently, the moment the camera entered my abdomen, the cyst burst—except it wasn't just the cyst. It was the whole ovary. I had been hemorrhaging all along. The following morning, the gynecologist stepped into my room and the initial remark she made was, if I hadn't been on the operating table when the ovary burst, my survival would have been certainly impossible.
53. Amputation From Flesh-Eating Bacteria
A woman got flesh-eating bacteria on her C-section wound. All of her limbs had to be amputated and her kidneys failed. Our staff rarely get upset, but our nurses would cry after caring for her since it was so heartbreaking.
54. Ice Packs At 106
I had an experience with a patient with a blood born yeast infection. His temperature stayed above 106, even when covered in ice packs, and this pretty much fried his brain...but it got even worse than that. His tiny blood vessels started to clog, so he went blind and we also had to cut off his toes, fingers, and limbs. By the time he passed, he was a blind torso vegetable.
55. Arm, Meet Hammer
I broke my wrist once. I had to undergo surgery to have the broken bone adjusted so it would grow to be a nice and functioning bone again. It appeared to be an easy and uncomplicated procedure, but then two hours later, I woke up with a cast around my arm, which they never told me I would need after the surgery. The doctor assured me everything went fine, but a couple of weeks later, I returned to him to have the cast removed...
As soon as he took it off, my blood ran cold. The surgeon had a confused look on his face and I could see him with that “Oh God” look. He told me perhaps the surgery didn't go exactly as planned. He hadn’t placed the two parts of the bone in a straight-line during surgery, so after a couple of weeks in a cast, my arm had healed in a funny and crooked way.
In the end, he had to rebreak my arm and put it in a bit more of a straight position. A few weeks and a wicked-looking scar later, everything was okay again!
56. 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.
57. Never Before Seen
ER nurse here. One of my veteran docs, who is a former Army doc, and I were caring for a patient found face down in, and I'm quoting the paramedics, "thick, nasty goop" outside his home. Medics intubated on scene and when he arrived we found he was having signs and symptoms of increased intracranial pressure (ICP from here out).
Neurosurgery came down and walked with us to CT scan, looked at the images, and had me run back to prep a crash room for an emergent ventriculostomy. The procedure went textbook but we still couldn't get his ICP under control. As we're getting ready to get him into the ICU I attempted to clean him up and get some of his airway cleared of the aforementioned goop.
My suction device suddenly stopped working. When I examined it, I saw a pair of maggots. I yelled for the ER doc. Later on, he confided in me, "I've witnessed horrific scenes. I've encountered battle-inflicted wounds." I tell you that to give you context for my next statement. The tunnel wound in our maggot-in-the-mouth patient was full of flies and maggots.
The tunnel went all the way to his brain through one of his sinuses. I've never, ever, seen stuff like that."
58. From Normal To Aggressive
I wouldn't say this is the worst, but the story still makes me upset. A young lady who recently completed chemotherapy for her cancer diagnosis presented with behavioral changes. She would scratch the staff and pull out her IV lines. At one point, it got so bad that we had to restrain her. Whenever we gave her an antipsychotic, she calmed down and became lucid; but when it wore off, she'd get very aggressive. She's still in the hospital, but it's very sad because she's so young and was normal before the chemo.
59. Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls
I had a hysterectomy a week ago, and I begged the nurse for four hours while in recovery to please take the catheter out because it was painful and I felt like I had to pee. She kept telling me it was a normal catheter sensation, and I know that that's at least part of what was going on, but it felt like my bladder was going to burst. I just didn’t know how bad it would get.
About 10 minutes after she obviously begrudgingly took it out, I paged another nurse to help me go to the bathroom. She was in the middle of telling me it might take 20 minutes or multiple trips to pee because it's usually just sensation from the catheter making you think you have to pee—when I unleashed an absolute waterfall of urine.
I don't know if it was clogged, not put in right, or if I'm just weird and somehow my body wasn't going to relax enough to let me urinate through the catheter. I really wished she would have pulled it without making me wait four hours.
60. Point Blank
He had a point-blank wound to the face. Not the slug-type, but the pellets-type. The guy was clearly closer to life's end than living, but he clung onto existence with all his might. He made a HORRIFIC “snorting” sound when breathing. He was airlifted to a bigger city where they could actually do something about it. Being totally honest, I hope he passed in peace. I never knew what happened to him after the helicopter took off.
61. A Fatal Mistake
We had a patient that needed a central line. For those not in the medical field, this is where they insert basically a large IV into the jugular (a much larger vein than those in your arms). We only do this for critically ill patients who need specific medications for blood pressure. The resident performing this procedure was attempting to place the line, and instead of inserting the line in the jugular, he placed it into the aorta
The aorta is the huge artery that pumps blood away from your heart. This is a potentially fatal mistake. The patient could have passed. I still don't know what happened to her, but she was also taking blood thinners, meaning that her ability to clot (and heal) from such a procedure was severely compromised. Everyone makes mistakes, but that was a bad one.
62. A Generous Blood Donation
I was working in the ER one night when this huge dude, maybe 300 to 350 pounds, came in from a car accident with the paramedics giving him CPR. We quickly decided that he would have to go to the OR as he eventually flatlined. I was new and my knowledge was pretty limited at the time, but I knew they were going to have to massage the guy's heart.
I was pretty relieved since we had all been taking turns pumping this big man's blood for him. Shortly after he left, I was talking to some of the medics and doctors and they said that it would be a great experience for me to watch the procedure in the OR. So, I scrubbed up really quick and went in to watch in the back.
When I got to the OR, they were just about to start cutting the guy open. I watched in excitement as they began cutting through everything. Then, suddenly, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Blood started bursting out of this guy like a pot boiling over. There was more blood than I had ever seen (and hopefully will ever see again). I don't remember anyone saying, "Oh my God," but I remember everyone getting really quiet.
The operating team stepped back as the blood flowed out of him, onto the table, and then falling on the floor. The pool of blood crept across the floor until it got a couple of feet away from me. Most of the operating team were standing in a lake of blood by the time it stopped. The surgeons said that it looked like at least three liters of blood.
It was like something out of a horror scene and I think I was in shock because I felt so weird and out of place afterward. Later on, I found out that upon a closer inspection of the X-rays, the poor (and very large) man's sternum had given way. The going theories were either that his sternum had broken when his chest hit the steering wheel during his accident or from the CPR performed by the paramedics. People don’t realize how dangerous CPR can be.
The bone had splintered and punctured into his major blood vessels so we had just been pumping blood into his pericardium (heart sac). That’s what exploded when the OR team cut him open. There was little we could do to save this man's life. After that episode, the sight of blood never bothered me anymore.
63. The Trampoline Tragedy
A dude in his thirties was playing with his kid on a trampoline when the worst happened. He fell off, broke his neck, got confined to a wheelchair, became a tetraplegic, and had minimal use of his hands. From fitness, independence, career, etc. to complete, permanent disability in one second. Bang. Just, you know, what do you say to that guy? It won’t get better. It’s not like he’s 80 and nearing the end anyway. And it's not even as if he was operating a vehicle while intoxicated or tombstoning or anything of the sort. He was just really, really, really unlucky.
64. One Heck of a DIY
About 20 years ago, a boy hit his head skateboarding. He was initially ok, but then lost consciousness. The ER doctor realized he had a brain bleed, and the pressure had to be released, or the kid would die. Problem was, this all happened in a small country hospital. The ER doctor was not a neurosurgeon, had never done brain surgery, and the kid had to have the surgery RIGHT NOW or he would die.
The hospital was also not equipped for such surgery. The doctor rang a neurosurgeon in Melbourne, put him on the loudspeaker, and knew he had to drill into the skull to relieve the pressure. But there was no equipment...So he got the drill from the maintenance closet. Like, a hardware drill from Bunnings.
Sterilized it, and with the verbal instructions from the neurosurgeon, drilled a hole in the kid's skull to relieve the pressure. He had to do it in exactly the correct spot, and if he went too far, the kid would've succumbed regardless. He succeeded. The kid was taken by helicopter to Melbourne once he was stable enough. I don't know what happened after that, but as far as I know, he survived with no long term complications.
65. Nurse Horror Story
I don't work in a hospital, but my mom does. She worked in long-term care and she said there is so much that goes on in the hospitals. She's had to report several coworkers for overmedicating patients with their heart and seizure meds, to the point of harming the patient. She once learned a patient no longer lived when she came in the next morning—but the reason was far more horrifying than overmedication.
Apparently, the nurses were beating the patients if they did something they didn’t like. It was all captured on the security footage. But the one I personally saw was when my great-grandma had hip replacement surgery—she was having trouble using the bathroom, so they gave her an enema. It still didn’t help. So they gave her another, and another, and another, but all too close together because they weren’t keeping records. It basically caused her bowels to burst.
66. Caught Red-Handed
My husband went in for a routine colonoscopy and as they were prepping him, the anesthetist asks him if he's a ginger. My husband tells him, “Yeah". When he was a kid growing up, he had fire engine red hair, though it's faded to a more strawberry blonde now. The anesthetist laughs and says, “Okay, I gotcha, we'll give you the redhead dosage".
He then winks. Well, my husband thinks it's funny…until he wakes up at the tail end of the procedure and the doctors are just chatting it up. Turns out, it's not a joke and redheads have some type of natural block to anesthesia. The doctor had given him the maximum allowable dosage and he still woke up. It could have gone so much worse.
67. Fit As A Fiddle
I went to see a patient during clinical rounds a few years back when I was a med student. I think it was for dermatology. The guy was just a year older than I was. Remarkably fit, fairly good-looking, and from what little I got to see of him, he was also pretty mild-mannered. Well, so his story was that he loves to play basketball, and that's what he did on that fateful day.
After a quick shower and a wipe down, he came across a disturbing sight—he found blood on his towel. The blood came from his scalp, from some weird scab-like growth. No prior symptoms. He freaked out, then went to a neighborhood dermatologist to get it checked out. The doctor ended up telling him to go to a bigger hospital, which is where I ended up meeting him. He took some tests, and my prof and I went over to the station to check out the EMR. He grilled me a bit on what exams I would have ordered, knowing what I did.
I said I would suggest a PET-CT, and so we checked that out first. For those who don't know, a PET-CT will check the uptake of radioactive glucose that has been injected for the test. The more active metabolism an organ has, the more radioactivity it shows, meaning it shows up black. Cancer has a lot higher metabolism than normal tissue, so it's a pretty neat way to check the entire body for metastasis.
When we loaded this guy's PET-CT, we were both struck momentarily speechless. His whole spine and both hips were fully covered in black. Bones...should not be black. Cancer (which the prof later told me was melanoma, a particularly aggressive type of skin cancer) had spread across his whole body.
The prof gave him about three months to live, at best. The guy was just one year older than I was, and a heck of a lot fitter. It was really eye-opening to see that my young age didn't mean I was immortal or invincible. Since then, I’ve adopted the motto of Memento Mori. I still think about him every once in a while.
68. Stuck Up
I’m an OR RN and got called in for an exploratory laparotomy. Some late staff had gotten the case ready and patient in the room when I arrived. I walked into the room to see the patient’s testicle was bigger than a basketball with two people holding it up to prep it. The guy had a big part of his bowel in his testicle.
His bowel had ruptured due to the pressure. We suctioned poop out of his abdomen for over an hour. He lifted something heavy the week before and felt a pop. He hadn’t urinated in two days because it was so swollen that his thing was not visible. That’s why he finally came in, he couldn’t pee. But it’d grown for a week.
Unfortunately, he didn’t make it. He lived through three abdominal surgeries, but sepsis did him in from the ruptured bowel.
69. A Woman, The ER, And Her Husband
One of my nursing lecturers had a peculiar story. The mother was only a few weeks off giving birth and had suddenly become unconscious. She was immediately rushed to the ER by her husband. Apparently, she and the other nurse on duty were on the mother's bed taking turns giving her CPR as she was being rushed to surgery.
They explained to the father the horrible prognosis: either both of them would die, or only one of them would. This was their first child together, so I can't imagine how the father felt—just the day before, he was excited to have a family with the love of his life, and the next day, he was going to be all alone. They finished the surgery and the mother had unfortunately passed, but the baby was alive and well. I can't imagine the pain the father went through, but I'm so happy his baby was okay. He apparently named the baby after the mother.
70. Fear The Worst
My mom went into a walk-in clinic and told the doctor she had really bad headaches all the time. She was a stay-at-home mom to me, who was 10 years old at the time, and my sister, who was six, so it was written off as stress and she just got a prescription for pain pills. Two weeks later, her headaches suddenly became migraines.
The doctor then gave her a stronger prescription and told her to try to reduce her stress. But at that point, things already took a huge turn for the worse. A few weeks went by and she could no longer get out of bed. She threw up everything including the meds and was completely disoriented. My dad was a truck driver, so he was never home and couldn’t help her at that time.
I was taking care of my sister and my mom all by myself. We went back to the doctor and this lady had the audacity to say that my mom's case was the weirdest migraine case she’d ever seen. She told her to take warm baths and just keep taking the meds. Two months went by and my dad came home. When he saw the condition of my mother, he was shocked.
My mom was so sick she would regularly urinate herself. The house, which was being kept up by me, a 10-year-old, was in total disrepair. My dad’s response was chilling and completely unexpected. He simply said he wanted a divorce. That night, we found out she had stage 4 lung and brain cancer with a tumor the size of an egg pressing on her brain, as well as many others scattered throughout. I still haven’t forgiven that doctor for not taking my mom seriously.
As far as my mom goes, she fought hard for two years to beat her cancer, but she eventually passed in November 2010. I was 13 and my sister was nine at the time. And that wasn’t all. My dad fell out of a tree about a month after her diagnosis and shattered his heel. He became disabled because of the back surgeries it required.
He was a monster while I was home. All I remember from my younger years was walking on eggshells, constantly being accused of things I didn’t do, and being watched like a hawk 24/7. I suspect he is bipolar and has severe PTSD, but you know how older people feel about treating mental illnesses. As for us, it sucked not having our mom growing up.
She talked every day about how she couldn’t wait to beat cancer and leave my dad so we could all have the life we deserved. I think we turned out fairly well. I’m 23 now—I have a family, I've moved far away from all of those memories, and I have committed to breaking my father's awful cycle and loving my children the way I wish I would have been loved.
I do wish I knew the doctor’s name now. Even though I know that it wouldn’t bring back my mom, I still want to ask her if she finally started believing her patients. I think the fact that my mother was a stay-at-home mom and had previously lived in poverty had a lot to do with the doctor not taking her seriously.
I wish no harm on the doctor, but I haven’t forgiven her for not saying something about going to the ER. Life is short. I learned that by watching my mom give up on every dream she had because she knew she’d pass soon. Go do scary stuff because who knows what’ll happen tomorrow.
71. Poker Face
Sonographers have to keep a poker face a lot of times when they see something very alarming or sad on the screen. Luckily, most people have no idea what they are looking at, but they’re not allowed to give any results to patients since doctors deliver the bad news. They simply have to stay neutral. A couple of months ago, I had an ultrasound done and was talking with the sonographer about how happy I was to be having a baby.
I’ve lost many people this year and I needed some good to happen. Then I saw her face, and my blood ran cold. It wasn’t super obvious, but I knew. My baby’s heart wasn’t beating, and I didn’t see any movement. She pulled away and told me that a doctor would call me that day. It was awful for me. I remember calling my doctor a few times that day because I wanted to know those results right away.
When I finally got it, I broke down. But I still feel really awful for her. She didn’t say much, but I could really see her heartbreak too. Their job is a lot harder than most people would imagine.
72. A Mother’s Worst Nightmare
I lost my baby one week before the due date. I had a lot of complications after birth that assured, I’ll never have another. Thanks, universe! That being said, thinking back on that day, five years later, what sticks with me most is the amazing care I received from my doctor and the nurses who were on duty. One held my hand during emergency surgery (I was lucid and terrified) while another rubbed my back when I was throwing up from the painkillers. I don’t remember their names or faces, but I remember their compassion. I’m forever grateful that they made an awful situation as comfortable as they could.
73. No Laughing Matter
I had an ingrown toenail, and it was supposed to be a quick fix. I was 14 and had my mom in with me. They let an apprentice do the surgery, and suddenly he goes “Oh God". The doctor in charge just laughed and said "No risk, no fun." Turns out they messed up my toe, and I had to have four more surgeries to correct it. I cried.
74.Harmful Food Contamination
When I was a neurology med student at UCLA, we had a patient brought in from LAX airport, who'd collapsed on a transpacific flight from Japan. He essentially stopped breathing and wasn't moving his arms and legs. We did a massive work up with MRI and CAT scans of the brain and spine, blood work, spinal taps, etc etc. Nothing looked wrong, but he remained unable to move, breathe, or do anything.
Finally, after a week in the hospital, we found the cause: he'd brought a bento box on the flight of sashimi made from fugu, aka blowfish. The chef that had prepped it obviously had done a bad job, and the fish's poison, a potent paralytic, had tainted the sashimi and slowly paralyzed the patient after he ate it on the flight.
He luckily hadn't suffocated before the flight touched down and the waiting paramedics could intubate him and bring him to the hospital.
75. A Seed Of Truth
My uncle is a respirologist, and he was supervising lung surgery to remove a tumor. Well, when they opened the guy up, they all went white as a sheet. Turns out, the so-called “tumor” was actually a root ball. Some type of seed had gotten into the patient's lungs and started to grow. No one had ever seen anything like it before.
76. A Series Of Unfortunate Events
When I was in high school, I took a CNA course and we did our clinical training at a state-run nursing home. There was one patient who was 89 years old—she had both stage 4 pancreatic cancer and dementia. She was married at one point, but her husband and kids had already passed. All of her siblings, friends, and close relatives were gone as well.
She first entered the home about four years prior when she realized she really couldn't care for herself anymore. Her old age, plus the other ailments she eventually developed, made it hard for her to get through her days without supervision. Most of the time, she didn't know where she was, but she would have some days where she was lucid and she'd remember that she was alone. Those days were the most heartbreaking—I just remember she would cry a lot.
As the lucid days got further and further apart, she got to a point where she would only eat if I was the one feeding her. I went in on weekends and after school to try and get her to eat and drink something. Watching that poor woman have to face the reality of her cancer over and over again, then realize she was alone in the world was horrible.
The day she passed, I walked by her room as they were cleaning out her things and saw a picture of her sister...We didn't look identical to one another, but I think she thought I was her sister. People imagine horrible ways to pass, but dementia is by far the worst way to go.
77. There’s A Butt
The complaint in the man’s file was rectal pain. I immediately thought hemorrhoid, abscess, or a fissure. When I saw Mr. Rectal Pain, he told me he had pain down there but had no other symptoms. I got to the examining part it was normal looking. At that point, I had to proceed with a rectal exam. The result made my jaw drop.
I digitally examined him and he instantly said, “Ow, there’s something sharp in there". Out came a fishbone. It was big too, like two or three centimeters long. I asked the patient about it and he was like, “Oh, I had red snapper a few nights ago". I put the fishbone into a specimen cup and started parading through the emergency department showing everyone what I just “fished" out of some guy's butt. Oh, and there’s a coda to this tale.
I told this story to my colleague and he proceeded to tell me how in his residency they did rectal exams on all trauma patients. One time, one of his fellow residents went to perform one and the patient said the exact same phrase: “Ow, there’s something sharp in there". But instead of a fishbone, it was a hypodermic needle. You can’t make this stuff up.
78. Lending A Hand
I was observing a hand surgery about a year ago at a teaching hospital. The surgeon was removing one of the carpals, which are the bones near the base of the hand, to be used later. A nurse was given the carpal to hold until it needed to be used. She ended up dropping the patient's bone right on the ground. The surgeon was not happy.
79. Super Soaker
Right as I was about to graduate from medical school, I had one of the most formative experiences that led to my surgical career. I was on-call late one night with a chief resident who was really a pleasure to work with. He let me take the lead on minor procedures and helped me work on the things that were actually interesting among the drudge work.
Well, this was not one of those enlightened moments, but it fits the question. This wonder chief—we’ll call him Wiggles—called me to the ED to assess a patient for possible surgery. “Amazing!” I thought, “He trusts me enough to let me work up this patient!” So, off I trotted in a fervor of anticipation to the room where my patient was.
Wiggles was standing there with this pie-eating grin on his face. He just said, “The orders are in, but you need to do the pre-op note and you'll be doing the procedure. Enjoy!” Then he just walked off laughing. “Interesting,” I thought to myself. But I wasn’t about to let Wiggles rain on my parade. I decided that I was going to have this moment to shine and all would be well.
But when I walked in, I quickly realized why Wiggles was laughing. What I saw haunts me to this day—It was a bum-pus case. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, a bum-pus case is when you have an abscess filled with the vilest, malodorous, repugnant filth to ever grace the medical profession. You have to open up the glory of this pocket of putrescence so that the cavity in which it dwells can fill in with nice, healthy, non-bum-pss. They most often occur in people who already have trouble fighting infections or have a lot of tissue where they can hide a pocket-o-poo.
My guy was a stinky, sugary, smoke-stack of a whale. He also had what was a massive amount of pus hanging out just under the skin of his VW-Beetle-sized butt. Thankfully, it was an easy workup and he was actually a nice guy with a great sense of humor. Wiggles had told him that a stupid med student would be doing the honor of treating him. As I was getting him ready for the procedure, he said, "I just want to warn you. I'm a squirter". That stopped me in my tracks.
“Haha, don't worry buddy. You'll figure it out," he said. Writing this story now, it's obvious what he meant, but I was naive and still psyched about doing my own procedure that I just forgot about it and went to the OR to get everything ready. As we got the guy positioned on the table, it occurred to me how truly large this guy was.
He had to be around 450 pounds and he had rolls of fat dripping down his legs. We had to put his legs in stirrups so that we could get to his bum crack and do the procedure. I positioned myself front and center, staring deeply into this guy’s brown eye while the chief resident and attending physician held—with both hands—rolls of fat aside so that I could get to the area in need of debridement.
I numbed his skin, called for the surgical tool, and then halted. In that second, I realized what he had meant about being a squirter. There was no other reasonable explanation and I can't imagine why I hadn’t realized it sooner. But being the only one scrubbed and prepped for the procedure, I had no choice but to proceed. The attending, perhaps sensing my hesitation, looked down at me with a smile that was visible through his surgical mask. “Son,” he said, “We've all been there. Well probably not there, but it doesn't matter. You're going to do this."
I leaned forward and placed the blade into the pus pocket. The big beluga of a patient gave a great heaving snore and then a cough. He shifted what must have been half an inch down right as I pierced the skin. The increased intra-abdominal pressure combined with this guy’s massive thighs acted like a finger over the end of a hose. Then, the worst thing to ever happen in my career happened. A straight shower of feculent horror blasted forth, covering my surgical gown, cap, shoes, and glasses.
I was speechless. My brain couldn’t simultaneously process the horror, hilarity, and smell of what just happened. The other attendants in the room, however, had no trouble as they'd been expecting that from the start. I handed back the scalpel to the scrub nurse, the only one to keep her composure, while the attending, chief resident, circulating nurse, nurse assistant, and the three other med students who had been watching from the door all completely lost it. I must have looked like a medical Jackson Pollock.
I truly wish that I had had a witty response prepared. Or that I’d been cool enough to just keep going as if nothing had happened. I couldn't see through my pus-caked goggles and I must have smelled worse than a pigsty. I let out a meager, “Uh, can I go change?” The attending, laughing way too hard to make any sense, simply nodded and pointed out of the OR.
I took off the gown and all the pus-covered materials and went to take the longest, hottest shower possible. I put the scrubs in the laundry and promptly told the maintenance crew that they should burn those clothes…immediately. The guys laughed until they saw the damage, then the laughter turned to faces of horror. It was their problem now.
As I understand it, the rest of the procedure was uneventful. When I went back into the call room, the rest of the med students gave me a standing ovation. By that time, the hilarity of what had happened had surpassed any embarrassment that I had felt. The patient had had the procedure before and had, apparently, oozed quite a bit.
It was my worst moment in surgery. Though it was gross, I wasn't really that disturbed on a deep level. After that, I feel like there is very little that would shake me at the core in terms of bodily fluids. After all, I was baptized in the absolute worst of it.
80. Ignorance Isn’t Bliss
Former medical student here. I remember one young patient, 22 years old, was re-visiting the ER, where he'd been seen six weeks prior for sustaining some abrasions and bruises after falling hard off a skateboard. He was all scraped up everywhere but had healed up OK. But now he's in the ER again, feeling awful sick and vomiting.
As the third-year med student, I was dispatched to the bedside and hung up the CT films on the lightbox, too much finger-pointing and grunting among the surgeons. I had no idea how to read a CT at the time—I wasn't even really sure what part of the body had been scanned. So when the surgical resident barked "Prep him for surgery," I decided to disguise my ignorance and just go for it.
We got him gassed and prepped and I scrubbed in. The surgeon said "Open." That’s where it all started to go wrong. First, I had to be told what we were doing: The Kocher maneuver, where you basically move the intestines to expose what you want to get it. By now, everyone knows I’m not with it, but they watch me do it anyway.
I slid my gloved hand up, getting ready to grab the entire sack of intestines and move it up and over—but I met unexpected resistance. I peered up, seeing in my confusion that everyone was edging away from the table. "What's the trouble young man, get your hand up there and complete the maneuver! Push harder!" A spongy sort of barrier gave way with a sickening stench.
Suddenly, a gushing cascade of grey-brown, bloody pus roared out of the incision, soaking my gown, scrub pants, and shoes before splattering on the OR floor and walls. The guy had a splenic abscess, as I just found out. After that, the other doctors cleaned it up and mostly cured it. The attending finished up and the patient was good as new. I had to throw out my shoes.
81. Before His Time
I am an occupational therapist working with babies and toddlers. I had a very, very premature child as a patient, like 24 weeks old at birth. Somehow he made it without residual deficits. No tone abnormalities, no torticollis, no CP, no visual deficits, no swallowing troubles. His head is perfectly round. He just started walking last week. His social interactions are wonderful.
This is beyond belief.
82. Great Odds
My mother was a nurse in Los Angeles during the craziness of the 90s. It seems it was not uncommon for a victim of a firearm injury to be escorted by the very individual who inflicted the harm, who would then threaten to wreak havoc in the ER should they succeed in saving the injured party. They essentially had to continue functioning while law enforcement and hospital security attempted to prevent an armed conflict from occurring in the emergency room. Fun times.
This one time, a guy came in from a construction site. He had fallen like 40 feet and landed on exposed concrete rebar. He was impaled by FOUR bars, each of which went clean through his back, through his chest, and out the front of him. He was brought in, in shock, still on the piece of concrete (they cut the wall and brought the entire thing with the dude and all into the ER).
She thought he was a goner for sure. Turns out, ALL FOUR BARS went through his chest, and NONE of them hit a major artery or organ. They removed the bars, stitched him up (internally and externally) and kept him pumped full of antibiotics for a week or so while everything healed. She says to this day, that was the most unexplainable thing she ever saw.
83. Doing More Damage Than Good
My father is an ER doctor. One day, an old woman comes in with a headache. Attending sees her, sends her home with some Advil. You can tell where this is going. She comes back two days later with a stroke and chest pain. It is a massive stroke, so they get her on blood thinners right away. They send her in for a CAT scan, to check out her brain.
On the scan, they notice something odd. Do another scan: her aorta has almost completely dissected. This is the most blood-filled, high-pressure artery in the body, and blood thinners are the absolute last thing that an aortic dissection patient should be given. Commence freak out. They wheel her into emergency surgery to repair the aorta, but by then she's bleeding profusely.
Her heart stops shortly thereafter. Luckily, my father never personally prescribed the blood thinners, but apparently, that was a real "Oh, God" moment. Her condition was fatal either way, but it was not a good day.
84. Close Call
I'm a midwife and I was the one who gave a second opinion. The first diagnosis was given by the woman's family doctor. She came into the antenatal clinic and said that she had a headache she couldn't seem to shake. She'd called her general practitioner the day before and she had told her to take two Aspirin and have a bath to remedy the situation. What she didn’t know almost ruined her.
Whenever any pregnant woman complains of a headache, especially one that won't go away, it sends alarm bells ringing as it can be a symptom of pre-eclampsia. Sure enough, the woman also reported seeing blue spots, exhibited a blood pressure of 220/180, and had a huge amount of protein in her urine. I got her to lie on her side in the room I was seeing her in and I raced to get a more senior midwife.
It wouldn't have been more than 60 seconds until the two of us returned to the room—just in time to see her start having an eclamptic seizure. We called a Code Pink (obstetric emergency), which then escalated to a Code Green (alerting the operating room that we were coming down immediately for an emergency cesarean). The woman gave birth under general anesthetic 20 minutes later.
I still start sweating when I imagine what could have happened if she hadn't come into the clinic that day.
85. He’s Back!
The man arrived nearly 10 minutes close to a critical condition. He had been run over by a car. By the time we prepped him, he had passed. But per the doctor's moral code, we tried to save him anyway. After hours of constant work, we gave up. We confirmed his life had left him and were packing up when he suddenly woke up. Like some horror movie type stuff. He just sat up straight and inhaled loudly.
It still gives me goosebumps.
86. Code Yellow
I worked as a doctor's office assistant. A regular patient, who was very sweet but unfortunately had an ongoing battle with drinking, was brought in by his roommate, and I knew instantly that he would be gone soon. I'd seen some jaundiced humans in my time there, but the man was a yellow I never knew could be possible.
His roommate said, through tears, "I've been telling him to come in for weeks!" The patient kept telling the roommate to relax and that he was fine. I helped him into the exam room, and when the doctor entered the room, he immediately asked me to go call an ambulance. A few weeks earlier wouldn't have helped him that much.
He was gone seven days later in the hospital. It had hit me very hard because I'd known the guy for a few years. Sometimes he would be sober when he called, and sometimes he would be slurring and completely incoherent, but he was ALWAYS kind.
87. Breathing Problems
I work at a trauma center, so I see a lot of crazy stuff. People surviving stabbings, wounds from a discharged weapon to the head, a freeway collapsing on someone during construction. But one case will forever stick in my mind. I got called down to the ER to help a woman who had a splintered piece of wood in her airway. Apparently, the little old lady lost control of her car and ran off the road into the side of a house.
She ran into a wooden porch that was positioned almost exactly at the level of her nose. So I approach the lady to see what we're working with for an airway and she legit has a chunk of wood that has smashed her nose and is sitting right between her eyes. Thing must have been three inches wide, god knows how long, and about 1 inch from top to bottom. About four inches of board is sticking out of her face.
My immediate instinct is to exclaim "Oh my goodness." Fortunately, I didn't because it turned out the woman was conscious at that moment. I intubated her, she went off to the scanner, and then to the OR. Last I heard, after a series of reconstructive surgeries she was doing pretty well. I occasionally think back to that moment and just wonder how the heck that woman was alive.
88. A Swing And A Miss
I had a biopsy done on my neck by an ear, nose, and throat specialist. It went horribly. He jabbed it in just below my ear, then wiggled the huge needle around, took it out, put it back in, wiggled it around...just awful. I was left with an enormous yellow and green bruise all over my neck. The results were inconclusive. But it gets worse.
A month later, I went to see a really old doctor. He pushed on the spot in question. "Is this the bump you're concerned about?" "Yes, that's it." "That's your second vertebrae. That guy tried to do a biopsy on it?" "What? Yeah..." "What an idiot, sorry."
89. Guy Got Lucky
A man tumbles down a flight of stairs in an inebriated state, subsequently awakens the next morning, and heads to the emergency room. Considering the circumstances, everything seems fine—but then he starts having trouble breathing. At this point, we find air in his abdomen and take him to surgery. While in surgery, we get the x-rays back and it turns out he has a broken neck.
What? But we still have to find out where that air in his belly came from. Turns out, when he had been intubated, they had accidentally intubated his esophagus, pushing air into his stomach instead of his lungs. Even worse, they'd been so vigorous that they'd punctured his throat with tons of little holes. They were too small to stitch so all we could do was feed him directly into his stomach and let the neurosurgeons fix his neck as best they could.
When they opened up his neck, they found the real reason for his difficult breathing: a ton of blood in front of his broken neck was compressing his airway. With the plates in place, all we could do was hope that he wasn't paralyzed and that the perforations in his throat hadn't infected his vital organs. He wakes up, not paralyzed.
A few days later, not succumbed to infection. That one is indeed fortunate.
90. Faking It
My freaking doctor sent me home because he was convinced I was faking an illness. Oh, did I mention I was freaking two years old and was complaining that my stomach hurt? See, my mom had got me an emergency appointment with our family doctor for that same day—he took one look at me and declared that I, as a two-year-old, was faking the stomach pain for attention.
He ended up just blindly giving me a prescription for antibiotics. Two days later, I was still in pain. Another twist was in store. I turned blue, according to my mom, and passed out. She rushed me to the emergency room. The ER doc took a five-second look at me and had me rushed off for emergency surgery. My appendix had exploded.
Quite literally too; it was in shreds inside my body. The ER doctor said that our family doctor should have known what was up. He said at the time it was just inflamed.
91. That’s Nuts
I was a student assisting in the operating room when we came across a shocking discovery. A 65-year-old guy with kidney problems (possibly cancerous) needed to have a chunk of his kidney removed. It sounded like no big deal. We gave him his meds, knocked him out, then prepared to operate. But when we removed his gown, everyone in the room froze.
One of the surgeons actually exclaimed, “Balls!" That was relatively accurate. Apparently, our guy had some muscular disease that caused a massive abdominal hernia, and his intestines were herniating into his scrotum. It was honestly about the size of a deflated basketball.
92. Oh, Worm?
I inserted a urinary catheter to a female patient. She complains of pain in her bladder. Turns out it was distended and there was no drainage in the catheter. When we pulled the catheter out, we found out why: a worm had gotten stuck inside the tube. HOW THE HECK DID THE WORM ENTER THE BLADDER?
93. Too Little, Too Late
I asked my grandfather, a surgeon of 30 years, what his worst experience was. He told me a story about opening a patient up to fix something serious with his aorta (it's been ten years since I heard the story so the details are a bit hazy). Anyway, he and the other surgeon opened the guy up for this dicey operation. What they found shocked them.
When they opened the patient up, they found several significant tumors. Like, "Well darn, this guy is toast," tumors. He said he'd never seen so much cancer. They went out to break the bad news to the family, but little did they know that this guy made it to the pearly gates earlier than they had expected. And it wasn’t even cancer that did him in.
When they went back into the operating room trying to figure out what to do about the tumors, the patient’s aorta dissected. He began hemorrhaging with my grandfather and this other surgeon shouting and scrambling to clamp it up and stop the bleeding. But they were too late. The guy bled out. My grandfather said it was over in seconds.
He felt bad, but the guy was facing a pretty painful future anyway with all of those tumors. He figured that there was less suffering that way, but secretly I think he was upset that they couldn't save him.
94. Silent And Fatal
During my father’s residency, a gentleman came in with an infection he developed after having his gum scraped during a dental cleaning. The infection had gotten into his sinus cavity, and my father told his attending that the gentleman was going to die. They had a specialist from Harvard at the hospital at that time, and he called my father an idiot.
The attending corrected the guy from Harvard saying that no, my father was right and the guy was likely going to pass. He had seen 10 such infections previously, and each time the person didn’t make it. Seemingly, a certain part of your face is referred to by some doctors as the 'Triangle of Peril.' The gums of your top teeth form the base, with the sinus cavities forming the arms.
Over the next two days, the infection spread to the guy’s left eye. Mr. Harvard said that they should take the eye, and hopefully, that would be enough to save him. My father said it's not going to make much of a difference and the guy should start working out his final affairs. Obviously not wanting to give up, the gentleman consented to have his eye removed.
It didn't make a difference, and within three days of having his eye removed, the gentleman was gone. The infection went from the sinus and ocular cavities and through the blood-brain barrier.
95. Losing Face
We had a gentleman admitted because he had had an erection for several days and had lost the ability to pee. His bladder was close to bursting and his poor junk was...just think microwaved hotdog. Very bad. But none of that was as interesting as the fact that this dude had untreated skin cancer on his nose for several years.
Over some time, it had become infected, developed MRSA, and spread across his face. He had no nose, no cheek, and no eye on one side of his face and was starting to lose his other eye. You could see part of his skull. I don’t know why he chose to leave it untreated, and I have no idea how long it took to get like that.
I will never ever forget the smell and texture of his rotting face. We convinced him to have reconstructive surgery. He ended up getting a skin graft that covered up his eye, nose, and cheek. So, if you ever meet a very grumpy dude with nothing but a mouth and one eye know that this is way better than the alternative.
96. Toughness In The ER
This little girl, probably six or seven years old, had some form of spinal cancer. My mother had talked to her a couple of times. On this particular day, she was excited because her dad was coming home from a business trip to Bali. This little girl was so happy because he was bringing her back a toy. The next day, the Bali disasters occurred, which caused her father to pass.
She was distraught and spent the next four days just crying with little bits of sleep in between. Her mother spent most of that time with her daughter. Then, about two months later, fate decided she would suffer even more—her mother passed in a car accident while driving to the hospital to visit her daughter.
So her grandparents got the duty of care for her, but she passed two weeks afterward from cancer. The poor girl suffered worse than I could even fathom in her last two months of life; losing most of what was important to her before dying herself. I hope no one goes through anything like that again. My mother thinks she just gave up after her mother passed, but this little girl lost everything just by some form of poor luck.
I work as an ER nurse and had a patient with a little dizziness, a little nausea and a swollen abdomen. She was fairly bright, able to talk, and nothing seemed too horrific. But she was turning a grim gray color and breathing quickly. Our average wait time today was two hours. I could have put her back in the queue and moved on.
But I had a little dark feeling that there was something sinister happening here. So I called our most senior doctor out of a consultation and asked him to see her. Right now. Ever heard of your abdominal aorta? A massive blood vessel that can bulge, abruptly burst, and cause you to endure internal bleeding within minutes?
It’s called a burst AAA (abdominal aortic aneurysm). You’ve heard of it now. That’s what she had. I’ve never seen one before. But now I have. Within five minutes, she was barely responding. Within ten, her blood pressure had dropped to a barely sustainable level. Within twenty minutes, I was pouring blood into her and eight people were around the bed.
Within an hour, she was on an operating table clinging to life. But because I raised the alarm, and because my team worked their butts off, that woman is still, somehow, alive. Feels good, man.
98. Sleep Tight
I have one. It's not about a patient, but rather, a patient's family member. I had a patient in the ICU for some respiratory issue. He had chronic pain and some mental health issues at the baseline, but worst of all, he had this co-dependent girlfriend who was always VERY present at his bedside all the time.
She was constantly worrying that he wasn't getting enough pain medication or sleep. We kept reassuring her that we were giving him his medications and not to worry. The day he transferred out of the ICU, I was working a night shift and heard a code blue paged overhead.
It was for him. He had gone into respiratory arrest. Fortunately, he was found right away, intubated, and resuscitated. Back to my ICU he went. After some digging, we discovered the blood-chilling truth. We found out that his girlfriend was worried he wasn't going to be able to sleep, so she bought some Seroquel on the street and gave it to him.
He was already on his home dose of Seroquel and opioids, plus some additional opioids for the acute pain he was dealing with. The sedation from that extra Seroquel in conjunction with the rest of his medications tipped him over the edge. Once he woke up, he was mortified and asked that his girlfriend not be allowed to visit him anymore.
Of course, this presented a different problem. I had to call her and tell her she was not allowed to visit him anymore and that hospital security had been alerted. She was…not happy. The lesson: If someone is hospitalized, WE WILL PROVIDE THE APPROPRIATE MEDICATIONS. You do not need to bring in extra medications. We got it.
99. A Nasty Tumble Made Worse
I work in EMS. We once got a call for a female with leg pain. When we arrived on scene, we were greeted by a truly gruesome sight. This woman’s leg was three times the size of her other one. It was blue and purple, and she had no pulse in her foot. She fell on ice a few days prior and the urgent care didn’t do any X-rays.
They told her she had a sprain and just gave her a walking boot. In reality, her tibia and fibula were both so badly fractured that they were cutting the blood vessels and muscle tissue. She lost her foot.
100. That's No Scratch
I'm a nurse, but I was working in the ER when a guy came in for a scratch on his neck and "feeling drowsy." We start the usual workups and this dude's blood pressure TANKED. We hurried, but he had ceased to breathe within ten minutes of walking through the door. As it turns out, the "scratch" was the departure mark of a .22 caliber round.
The man was oblivious that he'd been struck. The coroner's report revealed he'd been hit in the leg, and the projectile traced a path through his torso, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. There was really nothing we could've done, but that was a serious "what the heck just happened" moment.