Doctors and Nurses Share Their Worst Hospital Horror Stories

Doctors and Nurses Share Their Worst Hospital Horror Stories

mdjaffFreepik @mdjaff

No one likes going to the doctor: hospitals are scary places even when the wait times are manageable. But think about what it’s like for the medical professionals who work inside hospital walls. To that end, Reddit asked doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals to share some of their most horrific, funniest, and absurd moments on the job—and they truly delivered.

1. Shove It Up Your Nose


The mother of a toddler came into emergency. The kid had cruddy stuff coming out of his left nostril, and a lot of redness and swelling of only the left side of his nose and the adjacent cheek. Mom was sure he caught a sinus infection and just wanted some antibiotics. Now, I know some kids like shoving whatever will fit into their bodily orifices, and that this was more than likely given the one-sided nature of his condition. But mom was insistent that he NEVER puts things in his nose. It took some convincing, but I finally got her to let me take a look.

Gave a squirt of midazolam in the good nostril to settle him, then dug with some tweezers through the crud until I pulled out a big ole button battery—like the kind they use in watches. It would’ve been burning his nose for a couple days. Hopefully, he healed up well.

2. Bad Diet


I had a patient who had a hard time getting pregnant. She finally conceived but miscarried. She has a procedure to clear the uterine lining so that she can try again, this time with medical help. We monitor her blood to ensure the pregnancy hormone is gone before beginning the new treatment. But she keeps coming back with high levels of hormone. Doctors are worried because she might have some retained placenta or pituitary disorder and this could be super bad for future fertility. We call her in for a conversation about the hormone levels not clearing up.

After talking together about what might be wrong, they are going to go home and think about further tests. She says “I need to go. I have an appointment at the weight-loss center for an HCG shot.”

Turns out that she is on the HCG diet. HCG IS the pregnancy hormone. And this was after an hour of the docs saying “We don’t know why you have these constant high levels of HCG in your blood and we are worried.”

3. Disease Machine


Optician here. We had a patient who refused to let us use the tonometer, which is a machine that checks ocular internal pressure to diagnose glaucoma. He said that machine gives you glaucoma, and we weren’t going to pull that on him. He told us his father got an exam, and had glaucoma after using that machine.

His uncle and brother also had no signs of glaucoma, and after getting the puff test, both people had been diagnosed with the disease. Glaucoma doesn’t have any outward symptoms before you start going blind. This jerk just told me he has a very strong familial disposition to glaucoma and refused to be tested for it.

4. Tales From the Eye Doctor


As an eye doctor, I’ve seen a lot and could write a book about all the weird ways people neglect their eyes, but three stories in particular stick out. I had a patient tell me they clean their contact lens with MILK because it “gets the acid off them.” I had a patient with a 6-year-old translating for them. They basically couldn’t elaborate on the problem except to say that their eye hurts.

Another patient came in with her hand covering her eye. I asked to see the problem. Her eye looked like a shriveled up grape. The optic nerve was holding onto a shriveled up decayed eye loosely hanging in the orbit. She wanted glasses to fix it. I also had a guy recently come in because “wife made me.” He had tried to use tweezers to remove a piece of metal from his cornea. Didn’t look pretty. I removed the remaining metal rust with a needle and spinning burr tip brush. He needed antibiotics. I told him not to do that again.


5. A Shot in the Dark


I had a guy bouncing around clinics for probably years, if not decades, with nonspecific back pain. It affects millions of patients so the typical thing is, rest, stretch, ice, maybe over the counter meds, and go about your life. Well when he got to us, he mentioned he never had any imaging. So we do just a regular x-ray of his back.

Sure enough, there’s a small caliber bullet lodged near where the rib meets his spinal column. Apparently, he had been near a drive-by shooting decades ago and was shot, but thought he just cut his back while jumping over something to get cover and never had it checked out. Never had expected an incident bullet, probably never see one again.

6. Gangrene Is No Joke


This is a story from my mom, who was a nurse in the ER for 20 years. She helped care for a patient that had massive gangrene that began as diabetic ulcers. They went untreated and she had already gone through a double amputation at the mid-thigh, but the gangrene continued to spread, leading to her ER visit. My mom distinctly described seeing this woman’s stump of a femur moving amidst a mass of rotting tissue, its end wiggling like a trapped pencil when they changed her bandages.

One nurse had the task of standing in the corner with a bottle of air freshener. My mom said the smell was something straight out of hell. Unfortunately, this woman’s gangrene spread to her abdomen and there was no saving her. Now I realize why my mom, after being diagnosed with diabetes herself years later, was so dang protective of her feet!

7. Whatcha Gonna Do With All Those Lumps


I’m ashamed to say I have a story that fits here. I have a ganglion cyst (pretty harmless) on the inside of my wrist, when it starts getting large, I smash my wrist down on a hard table and it goes away. I developed a similar bump on the top of my foot. I couldn’t smash it down like my wrist so I tried hitting it with a hammer.

Didn’t do anything and it was getting bigger and interfering with my shoes so I got it investigated. Not a cyst, but arthritis in the joint. No wonder my hammer trick didn’t work. The radiologist did find my treatment method amusing, but advised me to get any more lumps checked out rather than randomly hitting things with a hammer.

8. Why You Shouldn’t Doubt Your Patients


Elderly lady came into my practice asking if there was anything she could be given to help her sleep as the Irish terrorists in the apartment below were keeping her awake at night. She was reassured that terrorists were not planning to blow her up, or Cannock (a small inconsequential town in the West Midlands) for that matter.

On the second visit, she insisted that they were going to blow something up soon and expressed paranoid thoughts. A full mental health review was conducted by the GP and the community psychiatrist. She came up clean. That’s when we contacted the police, a couple of days later the apartment below our patient was raided and found to be full of explosives-making equipment and actual IRA members.

9. Smile!


Not a doctor but dental nurse. My favorite was a 30-something-year-old woman who came in for a check-up at the emergency low cost clinic I worked at. Teeth were broken and almost black and gums are angry swollen, bright red and bleeding by just moving her tongue against them, needed multiple scaling/hygienist appointments and a debridement. Honestly, YouTube has some amazingly disgusting videos of this treatment but maybe keep the sound off if you don’t like the scraping sound. X-ray showed she had all but her wisdom teeth and 10 fillings, root canals to try and save some teeth and extractions for I think 3, but more if the root canal didn’t work.

Explained everything and did the usual explanation of proper oral hygiene. Asked her if she had any questions to which she says “It’s okay if I lose this set of teeth, my others will come through.” Me and the dentist just looked at each other probably a lot longer than we should have. No words. I couldn’t think of anything to reply to that comment. I had a lot of weird and disgusting things happen at that clinic. I actually miss working there.

10. The Importance of Trusting Your Instincts


The patient I saw visited the OR because of a follow-up due to a viral illness. While talking to him he was completely normal, said the only reason he showed up was because the company was covering it. Anyways, I wasn’t sure what to do with such a case; normally we have to present to the attending with a diagnosis after taking an examination but this patient was fine and I didn’t really want to do it.

What I did do however was just check his pulse and though I wasn’t really good at detecting abnormal stuff just yet, it was obvious something was off about it. So I asked my friend to check it, who told the resident, who told the attendant, who made the patient get an ECG on the spot. Lo and behold the patient had atrial fibrillation.


11. Denial Is Not Just a River in Egypt


I had a patient come in with several pages he printed off the internet. He kinda slammed them down and said, “This is what I have.” He had bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever among other things. He insisted he had schistosomiasis. He was being a real jerk about it, like we’re wasting time since he already knew what he had.

So, I asked him when he got back from Africa. And he said, “Africa? I’ve never been to Africa. What the hell would I be doing in Africa?” I proceeded to tell him that schistosomiasis is a parasitic disease one gets while swimming in the Nile River or other rivers in developing countries, like in Southeast Asia. He got mad at me because he thought I was being a smart aleck. He got seen and diagnosed with gastroenteritis—regular old stomach flu.

12. Yahoo Answers


I’m not a doctor, but I’m a patient whose mother was negligent. The doctor had to speak to me on the side because of it. My grandmother has Crohn’s disease. Very, very badly. It skipped my mother and her brother. When I was 15 years old, over the course of six months, I went from being 5’9” tall and 190 pounds to being 110 pounds.

I was a skeleton and extremely anemic. My mother was CONVINCED it was something else. I forced her to bring me to a doctor and she spouted off all these possibilities. She then talked about what she Yahooed. Not even Googled. Yahoo. About genetics and such. And “Crohn’s can’t skip generations.” Well, the doc said, “Just in case. We’re gonna run some tests.” Long story short, I have Crohn’s in my throat and small intestine. So does my cousin. It just skipped a generation.

13. Walking Dead


I didn’t treat this patient, but I was on shift when this guy came in with chest pain. His EKG showed tombstone shapes, meaning he was in the middle of a cardiac episode. He told the emergency doctor, “I want a second opinion before going to the cath lab.” This EKG is unmistakable. The interventionalist had to come down to the emergency department to tell him he was having a heart attack.

14. What Do Nurses Know?


Not an MD, I’m an RN that works with oncology (cancer) patients, some of which are on clinical trials. I got a patient and, before starting his chemotherapy, reviewed some of his lab work with him. I told him his glucose level was 73. Normal range is usually between 70-100. He got really upset at this point, so I asked him, “What’s wrong? Your labs are within range!”

And he said, “I need it to be zero.” I said, “what? Why would you want your glucose to be zero?” He said he’s trying to meet requirements for a new clinical trial that requires his glucose to be zero. I told him, “I don’t know what clinical trial you’re trying to get into, but if your blood glucose was zero, you’d be dead or dying.” He was not convinced because I’m “just a nurse,” so I sent a message to his doctor asking them to educate their patients better.

15. Eating the Insulin


We had a diabetic patient who kept coming back with extremely high sugars. We asked him if he was following the regimen we taught him…testing his blood sugar, using the sliding scale, measuring the correct dose of insulin in the syringe, etc. He went through all the steps and it sounded like he was doing everything right.

We asked him to demonstrate the steps he took so we could observe and correct any mistakes he may have been making. He did everything right until the very last step. He drew up the insulin in his syringe, pulled an orange out if his bag, injected the insulin into the orange, then ate it. Turns out when he was taught to practice how to give himself subcutaneous injections with oranges, he didn’t realize he actually needed to inject himself for the insulin to do its job.

16. How Dare You Pronounce Me Dead


My dad is a physician. He tells a story about being on ca    cll overnight and monitoring a patient with a severe cardiac condition. In the middle of the night, the patient went into cardiac arrest and he pronounced him dead after they were unable to resuscitate him and he’d shown no vital signs for close to an hour.

Later on that night, he got a page indicating that there was a patient who had a bone to pick with him. He returned to the ward to find the “deceased” patient upright in bed, alert and fully lucid. He was joking about the fact that he had been pronounced dead earlier that night. His return to health was remarkable, and possible only because his condition had involved the very gradual shunting of his pulmonary artery so that his body had slowly, over the course of months or years, become adapted to a low oxygen environment, allowing it to survive approximately an hour without any cardiac function.


17. Having a Hard Nugget Definitely Helps


Paramedic here. I ran a call on a guy that was ejected out of a late-‘80s Mustang. The guy said the car rolled two times before pitching him out of the driver’s side window. He said he landed on his head and the 7-inch scalp avulsion seemed to corroborate his story. The car was completely crushed and sitting on its top.

The guy wanted to refuse treatment and transport. 15 on the GCS (Glasgow Coma Scale) but he never lost consciousness. I insisted though that he be seen at the ER. He rode the whole way texting people. When I told him that he shouldn’t be alive he said, “Yeah, I got a hard nugget.”

 18. Flea Treatment


I have one. I got this from my friend, who is a doctor on the children’s ward in a rural hospital. These parents bring in their child, whose hair is infested with lice. The lice were visible to the naked eye and could be seen crawling on the child’s clothing. While the medical staff examined the kid in order to determine a course of action, they discovered the child was covered in a white powder and smelled heavily of chemicals.

They asked the parents what the substances and the smells emanating from the child were. The parents said, quite matter of factly, it was Sevin powder (a garden insecticide) and flea and tick spray they used on their dogs on the family’s farm. Needless to say, social workers were notified about this case.

19. Teaching Moment


I had a patient who was a young child. She came in with an extremely high blood glucose level. Once she was stable we did some teaching and kept her for a few days for observation. For some reason, every time I checked her, her levels would be extremely high, although we were appropriately treating her. Turns out her family would bring her fast food for every meal and hide it in the side table.

20. Skipping Meals


We had a patient come into our hospital with anorexia requiring treatment, which, as usual, she didn’t want. However, she appeared to be eating her prescribed meals. After a few days it becomes clear she’s not putting on any weight, but the room is clean and she’s supervised for her bathroom visits, so we know she’s not flushing it away.

It turns out her family are going through some tough times and her dad’s down on his luck and out of money. So when he’s coming to visit his anorexic daughter in hospital every day, he’s eating the food prescribed to her because he can’t afford to feed himself. Meal time is unsupervised if there’s a family member there. The dad was blocked from visiting when the daughter fessed up.

21. Count Them All


Fun story, while my wife was having her c-section for our daughter she overheard one of the nurses say “there’s only nine,” and my wife thought they were talking about my daughters fingers or toes. So she’s freaking out that our daughter is missing a finger or toe, and I keep assuring her that our daughter was perfect, which she was.

We found out about ten minutes later that the nurse was talking about the surgical tools that were supposed to be accounted for, and one of them was missing. So my wife got to spend the next two hours in x-ray because they thought they had left a tool inside her and stitched her up. They found the missing tool, not inside my wife, a couple hours later, so that was a relief.

22. Double Ouch!


This happened when I was a student nurse, and I got the story from one of the physiotherapists there at the time. A guy with a dislocated hip came into the emergency room at the hospital where I was completing my training. So with the whole team and a number of med and physio students, they went to put his hip back into place.

They’ve done this, and then the guy just started screaming in absolute anguish and pain and continued to scream and scream till his voice box gave up and he just screamed silently until he passed out from the pain. Doctors found on closer examination that one of the patient’s balls somehow got in the way and ended up being squashed like a pancake.


23. It’s Eating Me, Doctor


There was a 24-year-old patient who was brought in from a jail in a rural county. He was working roadside cleanup when he found a bottle in a ditch that he thought contained alcohol and he quickly chugged it down. To be fair, it did look like whiskey. It wasn’t. It turns out it was a substance that contained sulfuric acid. Its pH was less than 2.5…it just ate up the litmus paper. So shortly after he gets to the ICU he is in excruciating pain. The gastroenterologist took him to do an EGD (basically a procedure where they can look at the esophagus, stomach and duodenum with a camera attached to a flexible tube) and the pictures were horrendous. You could literally see his stomach and esophageal mucosa eroding away. He had to be sent off to another hospital where they had an esophageal surgeon who could repair the mess.

He, of course, needed multiple surgeries and had a very long hospital stay. I saw him a few months later when he was admitted for another issue. He was down to 90 lbs. from about 150 and was getting fed through a PEG tube. He was very lucky to be young and otherwise healthy—but obviously not very smart at all.

24. Get Glasses


I work for an optometrist. It was the month before school started and a woman brought in her son to have his eyes checked for the first time. Seems like a pretty reasonable thing for any parent, even if he was a little older than normal for a first eye exam. Better late than never, I guess. The mom was well-spoken and appeared fairly intelligent. Everything went as normal, the doctor examined the boy and ended up prescribing glasses. The doctor was explaining to the mom that her son had to wear his glasses all the time, since he’s nearsighted and basically can’t see clearly past 5-feet in front of him. He would definitely need glasses for school. For some reason, this caused a switch to flip in the mom and she spazzed out on the doctor, saying that her son doesn’t need glasses and that the doctor is only saying that because he wants to sell glasses.

She says that she only brought her son in because there was some form for school that needed to be filled out and that doctors are all con artists trying to push unnecessary medications and interventions. The doctor tried to calm her down and explain that he’s only trying to help them but that she was free to get a second opinion and gave her a copy of the kids’ prescription and sent them on their way. About four months later the lady is back asking for another copy of her son’s prescription. Apparently, the first semester midterm results were in, and her son had failed them all, because he couldn’t see the board in his classes.

25. Growing Pains


One thing I will never forget is how I learned never to be mad at a patient. Now, this was when I began as an intern, A patient  had intestinal obstruction. We inserted a nasal feeding tube, as the patient could not eat anything orally before the surgery. The problem was that they would always come and complain to me about how I didn’t stick it properly. After two to three such episodes where I reluctantly redid it, they complain that the tube is out of the nose, and lo and behold, it is out. It’s very uncomfortable, most patients try and pull the nasal tube out. I replaced it like four times. Poor guy was fed up by then. On the morning of the surgery, his wife comes and asks me, “Doc, can you just remove that tube so that I can give him some coffee?”

Now, I got totally mad. I was working a 72-hour shift, So I scolded her by saying that if she or he didn’t want the surgery then I couldn’t do anything, and it would be nice if they gave me some peace. She didn’t say anything. The patient, 50 years old with no other complications, died on the table. I couldn’t face her. The moral being, doctors know more things than patients. But it’s not always wise to bite their heads off. I could have convinced her it was impossible to remove the tube before surgery in a calm way. Since then I’ve tried to be a better speaker to patients.

26. The Death Call Wakes Him From a Coma


When I was in pharmacy school I did a clinical rotation in a hospital with an infectious disease doctor. One of his ICU patients was in a coma. He had severe trauma from a motorcycle accident. My doc was just one of the many doctors following him—in our case, it was because of sepsis from a perforated colon. Things were not going well. He’d been in a coma for two weeks and showed no signs of coming out of it. The team of doctors (and me) sat with the family and discussed taking him off of life support. The family decided that it was the right decision. They said their goodbyes and I figured that was it. But the next day I came in and he was still on my patient list. I went to the ICU, and there he was. Alive and actually awake.

Apparently, he woke up that evening after I left. And he actually started to get better pretty quickly. Less than a week later he was out of ICU and in a regular room. And the next week he was no longer my patient because his sepsis had cleared and he no longer needed to be followed by the infectious disease doctor. It was pretty darn amazing.

27. This Is Just Sad


I think the most frustrating I’ve seen since I was a resident was a very pretty (like stunningly pretty) 17 year old with what appeared to be normal, loving, affluent parents. She had a tumor in her pelvis (rhabdomyosarcoma) and we could expect to potentially cure her. The parents declined, also declined chemo, and said they want to try holistic medicine because that made more sense to them.

I last saw her 3 years ago, she was getting huge lymph nodes removed from her groin because they were unsightly. Obviously metastatic disease. Parents did not want primary tumor removed and again declined chemo. I see 100 patients/week probably, lots of devastatingly sad cases. But I still think about that girl, listening to her parents, costing her life. I bet she’s dead now.

28. How Do You Fix It


I was treating cavities on a very nervous 4-year-old. Had finally gotten into a cooperative groove when genius mother looked up from her phone and noticed that I was drilling teeth. She was in the room the whole time—I had reviewed treatment with her, she knew we were fixing cavities. She proceeds to curse me out under her breath, saying, “You’re drilling holes in her teeth! this is freaking ridiculous, you people are scammers making holes in people’s teeth!” I kept my calm and said “Ma’am if you have questions I will be happy to answer after I’m finished”—I’m shaking with rage at this point, because she was 20 minutes late to her appointment, and I’m bending over backward to make sure her kid has a good visit and doesn’t end up scared of the dentist.

When the appointment is over, the kid jumps down, high fives me, and gives me a big hug. I turn to mom and ask her how exactly she thought cavities were fixed? She said, “You don’t drill, my mother is a dental assistant.” I then proceeded to explain in excruciating detail the scientific process of how we remove decay. She said, “That’s not true.” I then told her that she can go ask her mom, ask Google, or go to dental school if she wants to know more, but I won’t be treating her child anymore.

29. Hot Oil and Human Skin: A Terrible Combination


My mom used to work as an ER nurse in a major trauma center in Stockholm. There is one patient story she told me that has stuck with me. It was a boy no older than five who had tipped a pan of boiling cooking oil down from the stove.

He had third degree burns all over his arms and upper body. Poor kid had his mother rush him to the hospital covered in towels that stuck to him. My mom said that he was in intensive care for a few weeks before being taken to dermatology. She said that his screams still haunt her.

30. Having Your Heart Ripped out


My brother is a surgeon, and during part of his residency, he had to work in the pediatric unit. He was working with two newborns. One was getting much better and fighting for life. He was going to make it just fine. The other baby was hours from death. He wasn’t going to make it. My brother was in charge of informing the families.

My brother realized about 15 minutes later that he had mixed up the families. He told the family with the healthy baby that their baby wasn’t going to make it, and he told the family with the dying baby that their baby was going to be just fine. He then had to go back out to the families and explain the situation to them. How devastating. To be given a glimmer of hope and have it ripped away from you not even an hour later. That was most upset I’ve heard my brother. He felt destroyed.

31. Annoying Family


An 80-year-old patient was declining with multiple diagnoses and three bedsores. The daughter was adamant that her father was kept on his strict “paleo” diet because that would “supercharge” his healing. She had a stack of diet books. He simply wasn’t getting enough nutrition to heal the ulcers. He didn’t like the diet at all.

At some point, you kind of have to stop being polite, and just tell patients/ family members bluntly that you don’t have time for this and what you recommend, and they can do what they want and just document everything. It happens a lot but she sticks out.

32. Paging Dr. Liar


I am a dental student. One patient, in particular, is a pathological liar. During one visit, they claimed to have gone to medical school. Next visit they said that they were in the Royal Army Dental Corps. Last visit was that they had a PhD.

The patient will say things like, “Hey doc, do you need me to move my head mesial or distal?” No. I need you to move your head to the right. “Hey doc, are these cavities being caused by the anaerobic pathology microbes?” No. They are caused by you eating snacks all day and not brushing.

33. Be Careful Blowing Your Nose


Not a doctor. But this is what I have been asked repeatedly when I was in the hospital for my open heart surgery: “How the heck are you still alive?” Back story: I was basically born with a congenital birth defect which has an extremely high mortality rate. Like 1 in 120,000,000 chance of it happening and about 95% to 99% chance of dying. Not only did I survive it for 20 years, I played lacrosse for four years. Now, the issue was that I was missing a major blood vessel on my heart that is required to pump blood. My body compensated in such an extreme way that the blood vessel on the right side of the heart went down and around the heart and attached itself to aorta.

My heart was basically circulating blood around itself alone and the rest of my body didn’t get enough blood. So how it was found out? Not when I was a baby or kid, no. As an adult, I blew my nose and had a full-on heart attack. Surgeons repeatedly stated and asked “How was I alive” and “You played lacrosse for four years?” Also, the main surgeon stated that anyone with this condition usually dies at birth. They only know of the condition from autopsies.

34. Who Needs That Money?


I was doing a respiratory system examination on this guy who frequently (about once a month) gets admitted in the general ward with complaints of breathlessness. He’s had COPD for a couple of years. Quite bad. And he tells me that he isn’t going to quit smoking because God told him not to.

When asked why, he tells me that the people who are relying on him for their daily livelihood won’t survive if he stopped. I went on to ask him if he meant the people at the cigarette factory or the health industry. He didn’t get the sarcasm though..

35. Alternative Doesn’t Mean Better


Patient comes to the surgery clinic with complaints of a mass in his rectum. I wasn’t there the first time he came. The surgeon wanted to do a couple of investigations and advised him to get admitted. The guy decided he doesn’t want to.

A couple of months later, he comes back to the clinic. Apparently, he went to one of these alternative medicine places or whatever, and they had tied this metal wire—not exactly sure why—around the mass. By then, this mass had eroded through it, was bleeding, and had gotten much bigger. It turned out to be a cancerous growth.

36. Hallucinations in the Hospital


About two years ago we treated patients during a fungal meningitis outbreak. Our acute care floor has a census of 20. During this time at least 10-15 were meningitis patients, ages ranging from 20s to 90s.

There are no shared rooms and all the patients were in isolation, no contact with one another. Many of them had the same hallucinations, children in the corners of their rooms and auditory hallucinations of religious music.

37. Another Reason Why You Shouldn’t Have Rats as Pets


When I was on pediatric infectious disease, we had a young girl come in with a rash on the bottom of her feet. She was also having headaches and joint pains. We spent close to an hour interviewing the girl and the mother. Her history didn’t reveal much.

Finally, as a last ditch effort, I pulled out the weird questions you ask in med school. I asked if they had any unusual pets, as we had already ruled out normal pets. They said actually they did just return a pet rat for biting her. They thought that this wasn’t really relevant. Bam! It was rat bite fever!

38. The Old Flashcard Trick


My first rotation as a medical student was psychiatry. I was really nervous and made a flashcard for each psych condition and a list of diagnoses to consider. One of the patients being discussed on rounds was psychotic (think: KGB is after me!) but was otherwise put together. He was really into doing art and was very, very religious.

I looked at my flash card for psychosis and casually mentioned that we should consider temporal lobe epilepsy, which presents with religiosity and exaggerated artistic ability. An EEG showed that he had it.

39. Kicking Away From the Rocks


Not a doctor, but EMT. A very experienced rock climber fell about 100 feet after missing a clip. The area below the cliff was mostly boulders and a few pine trees. Based on our dispatch information, we thought this was a body recovery call. When we got to him he was somehow alive and conscious.

He had managed to kick himself away from the wall and fallen much of the way down through pine branches (slowing his fall), then managed to land flat on his back in a tiny patch of thick, soft soil between the boulders. The ER’s final verdict? Bumps, bruises, and a single cracked rib.

40. The Death Call Wakes Him From a Coma


When I was in pharmacy school I did a clinical rotation in a hospital with an infectious disease doctor. One of his ICU patients was in a coma. He had severe trauma from a motorcycle accident. My doc was just one of the many doctors following him—in our case, it was because of sepsis from a perforated colon. Things were not going well. He’d been in a coma for two weeks and showed no signs of coming out of it. The team of doctors (and me) sat with the family and discussed taking him off of life support. The family decided that it was the right decision. They said their goodbyes and I figured that was it. But the next day I came in and he was still on my patient list. I went to the ICU, and there he was. Alive and actually awake.

Apparently, he woke up that evening after I left. And he actually started to get better pretty quickly. Less than a week later he was out of ICU and in a regular room. And the next week he was no longer my patient because his sepsis had cleared and he no longer needed to be followed by the infectious disease doctor. It was pretty darn amazing.

41. Can’t Get Worse Than That


I had a nine-year-old girl bought in one night with her parents complaining of fever and respiratory distress, presenting with coughing and wheezing. The kid was really out of it and the parents were very upset. I thought it was Bronchitis, but I admitted her and ordered treatment for her fever and cough as well as throat cultures.

I was with another patient when the kid started hallucinating, sobbing and spewing everywhere. I figured it had to do with the fever, so I packed her with ice, but she died maybe a half hour after that. This wasn’t my first death, but it was one of the worst. I couldn’t tell the stiff neck since the kid was out of it. She also couldn’t tell me anything else that would point to simple or complex seizures. She died of neisseria meningitidis. Completely wrong diagnosis. To make matters worse, we called in all her schoolmates and anyone else we could wake up just in time to see three other kids go. The rest got antibiotics quickly enough. Probably my worst day in medicine.

42. Oh NO


Not me, but my mom. She just retired as an OB/GYN and she told me about a time early on in her career when, while not a real medical mistake, she still almost ruined the operation. She was performing a c-section I think, and she dropped her scalpel on the floor. Before she could think, she blurted out “oh crap” as a reaction.

The mother, thinking something was wrong with the baby, started panicking. It took a team of nurses, the husband, and the mother of the patient to calm her down. This was very early in her career, and she practiced for another 25 years without major incident.

43. First Responder


I’m a first responder for psych-related issues. I had one patient self-diagnose themselves as being dead. Emergency medical technicians didn’t believe him. He was quite insistent though and wanted an ambulance ride because he thought a dead person ought to have one. 

The EMTs argued with him, stating that he was both standing and talking. He countered that he was in hell. In fact, he was just extremely intoxicated. I had a fun hour with him while he came back down to Earth.

44. Always Check the Decimals


I very nearly injected a premature baby that had Down Syndrome with ten times the amount of Lasix I was supposed to give him: I had put the decimal in the wrong place when I did the math on the dose.

That baby would almost certainly have died if I’d given it to him. I had the liquid drawn up in the syringe and had the syringe actually in the port ready to push through before I looked inside the chamber and realized how uncharacteristically full it seemed. Paediatric IV doses of anything are simply tiny. I was supposed to give him 0.1 mls, and nearly gave him 1.0mls. I needed a very large cup of tea after that.

45. Good Enough Shape to Not Die


One guy had a congenital heart defect that caused an arrhythmia. He didn’t know about it until much later when he started playing minor league hockey in the AHL. Turns out, the guy started passing out during practices and one time needed to head to the hospital as a result—apparently, cardiac arrest. Basically, he was going into something called “Torsades de Pointes.” Anyway, he recovered from every incident without issue and he was finally seen by a cardiologist who referred him to a specialist cardiologist known as an electrophysiologist who would use a special procedure to fix his heart (hopefully) indefinitely. The problem is, Torsades is incredibly scary, could kill the guy, and could strike at any moment. So he had to wear this thing called a “Life Vest” which will shock his heart if it goes into Torsades, likely saving his life.

Anyway, he recovered from every incident without issue and he was finally seen by a cardiologist who referred him to a specialist cardiologist known as an electrophysiologist who would use a special procedure to fix his heart (hopefully) indefinitely. The problem is, Torsades is incredibly scary, could kill the guy, and could strike at any moment. So he had to wear this thing called a “Life Vest” which will shock his heart if it goes into Torsades, likely saving his life. So this happens to this 20-something-year-old hockey player and he presses the button. And he holds it. And he walks five blocks to the hospital. And by the time he gets to the ER, he’s in a normal rhythm. The ER staff think maybe he was mistaken, but they download the data from the pack and the guy was in, like, two solid minutes of Torsades before spontaneously converting. How could this possibly happen, you ask? He was in such profoundly good cardiovascular health that, even though his heart was pumping maybe 5% of the usual volume at the time, he was giving enough oxygen to his brain to stay awake and moving.

46. We Didn’t Start the Fire


Not my story, rather, my colleague’s. A patient was admitted for anemia and a localized cancer was found. She was referred to surgery so that the cancerous cells could be removed. She started telling everyone that it was the doctors who had caused the cancer and that she was doing just fine before coming to the hospital.

She lectured the surgeon and my colleague, who pleaded with her to get surgery, so that the cancer doesn’t advance, and yet she refused, saying she knew better and probably didn’t even have cancer…

47. Fool Yourself Twice


I once had a child who swallowed a sizeable magnet that passed to the intestine, and we were just waiting for it to pass in stool. The next day, when he came for follow up, we just found out that he swallowed another one that got stuck to the first magnet in the intestine through the stomach wall resulting in intestinal obstruction, and he was transferred to the OR immediately to have them surgically removed.

48. Doesn’t Make Any Sense How She Survived


I was working as a helicopter retrieval doctor in Australia last year. Called at 2am to a car crash in the middle of nowhere. Patient was 150 kg (330lbs.) and 5-feet tall. So drunk you could smell the alcohol in her blood. Had been ejected from the front passenger seat of a car through the front windscreen. Wearing no seatbelt. She had lain undiscovered for three hours on the side of the road. The temperature that night was 2 degrees centigrade. Her entire right scalp had been degloved. Blood pressure and oxygen saturation were unrecordable at all times on transfer due to shock, hypothermia, and body habitus. Carotid pulse only. GCS 3 (completely unconscious).

Due to her ENORMOUS obesity any movement of her head from the position she happened to land in obstructed her airway. If she had landed in any other position she would have had no way to breathe and died. Two hour flight from nearest trauma center. Unable to intubate her without drugs due to muscle tone. Scariest RSI of my life. Gave her drugs to paralyze then intubate in the middle of a paddock, on ambulance stretcher, under lights, with patient placed in RAMP position. With best rewarming we could do in the helicopter core temperature was 29 centigrade on arrival in ER. We didn’t carry blood on the helicopter at that time. Survived and discharged neurologically intact.

49. Grandma’s Back


Not a doctor, but I have a story about one that screwed up and one that saved the day. My grandmother was seeing this physician because she had multiple issues with heart disease and high blood pressure. He prescribed about a dozen different medications to fix all her problems. Soon after she started to speak strangely. She would start accusing people of being in the Mafia, and wanted to kill her and the rest of us. This kind of talk became more frequent as time went on, until finally she just stayed in bed because if she left she would be killed. None of us knew what to do, because who really wants to have their grandmother committed. During this time, my uncle (my grandmother’s son) goes to the supermarket to do some shopping. While there he meets her old physician, who just happened to ask how she was doing.

My uncle goes into all the details on what we were going through. The doctor then says he wants to look into the case since she was a good patient of his, and asks for the phone number to the house. The very next morning he calls and says he found what the problem was. The concoction of medications she was given had severely depleted the salt in the body causing her brain to swell. He was shocked that the other doctor had not realized this before over medicating her. His short-term solution was for us to give her one tablespoon of salt. The long term solution, of course, was to change her medications. I have never seen such a change in a person before. We gave her the salt in a drink, and within the hour she was completely normal again.


50. Not A Typical X-ray Image


In my whole career as an ER nurse, I've never seen a case like this. One day, a patient came in with abdominal pain. We ran some tests and did an X-ray on his stomach. I went to get the results, and when I saw the X-ray images, my stomach turned upside down. I've never been so disgusted, and I've seen many things! I rushed to find the doctor when my patient was waiting for me, leaned on the door, and said, "Please don't tell my wife." I heard a voice behind me say, "Tell me what exactly?" It was too late. His wife was behind me, and my patient looked like he'd seen a ghost. At the same moment the doctor arrived, and when he saw the X-ray images he almost threw up. The guy has put some kind of bottle inside of him. When his wife asked, "What seems to be the problem?" The doctor calmly replied, "You should talk to your husband." He's going to be in a world of pain after this.

51. Exposed In The Hospital


The doctor EXPOSED my husband's DARK SECRETS! My husband had AWFUL stomach pain. I took him to the ER and I was in full-on panic mode. One moment we were sitting, and the next he was on the floor crying from pain. After a while, the doctor came to tell me the results. "What's going on? How's my husband?" I asked the doctor. He came closer to me with a PALE face and whispered "Your husband is a MONSTER! He's been keeping disgusting secrets from you." I was confused, and he continued "Check his room and you'll find the answer." A few moments later my lawyer came to the hospital. I found out my husband had been inserting some disgusting stuff in him and he's been hiding that from me. When I found out about that, I instantly filed for divorce.