Doctors and Surgeons Share Their “This Just Got Even Worse” Moments

Some doctors and surgeons took to Reddit to share some of their most eye-opening real life experiences of things going from bad to worse. (A word of warning: you might not want to read this while eating.)

1. Back from the brink

Once I had a patient that had to be flown in from another state for escalation of care. She was a middle-aged woman with no prior medical history and she was transferred for intracranial haemorrhage. Pretty standard stuff. What was nuts was that per her family, she tried smoking weed for the first time in her life and she coughed so hard that it ruptured a vessel in her brain.

She survived the surgery and during her post op recovery her heart stopped and she went into cardiac arrest. I was at the code blue with neuro, pulm, and the code blue team for rapid sequence intubation and ACLS and we were able to bring her back.

Right as everything calmed down and everyone had packed up and left, I was just chillin’ outside the room reviewing my patient list when she went into cardiac arrest a second time!

Everyone had to sprint across the hospital again to handle it. I’ve never seen the code blue team so out of breath. She had a ruptured aneurysm, hemorrhagic stroke, two cardiac arrests back-to-back – and lived.


2. You have to hand it to them

I had a patient call our clinic saying he had cut his hand and needed a couple of stitches. I said sure, come on in, I’ll stitch you up. He failed to mention until I got in the exam room that he was working with a table saw, and that he had nearly cut 3 fingers off.

Tendons were exposed and severed, bone visible.

I sent him immediately to the hospital, they had to call in a hand fellow after hours to try to salvage his hand, which they were able to do fortunately.


3. Baby mama drama

This was when I was an anaesthesia resident. A pregnant woman came into our medium-sized community hospital in the Canadian West in the night with some abdominal pain and nausea, something minor. Her doctor determined she was not in labour so just treated with some meds and she started feeling better. She was about to be sent home in the morning when the new obstetrician for the day noted that the patient’s blood pressure had dropped.

The new doctor felt the patient’s uterus and it was exquisitely tender, and the patient is feeling very faint now. Now the diagnosis is likely uterine rupture (basically a hole burst in the womb) so she was rushed to the OR for an emergency C section, and that’s where I get called in to help my staff.

Uterine rupture is bad enough, but when they get in there and remove the tiny preterm baby they discover that it wasn’t a uterine rupture but a placenta percreta.

That’s when the placenta grows through the wall of the uterus and into the surrounding organs (in her case into the bladder). We rush the patient from the small OB floor OR to our biggest OR, call in more surgeons including a urologist, and me and two other anaesthesiologists start a massive blood transfusion protocol as

she’s bled so much. This condition is usually able to be screened for on prenatal ultrasound, but the patient had skipped hers. If known beforehand, she likely would have been sent to Toronto for the risky and delicate surgery.

If she had gone into labour to try to deliver normally, she would have very likely died. She and the baby did totally fine. A couple hours after her several-hour surgery, she was awake and chilling with her healthy baby.


4. Blotchy shock

I’m a patient, not a doctor. My boyfriend had come home from a family vacation on a farm in Kansas. He developed hives within a day of his return. He went to the doc and was told hives weren’t contagious so we didn’t take any precautions. A few days later I was covered in hives. I went to my doctor who said hives aren’t contagious, but that he must have had some pesticide or something on his skin, told me to come back if they changed colour or anything.

I was on my way to work, hot summer day, I looked down and my legs were purple! I changed route to the doc immediately. I was sweating and could see every trickle of sweat turn into a new hive. The places I’d had previous tan were now all purple!

I came into the office and the doc was more than alarmed. He started calling in his colleagues, pulling out medical text books!

They gave me a bunch of antihistamines, put cool clothes all over me to stop the sweat. The hives went back to pink, but they never did give me a diagnosis. Just to stay cool and take lots of Benadryl. The hives ended up peeling, I had to take a bunch of time off work as I was in food service at the time and no one wants a waitress who looks like a leper pealing skin everywhere.

Had scars for years everywhere that I’d had a previous tan or sweat had trickled.


5. Postpartum panic

We had a woman about three weeks postpartum come in through the ER with excessive bleeding. That’s fairly unusual timing for that particular problem; normally it happens a little closer to delivery. So I took her to the OR for a D&C, expecting a little retained placenta and that the bleeding would improve as soon as I got it out. Boy, was I wrong. As soon as we got in the OR she started hosing out blood, this was the fabled “audible haemorrhage.”

Profound uterine atony. Suctioned her out real good but it didn’t really help so I did a bimanual uterine massage (imagine putting your hand in a boxing glove and then massaging the glove with your other hand) until they could bring me a uterine tamponade balloon. That’s a big balloon you fill with saline inside the uterus to apply constant pressure. Plus all the meds we gave to make the uterus contract to hold pressure against itself.

Finally we got the bleeding stopped, and she did okay once we gave her some more blood. Her final blood loss estimate was 1000cc in the ER, plus another 2000cc in the OR, plus whatever was at home and in the car (she had to drive herself because her boyfriend wouldn’t bring her in). The best part is that the pathology report never showed any retained placenta; her uterus just tried to murder her that night.

I got a thank you card from her a few weeks later with a handwritten note in it: “Thanks for saving my life I guess lol!”


6. Bloodshot

I had a patient last week who had an AV fistula placed for dialysis. Essentially we create a link between the artery and the vein which gives good access for the dialysis catheter. He kept picking at the wound and so the skin didn’t heal over it, and ended up creating a pseudo-aneurysm with the wall of the fistula poking through the skin looking like a little tiny 4mm blood blister.

We are looking at it in the office trying to figure out what exactly we should do about it when suddenly it pops. The patient was sitting in bed and the blood sprayed so high over our heads it hit the ceiling and we had time to move out from under it as it fell. Nobody got sprayed on by some bloody miracle (heh).

Now we put pressure on the wound which is spurting blood several feet in the air with every beat of his heart. We end up placing a tourniquet and taking him to the OR immediately.

The guy leaks like a sieve the entire operation but eventually we manage to repair the fistula and close the skin nice and clean. Very much an “oh no” scenario, but with a good outcome thankfully.

7. Pop goes the weasel

A patient had a pilonidal cyst that had bothered them for years, but was never bad enough to do anything about it. (For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s a cyst which can be very large at the cleft of your buttocks caused by hair or hairs that burrow deep under the skin.) Sure enough, I guess during pandemic, sitting for longer periods of time inflamed it and it became infected.

Normally if there isn’t surface draining needed we refer to a surgeon for treatment, but this one peculiarly had opened on its own and was said to have been slowly draining for weeks.

We’ve all seen Dr Pimple Popper so I thought I should have a closer look. To my surprise I can see a nest of hair in this dark hole opening of the cyst, and my curiosity and absolute need to remove it took hold.

As disgusting as that is (you can imagine years of puss and hair under the skin festering), nothing can prepare you for when that bundle of hair acting like a plug, releases behind it the most foul smelling pus-splosion (luckily most of it hit my mask). I’ll remember the smell forever, but more importantly I always remember my face shield.


8. False alarm

My brother was a paramedic, and he said that every call he would go on would be bigger then what dispatch said it was. For example, one call he had was for a girl with minor bleeding. He showed up and found her 14-year-old brother was frantic.

He said his 12-year-old sister was bleeding everywhere and wouldn’t stop. My brother walked into the house thinking she has a major cut or wound and expected a blood bath.

What he found was a 12-year-old girl scared to death that she was dying because of all this blood coming from between her legs. He immediately calmed her down and asked where her mother was. She was at work and he asked if he could call her and explain to the mom what was happening.

Mom quickly realised what was happening, spoke to her daughter, and then spoke to my brother asking if he could help her get some tampons. He didn’t have any but used gauze to make a temporary tampon and explained to the girl what to do.

Mom showed up 20 minutes later, thanked my brother profusely, and hugged her daughter for a long time. After the call he had to go back to the truck and calm himself down. He expected to see a major cut but wasn’t expecting to teach a 12 year what a menstrual cycle was.

9. Cut price treatment doesn’t always pay off

I had a patient get a hip replacement in Mexico to save money, who then came back to the Pacific North West (where I practice at) and developed a severe joint infection.

We had to open her up and clean her out… not before sucking away 2 litres of gravy-coloured pus. The infection was so bad bacteria were burrowing down through her thigh muscles (something called sinus tracts – they’re like caverns of bacteria).


10. Gang violence in the hospital

When I was an intern I did a trauma surgery rotation. First week there we have a known gang member brought in by private car (crawled into the ambulance bay in a streak of blood after they kicked him out and drove off).

Victim of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen from a drive by. Bleeding from everywhere, we have him open and are trying to find all the entry wounds, deal with a collapsed lung, and keep him from bleeding out.

We can see multiple healed old bullet wounds riddling his body. In the midst of this controlled chaos a page goes off informing us of a patient with a weapon in the building.

Everything goes into lockdown. We receive word they believe rival gang has sent someone to finish the job. Asking about the patient aggressively and brandishing a weapon of some sort but we don’t have full details. Of course, the rumour is that it’s a gun.

It occurs to me as an intern I’m risking my life to save someone who makes life choices incompatible with survival and will most likely die very soon in this or another shooting. Uncharitable I know….

We start erasing the trauma white boards that say the patient’s name and injuries, and lock down the trauma bay. We cover the patients face with a drape.

We can’t go to CT because we are locked down so we are working blind and stabilising unsure of what could come through the doors at any moment. Probably the most scared I’ve ever been but I just put the fear aside and went into autopilot. The attending was so calm and set the tone like a champ.

In the end the patient lived, left AMA as soon as he could stand after requesting excessive amounts of opioids his entire stay. No idea what happened to him. The rival gang member was arrested but no serious time came from it.


11. A great nursing experience

I’m a patient but my poor nurse had this moment. I had a really high risk pregnancy that up until this point had led to about 15 hospital visits and several few day stays where she had been working.

She had held my hand while I got my first ever COVID test and had a panic attack. She’d helped calm me down when we thought my waters ruptured at 23 weeks, the works.

Somehow I was always in during her rotations. So I go in at 34 weeks for low foetal movement, turns out baby girl just rotated… and then they check my blood pressure. I was around 230/180, which is very not good during pregnancy.

So they gave me some extra meds and kept me over night. She comes in in the morning saying my night labs look good, and they want me to see my specialist in a few hours for a sonogram just to double check before I go home.

We are joking around and laughing, everything is great. Her and I joke about the fact I’m almost 35 weeks, and how I had been joking my daughter was going to come at 34 weeks for 2 months with her at this point.

She goes out to do her rounds after taking my morning labs just to double check my numbers and such. My blood pressure is back down, everyone is assuming it was just high due to the anxiety of not feeling her move.

She comes back in 30 minutes later. I’ll never forget the sad look on her face. She was so sweet but told me the doctor had asked her to come tell me because they thought I would take it better from her. I wasn’t going to see the specialist. I was going to be induced. Just like that.

Everything went from fine to pre-eclampsia. I knew this was common in pregnancy wings but she just seemed so sad to have to tell me. She was amazing during my labour, and honestly the only highlight. I still think about her regularly and my daughter just turned one.


12. Secret pregnancy

ER Doc here: patient arrived with complaints of vaginal spotting. History revealed she had been bleeding for two days, not very heavy, just a little pain.

Stated it started after her female partner had been “a little rough” during their last sexual experience. Physical exam revealed a complete tear through the posterior vaginal wall into the rectum consistent with what we would usually see during a difficult childbirth.

The situation was a bit fishy given the amount of trauma and the back story so I ordered the usual tests (blood count, coagulation panel, chemistries). In accordance with OR protocol (she was definitely going to surgery), I tacked on a urine pregnancy test, even though she denied the possibility of pregnancy given her sexual preferences.

The pregnancy test came back positive. Needless to say this opened a huge can of worms. Turns out, she had delivered a child two days earlier in secret but didn’t tell anyone. She’d been hiding the child from her family and girlfriend.

Child protective services, the police, EMS, paediatrics and OB/GYN all got involved in the matter of minutes after that revelation. They found the child in her apartment under some towels alone in her home.

It was a doozy of a night. To those who are wondering: yes, she was a larger woman whose pregnancy was hidden by her size. This happened five years ago and I have seen the child since, doing well with her grandparents who have full guardianship.


13. Skate park terror

Not a doc, but as an EMT trainee, I did my first ride along on an ambulance and we went to check out a guy who fell at a skate park. When we got there he was conscious, could walk, and was talking coherently. He’d fallen and hit his head, no helmet.

But we did a full inspection anyway, carefully avoiding the obvious bruise forming above his eye. Not much blood, pupils were normal, didn’t seem bad, probably concussion and a black eye. He could have turned us down, but we talked him into coming with us to the ER just to double check everything.

So we get him in the ambulance, lay him down, and it was my job to check his blood pressure, which had gone down significantly since first check. It didn’t take long and he seemed to be losing consciousness, getting sleepy, and then… he starts throwing up blood. That would be the “things just got even worse” moment.

We turned on the sirens at that point. The paramedic started fluids, blood pressure kept dropping, it was no bueno. He was unconscious by the time we got to the ER. It sounded like he just barely got there in time; head wounds bleed a lot as we found out, and not always obviously.

That part we skipped, touching the bruise above his eye because it was obviously going to hurt him; well, we shouldn’t have skipped it. If we had, it would have felt super mushy, because all that bone around his eye and cheek was crushed. And all the blood? Well it was draining down his throat and into his stomach.

He ended up having emergency brain surgery, where on top of all the other stuff, they found and removed a tumour. Pretty crazy for a first ride along. Hope he’s doing well now, and wearing a helmet.


14. Blinded by a sneeze

Eye doctor here. You may have heard that diabetics need to have their eyes checked regularly because diabetes is actually a blinding condition. This happened probably about 15 years ago, but this patient of mine I had noted had severe diabetic vascular changes against the retina and required laser intervention as soon as possible.

Without getting into the socio-economic arguments here, she scheduled her surgery and on the day of the surgery decided to take a work day instead of her surgery.

Her job was cleaning, and on that fateful day, she inhaled some of her cleaner fumes which caused her to sneeze, spiking her blood pressure, and she blew the fragile blood vessels in both of her eyes wide open and blood started gushing into her eyes.

As you might imagine, blood is opaque. You can’t see through it. She was instantly and completely blinded in both eyes in a matter of seconds. It took three years, multiple surgeries, and a complete lifestyle change, but this patient did recover to have actually fair (but not good) vision. I still see her now for her annual visits.


15. Unexpected amputation

Homeless man is brought into the ED by EMS for a foot wound that is giving him trouble. We eyeball his foot that’s poking out from the blanket as he’s rolling by and it’s a little roughed up, but doesn’t seem too bad. We go in to get his story, and he says he hurt his foot a few days ago and that it just hurts to walk on.

We ask if we can take a peek, so he whips off the blanket to show us his other foot, the one that is actually hurt, releasing a horrific stench cloud in the process. We knew we were in for a treat.

The guy has his foot bandaged in a very dirty Ace Wrap, his toes are completely black and necrotic, and there’s a maggot butt wiggling near the edge of the wrap.

We tried to remove the wrap, but it was stuck together with blood, dirt and who knows what else, so time to cut that sucker off. As we cut, more maggots began to present themselves, and the smell of dead flesh just kept getting more and more intense.

We finally made it through and pulled away the wrap, and I swear at least a hundred maggots fell out of that thing. But that wasn’t the worst part.

The entire bottom of the man’s foot was stuck to the wrap and just fell away from the underlying muscle and bone. We told the man we were unfortunately not going to be able to save the foot, to which he responded “Oh man, really? I didn’t think it was that bad.”


16. Heart attack on the slopes

I worked as a medic back in the day, specifically a mountain medic at a ski resort. One day a lady in her 40s had slipped and fell on some ice. She appeared fine, but we needed to medically clear her, so they called us down mountain from our clinic at the upper lodge.

I have no idea why I grabbed it, but I threw our cardiac bag in and we ran down on the snowmobile. I didn’t think I would need it, and typically we didn’t pack it unless it seems we might need it based on the call.

So I get to her and start asking questions, palpating for broken bones or dislocated joints. Quick neuro check and she seems fine, but there is just the slightest weakness in her left arm.

I probably would have thought nothing of it because everything else was fine. But then I asked her history and current symptoms and my partner just flashed me blood pressure.

It was odd. But then she mentioned she was taking antacids. I asked why, she had woken up that morning with really bad heartburn.

So I insisted she come with me to a private clinic room we have. She refuses, but I insist. I tell her I want to put a 4 lead ECG on. She’s insistent that I don’t, but I finally convince her that I’m not a doc, so I’m probably just being paranoid, but I really just want to be careful.

So we pop her shirt open and quickly get the leads on, and yep, she’s having a heart attack and it’s pretty bad. I have no clue how she’s standing, but women tend to have less of the big early symptoms and are tough as nails.

So we get in a helicopter and down to the cardiac centre. The air medic always passed me back status on my bigger patients. I liked to know when I saved a life. She survived, but if she had waited to it was bad enough for her, she would have died before she would have gotten to a hospital.


17. Dead man walking

A patient came into hospital with cystic fibrosis with end stage lung function, had an infection but was there to get optimised for a lung transplant. Was transferred to ICU after hemoptysis, and then in ICU had massive hemoptysis and coded.

A major artery in his lung had eroded and he was bleeding out into his airway quickly. At any normal hospital this already is the end, fortunately he was at an academic tertiary medical centre.

They coded him for between 50 and 60 minutes before getting ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation) at the same time as massive infusion protocol and cannulating for ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation).

He had no chance at living without a transplant and even though it was already a long shot, they did the lung transplant while he was on ECMO, and after he had been that way for about 10 days with basically no response to stimuli.

After another couple of weeks with the new lungs he started to respond and was taken off ECMO. Two months later, he walked out of the hospital, and had no major deficits a year later at follow up. In my head he’s like seeing a ghost or a zombie.


18. Saved by a sickness

The patient had lymphoma, and as part of the yearly checkup, he had a full-body CAT scan done to look for metastasised tumours everywhere. His doctor came in with an odd expression on his face. Paraphrasing: “No lymphoma, but we caught what looks to be clear-cell renal carcinoma in one of your kidneys.”

The doctor explained, “Radiation and chemo don’t work on it and average life expectancy is 6 months – unless you find it early and remove the kidney before it spreads. That’s you.”

The patient replied, “So you’re telling me…” The doctor said, “That’s right. Your having lymphoma just saved your life.”


19. Tragedy narrowly averted

It was a surgery rotation when I was still in medical school. A middle-aged lady was brought in unconscious, pale, and possibly bleeding internally because she stabbed herself multiple times in the abdomen after her husband cheated on her. We immediately cut her abdomen open trying to find the source of bleeding.

After a few moments, we were able to stabilise her and checked every segment of her intestines for any bleeding. We located a few and were able to cauterise and suture and what not. There was actually one stab wound that missed a major artery by millimetres.

As we were placing back the guts into the cavity, my chief resident decided to take one more look underneath and he accidentally opened up a big artery (most likely had an initial slight damage to it due to the patient) and it started bleeding like crazy.

We had to call the chief surgeon stat, even though he was on vacation, but he answered and was calm and told us what to do in a calm manner via the phone.

I was so scared, really thought the patient was a goner when I saw that massive haemorrhage happen before my own eyes. We were able to control the bleeding by a combination of aggressive cautery and some pressure and suturing.

Definitely something I won’t forget. The patient was able to live and I was able to talk to her a few days later as she recovered in the ICU bed, but man that was a crazy experience in the operating room. One of the more action-packed day as a medical student.

20. Routine check-up turns out anything but routine

Back when I was in residency, there was a patient who came in for a quick office visit to test the circulation in his legs. It’s a really basic test called Ankle-Brachial index where you basically just put blood pressure cuffs in different spots on the arms and legs to check for atherosclerosis in blood vessels.

It should take maybe 15 minutes for the whole thing. So he’s sitting there in a hospital gown and those sweet yellow grippy hospital socks. We run the test and there’s some trouble getting a reading in his left ankle. Try again. Still no reading.

We’re all checking the machine and the blood pressure cuff seal. Finally someone takes off his sock to see if it was in the way. The sole of his foot was totally black. One of the other residents goes to squeeze his foot and his thumb sinks about one inch in.

He pulls it out in shock, and about a cup full of liquid grey absolutely rotting flesh starting leaking out. One resident vomits. Another nearly passes out. A battle axe nurse comes over and goes “Get him to vascular.” He had necrotising fasciitis, and ended up having a below the knee amputation that night.

21. Unlikely survival

My father went to hospital with chest pains, they decided to do an angiogram. Dye injected, he’s lying under the machine and the surgeon suddenly changes his procedure. Asks my father if he’s had any blackouts; father replies no, just pain.

A few more doctors come in and are looking at the screen. They take him to another type of x-ray machine and again are looking in bemusement without explaining anything.

The doctor explains, “You have a blood clot the size of a golf ball floating free in your heart. It’s bouncing around the valves and we would expect you to have died very quickly from this.” So they give him super strong clotbusters, but were concerned it might shrink enough to get jammed.

A lot of experts turned up. But all went well, and he had a triple bypass a few months later. That was 30 years ago; he’s 87 now and can walk with ease up steep hills.


22. Hard work under difficult circumstances

There was that time when I just graduated and got registered as a Senior House Officer. I got placed in a community hospital about 45 mins into the hills of a town. Nurse comes in after the two senior doctors have left for the day and calmly asks me to triage a patient.

He had fallen out of a tree about 2/3 stories high, about 30/45 mins ago and they brought him in because it was the closest place. I run into the tiny treatment room and there’s my patient, in obvious distress, with multiple limb deformities.

I asked the nurse for morphine, only to be told it was out of stock. I asked the nurse to activate the trauma protocol, but no one knows what that means. I call the nurse to ask her to call a senior doctor; no response from the doctors.

I had to start ATLS (Advanced trauma life support) on my own while shouting orders left and right. Had to use diclofenac for pain control and after assessing at least an arm fracture and a leg fracture, with cervical tenderness, remembered that the nearest X-ray machine is over 45 mins away in the town at the foot of the hills.

I asked them to call an ambulance as an emergency to transport him for proper trauma care and asked for limb braces and a C-collar. They didn’t have any of them.

That’s when the senior doctor turned up and told one of the porters to make braces and the C-collar from cardboard boxes that fluids came in. Finally we got him stable, into the ambulance and out the door.

It was a Friday afternoon and I ran to my car and drove two hours back home and had a small breakdown the entire way. Upside: right before I was moved to a new clinic, I saw the patient again.

I didn’t remember him, but he remembered me. He had on a skull and neck and t-spine brace with healing limb fractures. He thanked me for saving his life before he left.


23. Miraculous recovery

I’m a firefighter/EMT. I responded to a bad head-on collision in a rural area. My patient had multiple broken bones, a rapid pulse and low blood pressure, and was lapsing in and out of consciousness. By this time, one of the firefighters had forced open the driver’s side front door with our jaws of life.

When the door popped open, a 3-4 inch chunk of bone fell onto the ground. For a split second, we thought she had hit a deer. That is, until we saw the ghastly wound on her leg.

The chunk of bone was from her femur, which had essentially exploded upon impact. We got her out and loaded into a helicopter, which hauled ass to the nearest trauma centre.

I expected that she wouldn’t make it. Turns out, she did. She coded twice on the way to the hospital, and was in a coma for seven months, but survived. Her list of injuries is too long to list here, but her recovery was nothing short of miraculous.


24. Don’t ignore toothache

Patient came complaining of swelling in face; we suspected an abscess from a sick tooth. When they came we called 911 immediately because the “swelling” had almost completely cut off her airway and her o2 level was an 87.

A PSA to all, if you have a cavity or a broken tooth it is a big deal. A rotten tooth can absolutely kill you.

25. Always do as the doctor orders

Patient came in with an badly infected foot abscess, entire foot was showing signs of cellulitis and we had to put her on Vanco for a few days of in-patient care.

She was paying out of pocket and kept trying to leave, but we kept her for a few days to try and finish the treatment.

When the infection was mostly cleared she was discharged and given antibiotic prescriptions, appointments to attend a wound clinic to monitor the abscess, etc. Also we gave her strict instructions to change the bandages, monitor the wound, keep it clean, if it gets worse call us, etc.

She did none of those things. She never picked up the antibiotics from the pharmacy. She skipped her wound clinic appointments, and when we tried to contact her she had apparently dropped off the grid and was unreachable.

We later found out this was because she went on vacation. Several days after getting home (and after deciding to skip picking up the antibiotics) she decided to go on a two week long camping and river rafting trip with some friends.

Let me repeat that, she had an open abscess on her foot that was recovering from infection, we told her to keep it dry and clean, and SHE WENT RIVER RAFTING WITH IT.

Regardless, her camping trip was cut short after the first week because she developed septicemia and her friends drove her a local hospital which then airlifted her back to our hospital.

She survived, but we amputated the leg above the knee. I have never felt less empathy for someone getting an amputation.


26. A shocking diagnosis

A patient was brought in for “Burns while burning trash”. The guy comes into the ER, barely responsive, looks like hell for the amount of burns that he has. He’s burned over 30% of his body but he shouldn’t be as sick as he looks.

I find a random scorch mark on the bottom of his foot and get suddenly very suspicious. I questioned the patient’s family about the story again, and they say that he wasn’t burning trash, he was on the top of a dumpster truck. They also say: “there was a bang, a flash, everything was on fire”.

There it was. The patient made contact with a power line on a construction site. The contact point was on his scalp, covered by his hair. It was a high voltage electrical injury, not burns.


27. No blood to the brain

My uncle is a super healthy guy, takes a lot of daily multivitamins, rarely sick, that kinda deal. One day, he just started acting super weird. Talking about really odd things, not acting like himself.

So he goes to the doctor, and the doctor agrees to run a bunch of tests, including an ultrasound. It showed something funny in his chest so he was sent for an MRI. We then find out he has an aortic aneurysm, that is pretty damn close to bursting and killing him. So he’s advised to take it easy and avoid stress while he gets booked in for surgery.

Eventually, he gets crazier – starts talking about how he’s the second coming of God, how there’s going to be an apocalypse and we’re all going to die, he thinks that he knows everyone and anyone when we go to a store or restaurant, and the craziest one, was he had a dream he ate a rat and called 911 for it.

We then found out the aneurysm is cutting off oxygen and blood to his brain causing hallucinations. He finally got in for surgery, and now he’s 100% better. But my god, it was terrifying to see him like that.


28. Went in for one thing, came out with another

I was a fourth-year general surgery resident when a large 30-ish-year-old female came in when she accidentally lost a sex toy up her rectum. I tried to get it out in the ED but with her habitus and how far proximal it was, I just couldn’t get it.

So I call my attending and get her booked for the OR. Sometimes we can get them out when they’re more relaxed with anaesthesia but still couldn’t do it. So we ex lap her and lo and behold, she has carcinomatosis.

Long story short, we get the 10-inch pink phallic object out of her sigmoid colon and when she wakes up from surgery, the first thing she asks for is to have it back. Instead, we had to break news to her that she has metastatic cancer and we later found out the source was ovarian.


29. Keep your head on straight

My dad is a doctor and recently a gentleman in his late sixties or early seventies came in holding his head trying to keep his neck straight and still all while gritting his teeth and grimacing.

The receptionist immediately gets a nurse who then immediately puts a cervical collar on him and calls 911 for an ambulance.

Turns out, the guy had fractured his C1 vertebrae, the first knock bone below the skull, when he did a header off the tailgate of his truck two days prior to coming into the clinic. He even drove himself there for his appointment.

While the nurse was initially chastised by the head of the clinic, he quickly apologized when they learned the patient had broken his neck.


30. Honeymoon horror

A newlywed woman and her husband came into the ER. She was in pretty bad condition when she arrived, but the “it just got even worse” was when they did some medical imaging trying to find out what was happening to her.

Her heart was mush. Complete and utter mush. She developed an infection while overseas on her honeymoon and whatever it was ravaged her heart. She crashed after the lasts tests and my mom, a doctor, had to sit on top of her to give her CPR.

The woman was conscious and talking as long as my mom continued CPR, but the instant Mom stopped, she was gone. Mom kept up CPR for over two hours.


31. Not what it seems

I have a pregnant patient who was late to establish care due to a lack of insurance. She’s about halfway through her pregnancy, so I send her to our ultrasound centre for her typical fetal anatomic survey. While she’s getting her ultrasound, it’s noted that she has a mass on her cervix.

They presume it’s a fibroid since she has a few other fibroids, but the doc reading the ultrasound recommends I examine this at her next visit because “it looks off”.

Fast forward a week, I explain to the patient the findings on ultrasound. I also realize she hadn’t had a pap smear in nearly a decade, so I collect one. On an exam, I can’t get a good look, but I see a large black mass.

I decide to wait for the pap smear results, hoping that may help guide me, but instead, they come back normal. Weird. So then I decide to have her come back to biopsy this thing.

She comes back, and I get a better look at this thing. I then grab the mass and remove the entire thing. It’s a tampon.


32. A hidden passenger

I was running a very serious polytrauma after a motor vehicle crash. 30 something-year-old woman. Multiple obvious deformities of every extremity. Two kids who were also in the car were transported to the children’s ward with intracranial bleeds.

We are doing the EFAST examination on mom which is an ultrasound to look for bleeding in the abdomen and get down to look near the bladder and the resident who’s performing the examination just goes “Aw no”.

There was a fully formed fetus in the uterus. Mom survived and as long as I was in the trauma ICU I didn’t see that she miscarried. She lived and so did her kids. I still remember talking to the dad though. He was so overwhelmed with worry that he couldn’t speak and he couldn’t cry or ask questions.


33. Victim and suspect

The patient arrives with a stab wound to the chest. Emergency clamshell thoracotomy, breaking open of ribs to access heart, begins in an attempt to resuscitate. Unfortunately, the patient passes and detectives present begin assessing the scenario as the patient is now a murder victim.

Fast forward 20 minutes, and a triage nurse comes back to the trauma bay to inquire on whether or not the detectives have any information on the suspect. It turns out they do, and a person in the waiting room matches the description.

They also have a knife wound to their hand that would be present in a struggle.

Detectives head back to question the suspect and he is immediately put under arrest. The murderer is now brought back to the trauma bay to begin repair on the injured hand whilst being cuffed to a bed not more than 10 feet from where the man he killed laid just minutes before.


34. Distracted driving

A guy was getting head from his girl while driving and they got into a god awful wreck. It killed his girl and left him paralyzed. Not sure what happened to the occupants of the other vehicle as I wasn’t in the field when it happened.

I hated going to him for check-ups because he couldn’t speak or move, but you could see that last shred of him in his eyes. I was relieved for him when he finally passed. He was miserable and his mom was a nightmare.


35. Prophetic dreams

Nurse here. Heard this story from a senior nurse, who works on a mother-baby floor. This mom says she dreamed last night that she was going to die and she had a horrible feeling, despite the fact that her vital signs were perfect for most of the shift.

The nurse kept reassuring her that she was fine. Then she got up to take a walk, said she felt dizzy after a few minutes of walking, her mouth turned blue, sats in 60s, and they coded her after she went unresponsive and couldn’t get her back. It turned out she’d thrown a clot in her lungs.


36. Triple the time

I went to the doctor with drainage from my ears. The doctors think it is a minor infection in my inner ear so they schedule me for surgery to put tubes in my ears. It’s a fairly routine surgery but they cut in and instead of finding liquid, they find solid.

There is a solid mass in both my ears. Turns out I have an infection in my ears and I’ve probably had it a long time. My right ear is the worst, I didn’t actually have an ear bone anymore as the infection ate it and the solid infection was acting as my ear bone.

What was supposed to be a simple 1-2 hour procedure turned into a 6-hour procedure and I spent a couple of days in the hospital. I didn’t really find out what happened until morning because I didn’t regain consciousness until very late that night.

I came out of that fairly deaf as I now don’t have an ear bone in my right ear and my left ear bone is damaged.


37. Weapons in the waiting room

One time while she was working in the ER, my sister had a patient find out he had an inoperable brain tumour after having a seizure. His wife was with him and was carrying a gun in her bag (this was the late 80’s), and he asked her to go to get something from the gift shop.

While she was gone he took the gun and shot himself in the head, before my sister could do anything about it. The worst part is that he didn’t die straight away.


38. Not as funny as it seems

The guy who rocked up after taking a load of MDMA and putting a shaving can in his rectum. He went to the theatre for surgery and they got him off to sleep. The surgeon gripped the end of the canister and removed it, but the lid didn’t come out with it.

He ended up having a laparotomy to remove it and a temporary stoma formed. He made a full recovery but it was a way more serious situation than he realised.


39. Grey from golfing

I was working as an RN in a small rural hospital. A 50-year-old lady comes in from playing golf. She is cold, diaphoretic, grey and short of breath. 10/10 crushing chest pain. The cardiac monitor shows elevated T wave. Tombstone rhythm. We TNKase her.

30 minutes later she is warm and dry and pink. No pain. Normal sinus rhythm. We ship her to a larger hospital where they cath her. She comes through it fine. They then put her in ICU where she strokes and dies. It just was not her day.


40. Blame the family

My mom is a surgeon. She told me once about this seventeen-year-old kid who was so clinically obese that he needed an emergency bypass. I think he was about 1200lb if I remember correctly. His grandparents dropped him off at the ER and basically said, “fix it.”

So they take him in and lay him down on the stretcher when they realize that his own fat is literally choking him to death, he couldn’t handle the weight of being laid down like that.

So they tried their best to save him not being able to even lay him down for surgery or risk putting him under anesthesia but it’s too late, and he dies.

Another this just got worse moment aside from the fact that he was too fat to breathe is the fact that his grandparents were actually charged with child abuse.

They found out that there was too much fat on his arms for him to even bend his arms up to feed himself, which meant that someone else was haphazardly shovelling all this food in his mouth.


41. A painful outburst

Male early to mid 30s comes in via EMS, we get the call for patient coming in altered mental status possible ETOH (drunk). The guy immediatley goes into the trauma room, I go in in case the patient assaults the staff.

They take the blanket off the guy and his nut sack is split open, I mean I saw this dude’s bare nuts with no skin.

He is rushed to the OR, he is drunk and high, starts fighting with staff in his bed, at the same time screaming in pain. We eventually had to use soft restraints on his arms, for him to not hit the nurses and not touch his balls.


42. Accepting the consequences

So, mum and a friend of hers are on triage that day, it’s pretty quiet, so they are taking turns dealing with the patients coming in, and providing care. It’s friends turn, but the patient that comes in has a boil and she hates pus.

She begs my mum to take the patient and my mum agrees but tells her no matter what comes in next, it’s the friends turn. Agreed.

The next patient is an old man wearing a beanie, complaining of head pain. Easy. The friend asks man to take the beanie off, and the dude has a giant, gaping, festering wound on his head. You can see his brain through the hole. The friend really regretted asking my mum to switch.


43. Not an assault

Working in the ER, we get a trauma alert for a patient who was found in his house covered in blood and bruises. EMS called it in as an assault. The guy comes in and is covered in old blood and his face is swollen. A bit lethargic, but kind of responsive.

Everyone was just under the assumption that he was assaulted. Then, as we’re wheeling him to CT, the RN notices a little black speck on his right temple. Turns out, it’s a self-inflicted gunshot wound that crossed his midline and then got stuck in one of his sinuses.

A couple of days later it turns out that the patient is more alert and we find out that he shot himself due to hallucinations. He was discharged with a clean bill of health.


44. Calling in sick

My father in law was in a car accident. He slid on ice into the side of a bridge, concrete wall hit right behind the driver door forcing his seat forward into the oncoming airbag. He was awake, called his boss to say he wouldn’t be able to finish his route for the day.

His boss thankfully had him call 911. The ambulance took him to a rural medical centre who noticed he had a shattered pelvis. As they were moving him around to get good X-rays or MRIs to figure out why he was so unstable they noticed that he had severed his aorta.

Everything came to a screeching halt and he was transferred to the trauma centre. The heart surgeon said it looked like a grenade went off in his chest. Somehow he survived.


45. Better out than in

I had an extremely sore throat one day. Over the course of six hours, I went from fine to pure agony swallowing and everything tasting like almonds. I had an appointment with the paediatrician one day as I was still 17 and the nurse had me open my mouth wide.

I remember her gasping and saying “Oh my god! Let me get the doctor!” Turns out there was a pus-filled almost ping pong sized radius infection back there.

24 hours of antibiotics later I rolled up to the job site I was labouring at, coughed, and the whole thing flew out and hit the ground with a pretty nasty wet sound. Felt great after.


46. Extreme in the extremities

Paramedic here. Dispatched at 3 am for and I kid you not. “Emergency toe pain at the local nursing home.” I crawl out of bed literally having a conversation with my partner about how nursing homes call 911 for trivial things all the time like they don’t have their own nursing staff.

I arrive on the scene. The nurse tells me the usual “I just got here, not my patient, she was fine x amount of time ago” walk back to her room. It’s oddly quiet.

Turn on the lights and sure enough, the woman is dead. My best guess is that the “toes pain” was the start of a massive heart attack.


47. One bad thing after another

A healthy, active 20-something female comes into ER for simple shoulder dislocation while lifting weights. The reason she dislocated her shoulder was that she was told that her father had just died unexpectedly, and almost dropped the weights when she heard.

We put her under sedation to reduce it, she has an adverse reaction to the medication and starts having seizures. Goes into full-blown status epilepticus, has to get intubated. ICU doc asks for her date of birth… and it was her birthday.


48. Visitor then patient

I remember as a student nurse in the ICU we had a client come in who had been riding his bike and hit by a car, he was obviously unwell enough to be in ICU but stable.

His husband was visiting him at the ward and whilst sitting there collapsed, he then went to another ICU bed had to be intubated and within hours staff realised he wasn’t going to make it.

So they wheeled the beds together and let them say their goodbyes. Patient one survived, his husband did not.

I still think about this and how scary and sad it must have been for him, seeing your partner collapse like that, when they seemingly have nothing wrong, and then to be told they won’t survive the night.


49. Unusual anatomy

We had a patient come in with some very unusual anatomy as a result of being kicked in the stomach by a horse, however, this was not why he was on our table. It was a routine Lap Chole, one of if not the most common surgical procedures.

We are inserting the trocars, a pointy thing that allows us to insert instruments and cameras without cutting the patient open, and blood immediately starts pouring out of the port. We had hit the liver three times.

The liver is a very vascular structure, and bleeding from your liver can be quite fatal. The doctor quickly realized their mistake and ordered the patient into Trendelenburg position, lowering the head, to try to get a head start on shock as we quickly cut the patient open and started clamping for dear life.

He was fine and the gall bladder was successfully removed but whooooo boy that was a hectic case.


50. Not growing pains

About two years ago I was having pains in my knee, the doctor said it was growing pains and gave me a knee brace. The pains got worse so we went back and the doctor said it might be juvenile Arthritis since my mother had Arthritis also.

However, my knee started to swell up so I had to go back again and get a bunch of x-rays.

It turned out I had a tumour growing on my femur bone. So I went from growing pains to Osteosarcoma cancer and had to have most of the bone taken out.