There are no dumb questions. As a doctor, you want to make sure that your patients are receiving the best care and understand everything that is happening to them. But, sometimes, there are those questions and discussions that make no sense if they had common sense. These doctors share the craziest discussions they've had with their patients. All stories have been edited for clarity.
Plastic Is Not For Eating
“I’ve been an ER tech for around two years. One time a mom came in with her baby plus two more older kids, complaining that the baby hadn’t pooped in a while and wouldn’t stop crying. As I was settling them in with one of the nurses, the baby was bawling, like opera singer lungs bawling. Suddenly, the mom whipped out a white plastic shopping bag and stuck an end in the kid’s mouth and said, ‘This is the only way she stops crying.’
The nurse and I shared a look and immediately ordered an emergency x-ray on the kid’s stomach. It turns out she had ingested a good amount of these bags and it was blocking up in her stomach. Big deal, potentially life threatening.
When we confronted the mom about her baby feeding habits, her only words of defense were, ‘Well I checked all over the bag and I couldn’t find anything that said non edible.”‘
Don’t Believe Everything On The Internet
“I was a newly minted graduate with fresh and optimistic views on my life as a doctor. Second week, in came this old lady and her very dysfunctional family.
They would argue and complain about everything, from the food, the nurses they didn’t like, and every single medical decision we made. She was very sick, so her management was just as complicated.
She had several children, and they all didn’t like one another and would not talk to one another. Each time, we would have to explain a long update to every single one of them because they ‘are entitled to hear it from a doctor.’
One of the worst stories was when I had to explain why you don’t give Gatorade as an IV drip. They did not understand why we were giving ‘salt water’ to her.
The conversation with her son went like this:
‘Look, she likes Gatorade, she is drinking it so why can’t you give it to her through her drip?’
We explain why.
Son frowns. ‘But it’s isotonic.’
We explain again.
‘Yes, but Gatorade has more electrolytes.’
We explain again.
‘Salt water just seems to be too cheap. Can’t you give her something else closer to Gatorade? That has electrolytes?’
This continues for two hours. Wash and repeat every day during her admission.
Afterwards I told my fiancé. He opened up a scene from Idiocracy on YouTube and I just sat there with my mouth open for a while.”
Was This Father That Dumb Or Was He Just In Denial?
“Idiot dad: ‘So what pills will he (son) need to cure his autism?’
Idiot dad: ‘…and how long does he have to take them for him to be fully cured?’
Idiot dad: ‘…two months? six months?’
Me: ‘Sir, seeing as I am the end of the line type doctor for kids with autism, you should know enough about it by now since your son has had 18 months worth of professional medical evaluation to reach said diagnosis. I can’t perform my job unless the diagnosis is confirmed. Are you meaning to tell me, that for 18 months, not one of the eight doctors you have seen has explained autism to you?’
Idiot dad: ‘So, it’s like an infection? I’ll get that prescription and be on my way.’
If I was one of the first people consulted on his son’s case, then I would understand his lack of knowledge on autism, but this dude was a single dad and had been at every single appointment with his kid for a year and a freaking half before it was confirmed he is autistic! Blew my mind. Working with him for the next two years was worse than working with his son who was high dependency. I think even he knew his dad was a moron.”
Diabetes Means Less Sugar
“My brother is a general practitioner in rural Tennessee. Enough said, right?
He says most of his patient visits go about like this:
MD: ‘Well, person, you’re pre-diabetic, have high blood pressure, and are complaining about joint pain. Have you been exercising and cutting out sugar and carbs?’
Person: ‘Yeah I have, doc, but it doesn’t seem to help. Do you have any better meds you could prescribe?’
MD: ‘Well, let’s talk about your diet. How much water do you drink a day?’
Person: ‘I don’t like water, so I get extra ice in my sweet tea every day to make sure I get enough water.’
MD: (explains how that’s not enough water by a long shot) ‘How much sweet tea are you drinking every day? Those can have a lot of sugar in them.’
Person: ‘Well, I get a large one from Hardee’s/McDonalds/wherever on my way to work with my breakfast, and another one on my way home for dinner. Then I have a glass or two when I get home.’
MD: ‘Well, that’s a lot of sugar. And a lot of fast food if you are eating it twice a day. What do you eat at home?’
Person: ‘I don’t like to cook, so I usually don’t eat anything but Little Debbie snack cakes at home.’
MD: ‘Those have a lot of sugar too…’
Person: ‘I thought that all I had to do was cut out Mountain Dew! Now you’re saying I can’t eat my food or my snacks?! What are you suggesting I do? Eat salads for every meal?! Why can’t you just up my meds?!'”
She Was More Concerned With Judgement Than Her Child’s Health
“When I was working as an EMT, we got a call to an apartment complex for a 30-something female, seven-months pregnant, having contractions. Pretty standard, dispatch didn’t have any further information.
We got there, got her into our ambulance, and because child-birth is actually a pretty simple process, I was the one who took it, not my paramedic partner. We asked her what hospital she wanted to go to and she said the local one, ‘Community Hospital’ is what I’ll refer to it as.
I advised her that Children’s Hospital would be her best choice, even though it was a longer ride, but she insisted on Community and I informed the paramedic that was where she wanted to go. While on our way to Community, I asked her all the information I needed. Medication, Past Medical History, Allergies. She didn’t indicate she was on anything other than Tylenol and prenatal supplements.
She had been pregnant before, and it miscarried at seven months. After learning this, I advised her again that Children’s would be the best choice for her and the baby, but she insisted on Community. For anybody wondering, we couldn’t take her elsewhere, even if it was in her best interest, because that would be considered kidnapping.
We were five minutes away from the hospital by now and I radioed to them all the information that I had. After I listed her current medications though, she said, ‘Oh wait, I’m also on methadone.’ At this point, I STRONGLY advised that because of her history and her current medication, Community would just send her to Children’s after admitting her. Again, she refused saying that Community didn’t judge her for being a methadone patient. So, essentially, what I was hearing is that despite being a methadone patient who was seven-months pregnant, had a previous pregnancy miscarry at seven months and experiencing contractions, what was more important to her was not the life of her unborn child, but how people treat her.
The hospital wasn’t happy about it either, and they even tried talking her into going to Children’s over the radio, but no chance. She got the DIRTIEST looks from the nursing staff when we pulled in, and we went straight through the ER and into the elevator to go to the Maternity Ward. In the elevator, she looked at me and said, ‘If I knew it would hurt this much, I wouldn’t have gotten pregnant again.'”
No, His Skull Is Not Fractured
“My secretary buzzes back to me that there’s a call on line two that needs medical advice. I pick it up and our patient’s mother is on the phone having a panic attack. She is hyperventilating into the phone. I asked her if she was alright, thinking maybe she needed an ambulance, and through her breaths and now tears, she starts telling me that she thinks her four year old son has a skull fracture.
I ask if he fell. No.
I ask if he’s conscious. Yes.
I ask if he’s breathing. Yes.
I ask if he is bleeding from his ears, eyes, nose, mouth, scalp. No.
I ask if there is any visible wound. No.
I ask why she thinks he fractured his skull. Because underneath his eyes is red and puffy and Google says that’s a skull fracture.
I tell her to go to the ER for proper assessment (we don’t do MRIs, X-rays, CT Scans). She doesn’t want to. She says she was supposed to take her kids to the beach. Mind you, she is still crying and breathing heavy at this point. I tell her to come right over then but warn her we will probably have to send her to the ER.
She shows up 15 minutes later, cradling the child and crying. The little boy was crying too and screaming, ‘I don’t want to die Mommy!’ She keeps hushing him and saying ‘Mommy loves her strong boy, no matter what,’ which only makes him cry harder.
I pull her back into the room, and she just dissolves as she tells me how she looked at him in horror this morning and saw the guarantee signs of a skull fracture. She swears he must have hit his head yesterday at swim practice.
The little boy is crying hard but I can see the noticeable swelling and pinkness under the eyes that she was referring too. I go to get the doctor and tell her what I think. She goes in. She comes out about ten minutes later shaking her head. She has the same diagnosis.
You know when you wipe your eyes after swimming, you usually wipe under your eye too? The kid must have wiped off his sunscreen around his eyes the day before. All the pinkness and puffiness was from a mild sunburn under his eyes.”
Please Listen To The Doctors
“I once had to tell a patient that a vegan diet is not a substitute for dialysis.
The patient come into the hospital, pale as a ghost, in a wheelchair, looking 40 years older than he was. I can’t remember what was wrong with his kidneys, but two years before, his nephrologist told him that it was time to start dialysis. He was upset about this, so he went to another nephrologist who told him the same. So he decided to stop seeing doctors altogether and went on a vegan diet instead. That wheelchair? Yeah, he bought it half a year ago when he couldn’t walk anymore for some reason.
I wish I had taken a picture of his lab results. The only one I can still remember is Creatinine, which was off the charts. Potassium was somewhere in the ‘certain death’ range, hemoglobin ridiculously low. He was taken to the ICU and finally got his dialysis, but his body was pretty damaged at this point.
I don’t know what became of him (it was during my training and I left soon after), but he didn’t look like he could ever recover.”
Doesn’t Work Like That
“As an athletic trainer at a D1 university, we had an athlete who kept complaining of shin pain. At first, it was manageable and even getting better, but after a while it got drastically worse. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this girl was having so much trouble all of a sudden because rehab, rest, various medications and modalities were not working. We come to find out that this girl had been operating on the wrong side of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ by way of taking a hammer to her shins every night in order to ‘help the bones get stronger.’
For those that don’t have a background, let me explain a bit. Other than the obvious ‘duh’ of don’t hit yourself with a hammer, she wasn’t all wrong. As far as body growth goes, there’s this concept called ‘Wolff’s Law’ which at its core states that the body becomes stronger by applying stress to the body. But this happens in relation to the force applied. For the long load bearing bones, the vectors of force usually applied are approximately along the long axis of the bone, making them stronger in resisting this force. However, they aren’t as strong at resisting a crushing force perpendicular to this axis and so these hammer blows were causing micro fractures in the bone and not healing.”
He Had All Of The “Textbook” Symptoms, But He Still Didn’t Know
“I was working in GP and had a patient scheduled for an appointment. Looked through his notes to gain an idea of why he may be seeing me and saw he’d been seen a few times with knee pains/shoulder pains and the like. The guy is in his 70s, so probably just arthritis. I’m thinking I’ll do an examination of his sore joints and ask a few questions, prescribe some painkillers and it’ll be a quick one.
Call him in, and he walks in, sits down, and is cheery as anything.
‘What seems to be the problem then, sir? I notice you’ve had some issues recently with sore joints,’ I ask.
He then proceeds to tell me about this sore knee. So I check his knee and take a history and it all seems fine. Ask anything else, and he’s like oh actually my neck is sore too. So I check his neck and nothing untoward to be found there either. At this point, he’s like ok well thanks doc, I’ll be off then.
I say to him, ‘Oh good, glad we could help. And you have no other pains at all before you go?’
He then sits back down and tells me he’s been having central, crushing chest pain radiating down his left arm and into his jaw since last night and has been feeling breathless and when it happened he had an impending sense of doom. He had all of textbook signs of a heart attack.
Called an ambulance, and he was rushed to hospital for PCI.”
The Smell Gave It Away
“I had severe asthma as a kid. I was intubated for a severe attack a few times. My parents were instructed to take better precautions in our home and went through instructions like more dusting, washing bed sheets, and the big one – NO SMOKING inside the house. So my parents agreed to all of this.
A few weeks later, I was back at the hospital. A doctor recognized me and came over to talk. Then he bent over and smelled my head (I’ll never forget that. I thought it was so weird). He told a nurse to sit there and not let me leave with my parents. When my parents showed up he asked point-blank:
‘Did you not understand what I told you last time? Do you understand these attacks could be fatal?’
‘But we open windows and have stopped smoking in her room when we put her to bed'”
Not What We Meant
“I had a patient who was coming back post lap band for a check up. What we usually do is revise the patient’s weight and ‘tighten’ the band or ‘loosen’ it as needed.
Now the thing to remember is that getting lap band isn’t as easy as just throwing down some money. For six months, the patient must meet with a psychiatrist and a dietitian to understand what they’re getting into and if they can adjust their lifestyles and commit. A goal weight loss target (ex: lose ten pounds) is usually set for the end of the six months to ensure the patient is serious. So after all of this rigorous evaluation, a patient is deemed fit for an operation.
Enter my patient ‘Sylvia.’ I checked her chart, BMI before surgery was 40, she was morbidly obese, and now had come in for her first follow up to ascertain if she’d lost any weight. Well, I put her on the scale, calculate, and what do I see? Her BMI was now 45. Perplexed, I asked her to explain her diet to me.
Sylvia: ‘Well I’ve been doing a liquid diet just like you all said.’
Me: ‘Very good! Can you maybe give me an example of what you have?’
Sylvia: ‘I make smoothies and have them whenever I feel hungry.’
Me: ‘So what do you put in your smoothies?’
Sylvia: ‘Cake and ice cream.’
Yup. She was serious. Somehow it didn’t occur to her that this wouldn’t be healthy. We reversed her band.”
The Body Does Not Nuetralize It
“In school, I had a 70-year-old patient who was still in the dating game and looked good for her age.
She had a ton of acid erosion on her teeth. Told me she drank ‘3-O’ water. Didn’t know what was in it. We looked it up on Google. That’d be a pH of 3. All of her water. Plus, she liked to put lemons in her water. I told her that was also acidic. She told me I was wrong because her friend who took a few nutrition classes said that as soon as the lemon juice got into the body, it turned basic.
I told her I had a biochemistry degree… and that what she was told was wrong.
Also, her blood pressure was super high every visit. She told me that she stopped taking her blood pressure medication because she thought it were unhealthy. I told her that her method was not working at all.
A few weeks later, she had a stroke and never got out of a wheel chair again.”
Have You Tried Closing Your Eyes
“I’ve had lots of annoying patients. The one that stands out in my mind was one back when I was in residency training. Pretty minor in the grand scheme, but still sticks in my mind for some reason.
I was pulling call in the hospital, which, as a resident, meant that any time a patient showed up in the ER who was identified as being a patient even remotely associated with one of our residency clinics, the ER docs wouldn’t see them, but would instead have the nurse page the on call resident. Anyway, most nights, on call meant zero sleep as you would get called to the ER all the time (in addition to your other duties, which by themselves would typically keep you from ever getting enough down time to catch a few zzz’s). Well this one night the stars were aligned. After a brutal first few hours of call, things quieted down and finally, at about 2 am, I managed to take my shoes off and lay down and actually fell asleep. It was blissful. At that point, I’d been working full throttle for probably 30+ hours, so I was in heaven.
Then, at about 2:10 am, the pager goes off and displays the ER number. I call the ER nurse who tells me I have a patient in the ER. So I get up. Rub the sleep from my eyes. Put on my shoes and groggily make my way to the ER. I grab the chart and go into the exam room. Conversation goes basically like this:
Me: ‘Hi, I’m Doctor X. What brings you into the emergency room tonight?’
Patient: ‘I can’t fall asleep tonight.’
After extensive questioning, that was it. Her medical emergency which required her to rush to the ER at two in the morning and wake me up from blissful slumber was that she couldn’t fall asleep that evening.”
“A patient came in with a rash around her mouth; she was going on about how she had it 14 years ago and the dermatologist prescribed a certain antibiotic to cure it and diagnosed her with ‘perioral dermatitis.’ She’s showing us pictures on Google. Okay.
Doctor diagnoses her with impetigo and prescribes her an antibiotic ointment. She leaves and fills the prescription and comes back flipping out. She googled impetigo and, with the help of WebMD, came to the conclusion that it was a children’s disorder on the arms and legs that can only be contracted from children, and she wasn’t around children. Insists that what she believes she has (perioral dermatitis) is a ‘woman’s disorder’ and she doesn’t have this ‘children’s disease.’ Says that the antibiotic he prescribed isn’t on the list of treatments (thanks WebMD).
The whole time, she’s showing us these pics off google of ‘perioral dermatitis’ saying it’s a woman’s disorder. Half the pictures were of men. Now one thing you should know, perioral dermatitis means rash around the mouth. That’s it. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a type of rash. It’s not only cured by a specific antibiotic. It’s just a rash that happens to be around the mouth. She was furious, shaking with rage and about to start throwing stuff because the doctor wouldn’t prescribe her this certain antibiotic. Doctor told us to call the cops if she came back. People are crazy.”
Not That Kind Of Rubber
“My mom was the head nurse at a clinic here in Houston in the 80s. She worked for an old WWII doctor that had gone into private practice (old school GP) when he returned to the states.
Well one afternoon, she told me that they had a patient come in that was running a high fever and was complaining of pain in her pelvic area. My mom also told me that there was a stench coming from the woman’s lap that could only be described as enough to gag a maggot off a meat wagon. She started to interview the patient who told her that she and her boyfriend had been ‘active’ and that she has been in pain since. She thought that the woman may have contracted something and asked her to undress and wait for the doctor to examine her.
The doctor arrived and closed the door, only to re-open it a few seconds later, mentioning the need for fresh air. The doctor noticed that there was a discharge and began to question the patient about her love life.
According to my mom, the patient told her, ‘No doc, we always use protection.’ The doctor looked down then noticed that there was a small rubber band extending from the woman. The doctor reached in with his gloved hand and pulled it out. What came next can only be described as a magician pulling the magic cloth out of someone’s mouth… one rubber band after another came out over the course of the next 10 minutes. Finally, once they were all removed, the Doctor had ‘the talk’ with the woman and that rubber bands were not a successful contraceptive and not what they meant by ‘wearing a rubber’ and then wrote her a prescription for some antibiotics.”