On a daily basis, doctors see some weird things. Objects in places they should not be, medical issues unheard of, weird injuries, and so much more. But, what happens when a patient comes in with an issue so impossible, it's a surprise they're even alive? Sometimes, miracles really do happen.
Doctors on Reddit share the injury that left them scratching their heads, because the patient definitely should not have survived what happened. Content has been edited for clarity.
“I’ll Never Forget That CT Scan”
“I am a medical resident – on my ICU rotation last year, we were looking after a patient who had undergone seemingly uneventful open-heart surgery. Over the next several days, he developed an infection, which is not uncommon – people get pneumonia after anesthesia, the skin around the surgical site can become infected, etc. Weirdly though, he seemed to be getting worse despite aggressive antibiotic treatment.
Somewhere around the fifth day, it was time to take the drainage tube out of his chest (they are placed there after every surgery like this so that blood does not accumulate around the heart), and lo and behold, literal feces start pouring out of this poor man’s chest cavity. Turns out, the cardiothoracic surgeon had punctured the man’s intestine with the tube on the way up to his heart, essentially creating a highway for his colonic micro-organisms.
The poor guy ended up with multiple bacteria and fungi running rampant in his chest, abdomen, and bloodstream. Obviously needed repeat surgery to get everything cleaned out, somehow survived (in the short term at least) despite being pretty sick to begin with. I’ll never forget looking at that CT scan though, horrifying stuff.”
“Very Lucky The Patient Didn’t Die”
“I’m a medical scribe, but work closely with the doctors. We had a cancer patient whose caregiver called in to request a refill on morphine drops, as they were almost out. The problem was that the prescription was for a 30-day supply, and they had only had it for a week.
The patient is hospice, meaning they will be dead soon, so the doctor agreed to refill the medicine. We figured the caregiver had been dosing more often than the prescribed three times a day, so the doctor said we’d increase the amount per dose since clearly the original prescription wasn’t working.
A couple hours later, we get a call from the pharmacy. The caregiver is saying that the dosage has been lowered, not increased. Which makes no sense. The original prescription was 0.5 mL three times as a day as needed for pain, and this one was for one mL. Literally double the original dose.
The pharmacist has a brilliant idea, and asks the patient to mark on the enclosed dosage cup where they’re filling it to for each dose.
Turns out, they’ve been giving the patient five mL three times a day! The doctor was shocked. That’s much higher than the recommended dose, and it’s very lucky the patient didn’t die from an overdose.”
“Everyone Was Absolutely Puzzled”
“Mexican doctor here. When I was in my fourth year of med school, I was doing a shift in the emergency room of our training hospital. As students in my school, we were required to do shifts due to lack of personnel to do basic stuff like taking blood samples, placing Foley catheters, etc. One Saturday morning, around 10 probably, a patient walked in with a knife stuck on the side of his head (temporal area). Guy, just walked in, KNIFE STUCK ON HIS HEAD, talking normally and everything. Everyone was absolutely puzzled.
Guy turned out to be a construction worker who got in a fight with a coworker, patient tried to hit coworker with a shovel, coworker dodged it and stuck the knife in the guy’s head. Coworker freaked out and ran. Patient looked for a taxi, couldn’t find one, decided to go ahead and take a 40-minute bus to the hospital. As you do.
They took a CT scan, impossible to interpret obviously because of the metal, and they sent him to the operating room to be taken out by a neurosurgeon. I heard later that the knife had apparently gone inside only a few millimeters on a venous sinus and the knife got stuck in the bone.”
“Should Have Died For A Number Of Reasons”
“I’m a veterinarian, and my most recent was a cat that came in who should have died for any number of reasons. He had a blocked bladder, meaning he wasn’t able to urinate, which throws a real spanner in the works. Basically, you need to be able to urinate because it removes waste from the body, and helps balance electrolytes and other substances. Some of the more deadly changes include buildup of potassium, which can cause heart arrhythmia or death in high enough concentration, and changes in the pH of the blood, which needs to be maintained in a fairly narrow range to be compatible with life. You also need to be able to wee because your bladder is a finite size, and just like a water balloon, if you keep filling it up with no outflow, it can rupture. And if you’re not able to urinate for long enough, you go into shock, and start to die.
This cat – whew. Came in collapsed, barely with us. Had a severely low heart rate at 36 bpm – it should be about 180-220 in cats. Severely hyperkalemic – over the threshold where it can cause sudden death from cardiac changes, and ECG changes to match. Catastrophically acidotic – his blood pH was the lowest I’ve ever seen, and isn’t supposed to be compatible with life. Bladder was on the verge of rupture. Blood glucose so low that he was at significant risk of seizures and death. Temperature so low that we couldn’t even get a reading on our thermometers for over an hour of active warming.
This cat should have been dead hours before it arrived. This cat basically used up of its nine lives he had in the bank, and was just barely, just BARELY, clinging to life. I honestly believe that if they’d waited fifteen more minutes, he would have died on the way to the clinic.
But we saved him. It took eight hours of active stabilization – with one or more people working on him at any given moment – and then several days in the ICU, but we saved him. He went home. Bit of long term kidney damage, needs a special diet, so he’s less likely to block again, but alive.”
“My Heart Sank And Then Started Pounding”
“I’m an ER doctor and went to see a hall patient with a complaint of ‘toe pain.’ I sat down to really talk with the guy since there was a lull in my shift. He said his toe hurt because he dropped a knife on it. I asked him, ‘Were you cooking, or what?’ He looks up from his foot and I notice a thin red line on his neck, below his thyroid cartilage (Adam’s apple). My heart sank and then started pounding.
It’s really hard to slit your own throat without bleeding to death, but not impossible if you hit the trachea just right and it lines back up when you look down…which is what this guy had done. He had cut nearly all the way through his trachea (windpipe), and just the muscle in the back was preventing it from falling into his chest causing him to die by suffocation. Once that happened, I wouldn’t be able to help him, not with intubation (breathing tube) or cricothyroidotomy (cutting into neck) since his trachea would be retracted into his chest.
VERY CALMLY, I called cardiothoracic surgery and ENT and got the guy to the OR (still looking at his toe to maintain the seal) for a tracheal repair. He was discharged to the psych floor three days later since this was a suicide attempt, but he did well. I knew he had already decided to live since we had about a half hour to calmly talk to each other waiting for the OR to be ready. If he wanted to finish himself off, he would have just need to look at the ceiling!
Like many patients in the ER, his story was poignant, his acuity wasn’t immediately obvious, and there is morbid humor associated with the case. When we tell our trainees about this case, we refer to him as ‘the Canadian.'”
“Then What Has She Been Taking?”
“I am an EMT, and one night we got a stroke call for a semi-elderly lady. We show up to the apartment, and my partner goes to perform a stroke test and assessment on the woman. While my partner does that, I begin to talk to the patient’s daughter, who also doubles as the woman’s caretaker. I ask if she was prescribed any medications, specifically for her heart, and she pulls out this bag with maybe a dozen or so bottles and says most are for her heart. I begin to look through and I see medications for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, CHF, arrhythmia. I mean, this woman’s heart was terrible, one of the worst I had ever seen.
So I ask the daughter if her mom had been taking her meds recently.
She laughs a little and says ‘OF COURSE not!!! Not in months!’
I look at her, eyes as wide as saucers, and ask ‘Then what has she been taking?’
She pulls out TWO BOTTLES from her pocket. One is St John’s Wort, the other is an ‘organic thyroid medication.’ Turns out the daughter is a ‘holistic medicine therapist’ and doesn’t believe in modern medicine (or, apparently, heart disease), and she first noticed her mom’s stroke symptoms 12 hours ago. When positive thinking, deep breathing and ‘counting backwards from 100’ didn’t work, she decided it was time to call us.
At this time, my partner comes back out and says we had to MOVE. One half of this woman’s face looked like she was melting, and she had no movement in her left arm or leg. The nurse chewed the daughter’s butt out at the hospital. Never found out if that woman made it.”
“Mom Decided They Were Too Busy”
“I am a doctor. A couple of months ago a young guy comes in for a CT of his chest, abdomen, and pelvis. His history is ‘difficulty swallowing and not very hungry.’ I read the studies and I have never seen so much cancer in any one patient in my entire career. Over half the volume of his chest was filled with metastatic disease, his liver was entirely replaced with cancer. His spleen was a single large met and one of his kidneys was completely destroyed. He had diffuse carcinomatosis throughout his abdomen with massive ascites and every lymph node was abnormal and enlarged. A CT of his neck showed huge lymph nodes and an MR of his brain revealed at least 8 separate metastasis.
Apparently, when he was 16 (about 9 years prior) his mom took him to the doctor where they removed a skin lesion that turned out to be melanoma. He was referred for follow up, but mom decided they were too busy.
Skip ahead to today, the guy is still around and his tumors are shrinking – a bit. He’s doing okay, mostly comfortable, and hanging in there. Mom is a basket case.
“I Felt Sure I Was Close To Dying”
“When I was a kid I had something that was only explained to me as a reflux problem, where one of the tubes connecting my kidneys to my bladder would send urine back up.
Around four years ago I was volunteering for an outdoor event, and I was freezing. My back was hurting and I couldn’t wait to get home. I basically went right to bed because I wasn’t feeling so hot, and mentioned to my boyfriend I might have a UTI. I woke up in the middle of the night freezing, shaking really violently, and I couldn’t stop vomiting. I was like that for the next two hours, my boyfriend tells me it was scary and I was very very hot.
I felt better when I woke up, but he insisted I go to the doctors. He called them first thing and insisted they squeezed me in. He went and picked up a sample bottle for me to pee in before we went. I walked round and I was mainly just tired, and wanted to go back to bed. The doctor tested my sample and asked me to lie on the bed. He pressed on my back and asked me if it hurt and where. He then pressed on my stomach and both had really sensitive spots. He sat me down again and said there was an alarming amount of blood in my urine. Due to the rigors I’d experienced the night before and all walking around I did, he didn’t know how I was sitting there talking to him. He called the hospital right in front of me and said he’d call an ambulance if I couldn’t get someone to drive me, getting someone to drive me would be faster and I didn’t have time to waste on getting a bus.
As he was talking I felt sicker and sicker, and was eyeing up his sink to vomit it. He told my boyfriend to go with me and make sure I got a lift quick. I walked to my parents house and was sick a good few times on the way, and had to stop twice because the pain in my back was so bad. My cousin took me to hospital and I was put in a room straight away. I had a temperature of 101.3 or something and my blood pressure was really high. They monitored me hourly, sent me for scans, took blood and more urine. I had intravenous antibiotics because I was vomiting every 10-20 minutes, as well as fluids and pain killers. My boyfriend stayed with me till he was sent home, and I can’t remember this part, but he said they gave me some anti-sickness medication and I basically passed out because I was so tired.
My temperature kept going up and I think the highest it got was 103.6. They had a fan on me, took my blankets, opened the window, gave me a cold towel for my head and told me they were extremely close to putting me in an ice bath. I can’t remember exactly what they said because I was pretty unable to focus, but they said I was lucky I came in when I did, and that I had a really severe kidney infection. They kept me there for 5 days, taking my blood pressure and temperature once an hour till they were under control. When I was discharged, they told me and my boyfriend I was well enough to go but still sick enough to stay another few days if I wanted. I could only go home if me and my boyfriend promised to be vigilant with meds and to drink a lot, and I had to stay in bed for a few days, then go for a check up with my doctor.
I don’t know how serious it actually was given I’m not a doctor, but I had never felt pain that bad before, and the nurses kept reassuring me but exchanging very worrying looks. At the time, I felt sure I was close to dying, and if I survived it was only because of my boyfriend forcing me to a doctor, and the doctor I saw being so firm about me needing to go to hospital.”
“I Slowly Lock Eyes With Our Doctor”
“I was on rounds in the outpatient clinic with our internal medicine doctor. A patient walks in and complains of blurred vision. Routinely one of us, the students, would get up and check the blood pressure manually for practice. It was my turn. Mind you, this is the first time I practice on real person that’s not one of my friends. I confidently wrap her arm and place my stethoscope and start pumping.
I hear the first throb on the reading too fast. I pause, and start again. Again, the first throb comes too fast and I check the reading again. I slowly lock eyes with our doctor. She finishes explaining something to our round group and makes eye contact with me, ‘So? What’s her blood pressure?’
I pull down my stethoscope and slowly pass it to her, ‘Ummm, not sure. But I THINK you should check it out yourself’
Her face went pale, it was 240/120 and we had no idea how this patient was still breathing air.”
“She Seemed To Be In Great Health”
“About seven months ago, we had a lady in her early 20s come in to get a full checkup. Her insurance would cover it, and she had not been to a doctor for a couple of years. I talked with her while I did the basics (temperature, blood pressure). She was very sweet, but didn’t really think this checkup was necessary. When I asked why, she told me she knew she wasn’t in the greatest shape, but she was fine. I was kind of confused, because she wasn’t overweight at all, her blood pressure was excellent, her temperature was a perfect 98.6, oxygen was good, and she seemed to be in great health.
A few days later, the doctor who saw her came to talk to me. I learned that while her vitals were perfect, she had so many old, but fully healed muscle, tissue, and bone injuries (no complete breaks though, strangely enough). She had so many it made the doctor and two of his colleagues question how she was still functioning as well as she was, and why had she not gone to a hospital before. Her answer was one that doctor told me he would never forget:
‘Well none of it hurt that badly.’
I didn’t get to see the x-rays or the other parts of her chart, but that doctor was absolutely convinced that she should have been in the emergency room for at least half of those injuries. Her pain tolerance must be insane according to him.”
“He Basically Did The Splits”
“My parents lived on a lake in Missouri. The neighbor 2 doors down was on his dock. and was working on his boat. He suddenly slipped, and one leg went in the water. Then he landed on his hips, and then the other leg dragged off of the dock. He basically did the splits. The docks there have hydro hoists that lift the boats out of the water. There is a lot of sharp angle iron that attaches the hoist to the dock.
The neighbor next to my parents saw him fall off of the dock awkwardly. Thank God she is a nurse and went down to help him out. She gets him back on the dock, and he has a gash from below his knee to the inside of his thigh to his privates. He slashed his inner leg pretty good.
There is no blood for how bad he was cut. The nurse says ‘Oh my god, you need to get to the hospital now because you have a blockage somewhere.’ There should be blood everywhere and he wasn’t really bleeding.
He went in and he had a major blockage in his femoral artery. They got that fixed and stitched the leg up. He was in his early 70s when the accident happened and lived to 84 and passed away from cancer last year. Makes you wonder how long he would have lived if he hadn’t fallen off his dock.”
“They Still Didn’t Know What It Was”
“I had some incredibly bad stomach pain on a Wednesday afternoon, so I took the next couple of days off work as I felt really bad. Took myself to the doctor on the Friday as I was due to be going on holiday on Saturday. Doctor did the appendix test and didn’t think it was that, thought it was gastroenteritis, left it up to me whether I went on holiday. I hadn’t had a holiday in years and it was the first holiday with my new boyfriend, so I decided to go. I was doubled over in pain the whole week, could barely eat but I didn’t want to ruin the holiday, so I still managed to go to a water park, go parasailing and on a pedalo. I still just had pain all over my abdomen, in my lower back and was flicking between constipation and diarrhea, so I thought it was gastroenteritis. The scariest part was I was at an all-inclusive resort and lost 20lbs in a week.
I thought it was starting to get better because it didn’t feel so painful but when I came back I went to the welcome center. The nurse told me it was just irritable bowel syndrome, and made me go buy Buscopan. The next day I was still exhausted and the pain was worse. So, I decided it was time to go to the emergency room. They saw my tan and that I’d been on holiday to Turkey and were still saying it was gastroenteritis. However, they couldn’t understand that I’d had it before I went away. It was only because I started crying that they did a blood test, which showed a high blood count and the consultant told me they’d admit me because ‘they weren’t that busy and had a few beds spare.’
They tried to perform a colonoscopy but couldn’t access all of my intestines because it was too painful for me even with the sedative. It later turned out that the large amount of fluid in my abdomen was essentially blocking it off. Various other tests didn’t give a clear answer as to what was wrong. It wasn’t until they did an ultrasound 4 days later they found a liter of fluid in my abdomen. The consultants were arguing about whether to operate or not or just leave me on antibiotics, which in my opinion didn’t seem to be doing much. I was in so much pain and so exhausted I’d started to think that maybe I’d be better off dying. At least then I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain anymore. They would only give me paracetamol (I remember they had me on morphine after surgery and I didn’t use it because the post surgery pain was nothing compared to pre-surgery!). Eventually they decided to operate on the Friday night, 16 days after my symptoms first started. They still didn’t know what it was, so the consent form was interesting…
They later told me that my appendix had ruptured, the consultant told me I was very lucky it hadn’t spread around my system, and he had no idea how I’d not come in two weeks earlier. I had some complications with healing, a huge scar, and was told that the large amount of pus may result in scar tissue around my ovaries which could affect my fertility. But nothing compared to what the outcome could have been.
The experience taught me that the human body has an amazing capacity for dealing with pain. I remember nurses telling me certain procedures might be painful but it was like I had reached a threshold and couldn’t feel any more pain than I was already in.