Doctors and nurses never know what they'll be getting into when they interact with their patients. Sometimes it's good, and everything goes great. Other times, not so much.
Doctors on Reddit share their "Are you kidding me?" moments they've had with patients. Content has been edited for clarity.
Uh, That’s Not How It Works
“My favorite was a 30 something-year-old woman who came in for a check-up at the emergency low-cost clinic I where worked. Teeth were broken and almost black, and her gums were angry swollen, bright red, and bleeding by just moving her tongue against them. She needed multiple scaling/hygienist appointments and a debridement. An 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 three, but more if the treatment didn’t work. I xxplained everything and did the usual explanation of proper mouth and teeth hygiene.
At the end of the appointment, I 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.’
The dentist and I 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.”
It Started A Chain Reaction
“My friend’s dad is a surgeon at my local hospital, and he deals mostly with trauma surgery and just general emergencies.
This is my favorite story he’s ever told me. Let’s call him ‘D.’
He was working on a really nice day in July, and he got notified an ambulance was coming in with a patient with severe lacerations on his left hand, and a couple of missing digits.
They brought him into the OR and there wasn’t much they could do to save the fingers (his index, middle and ring finger were cut off right around the knuckle). So he cleaned it out and sewed them shut.
When the patient came to, D started getting some information about what happened.
Apparently, the man was doing some yard work and thought he could use his lawnmower to cut the top of his hedge perfectly straight. So he hoisted his mower up and started cutting when the weight shifted and his fingers got caught up in the blade. Shocking, I know.
About three hours later, D was notified another ambulance is coming in. Severe lacerations on the hand and a couple missing digits.
D said it felt like déjà vu and the injury was almost identical. The same fingers missing, completely mangled so they couldn’t be saved.
D stitches this patient up and yet again starts asking about the incident.
The patient told him he was driving home from work and saw someone cutting their hedges with a lawnmower. Apparently, he thought that was an excellent idea and decided to try it himself. And, well, you know what happens next.
So moral of the story, don’t cut your hedges with a lawnmower.”
“He Wasn’t Even Remotely Phased”
“I had an old coot (best possible description of the man) who was sweet but had clearly spent his adult years drinking away whatever brain cells he started with. he presented with a chief complaint of ‘I can’t drink any adult beverages anymore. Every time I drink one, I just throw it back up a few minutes later.’
Well… turns out Cooter hadn’t been able to eat actual food in months, was subsisting on pretty much just liquids, and hadn’t food in over two weeks. But that didn’t bother him a bit… until he couldn’t have the drinks. Then it was an emergency!
He had a big ol’ tumor blocking the distal part of his left colon (so near the end of the road, intestinally speaking), and everything gradually got backed up all the way to his stomach. That’s why he couldn’t keep a drink down–there was just no more room at the inn.
I fixed him with a colostomy, and he got better and left. He refused chemo and I figured he’d just go home and die of cancer. But then, almost exactly one year later, he came back to me with just about the same complaint. He was obstructed to the point of not being able to drink.
Except this time, it was that his ostomy had essentially retracted into his abdomen and the skin had nearly grown shut over it. He was relieving himself out of a teeny-tiny hole in his skin. What the heck?
Even my oldest partners had never seen anything like it, but once again, Cooter wasn’t remotely fazed. He just wanted us to fix it so he could go home and keep drinking.
I did. Haven’t seen Cooter since. I kind of hope he’s still out there, treating his cancer with Budweiser and just blissfully ignoring the Grim Reaper.”
She Didn’t Mention A Very Important Detail
“I worked at the ER during my internship and met a girl who had increasingly painful and red eyes since a couple of days back. The last 24 hours had been horrible. I asked about all the normal stuff, and she claimed to have no idea why she had this eye problem – she had never had anything wrong with her eyes. I proceed to drop some dye in her eyes to check them in a microscope, and when I did, I realized she was wearing contacts.
She didn’t like her natural eye color, so she had bought a set of blue-colored lenses eight months earlier. Never removed them, not even during nighttime. Didn’t even think to mention this to me, claimed to have no ‘foreign materials’ in her eyes.
Needless to say, I gave her quite the harsh lecture and a referral to an ophthalmologist.”
There’s No Way She Would Have Won
“A patient I took care of many years ago was absolutely the stupidest ever! Or foolish. It seems that she had discovered a lump in her chest.
She went to the doctor after a few months of doing nothing about it. The doctor did a biopsy and told her that it was cancerous.
She fled. She refused to speak to the doctor, who had called her for follow-up. The doctor telephoned her, went to her home, spoke to her husband, practically begging her to come in for a lumpectomy. He was nearly desperate because he knew the biopsy-related diagnosis was severe. Finally, when the lesion reached the surface and opened a fistula, she listened to reason and went into the hospital. Stage IV carcinoma! By then, it had been a couple of years since she had found the lump.
They did a bilateral mastectomy and then treated her with heavy radiation to try desperately to save her. She ended up with a colostomy (the cancer had metastasized to her intestines!) and the heavy radiation treatments had caused a HUGE lesion on her back. The lesion was half the width of her back from shoulder to shoulder and extended from mid-thorax down to just above her hips and her spinal vertebrae were thinly visible through the skin grafts!
The stupid part? She was, when I was treating her, suing her physician for not doing enough to get her in for surgery! And, she told me, she expected to win her malpractice case!
She died, of course. I don’t know if her husband followed through on the suit or dropped it. That poor physician had done everything he could to get her to return for surgery, short of camping on her front lawn! For two years!”
Looking Things Up Isn’t The Same As Going To The Doctor
“I am an ER doctor and recently, I had a young male patient who came in for about the fifth time complaining of abdominal pain and vomiting. Looking over his records from past visits, I could see his symptoms had previously been attributed to either acid reflux and gastritis, or cyclic vomiting syndrome secondary to daily heavy substance use. Anyway, he’d been told to take Nexium twice a day and cut back on the pot, as well as follow up with a GI doctor. But he had done none of those things.
Instead, he told me, ‘Doc, I Googled my symptoms and I’m sure I have stomach cancer. My mom has cancer too, so she gave me some of her chemo-therapy pills and I started taking those.’
So, yeah, the guy ignored the medical diagnoses and recommendations he’d been given and instead decided he had stomach cancer and treated himself by taking his mother’s chemotherapy pills. He wasn’t sure what kind of cancer his mom had, but I tried to explain different cancers require different medications, and chemotherapies are the most toxic substances we make and might kill him, he is very unlikely at his age to have stomach cancer and much more likely to have over-production of stomach acid for which he should take the medicines he was prescribed the last several times he came to the ER.”
He Learned A Hard Lesson That Day
“About 30 years ago (when I was a paramedic), there were several guys in their late teens and early twenties fishing in a lake near town. This lake is a pretty large, man-made reservoir and a place for boating, sailing, camping, and fishing. These guys were fishing from the shore and I guess the fish weren’t biting all that much so they were able to spend more time on their other pastime; drinking their drinks. Well, as young boys will, they started thinking about what funny thing they could dare each other to do, and of course one of them suggests eating their bait. Their live bait. Minnows, to be exact. These small fish (about the size of a carnival goldfish) could easily be swallowed whole with a half can of any drink. After one or two rounds, one of the guys decided to take it up a notch and he pulled out a Red Ear Sunfish he caught a few minutes before.
His was just slightly smaller than this one, but not by much. These fish have a very spikey dorsal fin. They tend to deploy them when they are alarmed or threatened. A good example of that ‘threat’ would be an 18-year-old boy attempting to swallow you whole with a river of liquids. The perch made it about a third of the way down his esophagus before becoming lodged. He swallowed it head first (because he didn’t want to get poked by the fins. Smart) but his swallow was too slow and the fish too large and it got stuck. The tail of the fish was visible in the back of the throat, so his friends tried to grab it with needle-nose pliers and pull it out. That was a mistake. The dorsal fin then entered the esophagus and the fish was incredibly lodged. And alive. Very alive. And the tail was flapping back and forth over the glottis, causing a major airway issue.
He was taken by ambulance to the ER and he nearly died. His friends succeeded in tearing most of the tail off the fish, but it was still alive. He ended up with a cricothyroidotomy and a trip to the OR to have the fish removed surgically. As his friends messed around with the fish in the back of his throat, he vomited of course. Lots of the adult beverage he was drinking. This was even more of an airway issue.
So, if you’re thinking about swallowing a live fish of any size remember this. The surgery is a massive deal, and fish are not sterile. Those fins often contain a deadly mix of bacteria (especially catfish) and occasionally even venom. After the acute phase of treatment (assuming you live), you are still facing a long road to recovery. Holes in your esophagus allow gastric contents through as well and that is a major problem for your lungs and heart. Better by far to stick to those little yellow cracker goldfish snacks with any drinks.”
How Did He Miss That?
“About 10 days before giving birth to my third and last child, I lost my balance stepping over a small gate to the kitchen that my husband had erected to stop my 16-month-old son from ransacking all the open cupboards in the kitchen – husband was busy renovating said cupboards. I fell face-first onto the tiled floor, nappy flew out of one hand and coffee cup out of the other. I think I landed that way in an instinctive move to protect my precious belly. I distinctly remember hearing a snapping sound as my left cheek made contact with the floor.
I laid there in shock for a few moments like a beached whale and then picked myself up. My son was crying and screaming, and there was blood all over my t-shirt because my chin had split open from the impact. I was freaked because the baby wasn’t moving – this was a child that did aerobics in the womb. All. The. Time. So I had a bath to calm both of us down and see if she would start kicking because bath time was when she was the most active. Nope, nothing.
We hot-footed it to the doctor five minutes down the road. He wanted to stitch my chin up first, but I really did not care about that – all I wanted to know was that my unborn child was ok. He checked, said everything was fine, put in a few stitches, and then sent me for x-rays.
I heard nothing and 10 days later on Christmas day gave birth to a baby girl at 6 am. Fun, fun, fun but that’s a whole ‘nother story. Fast-forward a few weeks and I get a call from the doctor’s receptionist.
‘How are you, Mrs. J?’ she asked.
‘I can’t sneeze, cough, eat or open my mouth properly but otherwise, I’m fine, why?’ I politely replied.
‘The doctor thinks your jaw is partially dislocated and you need to see a maxillofacial surgeon.’ she told me.
I smelt a rat. A partial dislocation sounded like being a bit pregnant – you either are or you aren’t. But I was too tired to argue the point – I had a newborn and two other children under five – so off I went to the surgeon. He was the most fabulous guy and he put me in his fancy x-ray machine which looked like the capsule of a rocket ship.
He looked at the results, looked at me, and said, ‘Your jaw is broken.’
He asked for the x-rays which I had brought with me from my doctor and then showed me – it was as clear as day that the condyle had snapped off and was lying horizontally instead of vertically. A five-year-old could have picked up the break, it was CRYSTAL clear. He phoned the radiologist there and then to steam him out. To his credit, the radiologist did phone me at home the next day to apologize – I could almost hear him blush with embarrassment, especially as he admitted that maxillofacial x-rays were his specialty! He offered the cat scan that I would need for free – our medical aid covered it anyway, but I appreciated the gesture.
And the doctor? Not a peep. He ordered the x-rays and they were sent directly to him, so while the radiologist messed up, the doctor did too but never admitted anything. I ended up having surgery to first break the scar tissue that had formed, and the plan was to insert a pin to replace the condyle – I was given a 30% chance of success. When I woke up, I only felt one piece of plaster, which meant that the second part of the operation did not happen. I was gutted because now it was a half job and my teeth were wired together! Worst ten days of my life.
Apparently, the broken bit had adhered to the carotid artery so every time the surgeon tried to move it, my blood pressure zoomed down, and eventually, he decided to leave it alone.
Happy ending – when I first saw the maxillofacial guy, he said it was a pity that I wasn’t a child because then I would just grow a new condyle. I was in my thirties. Seven years later, I went back to him to check my jaw and to arrange to have my wisdom teeth out. He did the fancy x-ray thing again and then got so excited he called his long-time receptionist in to take a look – seems I had indeed grown a new condyle!”
“I Lost A Little Of My Idealistic Intern Optimism”
“When I was an intern, I had a patient come in with a hand infection from shooting as substance into his hand. His hand looked pretty bad, so I paged hand plastics and then completed the rest of my history and physical.
I asked him if had ever had surgery and he said no. So I was surprised to find a big surgical scar on his abdomen. I asked him about it, and he told me he had liver cancer and had part of his liver resected, but then he was never able to complete his chemotherapy because he lost his insurance.
Now, as an intern, I was naive and very concerned about this. So I asked the guy where he had been getting treated in the past so that I could get his records. He told me St. Francis hospital, so I got him to sign a records release form and then faxed it over to St. Francis.
Needless to say, I lost a little of my idealistic intern optimism that day when I got the faxed surgery report for his ex-lap for removal of a rectal shampoo bottle insertion.
It wasn’t really the rectal insertion, or the substances, or the lying about liver cancer that made this guy so stupid. It was the fact that in a city with like 15 hospitals, he had chosen to tell me that his fake cancer surgery happened at the place where his actual butthole shampoo bottle surgery had happened and then sign a release for me to get those records.”
That Would Have Been A Good Thing To Mention
“I worked in an academic medical center as a rheumatologist and had a patient with an IQ down in negative numbers. However, he had a job and he’d finally married the mother of his three children, so he wasn’t all bad. He had a ‘strange’ case of sarcoidosis, something that can be very hard to diagnose. But our ‘team’ had managed to do this and had him on a minimal dose of just a few medications that were causing no side effects. I’d try to tell all of my patients at the first visit if they ever wanted a second opinion, the only way they could go wrong was by not getting one, or getting a bad one. So if this occurred, they should ask me and I’d tell them who I’d go see.
This genius disappeared for about eight months, then he showed back up one day, swollen up like a toad from high-dose steroids, and I asked him what happened.
He looked at me and said, ‘You know that I trust you guys but I wanted another opinion so I went to another hospital’s emergency room, (not one of the better ones in our area), and had them check me out.’
I asked him what they’d done then, at which point he said they’d done a lot of x-rays, blood tests, spinal taps, etc. Then, he lifted his shirt and showed me the huge scar he had from having his chest opened up for a big open lung biopsy, which was how they’d made the diagnosis. It was a huge scar! He said they’d kept him there six weeks, then finally sent him home on huge doses of medications he didn’t need.
When I asked him why he hadn’t asked them to call us for our records, since our pulmonologist had gotten lucky and by sticking a tube down his throat, gotten a minute piece of tissue that had confirmed this diagnosis, something that doesn’t happen very often.
He then got a ‘real crafty’ look on his face and said, ‘Doc, I didn’t tell them anything! I didn’t want them to know any more than you guys did when you started out.’
With that, I literally beat my head on the wall for a few moments before I started to lower his doses of everything he was taking, and within about two years he was back almost to the way he’d been, and he’d even gone back to work on the same simple medication he’d been taking, something that doesn’t happen very often.
Darwin occasionally lets us down, but at least this ‘genius’ seemed to be done reproducing by the time we saw him.”
She Didn’t Understand The Question
“In a ward with 64 beds, we often have close to 120 patients competing for floor space. We have to be very careful that we don’t trip on the patients or their IV lines. It was a particularly hectic admission day. I had worked in the OPD from nine am to four pm and after a brief rest, I was back in the ward at eight pm for my night shift which ended the next day around two pm.
There were 72 patients admitted that day in our Unit. We checked up on the patients, sent the blood work, and were finally done at around 12:30 midnight.
Exhausted, I decided to go back to the doctor’s room to lie down for a bit. I asked the nurse to call me if there was an emergency, but not every time someone dislodged an IV line! I told her to stop the bleeding and take care of it and call me at around 2:30 with a list of all the things I need to do.
The thing with IV lines is this: they get dislodged all the time. No matter how securely I fix them, no matter how nicely I explain to the patient how important fluids are for them, there are always a few of them who managed to pull it out.
I’ll be honest: when a patient pulls out his IV lines three or four times before 24 hours are past, I tend to get irritable especially because the time I spend cannulating his veins (sometimes in dehydrated or obese patients it’s a bit of a challenge) could have been spent treating someone else. Since I have 71 other patients all waiting for my attention!
So, when I walked back groggily to the nurse’s station at 2:30 AM, she smiled sympathetically and handed me a list of 12 patients who have managed to pull their IV lines out. Brilliant.
I navigated my way around the patients on the bed and the floor, trying to ‘Identify and cannulate,’ so to speak.
My sixth patient on that list was a middle-aged woman on bed 34. My colleague had admitted her, I remembered. Stable dengue for observation. Not dehydrated or obese. I was relieved. Cannulating an obese patient on the floor at weird angles is a pain in the butt, sometimes literally.
She was snoring loudly. I poked her.
‘Mrs. X?’ I asked.
‘What?’ She asked me, looking at me blearily.
I held up the IV set.
‘But why do I need one?’ she questioned.
I sighed, exasperated.
‘Because you need fluids! Surely you have been told why you need it? This is what’s saving your life right now! And how did that happen?’ I asked her, pointing at the band-aid on her left forearm, to find out how she managed to remove the last one.
‘I, er, stumbled and you know…so I definitely need fluids?’ She asked me seriously.
‘Yes.’ I said, firmly. ‘You do.’
I finished my work, secured it with several layers of leucoplast, and went to the next patient. The next morning, the consultant started his morning rounds. He reached bed number 34 where the patient was sitting with her sister.
I was looking at the reports of her blood work when the doctor cleared his throat and said out loud, ‘Can anyone explain to me why the patient’s sister has an IV cannula in her right forearm?’
I couldn’t believe my ears. Slowly, I looked up to see the middle-aged woman sitting beside the patient, who, in my defense, was also a middle-aged woman with more than a passing resemblance to her sister.
I stood there looking blankly at the sister.
‘Why didn’t you tell me you weren’t the patient?!’ I asked her, failing to keep the tone of accusation out of my voice. ‘And why were you sleeping in the patient’s bed?!’
‘Well, she was in the bathroom and I thought I’d lie down for a bit. And then you came last night and explained why I needed it-‘ she started.
‘Why the patient needed it!’ I loudly corrected her.
‘Oh, I thought you meant in general,’ she sheepishly responded.
‘But what about your previous IV line? I asked you how you removed it?’ I questioned.
‘Oh, I thought you wanted to know how I had injured myself,’ she answered.
Holy mother of…
Everyone around me burst out laughing while I stood there, looking darkly at the woman. The woman had the gall to tell me that she was actually feeling better and hydrated.”