Emergency Room staff see people in their worst, most vulnerable moments. They've seen everything at least once, but there's somethings that still have the power to shock even the most seasoned ER worker. These are their horror stories.
"My sister is a registered nurse in an ER. On one of her shifts, she had a patient who came in, screaming in pain. This woman didn't have a bowel movement for two months. My sister examined her and her rectum was wide open, there was a huge hole that you could look into. Constipation could do that. Her rectum was open because her poop was huge and as hard as a rock, so it held her rectum open. My sister gave her an enema, but the feces stuck in this woman's rectum would not come out. Eventually, my sister had to pull it out. After it all came out, my sister looked down and saw a cockroach crawling around in the feces."
"I had a friend who told me this story about his residency. He was working in the ER and was sleeping when the ringtone of his pager went off. What he walked into was a man with his lower jaw blown off. It was blown off when he attempted to kill himself. He stuck the weapon under his chin and pulled the trigger, but stuck his chin out a little too far and only managed to blow off his chin. As a pain medication, they gave him something that causes hallucinations. This sucker started to laugh during his trip with a blown off jaw. And that right there was the only thing that gave my friend the creeps since he started his job. He still gets PTSD flashes when that same tune plays from the buzzer."
"I'm a former ER nurse. These are the three cases that come to mind when I think about my time in the ER:
A gas line leak caused an explosion at a rural home. There was a family inside the house at the time of the explosions. After the explosion, the father was found trying to carry the kid to the nearest house to get help. The mother died instantly. The father and child made it to the ER, somehow alive and completely blackened with burns. They did not live long. It was unreal seeing breathing masses that didn't resemble humans.
An underaged girl was taking an unrestrained joy ride with a man probably about 24 years old in the middle of the night when he rolled the vehicle. They were doing CPR as they rolled her into the department. As they rolled into the room, you could see an obvious deformity to her forehead. Upon further inspection, her brain was visible through her skull and was bulging with each compression. She was long gone, but when it's someone so young, you just keep trying. I'm just glad I was not there when the mother arrived.
Finally, no nice way of saying it. The worst smell I've ever smelled. A smell that made every seasoned ER nurse gag. A Mexican man was brought in, blackout wasted. He'd obviously ate lots of Mexican food and had some drinks very recently. He was crapping deadly diarrhea with skinny jeans on and vomiting. It was bad enough that the other staff made me keep the door shut, even though that was against policy for a wasted person. And of course, it was my patient. Luckily, one nice nurse was brave and kind enough to help me get his pants off."
"So this lady was pregnant. She had had to have c-sections for her two other kids, both of whom were high-risk pregnancies, which meant she needed to have c-sections for the rest of her pregnancies. They didn't have insurance for whatever reason, and she decided it would be best to use a midwife and have a home birth.
Anyway, complications arose, unsurprisingly, and the midwife couldn't get the baby to breach. The baby was stuck and mom started bleeding badly. The midwife tried a couple of tricks, nothing worked, so she called an ambulance. But it was way too late. They got there, the pool was full of blood, and they had to rush her to the hospital, lights, and sirens blazing. I was on the phone with them for most of this and was told by the EMT's what had happened. They came flying in and rushed the mom upstairs to Labor and Delivery. Apparently, the doctor got the baby to turn over as soon as they arrived, but it was too late. A perfectly healthy baby didn't make it because the mom and midwife were too stubborn.
The EMT told me if they had called them 30 minutes sooner, it would have been fine. The midwife was rude to the EMT's and blamed them for her not making it in time. L&D made the mother this nice mold of the baby's hands and feet. Apparently, her family had been telling her for months that she shouldn't have a home birth, but she was a big home-birth activist at the time. After the fact, she actually posted a complaint about her whole experience in this giant social media post about what had happened and why her baby died, claiming it was the hospital's fault. I guess the hospital just ended up waiving the bill and sent her on her way. The whole hospital seemed down the rest of the weekend."
"Once, we had a young guy come in who had taken a little blue pill before engaging in intimate acts. His girlfriend had rolled over right after and passed out, and the guy was stuck there with a stiffy that wouldn't go away. After about five hours, he decided he wanted to try to fix it himself. So he went and got SEWING NEEDLES and stuck them in his member, apparently to try to drain it. Obviously, that didn't help, so now he's stuck with a stiffy and two needles sticking out of it like little antennas. Long story short, he ended up driving himself to the ED and waddling in with his pants down, crying. I'm a girl, but I had major sympathy pains for him. I'm getting them again right now just thinking about it. Ugh.
Another time, we had a young couple and their friend come in so the girlfriend could get checked for a sore throat. Their friend decided to 'get checked for a stomach ache.' Turns out, he wanted an STI screen and, lo and behold, he had one. That's when he told us the girlfriend had been cheating on her guy with him, but we couldn't say anything to the girl OR her boyfriend because of patient confidentiality. I do think the doctors talked about it, but I don't know what happened.
Finally, we had a husband and wife come in one day to find out the wife had miscarried their child. They took her upstairs to deliver their deceased baby and the husband, who was a veteran, started having stress-induced flashbacks/PTSD breakdown and lost it. To add to it, he had a suspected case of tuberculosis. Anyways, with suspected TB you have to be quarantined in a room until they verify your status, so he was locked in one of our ED rooms, out of his mind destroying the place, while his wife was upstairs, alone, miscarrying their child. I came home that night and cried for hours, because the look on the guy's face when they told him they couldn't let him go be with his wife just destroyed me."
"My cousin is a nurse and she has lots of stories, but two of them stick out:
A guy was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and there was nothing that could be done for him. When they broke the news to him, the guy started screaming, crying, and throwing a tantrum like a little kid. He was begging the doctors to not let him die and saying he's got a wife and three kids with two more on the way and he couldn't leave them. The doctors had no idea what to say to him.
A little boy was hit by a car and had a massive bleed in his brain. There was nothing that could be done for him, so they had to break the news to his mother that he was going to die. The doctor entered the waiting room and saw the mom surrounded by a couple of other kids and she was nonchalantly reading a magazine. When the doctor told her the news, she just said, 'Thank God. One less mouth to feed,' then went back to her magazine. That got a call to CPS."
"I once saw a guy who had been hit by a car going 45 mph while he was walking home from the library. Half of him went through the windshield before he flipped over the car and slid down the street. He was alive, barely, but was a bloody pulp from his head to his stomach and his face was gone. He died within a couple minutes.
I had a guy come in who was stabbed nine times but was so wasted, all he wanted to do was fight the cop who brought him in. He wouldn't quit yelling and spitting at him or let anyone touch him, so they couldn't find his records or get his blood type. They finally sedated him and stabilized him before life-flighting him to another hospital."
"I'm in the ER a lot for work.
My worst one was a 6-year-old girl who was sleeping in her mom's bed. Her mom had a hook on the wall that she used to keep her cell phone charger up off the ground. The little girl rolled over and fell off the bed. Her cheek caught the hook and it ripped her cheek all the way up to her ear, like the Joker. It was open and flappy. The girl wasn't crying too much and looked like she was in shock. They eventually called in a plastic surgeon and he stitched it up. The wound was horrifying though."
Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/Shutterstock
"I was a CNA and telemetry tech for many years. I floated from my 'home unit' of medical neurology to the ER at least once or twice a month when they were short.
We had a man drive himself to the hospital because he was having delusions and decided it would be a good idea to cut off his own 'little man.' According to him, after said removal, he regretted the decision. To remedy the problem, he stuck a pencil through the severed member, stuck it back on the stump, and attempted to superglue the whole thing back together. He tried for a while and, when it didn't work, then drove on over to the ER. He said that God had told him that if he removed his member as a sacrifice, he would stop global warming. I guess it was a noble reason for him to do it. And the next night when I returned to work, he had been admitted to my home unit and was one of my patients. Yay.
They were able to, by some huge miracle, reattach his member. They didn't know if it would ever be 'fully functional' again, but he could at least pee out of it."
"I work in a large neonatal, intensive care unit. We admitted a lot of babies from our Labor and Delivery department, and also pick up from any hospitals within 150 miles. I've seen a lot of tiny babies, a lot of addict babies, and a lot of abnormalities, like babies born with their intestines outside of their bodies.
That being said, the worst thing I've ever seen was due to baby formula. A baby was born healthy, mom was healthy, and everyone went home happy. The baby was admitted to us sometime later with multiple symptoms.
After some questioning, it was discovered that the mom had been feeding the baby twice the amount of formula she was supposed to. I guess the mom couldn't read English very well, and when she asked someone to read the instructions on the formula, they told her the wrong amount. So every feeding, the baby was getting double the amount of nutrients and vitamins. This caused the baby to start feeling not so great, cry more often, and every time the baby cried, mom assumed they were hungry and would bottle feed. The cycle continued until he was admitted. At that point, it was too late and what should have been an otherwise healthy baby ended up passing away.
Listening to the mom scream and howl, crying, 'I killed my baby,' is something I'll never forget."
"This happened at the beginning of last year. We got a call for an incoming level one trauma and the EMTs on the radio told us it was an impalement injury. Ok, that's unusual, but whatever. Fast forward 10 minutes. EMS brought the patient in, accompanied by a crew of firefighters, and with no further ado, here's the story:
This 20-year-old guy got new skis for Christmas. It was around 2 a.m., a few days later and the streets were covered in several inches of fresh snow. So, the guy strapped on his new skis, his dad hopped in the car, towed his son along through the snowy streets at 30 mph. Big surprise, the Toyota lost traction and started to skid. The skier, seeing what was happening, didn't want to be anywhere near the car and bailed. Of course, he's flying and needs to stop, so he aimed for a big pile of snow on the curb and slammed into it.
Turns out, it wasn't a pile of snow. It was a pile of construction debris under a thin layer of powder. Oops.
The kid came into the trauma bay with a five-foot-long piece of steel rebar entering his thigh, exiting at the groin, then re-entering his abdomen at the crest of the pelvis and exiting again about five inches later.
The kid was awake and besides the rebar skewer, was uninjured. After the survey and imaging were complete, the trauma attending made the decision to head straight up to the OR.
Three firefighters scrubbed into the OR and they brought a special saw that can cut the steel without creating sparks and igniting the oxygen. The saw immediately malfunctions and the trauma surgeons decided that rather than cut the metal, they'll cut the patient. They 'de-roof' the rebar, essentially slicing the top off the skin tunnel, and lift the bar out.
This five-foot steel spike missed every bone, every major blood vessel, and every organ, not to mention missing his gentleman's sausage. The guy spent two days in the hospital and walked out on his own."
"I'm a surgeon. One night, I saw hardened trauma nurses leaving an operating room looking grim and a bit green. I went in to see what the fuss was about. A homeless man had been attacked by Rottweilers, incapacitated, and the dogs proceeded to eat all the flesh from both legs and one arm as the man lay there, helpless. Don't ask me how he lived, but he survived that and ultimately lived long enough to leave the hospital. I will be haunted by the look of just his leg bones, intact, with no flesh on them. The arm was totally gone. He still had the interosseous tendon holding the tibia to the fibula (hard to eat, I guess), but otherwise just intact leg bones completely free of flesh. His feet were gone, of course."
"My ex-wife's mom was a nurse in a small-town hospital. Not long before this event took place, they received or got an upgrade to the security cameras by the ambulance dock.
One night, slow as most small-town weeknights were, they saw on the security camera a guy walking up towards the hospital with his hands held up in the air beside his shoulders. The other nurse went to check it out and shortly afterward came back through in a big hustle, calmly but emphatically suggesting they get a gurney ready.
Turns out, this dude had been drinking and barbecuing in the backyard with his wife. He made some comment or the other to which the wife took offense, so she stabbed him through the neck, sideways, with the grill fork, told him to get lost, and shut herself in the house. He couldn't get inside to call anyone and his wife wouldn't do it for him, so he decided to stumble himself on down to the ER, holding the ends of the fork to keep it from jostling too much."
"I'm an ER nurse. I took care of a lady who was on something. The police found her in a shopping cart in the street. She was too high to even acknowledge the real world and was apparently having relations with someone in her hallucinations since she would spread eagle on the bed and scream, 'Screw me hard, Daddy!' at the top of her lungs.
I also had a confused man rip off his colostomy bag, full of liquid poop, and throw it in my direction like a live grenade.
We have a regular psych patient who is only cooperative and happy while singing 'Shine Bright Like a Diamond.' As a cruel joke on fellow co-workers, we would walk by and start singing to him so he would finish the entire song, loudly of course, while his nurse gave you the ol' 'I'm going to kill you' glare from beside the bed.
Every day is a new adventure."
"Recently, we had a gentleman come into the ER with the initial complaint of 'deep sleep concern.' At triage, he started off by emphasizing that he sleeps incredibly deeply. When we pressed further, the patient said that he had left some Q-tips out on his bed. While in his 'deep sleep' and rolling around in bed, somehow multiple Q-tips ended up lodged in his urethra (way up his pee hole). I'm not talking one or two. There were 11 non-lubricated Q-tips in total. It took a few hours, but we pulled them all out.
Another incident that comes to mind relates to an early morning beverage. A young male, in his 20s, came in by EMS with what seemed like excited delirium/potential substance use. After a struggle, we were able to restrain the patient. Hours went by and all tests were negative (CT, bloodwork, urine). By early morning, the patient was pleasant and cooperative. As there were no further tests to obtain and the patient seemed at his baseline, we elected to remove his restraints. The patient got up, ran to the nearest sink (which was in full view of the staff/patients). The patient began stuffing paper towels into the sink, plugging the drain and filled it with water. He then pulled out his Johnson and began aggressively going to town. After finishing into the warm sink water, the patient used his hand to scoop the now contaminated water into his mouth, then he proceeded to run out the back ambulance bay."
"An older lady, with a history of reconstructive surgery to her ankle, twisted her ankle and went down. The family realized she needs medical attention, but instead of calling EMS, they decide to put her in the back seat of the family car. She can't stand, so the family picked her up and moved her. Nobody supported the ankle, so a closed fracture became an open fracture, with the bone sticking through and the foot hanging off the end of the leg, just kind of dangling in the breeze. Blood everywhere. The family didn't reevaluate at this point. They just slid her into the back seat of the family Taurus and wrapped a towel around the ankle to soak up the blood.
They drove up to the walk-in entrance of our emergency room and sent someone inside to get help moving the lady from the backseat of the car to the hospital. Now we had to figure out how to get an elderly lady, who probably weighed about 275 pounds, was too weak to move, and whose foot was hanging off of her leg, out of the back seat of the family sedan. She's not sitting up, just lying stretched across the back seat. It's too cramped for a backboard, so we had to physically drag her out. We wound up opening both doors and got an aide at one side of the car, basically making sure that her foot doesn't tear off. On the other side of the car, there's room for someone else who had the lucky job of pulling 275 pounds of dead weight (so to speak) out of a small area with minimal assistance.
Somehow or another, we got her out of the back seat and into the ER. Her pressure was in the tank, and of course, she had nothing in terms of veins, but we manage to get an IV in her, get some fluids going, took an x-ray, and got her transferred out to the local trauma hospital. I have no idea if she kept the foot or not. The patient maintained feeling in the foot throughout the ordeal, which is a good thing, and our doctor was optimistic, but I had my doubts."
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