Working in hospitals, doctors see a lot of horrible stuff. It takes a lot to surprise them. However, that's not to say it can't be done.
These doctors were surprised that these patients were even still alive. We gathered all of Reddit's best stories about doctors who couldn't believe a patient made it. Content has been edited for clarity.
Happy Wife, Happy Life
“My dad is a heart surgeon and he told me this story. This guy came in during his residency with a bullet in his heart. Pretty tricky for a resident, but he successfully got the bullet out and saved the guy. Fast forward about 10-15 years. The same guy came in again with a bullet in his heart. My dad got the bullet out and repaired the wound. The guy lived again.
My dad jokingly suggested that he should try not to get shot again. The patient tells my dad, ‘tell that to my wife.'”
Breakfast Is The Most Important Meal Of The Day
“I work in a retirement home and we have a 104-year-old woman with a history of type 2 diabetes. Her diabetes is uncontrolled, to say the least. She’s on 80 units of insulin daily, a long-acting antidiabetic, medically managed diet, the works. We take her blood glucose 6 times a day and would get numbers in the 700s and down to the 40s. Another day, she was walking to get breakfast and suddenly became very unsteady.
She was slurring her words, had facial drooping, then she became unresponsive. We took her blood glucose and it was in the 900s. We call out on anything above 450. The medics came and she came to while they were putting her on the stretcher. Turns out she also had a massive stroke to boot. She seemed unfazed that she was apparently an X-Men and gave the hospital staff trouble because they made her miss her breakfast.”
It Seemed Like Nothing At First
“I’m a nurse at a pediatric office. One of our patients, 8 years old, was at his cousin’s house playing outside unsupervised. Apparently, he climbed a fence and fell. They went inside and all he had was a small cut under his eye. He wanted to stay at his cousin’s so they called his mom to let her know and he stayed. Later that night he fell asleep on the floor while they were playing. He then vomited. They brought him to the ER. After imaging, we discovered that when he fell a piece of the wire fence had been sticking out and impaled him. The small cut under his eye is where it went in. But, it had gone INTO HIS BRAIN before he fell further and it came out.
He was in the hospital for 8 days, mostly because he was receiving IV antibiotics. He walked away with barely any deficits and all the minor speech/motor delays he was expediting have completely resolved. As his doctor said, ‘he’s the luckiest unlucky kid ever.'”
This Trauma Nurse Has Seen A Lot
“I’m a trauma ICU nurse. I’ve got some good ones.
We had a woman in her 40’s who attempted suicide. She downed multiple prescriptions (I don’t recall the specific ones but there was a mix of narcotics and antidepressants). When that didn’t work she drank about 10 ounces of winter windshield wiper fluid which has antifreeze in it. When that didn’t work she stabbed herself in the chest 10 times with a steak knife. When that didn’t work she sat in her car while it was running with the garage door down to trap the carbon monoxide. Her sister found her in the morning and called EMS. No one knew how long she was in the garage. After emergency dialysis, 2 chest tubes on the left side, and being intubated and on the ventilator for about 4 days, she made a complete physical recovery and eventually she was walked over to inpatient psych.
I also had one dude in his 20’s survive a direct knife wound to the heart. He was breaking up a bar fight and got stabbed right in the heart. Thankfully people were smart enough at the bar to not pull the knife out or he’d have died right there on the scene. He ended up getting a pericardial window opening and a chest tube and he was fine.
Then there was the teenage mutant ninja turtle guy. So this guy in his 30’s was out in the woods with his friends doing zip lining. They were skydivers and this was a meeting to plan their next skydive. Of course, they were also drinking and doing various substances. And every single one of them was dressed like a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Well, Donatello fell out of the zip line and broke his back and cracked his skull.”
A Horrifying Surprise
“I’m a nursing student and have spent most of my clinical time in the ER at a hospital. One morning when I showed up for my clinical, the nurse I was with asked me to triage a patient that came in with chest pain and shortness of breath and draw labs. This is pretty common so I could handle it. After getting an ECG, blood levels, and IV started, he asked if I could take off his boots because his feet were ‘itchy.’ So I took them off and when I pull his sock off, dozens of maggots fall onto the bed and the floor. There was some necrotic skin too. I nearly puked. He had a wound on his heel so deep that bone and tendons were visible. I’m surprised he walked himself into the department.
Turns out he was diabetic and didn’t take care of his feet. If you’re diabetic, please take care of your feet.”
Don’t Lose Your Head
“Physiotherapist here. I had an interesting case back when I was a student.
I was doing a lot of work with sports (primarily rugby) teams at the time and was going to open up our sports med clinic early on a Sunday morning with the medic who ran the place. It was generally a very busy clinic, with heaps of people coming in to get injuries from Saturday looked at.
When we arrived this morning, we saw someone sitting on the steps outside the clinic. We opened really early around 7 AM, and we didn’t usually get people coming in until a little later. This guy was sitting there with his head in his hands and greeted us pretty normally. After opening up and getting him inside out of the cold, he told us that he’s hurt his neck. He was still holding his head at this point and refused to move his hands at all so we could assess him. He was pretty casually stating that he felt like his head would fall off if he did.
It’d happened the day before during a game, and even though he was in a lot of pain, he’d decided to just go home and dose himself up on painkillers. He thought he’d be laughed at in the hospital if he walked in and told them that he felt like his head was falling off his neck.
Turned out that this bloke had sustained a particularly nasty fracture of the bone that allows for most of the rotation through the neck. He’d gone home, slept, and driven himself to the clinic the next day, holding his head the whole time, with a really nasty spinal fracture. As it turned out, he had a fairly severe blockage of one of his vertebral arteries. We got him through to the hospital, and he ended up making a full recovery, but it’s something that’s stayed with me because of how casual he was about the whole thing.”
“Incredible Little Human”
“I was in on a delivery for a newborn that weighed in at just over a pound. There was severely stunted growth from an as-yet unidentified cause. This baby was 28 weeks by the best information we had for that pregnancy. It was a late presentation to prenatal care and there was poor maternal health status. The baby should have been much bigger – that size is more consistent with about 23 weeks. For a baby whose growth had been that restricted for so long, it’s really surprising the fetus survived to delivery.
Last I checked in, which was quite a while ago, the baby was being prepped to go home. No tubes or lines. Looking awesome. Incredible little human.”
Modern Technology Saved Her
“I have doctors and nurses in the family. One of the craziest stories I’ve heard is about a 4-year-old girl who was riding on the wheel of a tractor her dad was driving. Somehow, she fell off and he drove over her head with the back wheel of the tractor.
My family member was working med-flight shifts at the time. When he got to the scene her head looked like something out of Coneheads, except flatter. Her skull was completely crushed. They flew her back to the hospital and eventually printed her a new skull on a 3D printer. From what I’ve heard she has needed a few reprints as she’s grown up but she’s alive and well and sends him a card every year.”
“I work in a veterinary ER. We had a triage of an adult cat, recently spayed, with the incision splitting open. Generally, this is bad. It means a couple of stitches let go, you can see tissue. The tech carried the cat back, in her carrier, set it on the table. It was quiet so both incoming doctors, surgery intern, all the incoming techs came to the table to take a peek. Tech opens carrier and lifts out the cat.
It’s pretty hard to shock ER staff or surgery staff. Everyone let out a shriek of some sort and took a step back. The cat’s incision fully let go, either in the course of travel or with the lift, obliterating both internal and external sutures. Her intestines spilled right out onto the table. She had to be anesthetized immediately and the surgeon ran immediately to the clinic while the intern started working to save the intestines.
The most mind-boggling part of this was that the cat belonged to a technician, and her boss had performed this ‘spay’. If that’s the care you apply to the beloved pet of a person you know and work with, imagine the sutures that vet haphazardly slaps into the average pet.
The kitty pulled through like a champ and went home intact and happy.”
Roller Coasters Are More Dangerous Than You Think
“We had a 7-year-old boy who came in with acute painless loss of vision in his right eye. An MRI of his head and neck were performed which showed a complete blockage of his right internal carotid artery. This artery is EXTREMELY important and provides up to 30% of blood to the brain overall and usually up to 80% for right hemisphere. We are all freaking out looking at this image. Meanwhile, the kid is playing operation and saying his blurriness is getting better.
Turns out the kid just had amazing circulation and was able to compensate one of the brains MAJOR arteries completely shutting down without any deficits/stroke or impairments besides what is (hopefully) a temporary problem with his retina creating vision loss.
Our theory is that is artery was dissected while riding a roller coaster at Six Flags which eventually just collapsed leading to a small hemorrhage making its way up to the ophthalmic artery.”
Lesson Learned At Least
“I took care of an 18-year-old girl who was in a car with her friends when she ejected going 60 MPH. She flew 100 feet and landed on her face and totally scalped herself. Like her whole forehead peeled off her head.
Two days later she was sitting in her hospital bed eating jello and telling me about how she really shouldn’t hang out with those kids. You couldn’t even see a scar on her body and she is fine. Nothing was broken and she wasn’t even sore. They only kept her in the hospital for a psych consult since she was driving.”
Is This Lucky Or Unlucky?
“When my dad was an intern in the ER, someone walked in the front door with a kitchen knife sticking out between his eyes. The knife went through his sinus cavity and ended with the tip in his throat, millimeters from his brain stem.
He was stabbed by his mother while she was wasted. He apparently drove himself to the hospital. He went into surgery and walked out of the ICU the next day. My dad says he is the luckiest man he ever saw.”
An Officer With Good Intentions
“A young guy was brought into the ER after driving while hammered on his motorcycle without a helmet. He crashed, hit his forehead on the wedge part of some stairs leading up to a building. He literally cracked his skull open and we could see his brain inside. Amazingly, he survived without any neurologic deficits. He did lose an eyeball though.
I still remember the police officer who came in with him and handed me a folded up page from a newspaper. I opened it up and it was bits and pieces of his skull. The officer was kind enough to collect everything and bring it to the hospital, thinking we could use it to patch his skull back together like humpty dumpty.”
Turned Out Not To Be The Worst Patient
“I worked at a psych hospital, and in the report at the start of my shift I hear that someone is being transferred to us shortly. At the top of his report, his reasons for admittance include homicidal ideation. Wonderful. After reading it a little more thoroughly and talking to him personally, we find out he really only feels homicidal towards one person: the guy who shot him nine times in the abdomen. How the heck he was even still alive, let alone conscious and walking around on his own, was beyond all of us. Turns out he was a pretty chill guy, though that may have been the fentanyl.”
Changing The System
“I was told this story by a nurse. A guy went in to see his general practitioner about a checkup and had to provide a stool sample. That sample was tested and found to contain extremely dangerous amounts of blood, to the point apparently where the man must have suffered severe blood loss. They call him in immediately and the guy casually drives in. He says he feels perfectly fine. They take his blood and other vitals and he seems perfectly healthy.
Upon later questioning, it turns out that he is an old school man whose wife cooks a full fry up every morning including a good helping of black pudding. Apparently, the test was just for blood, not specifically human blood. It is safe to say that the test has now been changed to test for human blood!”
That’s Not How This Works
“A woman came in who was under the care of her daughter, with advanced dementia, plus a slew of heart and lung diagnoses, including pneumonia. Due to recurring swallowing problems she had a feeding tube. Her daughter, who by the way was missing a few neurons herself, came back from wherever and found her mother had collapsed for an unknown period of time. She called EMS. Her mother was not breathing, had no heartbeat but they were able to shock her back into life. She spent some time in an acute hospital, not responding and on life support.
She was transferred to our facility and in our ICU, she started waking up and was weaned off the ventilator. She was pleasantly babbling and trying to climb out of bed. The speech therapist caught the daughter feeding the mom a turkey sandwich. She tried to educate her as to why mom can’t have food by mouth….the daughter’s response was ‘but she gets so hungry!'”