With years of formal education followed by real-life experience, most doctors have seen just about anything they could think of, but even then, they sometimes find themselves in situations that no textbook or anecdote can prepare them for.
A Reddit thread recently asked doctors and other medical professionals to share the craziest "What Is That?!" moment they have experienced over the years. Some of these stories are so bad that they left even the most experienced professionals scratching their heads or sticking their head in a trash can. All posts have edited for clarity.
"I just caught up with an old friend who is now an OR nurse, and she told me this gem.
She was preparing a morbidly obese woman for surgery, scrubbing her down and cleaning the areas underneath her fat rolls that haven't seen the light of day in God knows how many years. When she picked up one particularly hefty roll around the side of this lady, near the lower back, she stopped suddenly.
Is that a bone? She mustered the courage and continued to investigate. A moment later, she uncovered the skeleton of a small kitten. The bones were fused with the still-rotting flesh of the sad little creature.
Holding back tears and vomit, she walked around to face the large woman. 'Ma'am, I don't want to alarm you, but I've just found the remains of a small cat in one of your fat rolls.'
The lady's response, seemingly unfazed: 'Oh! I've been looking for him!'
Apparently, people this huge develop rather thick callouses in their fat rolls from all the friction. This cat could have been clawing for life in there and she might not have felt a thing. Poor little guy died trying to claw his way out of a nightmare."
"I interned in a city that gets very cold in the winter. Homeless people who were having a tough time surviving outdoors would come to the ED to get admitted, even if just overnight. They'd get a warm bed, a few hot meals, and a bath. This one fellow was in really rough shape and 'couldn't walk.'
The poor nurses did most of the cleanup. Delousing, sponge bath, dressing the open sores. My job was to do the physical exam including the mandatory rectal. I literally had to lift that scrawny flap of a butt cheek and pick the encrusted dirt/feces/matted hair away. Thankfully, I only had to turn 180 degrees to reach the sink that I dry heaved into. But before this fellow can be discharged he needs a podiatry consult.
His black gnarled feet had thick yellow big toenails that had grown in a circle and were piercing the bottom of the toe. The podiatrist intern came in, started a foot soak, and proceeded to tackle those nails with something that could only be described as modified tin snips. Now you know how some people have that habit of opening their mouth when concentrating really hard? Yup, he clipped that nasty nail and it flipped right into his mouth.
We shared the sink."
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"I was working in a small hospital in a rural town in Australia as a surgical registrar.
We were asked by the medical team to see a patient that had been admitted under their care by the emergency department overnight with a CT demonstrating a distended bladder. They apparently had trouble with a catheter, so they called me to have a look. With much hesitation, I went up to see her on the ward. So I managed to put the catheter in with A LOT of trouble. A little bit of urine drains out, and I just keep thinking something is not right.
I went back and looked at the CT scan and the IDC placed in the emergency department looked like it was appropriately positioned. Behind it, was one big uterus, absolutely full of what appeared to be a fluid density. The report read - along these lines - as follows: Conclusion - there is a distended bladder. The catheter balloon is situated in the PROSTATIC URETHRA. Moderate to severe hydronephrosis is noted.
Long story short, I spoke to the consultant. We got her to the theatre. With great difficulty, we managed to dissect our way around this HUGE uterus and we called the O&G guys to come and help get it out. Unfortunately, during this process, the uterus burst and there was a boatload of stuff that just streamed out. The smell was horrible. There were people gagging around us at this yellow-green, sulfuric smelling goo. The scrub nurse could no longer take it and vomited in her mask. The consultant was looking at me like, 'I HATE YOU FOR BRINGING THIS TO THEATRE.'
After we finished, I went home, but couldn't stop thinking about what I saw. I could still smell this awful thing. I had another hour-long shower. I could smell this thing all night. Morning came, I couldn't have breakfast because I could still smell it. I got to the hospital and EVERYONE was wearing masks. Apparently, the smell was so horrible, and the extraction in our theatre so outdated that it had somehow pumped the smell into the vents around the hospital. All night, small amounts were leaking out into the atmosphere causing this horrendous smell."
"While working in the ER one night, we had a guy come in complaining of groin pain. We brought him back, and he had a master lock (the kind with the spinning dial that you use to secure your locker at school) locked around his junk. Essentially, blood could flow in but could not flow back out so this thing was swollen.
He had panicked after he realized he could not remember the code (dealing with a real genius here), and he took a screwdriver to the dial and snapped it off. So we consulted with urology and the urologist wanted to take him to surgery.
The patient wasn't thrilled with the first option of having to cut into his 'manhood' to remove the lock, so the second option was for this big nurse, we'll call him Tom, to go in with bolt cutters and cut off the lock. He decided to go with the second option. Tom counted down from three, at which point a loud scream belted through the halls of the hospital. When he was finished, Tom exited with a broken lock and the man was sent to the floor to recover."
"A woman who's about 35 years old comes in for a Pap smear. OK, no problem. Put the speculum in and maneuver it around a little bit to find the cervix and I see something dark brown in the right lateral fornix. My first thought was: 'Oh crap! Cancer.'
You see, when I was an intern, I had a patient who had dark, friable tissue on the posterior wall of the lower region which eventually turned out to be rectal cancer that spread into the wall and was quite advanced. You know, one of those patients you never forget.
I tried and gently scraped at this dark brown area to get a feel for what it was when the smell hit me. I imagine if death itself died and rotted for a few weeks that is how it would smell. My medical assistant scooted away to the edge of the room; poor thing couldn't leave the room as she was my chaperone. I stopped breathing through my nose and started to breathe only a couple of times a minute from my mouth, of course turning my head away from the source of the smell to take a breath.
Maneuvering the speculum a bit more and scraping a bit at the brown area some more revealed an answer to the mystery. It was a cylindrical thick wad of something; an old tampon! The patient had no idea that it was there, and her period had ended over a week ago. So this thing had been there for over a week, and the lady was walking around living life as usual.
Retrieval of the tampon was uneventful and the lady was sent home with advice on being more careful with remembering to take out tampons or perhaps consider switching to pads instead."
"I had a gentleman in his late 50s come in with multiple myeloma. A short history of progressively worsening breathlessness turned out he had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in his lungs). He was a good candidate for surgery, so he had the blood clot removed but unfortunately, the clot had caused such bad issues with his heart that he couldn't be weaned off the bypass machine.
Instead, he went to ICU on ECMO (like a circuit for your heart and lungs outside the body to give your heart/lungs time to 'rest'). His chest was still open but covered up with sterile stuff.
After three days, he was booked to be weaned off the ECMO or at least have the tubes put in peripherally so his chest could be closed. The morning of the procedure, while he was waiting to be moved, somehow the tubing of the ECMO machine broke (oxygenator tube) and blood spilled all over the floor and he went into cardiac arrest. The Cardiothoracic consultant had to do internal cardiac massage until the circuit got fixed and he returned to normal circulation. He ended up having his chest closed but he had more clots pulled out of his pulmonary arteries.
At this point, I thought this guy was a goner. I figured if he even lived long enough to be woken up, he'd have some degree of ischemic brain injury. After about two weeks, the guy left ICU and a week later went to rehabilitation. Speaking, walking, cognitively largely intact.
It was one of the most unbelievable things I've ever seen during my short career."
"My wife is a trauma surgeon and tells me all of her crazy stories.
One that sticks out is the one about a girl and her boyfriend on the motorcycle. They were taking a sort of underground turn from one highway to the next and he was going way too fast. He started to get close to the wall, so the girlfriend on the back decided to go ahead and put her foot up on the wall of the tunnel. Her foot caught the wall, she flew off, leg broke at the femur, and the broken bottom half of her leg drove straight into her gooch.
My wife also treated a middle-aged male for stomach pains. He said he was at a party, got wasted, woke up at another party, and hadn't been able to go to the bathroom in a few days. A tox screen came back positive for illegal substances, so a good night out. The CT scan came back with one, full-size Glade air freshener can totally up this guy's butt, bottom first. It was so far up, the colon had collapsed around it and created a vacuum. They tried a number of ways to get it out with no luck. Finally, she gave him a paralytic because he kept fighting back, and my wife was now double fisted up this guy's butt. There was a picture of her holding the can somewhere out there.
This was the second aerosol can she has removed from the butt of someone in town. First one was a full-size spray paint can. The man bought the can at Lowe's, placed it in the bag and inserted it with the handles of the bag hanging out his butt thinking he could just use the plastic bag handles to pull it out. He broke the handles trying to pull it out. The bag still had the receipt in it."
"This was in rural Alabama. This middle-aged married couple had presented to the ER after they had been drinking for almost the entirety of the evening and got into a heated argument. Things got heated and the woman eventually fell off the porch of their trailer into the shrubs a few feet below.
The husband, in his wasted state, suddenly dropped the argument and came to his wife's aid. She didn't suffer anything too serious, just a couple of scratches here and there. Except for what the man said looked like a piece of glass or pipe or something that became lodged in the woman's arm when she hit the ground.
He decided to not come to the hospital because he could remove this object himself. He got his largest pair of pliers and gripped on to this glass/pipe looking thing lodged in his helpless wife's arm. He clamped down and pulled and pulled. Cranked and cranked. Trying to remove this object and it wouldn't budge.
After his masculinity was defeated and the drinks started wearing off on both of them, they decided it sensible to finally come to the ER.
Upon arriving at the ER, the doctor immediately realized this poor woman had a compound fracture of her humerus, and this 'pipe or piece of glass thing' was her bone sticking through her skin that her husband was trying to pry out with a pair of pliers."
"As a medical student, I've seen some nasty stuff, but the best stories come courtesy of my parents, who are both doctors.
Early in my mom's training, an old man was brought to the ED. On examination, his feet were gangrenous. My mom set out to manage his various issues and decided that soaking the man's rotten feet before dressing them was the best course of action. So she got a basin of warm water and left them to soak while she went to her other work. She returned half an hour later to find 10 little piggies floating around in the basin.
My dad's story occurred while we were living in Scotland in the early '90s. It was a sunny day by Scottish standards, and one of the rare days you might be able to get a tan. The Scots are not known for their ability to tan. However, one such Scot was rather overzealous and decided he would go for it on this day. He cracked out several sheets of tin foil and basted himself in cooking oil. Needless to say, he pitched up to the ED a few hours later. There were third-degree burns all over his body."
"I was working in the emergency department one afternoon, and we had an elderly lady just calling out 'Help me, help me' repeatedly all afternoon. She was brought in by her nursing home for 'agitation' which is normally code for they can't handle them anymore.
The patient was placed with an assistant to try and calm her down and make sure she didn't wander around the ward. The assistant was helping to feed the patient and I walked past when suddenly the lady just breathed her liquid diet in and collapsed backward. I instantly pushed the med emergency button and everyone comes running from all over. We assessed her airway and it was deemed clear but not self-supporting. There was no food in there, which was strange. She wasn't breathing and there was no heartbeat, so one of the male nurses started compressing her chest while another nurse tried to insert an airway.
As he compressed on her chest, a fountain of murky green goo spurted from her mouth, all over the walls, ceiling, medical staff, everywhere. And of course, we are all like 'WHAT IS THIS?' and the poor male nurse had to keep compressing the chest while the other nurse kept trying to suction the patient's airway to clear it enough to insert an airway. After about five minutes, the nurse finally got the airway in after suctioning over six liters of this goo, and after some deliberation, the doctor declared the patient dead. The bay and the surrounding five or six meters of the room was drenched in this slimy murky brown-green mess. It was breathtakingly disgusting. Eventually, we found out the poor old lady had a massive bowel obstruction, had a cardiac arrest while eating and the goo was days and days of liquid fecal matter. Safe to say, I scrubbed myself raw in the shower that night."
"My father-in-law was an ER doctor for 20 years. Twice he's been surprised. We'll call him Dr. J.
This first time was a patient that came holding his stomach, with the front of his jacket bloody. He looked out of it and it was obvious he was under the influence of some illegal substance. Dr. J asked him what the problem was, and the guy calmly said, 'My stomach hurts.' 'Well, let's have a look.' Smack! As he pulled the guy's coat away, his intestines spilled onto the floor! Turns out, he and a friend were doing some illegal substances. But then one of them pulled out a loaded weapon and accidentally shot the other guy in the stomach. He explained it very matter-of-fact: 'Oh man, I need to go to the hospital.'
The second story was years later. Dr. J had a male patient come in complaining of abdominal pain. He decided after an examination that they need to do a scope. So there he was, minding his own business, navigating through this guy's bowels with a camera when suddenly a light facing the opposite way blinded the camera. The guy was giving himself the old in and out with a flashlight and lost track of it. I have no idea why it was on. Dr. J had told the man he had to consult with another physician, then left the room and collapsed from laughing so hard. He said it was like watching a cartoon where somebody runs down a tunnel and meets a train head-on."
"On my first weeks in trauma ER (fourth year of med school), we had an 11-year-old girl come in who was dumped out of a car in front of a hospital.
One side of her body was mutilated, what remained her of limbs were barely hanging on, and the rest of her body was burned all over. And there was so much blood. Maybe it's because I panicked a little, but I don't think I've ever seen so much blood in my life.
We later found out that someone in her family was a known criminal who had got out of jail for blowing up ATMs with homemade explosives. They claimed she found a stash they had hidden, but we believe she was helping them pack it. Either way, it was the saddest thing I've ever seen."
"I am a surgery resident. I once helped operate on a man whose face was chewed off by a bear. This guy was on his ranch when he was attacked. Somehow, he managed to walk half a mile to his car then drove 30 minutes to meet the ambulance halfway to the hospital...without a nose, upper lip, lower eyelids or tear ducts.
I also saw a patient come to the Emergency Department with a Barbie in their rectum. He apparently put the arms up and legs down like a diving position, rubber banded the arms together, then placed it in his rectum for a time. When he wanted it out, he took laxatives. Only this time, it got stuck. The kicker: when we removed it, he asked for it back."
"I am an imaging tech, and I once had a guy whose abdomen looked like it was filled with fluid, but it looked odd. Then I realized the fluid was moving. The guy had the biggest aortic aneurysm I've ever seen, so big I couldn't measure it on my machine. He was sent off to the hospital, and I don't know what happened to him.
I also had a woman with so many holes in her heart that it looked like Swiss cheese. It was multiple micro ventricular septal defects, made the IVS light up like a Christmas tree with Doppler flow, but she didn't have any adverse effects from it.
Another time, I was in a prison, scanning a convict. The convict had been shot and all of his abdominal muscles were removed. He wore a Velcro girdle to keep his stomach in place. I put my scanner down on his abdomen, and I had to figure out what organs he was missing because he had some removed from after being shot, but he had no clue. I think he was missing a kidney, his gallbladder, part of his liver and half of his pancreas."