Accidents happen. People come into the emergency room for cuts, scrapes, bruises, even broken bones all the time. But the stories doctors and other medical professionals remember are the times when patients survive extraordinary circumstances. How did this person survive multiple stab wounds? How did they make it out alive after that insane car crash? Did they wake up without issues after being in a coma for a year? These stories make medical careers interesting and exciting every day. Content has been edited for clarity.
“I was a resident at the time, it was the end of my shift, and I walked past a guy walking to the front desk with a freaking harpoon in his head. It came in from below the chin and got out through the top of the skull.
He wanted to go harpoon fishing, there was an accident in the boat, and he shot himself, so he turned the boat around, sailed to shore, got into his car and drove to the nearest hospital, where he parked and walked into the reception. He was completely conscious, and couldn’t speak for obvious reasons, but he wrote eloquently.
I was trying to walk out after a very long shift. I passed him, stopped, shook my head, and looked back. Yep. I’m seeing this. I just stood there while he walked to the front desk, and signed for a pen. The receptionist who looked like she’s seen a ghost just complied and the guy wrote, ‘I was in a fishing accident, and shot myself (obviously). Can I see a doctor? This hurts.’
I heard he was sent home the very next day, with no complications.”
A Miracle Delivery
“When my dad was in residency, he was helping deliver babies. One came out stillborn. It was a rough time for everyone. Dad had to carry the baby away, and the entire time he carried the body away, he did chest compressions. The baby started to breathe again. Dad had to bring the baby back. By all accounts, the likelihood of that working was EXTREMELY low, as they had already done everything they were supposed to for longer than they were supposed to do it.
The parents had to go through some trauma therapy after that. That’s all I know about that story.”
Bad Luck Brain Surgery
“I’m a nurse.
A man in his 50s had a brain tumor and had surgery to remove the tumor and a hemicraniectomy to relieve the intracranial pressure, so his bone was taken from the skull and left out. The man walks out of this and has a normal life.
Several weeks later, he was walking around minding his own business. A nearby building exploded. Shrapnel flew everywhere.
Shrapnel hit him, exactly where the burr hole was, traveled through his brain and got lodged behind his eye. Somehow, he made it out it alive.
The shrapnel was non-metallic and less dense than bone, so I’m not sure it would penetrate through the bone.
He was transferred to another hospital for neurosurgery and did his recovery there.
It baffles me that of all the people who could have been hit by shrapnel, it happened to a guy with a missing skull part and it hit him exactly where it was missing. It baffles me even more that he survived all of this.”
A Close Call
“I’m not a doctor but my father is.
In his first rotation of residency, he had to assist in operating on an eight-year-old boy. The poor kid’s dad was chopping wood, and he got in the way of the swing. The ax was lodged deep in his skull when he came into the ER.
According to my dad, the boy survived, but the way he describes the father’s devastation at having brutally injured his own son really makes me understand why my dad was always so uptight about things like fire, knives, and, of course, axes when I was a kid.”
Just Missed The Important Parts
“One of my parents worked at an ER in a very large city. Most people who come into the ER in an ambulance are not walking in.
Until one night shift, this guy is walking in, escorted by one of the EMTs who had his hand on this guy’s elbow. The EMT looked totally freaked out, but the dude is strolling with a slightly dazed look on his face.
My parent wondered what was up, why is this guy walking and how is this experienced EMT looking so freaked?
Then the guy turned his head, and just the hilt of a knife was sticking out. Apparently, it was a gang fight. This knife managed to miss every part of his brain that would have killed him.”
Take Good Care Of Dogs
“I had a dog brought in that had eaten a bunch of anticoagulant rat poison about a week prior. They didn’t think anything of it at the time because the dog was ‘fine’ immediately after. If a dog gets into anticoagulant poison, and you catch it right away, you can decontaminate them, and give vitamin K, and they’ll usually be fine. By the time they decided their dog should see the vet, it was dripping blood from every orifice, in shock, and had a packed cell count of 6%.
For some reason, they’d let me hospitalize, and start vitamin K, but they would not let me transfuse that dog. It was bleeding from its freaking tear ducts, too weak to lift its head, and I was so convinced it was going to bleed out in front of me if I couldn’t buy it some time with some donor blood. That stubborn little pup pulled through and was going strong when I saw her a year later for her regular checkup.
All we can really do is try our best to educate them so it doesn’t happen again. ‘Hey, pretty pretty please give us a call right away in the future if your dog gets into something it shouldn’t. We could’ve saved you a lot of money and heartache if we’d seen this right away.’
What sucks is we probably won’t have a chance to save ‘close call’ dogs like this in the future. A lot of the rat bait is switching from the first generation anticoagulants that are reasonably treatable with vitamin K, to cholecalciferol, which can cause acute kidney failure and soft tissue calcification, and does not have an antidote.”
“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’.”
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
“I was on the trauma service just before Christmas several years ago. I got paged for incoming 911 trauma at sometime near midnight. I walked out of the workroom on the top floor of the hospital and I can see several blocks away the road was lit up with cop cars and ambulances, so I knew it was going to be bad.
A 20ish-year-old comes in after being shot 7 times in the chest; he was awake and talking. Every single bullet missed every vital organ and he survived.
His 16-year-old buddy got shot just once in the chest and died on the scene immediately. The cops showed me their body cam of the scene with them doing everything they can to save this kid but he was too far gone.
Police later caught the two suspects who had been doing home invasions including another murder, shooting another robbery victim in the street, and knocking over several pharmacies.
It was the wrong place and the wrong time. A 16-year-old waiting for Christmas and the rest of his life, gone in an instant. Life just isn’t fair.”
Lucky Patients Make It Out Alive
“Two stories, one from my friend and one from myself. We are both doctors.
-A 16-year-old boy comes into the ICU with severe head trauma after being assaulted by a gang of teenagers with baseball bats. On arrival, his left pupil is blown and they send him to the OR for an emergency craniotomy. He survives that, but a couple days later his right pupil blows, and he needs a second craniotomy. He survives that too. A week later BOTH pupils are blown. Three craniotomies later, he’s circling the drain, but somehow manages to cling to life in the ICU on every single pressor and inotrope known to man. He ends up walking out of the hospital, unaided, on his own two feet a couple months later, albeit with some memory issues.
-50-something-year-old man, out in the middle of nowhere, Australia. He was gardening in his front yard when he experiences ‘the worst headache in his life, that came out of the blue.’ Now, any medical professional would immediately have alarm bells ringing. ‘ANEURYSM.’ However, this guy has a history of headaches so he thinks nothing of it, and just puts some ice on it and went to sleep. He woke up a few hours later with the headache still there. He goes to the ER at the nearest country hospital, gets a CT scan. Sure enough, he had a burst aneurysm – a subarachnoid hemorrhage – and so he was transferred to a regional center, but THEY didn’t have the equipment to treat him either, so they flew him to our city hospital where he was THEN treated. He could’ve died at ANY point, but miraculously pulled through. Last I saw him, he was up and walking with no focal neurological deficits.”
“I’m an ICU nurse. Later into her recovery, I took care of a young 20 something woman who was speeding down the highway wasted one evening. She crashed her car into a ditch. Of course, she wasn’t wearing her seat belt either. So she was ejected from the car. Except that due to the force of her high speed run off and the angle of the ditch she drove into, she was ejected into a tree.
She ended up getting impaled through the neck by a six-inch circumference branch. It missed everything important by millimeters thanks to the way she was skewered. What saved her was that it was a pretty straight branch and she basically impaled herself on it so as she sank on it, everything important just shifted around it. If she’d been 60 instead of 20, there’s no question about it she’d have died. The branch ended up between her trachea and arteries and the surgeons had a hard time getting it out. I think they ended up cutting the branch up and removing it in slivers. She was one in a million lucky that she even survived it at all let alone started recovering. It was definitely a once a career type of injury.
I’d have never believed the story of her arrival if I didn’t see the photos from when she was first brought in to our sister level 1 center. EMS has to cut her out of the tree and bring her in with the branch still running her through. She ended up tracheated and vented and with a feeding tube but she did wake up again and was slowly making progress with moving her fingers again when I took care of her.”
Seatbelts Save Lives
“Our friend blacked out driving home and the last thing he remembered was pulling into the other lane to pass someone.
The car flipped twice and they had to cut him out from the top. He was unresponsive and the EMTs were ready to call him DOA. He broke a vertebra in his neck and shattered his hand. They were floored when they realized he was still alive.
If it had been one vertebra higher, he would have been paralyzed. As it was, he walked out of the hospital less than a week later.
He had been wearing his seatbelt which is literally the only reason he is alive today.”
A Little Too Acidic
“We had a guy come in with acute onset blindness in both eyes. I did a blood gas which showed a pH of 6.6 and Bicarb of 0.5.
To give some perspective for non-medical people – these numbers shouldn’t be compatible with life. Normal blood pH is 7.35 to 7.45. And because pH is a logarithmic scale, this guy’s blood was almost 10 times as acidic as it should be. The fact that he had no bicarbonate (acid-base buffer in the blood) in his system reflects that he had exhausted his usual compensatory mechanisms.
We were convinced initially that it would turn out to be methanol poisoning but all his toxicology turned out to be normal. He needed 10 days of dialysis in ICU, but eventually, he made a full recovery. We never were able to work out what caused his severe metabolic derangements.
We never worked out why he was so unwell. He had a diarrhoeal illness but after 24 hours, he was quite volume depleted – but it didn’t seem longstanding enough to produce those severe changes.
He was on pressors and dialysis for a few days before his vision returned to normal. All his extensive investigations, including for toxic ethanol levels, were reassuring and we never got a diagnosis.”
Try Just A Little Harder
“I’m not a medical professional, but I used to hang around with one. They had a young woman brought in one night who had been stabbed 77 times and laid in a ditch for hours before someone saw her and called 911. She made a full recovery. My buddy was so shocked that she was alive and conscious that he called me from work to tell me about it.
The part my friend said was so frustrating was that in almost all cases of gang violence, this included, the victim knew who their attacker was and they almost never told. It was always, ‘I didn’t see’ or ‘I have no idea.’ She refused to tell.
And then there was a guy who fell off the third rung of a ladder, hit his head just right and died instantly. Life is weird. Or in this case, death is weird.”
“I wasn’t in the hospital at the time, but a friend of mine was and this happened: A guy was high and tried to rob a girl on a bridge, but things didn’t go as expected and he tried to jump around seven meters down, which caused several fractures in both legs. As police and medical services were called, he tried to swallow a bladed object because prison didn’t sound good. So there’s this guy in ER with both legs in an awful state, multiple cuts and a perforated esophagus that fell into cardiac arrest twice. But he survived, so there’s that I guess.
I remember another two cases that I was present at. An 18-year-old had a 5 cm cut in the left side of his neck and part of his ear was missing. I always try to chat a bit with the patients to learn about it and to make ’em a bit more comfortable. Turns out this kid had schizophrenia and gave up trying to deal with ‘the voices’ so he stabbed himself.
The other one was a guy with a pretty bad cut on his hand and my buddies and I had to clean and stitch it. Once finished, we called the doctor in charge of us to take a look. He said it wasn’t bad and then: ‘You guys didn’t move his head at all, right?’
‘No, why?’ It turned out he had been stabbed in the back of the head and the knife was still there.”
“Back To Normal”
“A year ago, I was involved with treating a 65-year-old lady. She was walking across the street to get lunch one day when she got hit by a semi truck doing 45 miles per hour. It broke all the bones on the left side of her body, some of them in multiple places. She also had a Morell-Lavallee (skin separates off the underlying tissue) that involved about 70 percent of her left leg, from hip to ankle.
She also had a pelvic fracture that was open into her rectum with a large perineal wound. It took multiple surgeries over several weeks, but at her most recent follow up (accident happened a year ago), she was walking and basically back to normal.”
A Living Zombie
“It was my first day rounding with the surgery team, and as we approached a patient’s room, one of the surgeons turned to me and said: ‘Check this out, this man has had more than 70 abdominal surgeries.’ We walked into the room and the first thing I noticed was that it was really homey, which is unusual for a hospital. He had some aromatherapy going on, pictures taped to the wall, a guest cot was set up with several pillows from home and a nice knit blanket in the corner. It was clear that he had been there a while.
The patient was a somewhat overweight, probably obese, man who had indeed had more than 70 abdominal surgeries. Unfortunately, at some point, the skin and fatty tissue on his abdomen had become infected and been removed. The result was a square cut out on his belly, from the chest to his belly button, extending across his entire stomach. It was perfectly square, with perfectly normal skin and fat around the cutout, and when he breathed, his abdominal muscles and intestines would just sort of coming in and out of the abdominal cavity which each breath.
He looked like something out of a zombie movie but was apparently doing alright and living with it. He was attached to a machine called a wound vac that kept the wound clean and provided suction to remove any fluid (or in his case, feces) that developed in the wound. We were waiting for the day when he stopped leaking stool into the square to get him a skin graft. We were still waiting when I left the surgery service a month later.”